Saturday, 21 December 2013

Pawn by Aimée Carter

Pawn by Aimée Carter is the most plausible dystopia I've read in a long time, possibly ever. It would be easy from the blurb to dismiss it as "just another dystopian future for the USA", but I'm glad a decided to give it a shot anyway.
For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister's niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There's only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that's not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she's only beginning to understand.
You don't have to look too hard to see Pawn as a scathing indictment of American classism masquerading as a meritocracy. Really, you don't have to spend more than ten minutes on any vaguely social justice-aware Tumblr to see where Carter is drawing inspiration.

The meritocracy Kitty lives in is not really as "equal opportunity" as it is advertised to the people. Although everyone takes the same test at age 17, the rich kids get better schooling and much more support from tutors etc, while the poor kids are lucky if they get any one on one time with their teachers. Taking the same test doesn't mean much if you're not taught the same things. (And the most privileged few children don't even have to take the test to acquire their inherited ranks — the oddest thing in this universe was the dictator being an inherited prime ministership.) To compound the have/have-not gulf for Kitty is the fact that she is dyslexic. Although she is quite smart and spends extra time studying, she can't read. With no one to read the exam questions to her, she can't finish the exam in time and does not get assigned a position that would utilise all her abilities.

After luck brings her to the world of the highly-ranked (and supposedly smart), Kitty starts to see the propaganda she and other low-ranked people are taught is nothing more than that; propaganda. The world of the already privileged is completely different and practically inaccessible to lower ranks. This world probably has the most plausible links to the real world that I've come across. Although the world of, for example, The Hunger Games also has some parallels with the real world, I can't quite see it actually coming to pass, unlike Pawn, which is less of a stretch from the real world and has more parallels, albeit unsubtle ones. (Although one would hope that some aspects wouldn't literally come to pass, even in a dystopic version of present-day USA.)

Pawn was an engaging read albeit not a terribly unpredictable one. But so long as you don't mind not being surprised by world-building plot twists, you shouldn't be disappointed. And although it is very US-centric, there is a mention of the Rest of the World. Well, one country is mentioned in passing. But! The fact that the Rest of the World exists and exists as something that the US government has to bother interacting with, is definitely a plus in the scheme of recent YA dystopias.

I picked up Pawn because it looked interesting enough and the blurb had potential. I'm glad I did, because I ended up enjoying it more than I expected. This is the first book of Carter's that I've read and I will definitely be picking up the sequel, Captive, when it comes out. I highly recommend it to fans of YA dystopias and to anyone else who finds the premise interesting.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2012, Harlequin Teen
Series: Yes. Book 1 of ?
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher, sort of via NetGalley

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