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Book: “Poster Girl” by Veronica Roth
Publishing Info: William Morrow & Company, October 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: WHAT’S RIGHT IS RIGHT.
Sonya Kantor knows this slogan–she lived by it for most of her life. For decades, everyone in the Seattle-Portland megalopolis lived under it, as well as constant surveillance in the form of the Insight, an ocular implant that tracked every word and every action, rewarding or punishing by a rigid moral code set forth by the Delegation.
Then there was a revolution. The Delegation fell. Its most valuable members were locked in the Aperture, a prison on the outskirts of the city. And everyone else, now free from the Insight’s monitoring, went on with their lives.
Sonya, former poster girl for the Delegation, has been imprisoned for ten years when an old enemy comes to her with a deal: find a missing girl who was stolen from her parents by the old regime, and earn her freedom. The path Sonya takes to find the child will lead her through an unfamiliar, crooked post-Delegation world where she finds herself digging deeper into the past–and her family’s dark secrets–than she ever wanted to.
With razor sharp prose, “Poster Girl” is a haunting dystopian mystery that explores the expanding role of surveillance on society–an inescapable reality that we welcome all too easily.
Review: While I wasn’t a big “Divergent” fan (I didn’t even finish the trilogy), I’ve really enjoyed the adult/new adult fiction Veronica Roth has written recently. There’s also no denying that, like Margaret Atwood, Roth has a keen eye for producing dystopian works that can feel all too believable. It’s this sort of believability that truly gives dystopian works their chills, and with this book’s focus on technology and the surveillance state, I knew we’d be deep-diving into some uncomfortable ideas. And sure enough, it was uncomfortable and it was great!
For Sonya, time has stopped. After serving as the face of a regime known as the Delegation, after a revolution overturned society, she and other prominent members of the fallen system are now locked in a prison complex with no hope of rejoining society. But when she’s given the change to earn her freedom tracking down a missing girl, Sonya ventures back out into a world very unlike the one she left a decade before. As she digs into her past as well as her present, Sonya discovers dark truths that reorganize everything she once believed.
As I said earlier, in my opinion what makes a great dystopian story is the ability to create a world and society that is believable, thus all the more horrific. Here, with the creation of a society existing beneath an authoritarian regime that monitors and rewards behavior, the path to this destination is obvious. The Aperture, an implant that is placed in the eye that essentially acts like a smart phone that is even more accessible, is very easy to imagine. The story neatly demonstrates how the ease and functionality of a device like this would have a lot of immediate appeal. We see similar choices being made today; the ease and convenience of smart devices already leave many people unaware of how much of their personal information they are giving up for these creature comforts. The turn of this information then being used against the populace is easy to imagine.
Beyond that, it’s also incredibly easy to see this type of authoritarian system of governance grow into existence. What makes it even more compelling is that some of the rationales behind certain “esteemable” behaviors are easy to understand or agree with. Again, a dangerous slippery slope that is very recognizable. I was also impressed by Roth’s ability to side-step current political positions and parties; it was all too easy to go into it trying to paint both the Delegation and the system that came after it onto our current political parties. But neither fits the other perfectly, so there are no easy conclusions to be had.
Sonya was also an interesting character. She grew up as a “success story” to an oppressive system, largely benefiting from a government that hurt countless others. But we are meeting her ten years after the fact, trapped in a prison compound where she and many others expect to live out their days. Through her eyes, we see how various different individuals and groups have dealt with this shift in power and position. As Sonya ventures back into the world, she’s in a unique position to not only reflect on the world that she grew up in, but in the world that replaced it. Like all revolutions, though they may be replacing a great evil, they aren’t often followed with utopias of their own. She also is forced to confront the decisions that she and her family made and benefited from. I really liked her journey, especially the fact that it felt true to character. Nothing is hand-waved away or excused, but it is ultimately a hopeful story for her.
For this world? I’m not so sure. But I think the not knowing is what is important and what forces the reader to reflect on the messages and themes of the story afterwards. This book definitely touched on a lot of current issues we as a society are grappling with. This is just one direction that someone imagines things could go. But through this lens, we’re invited to do our own critical thinking. I know “critical thinking” isn’t the type of fun, exciting endorsement that often gets people galloping to the nearest bookstore. But it’s also a refreshing, unique read that will stick with you long after you’ve finished the last page.
Rating 9: Uncomfortably believable, this story asks readers to reflect on the nature of technology, surveillance, what we give up for convenience; that right and wrong are not as easy of concepts as we may wish them to be.
“Poster Girl” isn’t on any relevant lists but it should be on Adult Dystopia.