Sunday, December 27, 2009

Brave New World in YA Fiction Part II

Skinned by Robin Wasserman

Imagine a brave new world where cities are abandoned radioactive ruins inhabited by gangs, where everyone is perfectly engineered IF you have enough credit to select for the traits you want, where people have the latest nip and tuck to keep them looking perfect. Imagine a world where a person in danger of dying, can have their brain sliced, scanned and uploaded into a new body - a mech body.

That's what's happened to Lia Kahn, 16 years old, spoiled, glamorous, rich leader of the pack who was loved and fully alive. A terrible car crash has destroyed Lia's physical body and she awakes to find herself inside a new mechanical body that's indestructible. But Lia's new life comes at a terrible price to herself and her family.

Is Lia a mechanical/digital copy programmed to behave like the human Lia? Or is Lia a human downloaded into in a mechanical body? These are questions the new Lia must try to answer as she struggles to live after "death". Wasserman presents a society of "orgs" fully human people and "mechs" humans who have had their brains downloaded into mechanical, programmed bodies. Faithers are the people who oppose the mechs arguing that they are an abomination and sinful.

Wasserman deals with issues of death, faith, immortality, and what it means to be human. She presents a society where belief in an afterlife, in spending eternity with a higher being has long since passed away, hence the emphasis on living a perfect life in a perfect body and a fear of death which leads to... nothingness.

"Upstairs, I sat on the edge of my bed, alone again. I didn't want to be dead, I knew that. Even living like this...It was living. It was something. I couldn't imagine the other option. I tried, sometimes, lying in bed, thinking about what it would be lie: nothingness. The end. Sometimes I almost caught it, or at least, the edge of it. A nonexistence that stretched on forever, no more of me, no more of anything......."

Lia must decide whether she belongs to the mechs who can think but not feel, who live forever or if her past matters and if forgetting it somehow means she loses her last hold on humanity. Auden, a classmate from her school, and the one human she meets who hasn't been genetically designed, acts as a foil for Lia to explore the questions her new existence presents.

Wasserman leaves alot of unanswered questions. What happened to society in the past that all the "good" people are now living in Corp towns? There are allusions to nuclear war etc but no concrete details. Who are the Faithers and what impact are they having on people's view of mechs? Their leader appears briefly in the book to present his side of the argument against mechs but we don't hear from him again. Who pays for the upkeep of the mechs? Have other mechs been more successfully integrated into society or has society as a whole simply rejected them? Are Lia, Jude, Riley, Ani and the other mech's we meet in Skinned simply teen mechs who have not been integrated into human society? Are they just a bunch of rogue mechs seeking the next high in their attempt to "feel"? These are areas of the book that I believe Wasserman needed to explore and develop more.

If you enjoy reading Skinned, try the next book in what will be a trilogy, Crashed:

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