In this highly imaginative yet overcrowded novel by Allison Rose, Josephine (Jo) Bristol must struggle against many foes, both internal and external. The first book in a planned series, TICK introduces readers to a smart, resourceful female protagonist in Jo, and to the terrifyingly plausible dystopia she inhabits.
Rose envisions a world in which corporations have taken over many of the responsibilities of governments. Unsurprisingly, one consequence of this is a world divided into the rich few, who enjoy their luxurious life in isolation, and the rest of society, the struggling masses. Another is that tranquility is secured through insidious forms of social control – most crucially mind-reading and mind-alteration technologies. Anyone who opposes the overlords is labeled a terrorist. World-building is a strength of the novel. While other authors build their dystopias out of the post-apocalyptic ruins of the present, Rose explores the social and technological trends we already see in our time and extends them to their logical conclusions.
At seventeen, Jo is trying to find a place for herself. She is a passionate and talented artist, and she dreams of winning one of the few spots available to people like her in advanced education. Unfortunately, the authorities don’t seem too keen on giving her a shot. Jo is rebellious and insecure, partly due to the recent death of her father, but mostly because she suffers from horrible visions in which she kills people in brutally efficient ways. This is Jo’s “tick,” the one she has spent her life trying to hide from the corporate overlords and their brain-scanning machines. She is afraid that, should her mind be tinkered to get rid of the visions, she will lose her talents as well.
Early in the novel, however, it becomes clear that Jo has bigger problems than being labeled a terrorist. Her visions are getting stronger, more real, her tick seemingly erupting from within her. “I’ve more-or-less gotten used to the wrett [wretched] reality of my mind,” she tells the reader. “But now? I don’t know. Something has changed.”
Rose is a good writer of dialogue, and is deft at slowly doling out information to locate the reader within Jo’s world. The story is exciting, fast-paced, and full of surprises. On the other hand, a clear tone is never established. Naïve musings about boys and sex are intertwined with very rough imagery of death and violence (the book might prove too graphic for pre-teens). Another issue is the over-packed quality of the story, which tries to engage in socio-political commentary, ruminating about art and self, thrilling action, coming-of-age struggles, and more.
TICK is a terrific book, which more than stands its ground in a crowded field of dystopian fiction featuring awesome, if “wrett” female heroes.