I've been hooked on books since childhood, and still am. I usually have at least three books going at any given time. After nearly two decades teaching middle school, I've developed strong opinions about YA fiction. A married mother of many adult children, and a practicing Catholic, my moral paradigms do play into my reviews.
Book review for Strikers, by Ann Christy
What a joyous find, when I discovered this author quite accidentally via a free Kindle book. Ann Christy is a recently retired Naval officer and this book of her has me hunting down the rest of her work avidly. Strikers is the best kind of dystopian novel: strong central character, interesting ethical dilemmas, hints but not giveaways about the nature of the world and its collapse, thoughtful details, NO LOVE TRIANGLE (Thank you Ms. Christy for that), and an ending that, while satisfying, leaves me ready for book two. It is both a novel exploring the right role of government, a journey tale, and a coming of age story, all wrapped together.
Karras, 16, is our heroine, who lives alone with her abusive alcoholic mother, in a small Texas town in the Republic of Texas. Her father disappeared years ago across the border. The United States is apparently long gone, and several nations are now spread across the continent. They do not apparently get along very well at all. The state of things beyond the boundaries of the nation is reported to be quite terrible: but is that true? The event(s) leading to this state of affairs are not discussed in this first novel, but I wonder if they will come further in. Within Texas, society is pretty orderly, and the law is quite clear and firm: you are allowed four 'strikes" or crimes, and for each you are given a stripe tattoo on the neck, or a "strike". Earn five, and you are labeled a "habitual criminal" and executed, with alarming efficiency. Karras has two strikes already, for destruction of a neighbor's property (even though it was accidental). In Texas you have total freedom: but you also have to take total responsibility for all actions.
When Karras and her friend Connor attend the mandatory "parade of prisoners" in town, they make two startling discoveries: first they discover that Conner's brother, Maddix, who ran off a few years before to cross the border into the Wildlands, has been captured and returned, and will surely be killed for his crime of leaving. But they also discover that one of the other prisoners is Karras' father. He too is certain to be marked for execution: and Karras and Connor quickly decide they have to take action to rescue them. Things go badly: a clean get away becomes impossible.
Thus begins a headlong flight out of Texas, along with her friend Cassi, who is blessed with natural physical beauty and a cheerful, kind heart, and an old acquaintance, Jovan, who despite his wealth and family's elevated position turns out to have his own reasons for wanting out of Texas. Unfortunately, Jovan's father does not wish to let him go. The group is pursued with relentless intent by evil henchmen who were hired by Jovan's father, to return him, at all costs. As they travel, they must find food, shelter, and water, and learn the different cultural norms in each area they approach, but they also have to avoid the bad men chasing them.
There are so many things I appreciated about this novel. First off, strong female character who does not fall apart or cry all the freaking time, and does not need or pursue a romance. Second, relatedly, NO LOVE TRIANGLE. This is a HUGE plus for me, as it seems all dystopian novels lately must have this absurd gimmick, and she avoids it entirely, thank you Ms. Christy!! Third, realistic world: we are never really told entirely what happened to lead to the separation of the states into competing and often hostile nations with tightly closed borders, but hints are given, and the regional differences have, over time, developed into cultures that are different and have different concerns and priorities. Karras thinks Texas has the best of all things, but she begins to discover that perhaps what she has been told about life outside Texas is just propaganda after all. The reader gets to learn about things as the characters learn about things: slowly, bit by bit. I very much enjoyed watching Karras and her friends encounter and struggle to understand new things, like squirrels and the Gulf of Mexico.
I also got a real kick out of figuring out the map as she travels. Names have changed and some towns are gone while others remain, such as Houston. As a North Texan, I really enjoyed this: Wicha, for example, is surely Wichita Falls. Benton is most likely Denton. The sunken city of Nola must be New Orleans, and its plight a hint at what may have occurred to change he world so drastically. The Mighty Miss, clearly, is the Mississippi River, and so on.
The novels asks some pretty serious questions: What is freedom worth? Is total order and peace possible, and if so, what is the price we pay for that? Where should the balance between social order and personal liberty be drawn? In Karras' hometown, things are orderly, but not really fair: yet the people have agreed to live this way and now it has become institutionalized. Some families hold the vast majority of water and land: the rest make do. Wealthier families are far less likely to earn a strike for the same exact action that would earn a poor family a strike. This is known and simply accepted, with some frustration but no real sense that it can be changed. On the way they encounter places with a different set of balances.
There is romance in the book, but it is handled so softly that I will have no trouble putting this novel into my 8th grade classroom. (basically two kisses, and a clear sense of attraction between two characters.) I am EAGER for the sequels to be released and in the meantime and buying other Ann Christy novels to read. I finished this one in two days.