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In a Nutshell: YA dystopian, brainwashing, mind control.
I adored the premise of this book - it is set way into the future, after devastating wars, in a part of the world ruled by the 'Directorate'. Here, citizens live in environmentally safe domes called Quads, where every aspect of their lives is observed, every move they make controlled by their governors.
To an extent, I saw this situation as a clever take on a world that could be waiting for us: the mildest physical or mental ill health is to be feared, free speech is not an option and the primary objective is safety for all. No risk taking, no individuality, no strong ideals to make a stand for. It made me think of a video I saw recently, from the Academy of Ideas (see below; it's worth a watch!).
In the Quads, extremes of emotion are not allowed, and grief is treated with medication - which brings me to the title of the book. All citizens have their 'departure' (death) date tattooed on their arm. Many will live for over a century, but others are allowed far less time on this earth. Evie doesn't know why she is to die at aged seventeen, but, as with every other custom in the Quads, the 'departure' procedure is presented as a kindness; the Directorate wishes to spare the individual any pain or discomfort.
Full compliance is essential; any diversion from the official line, from the prescribed behaviour, is not tolerated.
'The Directorate would do whatever was necessary to placate its citizens. There would be an explanation. A distraction. And then life would move forward. A few might question it all for a bit, but the tug of a content, easy life would ultimately lull them back into line. Because, I realise, here's the kicker: what most people want is not to trust their government. It's not to build a better world. All they want is to be comfortable ... and with a sickening twist to my stomach, I realise that I am one of them.'
The problem with Evie's departure ceremony is not only that she doesn't know why she must die when her life has hardly begun. Her departure doesn't happen as it should. She lives. She is one of the few for whom the euthanasia medication doesn't work.
The book alternates between the points of view of Evie, as she finds herself outside the Quads in a strange world that isn't supposed to exist, and her sister Gracelynn, who is confused, hurting over the loss of her sister, and beginning to wonder if their lives are based on lies. The writing itself is clear and effective, and the compelling plot line flows along. Evie and Gracelynn's discoveries come to light gradually, with truths unravelling at just the right pace.
For the first half of the book, Evie and Gracelynn's personalities were well-defined, very different, but as the action ramps up they become more alike. This novel is YA, not usually my genre of choice as I have not been a young adult for decades, but I couldn't resist the plot. I felt this was right for the younger end of the YA range; I can imagine liking it when I was about fourteen but finding it a bit too simplistic when older.
I would have liked some sort of explanation about where in the world this was supposed to take place; as this is a couple of hundred years or more into the future, it could be that the author envisions a world in which the countries as we know them no longer exist - fair enough. There is a little background information, but I would have liked more, and to know how large an area the Quads are supposed to cover, as well as how big they are - I couldn't imagine them. The only other problems I had with it were a) overuse of the word 'goofy', and b) the malfunctioning euthanasia process - even now, there exists the means to put people to death quickly and effectively, so it seems unlikely that in a couple of centuries' time they would still be making errors. However, any books of this genre require some belief suspension here and there, and this didn't bother me too much. Not as much as all the goofy grins, anyway, or 'Jeeze' being spelled 'Geez' (as an expression of annoyance, it's short for 'Jesus') - repetitions and misspellings are something we all do, but these should have been picked up by the editor.
Departures is a stand-alone, though I imagine there is more to come; I liked the rather uncertain ending (no spoilers!), particularly Gracelynn's outcome. E J Wenstrom has created a spookily plausible future world, and I'd certainly be interested in seeing what happens next.
Why an Obsession with Safety creates Sick Minds and a Sick Society