Prepare for socks to be well and truly knocked off long before reaching the end of this explosive novel. Set a gun-toting future Texas that has broken away from the rest of the USA, this dystopian vision often feels too uncomfortably close to the current real thing. Carrying a weapon is compulsory for all ages, with teachers facing down recalcitrant junior pupils with the threat of superior fire power. The closely guarded wall that separates this toxic state from a saner America is patrolled by volunteer vigilantes taking pot-shots at would-be escapees, otherwise known as ‘scalers’.
Left behind after her mother also went over to the other side, fourteen-year-old Blue, short for Bluebonnet, lives unhappily with her drunken policeman father. Money is short and poverty puts her apart from luckier pupils at school. Eventually she runs away after her only friend dies of wounds while attempting to clean Blue’s ancient pistol. Now a fugitive suspect herself, Blue teams up with Jet, an abused older girl in the early stages of pregnancy. This came about after she was raped by her brutal uncle who is also a leading player in a criminal gang roaming the countryside. Intent on crossing the wall, the two girls travel across the state, staying for some time at a hippy-style commune before that becomes too hot for them. What follows finally breaks away from the violence and moral disruption implicit in all that has come before.
Lori Ann Stephens is an award-winning American author who has now brought her talents to the Young Adult literary market. She writes urgently and well, keeping up the pace while never descending to horror for its own sake. She is also unafraid of potential critics who might object for her having Jet opting for an abortion to rid herself of a baby she never planned for or wanted. The author’s implied criticisms of adult ignorance, prejudice and dishonesty at a political as well as personal level never let up. If there is one teenage novel this year that readers will surely never forget, it must be this one.