My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This combination science fiction/dystopian novel deals with culture, race and moral issues, and tackles the difficult supject of what makes a person human. Environmental disasters sent populations fleeing Earth to a new planet where a rigid caste system has developed, Trueborns (all human DNA, wealthy, and with skin colored the right shade), Lowborns (all human DNA but poor with no hope of rising to Trueborn ranks) and GENS (Genetically Altered Non-Humans with no hope at all) as the lowest of the low, who contain a tiny bit of animal DNA in their genome, a tattoo on their face used as in interface between their brains and machines used to extract and plant information (as well as to wipe out their memory and personality at the whim of any Trueborn for any reason), and are considered literally untouchable.
The heroine, Kayla and her best friend, Mishalla, are assigned to work for Trueborns when they become fifteen. Kayla, bred for strength, goes to work for a member of the highest caste, a Highborn-Trueborn. Mishalla, bred to be a nurturer, is sent to work in a nursery holding Lowborn children who are dropped off or taken away in the middle of the night.
Kayla has dreams of something impossible, a mother she could never have had because everyone knows Gens come from tanks where DNA is mingled to provide them with their different skill sets. She falls in love with her employer's grandson Devak while he struggles with the idea that everything he has been taught about himself and the lower castes could be a gigantic lie. Together they embark on a mission to overcome a catastrophe his grandfather unintentionally caused, and to rescue the Lowborn children being used in a game meant to prop up the falling caste system at any cost.
This book quickly brought me into Kayla's world. Race plays an integral part of the action, this is a world where the optimum Highborn has brown skin. Too light or too dark can push one into a lower sub-caste. She is "the color of sand", but the tattoo on her face takes precedence, announcing her Gen status to everyone who sees her. Kayla has a hidden problem, her arms are splotched in a kaleidoscope of colors that she keeps hidden. Kayla discovers that GENs were never meant to be a slave race, and that Mishalla's assignment is a front to a conspiracy aimed at perpetuating non-human misery.
My heart sank at the end when Kayla is forced to make an unbearable sacrifice. She chooses with intelligence and serenity, and love for both her best friend and Devak.
Yes, she is one of the Heroines Of Color I keep hoping to read about.
Naturally, I am aching to get my hands on the sequel.
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