Kayla Reed is sixteen, soon to be seventeen, the age at which she will qualify for a bar code tattoo. The bar code tattoo is all the rage, with not only kids getting them but adults too. Both of Kayla's parents recently got the tattoo but Kayla thinks the tattoo is bizarre.
"Even though she saw tattoos everywhere, they continued to fascinate her. How bizarre to be branded like a box of cereal. Didn't people mind being counted as just one more product on a shelf? There had to be more to a person than that."For people with the tattoo, it means that all their personal information is quickly available with a simple scan of their right wrist. Information such as banking, medical records, and insurance is readily accessible. But for those who don't have the tattoo, life is gradually becoming more and more restricted. All tattoos are done through the US Postal Service which was taken over by Global-1, an international affiliation of corporations and billionaires.
One afternoon Kayla returns home to find that her father who worked as an FBI researcher has committed suicide.Her mother, a nurse, is convinced that the bar code is responsible for his death but she won't divulge to Kayla why she feels this way.
At school, Kayla connects with several students who have formed a resistance cell. Nedra Harris a cynical red-head, Allyson Minor, August Sanchez, Mfumbe and Zekeal Morrelle are working with Senator David Young who has organized a resistance group named Decode. Young is attempting to place restrictions on the bar code tattoo. Led into the group's secret meetings by Zekeal, Kayla eventually becomes involved in this group and romantically involved with Zekeal. At her first meeting in an abandoned warehouse, Kayla is invited to use a virtual reality helmet which puts her in touch with resistance groups. While using this helmet she meets a mysterious woman named Eutonah who lives in the mountains. Kayla learns that there are dozens of resistance groups who are organizing and hiding out in the Adirondack Mountains.
As the pressure to get the bar code tattoo intensifies, Kayla begins to see the lives of those who get the tattoo unravel. The parents of her best friend Amber, suddenly find their bar codes are no longer working and soon after they are without jobs and unable to purchase a home. Those who have worked hard and achieved success suddenly lose their jobs and homes while others see their economic status inexplicably improve overnight. Kayla knows that this has something to do with the bar code tattoo.
When the bar code tattoo is made law, Kayla arrives home to discover that her mother has been able to access her father's FBI profile and learns that genetic testing was done on him and that he had the genes for alcoholism and schizophrenia.
After spending a night with Zekeal, Kayla makes a shocking discovery about him and flees his apartment. Arriving at her home Kayla finds her mother distraught and now attempting to burn the tattoo off her wrist. In this confrontation with her mother, she learns the truth behind the bar code tattoo and what is happening at the hospital where her mother works. It turns out that Global-1 is murdering babies who are not genetically perfect and taking those who are and genetically altering them through transgenics. It is at this time that their house is set on fire and Kayla awakes to find herself in hospital, being prepped to be tattooed.
Kayla escapes and decides that she must make her way to the Adironadack's and to safety with the resistance groups hiding there. She manages to make it partway and connect up with Mfumbe who has also fled his home.But Zekeal and Nedra are not so willing to let Kayla escape and they pursue her into the mountains. This leads to a climatic confrontation. With Global-1 apparently holding all the cards, Kayla and Mfumbe must decide whether to hide in the mountains or go back and fight Global-1.
Weyn's short novel is an excellent book for reluctant readers with its high interest and action packed plot and its fast pace. At just over 200 pages The Bar Code Tattoo seems perfect for younger teens. There is some suggested sexual content in the Kayla and Zekeal's relationship but nothing overt.
The Bar Code Tattoo is timely because it deals with privacy issues in the electronic age. The story is set in 2025 and society has transitioned from debit cards to e-cards to the bar code tattoo which stores information about a person and allows them to function in society. In Weyn's book, the tattoo goes from being a fad to being something that is required in order to function in society. For example, Kayla cannot receive university scholarships nor her drivers license without the tattoo.
This ultimately raises the question of how much personal information should a government have access to? And who can access and use that information? What can this information be used for? Should individuals have a say in who accesses their personal information? In our age of debit cards and e-transactions, almost every personal transaction from purchasing groceries to where we travel, to our health records can be monitored. This gives whoever controls such information enormous power.
Weyn has created a strong character in Kayla, who is both determined and principled. While others around her tend to follow the path of least resistance, Kayla becomes determined not to get a bar code when the evidence increasingly points to a sinister motive behind the tattoo. She doesn't know how she will exist but she knows it will be with out the bar code. This is not without some conflict - Weyn doesn't present this as an easy choice for Kayla. She struggles and realizes to that to just get the tattoo would make her life much easier.
American author Suzanne Weyn has penned numerous novels including the popular Wildwood Stables and several contributions to Simon Pulse's Once Upon A Time series of fractured fairytales.
The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
New York: Scholastic Inc. 2004