Rose’s parents, the heads of the most powerful corporation in the universe, have put her in stasis periodically her whole life. Usually just for a few months, but it adds up — her best friend Xavier, who was born when she was 7, eventually caught up in age and became her boyfriend.
But then Rose went into stasis again. She wakes up 62 years later, having slept through the Dark Times that killed millions and changed Earth completely. Now everyone she knew is dead and she’s the heir to her parents’ corporate empire, with enemies she doesn’t understand and no emotional connection to her new life.
This was definitely one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time. It is deeply flawed, so let’s get my criticisms out of the way first. The prose is amateurish (lots of descriptions of dreams to convey emotion; so much “telling” that at times I groaned out loud, “You miss Xavier, we get it“). Rose struck me as a tiresome Mary Sue; her endless self-pity was hard to take and I couldn’t understand what Xavier and her new friends saw in her. (I was more okay with this by the end, for reasons I’ll explain if you read past the spoiler space.)
The villains weren’t engaging, either: Guillory, head of UniCorp until Rose came along, is a smarmy straw man for all the worst Evil Corporate arguments imaginable. And the scary robot sent after Rose isn’t so scary — far more original-series Cylon than T-1000. The characters are ethnically diverse, which is nice, but the book is weirdly self-conscious about that; it never lets you forget any character’s genetic heritage. (I bet somebody could write pages about race & ethnicity in this book, but I’m not going to be that person.)
There is a lot of interesting stuff going on in the world — what does the loss of a huge percentage of the world’s population do to poverty? What are the implications of an interplanetary corporation being the most powerful entity in the world? We do get some of the history of Otto (Rose’s new friend, a telepathic alien-human hybrid bred by UniCorp with questionable civil rights), and that is quite intriguing. But all of this is mostly in the background. (As it probably should be in YA, of course; you know I’m just a sucker for all that sociopolitical sci-fi.)
For awhile, the only reasons I kept reading were because I loved Otto, and because I wanted to find out what was up with Rose’s stasis-studded childhood. And that is where the book gets truly fascinating. The premise — person skips large chunks of history and needs to figure out how to fit into her new world — is solid sci-fi. It lined up nicely with my recent reading of Across the Universe, in fact. But this book does some deeply strange things with it. This is Sheehan’s first book, and my problems with the writing strike me as first-book mistakes. She has a crazy original mind for plot, though, and does some nice world-building as well, so I look forward to seeing what she does next.
I really really want another sci-fi lit crit nerd to read this so we can discuss. I have the ARC, so I can lend it to you. If you are that person, don’t read the spoilers; it’ll ruin everything. If you aren’t going to read it, though, read on…
Cover: I really hope this isn’t the final version. It makes it look much more like a retelling of Sleeping Beauty than it is, and gives no indication whatsoever that it’s science fiction.
ARC provided by the awesome Shelf Respect Teen Book Club at the Brookline Public Library.
BIG-TIME, MAJOR SPOILERS
I had been guessing that Rose was in stasis so often to elongate her life and thereby extend family control of UniCorp past normal lifespans. She talks a lot about how stupid she is; maybe repeated stasis affects your brain? I theorized. Or maybe her parents wanted her to stay a child because she knew some sort of horrible secret about them that would destroy the company if she attained majority.
It turns out, though, that Rose’s parents were just controlling, abusive monsters. They kept her a child because her mother wanted a dress-up doll and her father wanted absolute obedience. When it became clear that she was a teenager with a mind of her own, they put her in stasis and left her there on purpose. They died nearly a decade after the Dark Times; they could have come to release her, but they never did. In fact, her dad was the one who sicced the robot on her — it was programmed to return her to him if she ever ran away, and if it couldn’t do that, to kill her. (Because at that point, of course, she would know a horrible secret about her parents.) But wait, it gets even worse! Rose had two older siblings, both of whom ended up the same way she did, in endless stasis. Only they were never found and released. That is some creepy shit. And it explains Rose’s weak, self-loathing nature throughout much of the book; her parents deliberately raised her to be that way.
When all this becomes clear, the book turns into a sort of A Child Called “It” abuse recovery narrative. I’m not sure I’ve seen science fiction do that before. Our slow discovery of this — and Rose’s denial, as she continues to insist that it’s totally reasonable to use stasis as a sort of calming time-out from the world — is chilling and well-done. I have often thought during times of grief that I’d love a fast-forward button: just zip ahead to when the problem is solved and/or you don’t hurt anymore. Rose has that fast-forward button, and the book does an excellent job of showing why that is both seductive and a terrible idea.
And then there’s the love story. In some ways, this is a typical YA coming-of-age: Rose escapes her parents and learns to grow beyond their (in this case, literally stunting) influence. She loses her first love, and YA convention would have her find a new relationship in her new, emotionally healthier life. There is some indication at the very end that she and Otto will have that.
But she and Xavier are not done with each other. He turns out not to be dead after all. He’s in his seventies, the grandfather of her friend Bren — the boy who found her in stasis, and on whom she has a crush. It’s a sort of Time Traveller’s Wife story, in a way, except even sadder because except for one year in their teens they are always out of phase with each other. He tried to let her out of stasis but couldn’t find her, and now he’s lived an entire lifetime beyond her. I would expect them to mourn this tragedy and move on, recognizing that they are in different places now; probably Xavier would die shortly thereafter to wrap up everything nice and easy. Nope. He becomes her guardian. The last paragraph is:
I jumped up and hugged him. He smelled old, and of that cologne I noticed in his office, and he didn’t feel like my Xavier when I held him anymore. And I loved him as much as I ever had. Brother. Best friend. Grandfather. What did it matter? He was my Xavier.
This will probably trip some people’s incest squick. But I kind of love the book for according this teenage relationship the respect of true soulmates. That’s so unusual.
Man, I wrote a book here, didn’t I? I’m sorry the writing wasn’t good enough for me to recommend it whole-heartedly, but like I said, I think this author is going to do some really interesting things.