I was in a high-pressure situation not too long ago. It was my turn to choose the book we would read for book club. It was my first time, as the club was formed a little over a year ago, and we only meet every few months. Talk about pressure, right? I considered choosing a book that I’d read before—you know, going with a sure thing. I didn’t want to pick a dud and have everyone mad at me, or possibly even lose my selecting privileges in the future. There was a lot riding on this choice.
With fear and trembling, I went out on a limb and chose this book. Without having read it first. With only the publisher’s blurb and the high average Goodreads ratings to go on.
And I have to say here, publicly, that I win at book club book selections, because this book is freakin awesome.
In Barry’s futuristic yet frighteningly familiar world, a secretive organization of “poets” exerts control over basically everything through their method of persuasion. Poets have been trained to
“segment,” or classify individuals into one of many personality types. Then, using those types, poets use specially tailored word combinations to “compromise” people. Emily Ruff, a homeless teen with a gift for sleight-of-hand, is recruited to train as a poet, but is exiled from the school for not conforming to the strictly controlled environment. In alternating chapters, we also follow a man named Wil who is kidnapped in an airport bathroom because he may be immune to the poets’ coercion, and could therefore be a powerful asset in what has become a war. It’s not always clear who the good guys are in this story, which is just one of the elements that makes it so fascinating.
When it comes to prescience and power, this book is on par with Bradbury’s amazing Fahrenheit 451 and Huxley’s Brave New World. What privacy do we forfeit every time we click on an internet survey? What power does our personal information hold? To what degree do we form our own opinions, and how often do we capitulate that responsibility to the media? This book is shiveringly good, and the questions it raises incredibly disconcerting. Miraculously, it’s also a well-paced, edgy, thrilling ride of a story.
Hopefully my book club cohorts liked it too. Maybe if I win their trust now, in the future I can trick them into reading Lies of Locke Lamora or The Name of the Wind. I would consider it revenge for the time they forced me to read and discuss Dead Until Dark.