Gr 10 Up—Four generations ago, the sun burned too hot on the surface of the Earth, so those with money built underground compounds. Compound Eleven is Eve's home, and no one she knows has ever been to another, or above ground. Eleven is divided into five floors: Premes live on the fifth floor in luxury, then Upper Means, Means, Lower Means, and finally, the Denominators live on the bottom floor among dirt, chaos, and hunger. Eve's life as a Lower Means has revolved around school and combat matches. She is a strong fighter but knows pain, especially that of having her little brother taken away many years ago. She is paired to fight Wren, a Preme boy, who clearly does not expect or want to fight a girl. Even though she loses and is knocked out during the fight, a tentative and unlikely friendship begins between the two. Eve cannot imagine toiling underground to serve the same people who took her brother. She dreams instead of a way to escape and live above ground, even if it means a quick and certain death. This captivating story will appeal to a wide range of readers. The characterizations, the flow of the writing, and the plot weave together into a captivating tale. Eve, Wren, and her friends' descriptions are consistent with white people, and one friend has dark skin. VERDICT Readers will feel a range of emotions and look forward to the next installment in the trilogy.—Kelly Jo Lasher, Middle Township H.S., Cape May Court House, NJ
In this post-apocalyptic YA series opener, a teen is determined to leave her restrictive underground community for the perilous world above.
The sun has rendered life on Earth’s surface unsuitable for humanity. Sixteen-year-old Eve Hamilton lives in Compound Eleven, a self-sustaining underground city with five levels. Now that she’s finished with school, she must choose a profession. However, as a Lower Mean (someone from the second level), her job options are menial and unfulfilling. Fortunately, she’s an excellent competitive fighter for the Blue Circuit in the Bowl, an arena where rules of honor are seldom followed. One day, Eve squares off against a Preeminate (or “Preme”), a young man from the fifth level where the Compound’s wealthy founders live. As he’s two years older and more experienced, he knocks her out handily—but then he sits by her bed in the nurse’s station, concerned. He reveals that his name is Wren, but Eve doesn’t care about his guilt over injuring her. She only wants to access the Oracle, a viewing station that peeks above ground. Once there, she plans to escape for good, as she wants nothing to do with the society that only allows one child per family—and doomed her infant brother, Jack. Debut author Chisholm remixes elements from other post-apocalyptic YA series, such as Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books, into a familiar but compelling new premise. The handsome, sympathetic Wren seems too good to be true at times, but he convincingly and pleasantly wins her over. Her narration, meanwhile, is often terse and tough, with lines such as “There is no job I will choose. In six weeks’ time, I will be gone.” The most incredible moments occur with the glassed-in Oracle; Eve’s first sight of a living tree, for example, is as uplifting as it is heartbreaking. Some characters, such as abusive boyfriends and bullies, feel standard for the genre, but effectively show that some aspects of humanity will sadly remain the same in the future. The tight narrative halts just where readers will expect, but the next volume leaves plenty to explore.
A compulsively readable tale, despite its use of well-worn genre tropes.