Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cherry Heaven

Here is one of those very successful sequels, the kind that reads easily as a stand alone novel. I was very much looking forward to Cherry Heaven, the next installment of the futuristic but strangely familiar world L.J. Adlington created in The Diary of Pelly D. Now that I have read Cherry Heaven I can’t decide which novel I like the more. I don’t suppose I really have to choose, but in terms of comparison, as much as I loved the punch and slow horror of Pelly D, I think I might have enjoyed more the action and intensity of Cherry Heaven. Both books are unbelievably good. Weaved into gripping plots and compelling characters, these novels raise issues of race, war, genocide, and the price of “safety, ” giving the reader much to contemplate. I love the world that the author has created, as well as the futuristic lingo, the culture, and the sense of being transported to a different time and place, while at the same time seeing how eerily reminiscent it is of our own world.

The plot of Cherry Heaven picks up ten years after the Race Wars that we saw starting at the close of The Diary of Pelly D. Fueled by presumptions of genetic superiority, people who carried the genetic makeup known as Atsumisi, carried out a nearly successful genocide of the Galrezis. Inbetween the two extremes of the “superior” Atsumisi and the “lowly” Galrezi, were the Mazzinis, neither overly privileged nor genetically marked as inferior. Now the Race War is officially over, but the Five Cities are still restless with racial discord, still cleaning up the debris of bombed buildings, and still struggling to go on after many families were torn apart by war. This is what happened to Kat and Tanka J, whose parents (Galrezi) were murdered. They live now with a foster family who have managed to get the girls bar coded as Atsumisi. They’re all headed out of the City Five to the Frontier, a place renowned for its uncanny ability to keep the peace. Supposedly the Frontier is utopia achieved. The teenaged Kat (brainy and studious) and Tanka J (beautiful, shallow and spoiled) arrive in their new surroundings, wary but soon pleased to see that the home they’ve been given by their foster parents’ company is an impressive estate with multiple swimming pools and surrounded by the cherry orchards that give the estate its name. It seems that the Frontier is perfect.

But who lived in the estate, Cherry Heaven, before? And what happened to that family? What are these whispers of a brutal series of murders that took place years before? At what price did “peace” come to this supposedly perfect community?

Hints of the terrible trade-off—peace at the price of slavery—are given in the passages of the book written from Bottle Seal 55’s point of view. 55 is a forced worker of the Factory, the huge, prison-like manufacturing plant where the flavored water the Frontier residents gulp down is made. No one knows—or cares to know—the truth of the horrid conditions there. Workers are Galrezi “criminals” from the Race Wars, and they are not allowed to leave. Abused and often worked to death, these workers are not even allowed their own names. But 55 remembers a time before the Factory. And she is determined to escape. When she does indeed break out—through a harrowing series of events—she guns for those who enslaved her. She also heads for the last home she remembers—Cherry Heaven, now occupied by a rich Atsumisi family. 55 has scores to settle.

Such a good read! Much action, much character development—the best of both worlds. Some turns of plot were pretty predictable, but for some reason those few predictable moments didn’t spoil the fun or beauty of the read. Perhaps that’s because even if some of the plot was possibly contrived for readability, the ideas that plot suggests are deep ones. Such as: do the privileged realize they are privileged? (Wait, am I, the reader, one of these people?!) Why do the residents of the Frontier intentionally not want to know what happens in the Factory? (Wait, do I, the reader, do that in any way? Like all those products I buy that are manufactured. . . well by someone, somewhere.) Is peace for all worth the death of a few? Do racial tensions ever die? If I were living in this world, how would I react as one of the three groups? Would I be satisfied with the status quo as an Atsumisi, top of the food chain? Would I die as a Galrezi? Would I stay on the fence, just happy not to be singled out for extinction as a Mazzini? Would I be brave enough to stand up and protest?

Many questions, many ideas here plus an exciting escape plot, a revenge plot, and a few romantic story lines to boot. I don’t feel I am doing these two books justice in this post, because it is so hard to capture the singular world created in the novels. So, just get reading them. I highly recommend both.

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