Verdict: Packed with action and ideas, but stylistically invariable.
By 2026, what’s left of the United States is mostly ruled by a white supremacist government that enforces segregation and orders the deaths of people with disabilities. Martin, a mixed-race boy with cerebral palsy, is blessed with unusual mental and healing powers. As he and his family become more involved in the resistance movement, he sharpens these mental abilities while also improving his physical ones–learning to use a wheelchair and then, as he grows into adulthood, to walk.
Training and learning are constant activities for the resistance fighters; as Martin’s partner, Blue Feather, explains, “[W]e became super-people…in order to survive.” After Martin’s mother, Sofia, is killed by a white soldier, Martin struggles with compulsive fantasies of torture and revenge. His successes and failures at abandoning this indulgence at the behest of his senior healers and loved ones make up some of the more compelling sections of the book.
Ruybalid is at her best when she explores people’s inner darkness and the interpersonal consequences of oppression, as when Martin’s childhood friend becomes untenably clingy after being abused in detention. Unfortunately, the majority of the characters–regardless of age or experience–are ideal emotional processors, completely aware of their feelings and needs at all times. As much of the story is told through dialogue, this tends to flatten out the overall tone.
This leveling is arguably an asset in uniting the large-scale heroism of the resistance’s actions with the petty domestic details of the toilet seat’s position and the allocation of chores. Logistical conversations among the many extended family members and fellow revolutionaries foreground the importance of sharing responsibilities as well as developing gifts, and it’s in this smaller heroism that the story’s action ultimately lies; when the “big push” to overthrow the government comes, readers see the prelude and the aftermath, but not the event itself.
Packed with action and ideas, but stylistically invariable.
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