Wednesday, 22 June 2016

'Blame', by Simon Mayo

Title: Blame
Author(s): Simon Mayo
Release Date: 7th July 2016
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Genre: YA, Thriller
Source: Publisher (ARC)

Synopsis:
What happens when society wants you banged up in prison for a crime your parents committed?

That’s the situation in which Ant finds herself – together with her little brother Mattie and their foster-parents, she’s locked up in a new kind of family prison. None of the inmates are themselves criminals, but wider society wants them to do time for the unpunished ‘heritage’ crimes of their parents.

Tensions are bubbling inside the London prison network Ant and Mattie call home – and when things finally erupt, they realize they’ve got one chance to break out. Everyone wants to see them punished for the sins of their mum and dad, but it’s time for Ant to show the world that they’re not to blame.

A new nail-bitingly taught YA suspense thriller, from author of the bestselling ITCH series, Simon Mayo.

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'Blame' is set in a world which could be years ahead of our own, but also be the one we're living in today. In this London, there has been a new, controversial law established: the one condemning heritage crime. Following this law means paying for crimes one has not committed; if either your parents or grandparents have gotten away with a crime, you are looking at a few years with a tag stuck to the low of your back. Being a child does not save anyone either, as up to the age of 18 they can (and will) be blamed too. It's in this situation that we find our protagonist, Ant, and her little brother Mattie.

The first thing I noticed when starting the reading of this book is how it is filled with very unique language. The inmates of Spike (the 'heritage crime' prison), Holloway and Pentonville (female and male prisons, respectively) have developed their own slang and ways of communicating around the watchful eyes of their incarcerators, and this is very present throughout the book. Initially it took some getting used to, but the handy glossary included at the beginning of the book proved to be incredibly useful. A few chapters in and I was more than comfortable with its language, which only made for a more believable, engrossing read.

Ant and her brother are very evidently POC (people of colour), and I was incredibly happy to see this being a diverse book. Instead of just including in a physical description that their skin is darker as often happens, their racial identity is present throughout the book, mostly through language. Also, considering the environment they are in, I was pleasantly surprised that the fact they are biracial is never used as an 'excuse' as to why they are incarcerated or considered criminals. Reading a book that included POC without making it fall into racism was a breath of fresh air.

The political system that this world comprises was also interesting to see unfold: as I mentioned earlier, this book could be set in present times, as even technology wise everything mentioned already exists (for example, drones). The only difference is really the establishment of this law, and how society is responding to it. Both sides of the argument are extensively explored, and it's easy to see why people would defend either. This becomes almost a dystopic setting, with a system drawing from the past to correct 'mistakes' and ensure they are not repeated. Corruption is still found, even at the highest level, and I found myself drawing several threads of political critique throughout my reading: regardless of how 'perfect' politicians are trying to make the world, there will always be people with ulterior motives hiding under the facade of a better future.

This draw towards the future can also be balanced with a reflection on the past. The tags inmates use at Spike become so overbearing they change the way they walk, and therefore even being hidden under clothing it is something that is out in plain sight, branding the 'criminals'. I do not know if this was intentional, but I thought time and time again about the branding of Jewish people in the Nazi Germany regime as I was reading this book. Along with this comes the fact that, in this world, Germany seems to be the only country that is against the heritage crime law, and the implications of this parallel are something that even so long after having finished the book I still find myself thinking about!

Even though this book is not necessarily futuristic, I couldn't help but draw a few comparisons with 'The Hunger Games'. 'Blame' is about a young woman fighting an unjust system to protect a beloved sibling. Innocent people are being blamed and used as propaganda to make up for the mistakes of another generation. (There's even a villain that is oddly similar to President Snow.) However, this is not one of those cases where a comparison is made easily just to capitalize on a successful series and it is nothing other than a rip-off. In fact, I didn't even make this connection until very late in my reading. 'Blame' absolutely stands up in its uniqueness as its own story.

Writing wise, I found this to be a very pleasant and grabbing read. While the only point of view presented is Ant's, there are a lot of chapters that have a little header that comprises of a note or list written by Mattie, Ant's brother. These, along with the recurrent use of flashbacks, allowed me to feel like I knew all the characters involved and not just the one narrating the story. While, at some points, the younger voices seemed 'out of place' (especially Mattie, as he is only eleven) and there are a few elements that are left unexplained, this was not a big enough problem to go against my enjoyment of this book in the slightest. It also features a very movie-like narration, and there wasn't a moment throughout this story where I couldn't clearly see what was happening and feel as if I was there.

'Blame' is probably the most thought provoking book you will read in 2016. With its high stakes and uniquely likeable heroine, this is a story of how the love of a girl for her brother can become the pebble that tears down a corrupt, unjust system. In this 'Hunger Games' of the real world, there is only one question that will stay on your mind long after you have turned that last page.

Are you to blame?

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