An entitled boy whose talents are bought meets a girl whose gifts are natural in this futuristic thriller from H.A. Swain, the author of Hungry.
In Orpheus Chanson's world, geniuses and prodigies are no longer born or honed through hard work. Instead, procedures to induce Acquired Savant Abilities (ASAs) are now purchased by the privileged. And Orpheus's father holds the copyright to the ASA procedure. Zimri Robinson, a natural musical prodigy, is a"plebe"a worker at the enormous warehouse that supplies an on-line marketplace that has supplanted all commerce. However, her grueling schedule and her grandmother's illness can't keep her from making musiceven if it is illegal. Orpheus and Zimri are not supposed to meet. He is meant for greatness; she is not. But sometimes, rules are meant to be broken.
Gifted by H.A. Swain is a thriller, love story, and social experiment that readers will find grippingand terrifying.
Praise for Hungry by H. A. Swain:
"Swain's near-futuristic dystopia explodes onto this well-trod genre with a fresh idea, tense plotting, and relatable characters.... Fans of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Lois Lowry's The Giver will flock to this story." School Library Journal
“Compelling... A female protagonist who isn't staunch, heroic, and perfect is increasingly rare in dystopias, so Thalia's fumbling around for the right path is refreshingly different.” The Bulletin
“An alluring adventure in a future without food... Emotionally satisfying.” Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
H. A. Swain is the author of Hungry, and the craft book Make These Toys. She lives in Brooklyn.
Read an Excerpt
By H. A. Swain
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2016 H. A. Swain
All rights reserved.
When the pointed toe of Arabella's silver shoe trips the laser sensor, the MajorDoormo kicks into action. Sliders part, spotlights illuminate, and the scanner identifies us before we've fully stepped over the threshold of the Nahmad Gallery.
"Orpheus Chanson and Arabella Lovecraft," the automated voice announces, then sends the headline straight onto the Buzz. I know exactly what it will say since all my life I've been defined by the success of my parents.
Orpheus Chanson, son of pop diva legend Libellule and ASA patent-holder Harold Chanson — one of the most powerful music patrons in the world — arrives at the Quinby Masterson premiere with stunning starlet-in-the-making, Arabella Lovecraft.
Heads turn and conversations lull. A cluster of dragonfly 'razzi drones swarm the entryway. Ara and I step into the spotlight and stop on the mark (a small gold star embedded in the floor).
"Just like we learned in SCEWL," I remind Ara through my smile.
She momentarily panics. "SCEWL?"
"Paparazzi Pix Posing 101, remember?" I say, trying to coax her synapses to fire.
She still looks blank so I take a half step back, keeping one shoulder behind her as I guide her with my hand on the small of her back. "Look right," I whisper. "Then left, and smile. Chin up, eyes wide. Top lip down to hide the gumline. Shake your head slightly. Look humble. Now a little laugh. Always having fun."
She follows my direction effortlessly as it all comes back to her. The Kardashian School for Cumulative Entertainment Wealth Living trained us well.
"You did good," I tell her when the photo-op is done. She sighs and looks relieved as we waltz into the crowd.
Quinby's opening is popping, just like Rajesh said. I lead Arabella through the throngs of people who've come to pay homage to our friend — the newly minted art-world It Girl of the moment, rocking the scene with her images of fractal decay. To me her paintings look like repeating patterns of dead trees and leaves, but for whatever reason Quinby's work has hit the sosh like a major earthquake, which has driven the prices sky high. Her patron, Hermela Nahmed, couldn't be more thrilled and it shows, given the money she must have pumped into this opening. For the past hour there's been near-constant chatter on my EarBug about which Celebs are here and what we're wearing, eating, drinking, and talking about.
"I've got to turn this thing off," I say and kill my EarBug. "I get immediate ADHD if I'm in a crowd while the Buzz is talking to me."
"Get some methylphen in your pump," Ara tells me, still preening for the few 'razzi buzzing around us. "That stuff will focus you right up." She pops a fist on her hip and smiles with her eyes for one persistent dragonfly drone.
"Is your pump back on already?"
"Not yet. Still too fragile up here." She taps the side of her head. "No benzos, no SSRI, no appetite suppressants, only a smidge of oxycodone to manage the headaches."
"God forbid your brain regulate itself," I joke.
"What am I, a three-year-old?" she says, then cringes. "Sorry, I forgot you're au naturel."
"That's what happens when your mother's a former addict," I say and nudge her to the left. The grit of her crushed iridescent body glitter grinds beneath my fingertips. Her dress, which is made of tiny shining scales, glints and changes colors as we pass beneath the lights.
We walk by a group of DespotRati. I recognize one of them, Ios, from summer camp. She nods and lifts her left hand so I can see the carapace of her ExoScreen glove, lavender to my deep purple — a good compatibility rating but nothing like my connection with Arabella, whose carapace still gleams deep dark purple like my own. I was worried the surgery might have changed our compatibility, but so far so good. I pretend not to recognize Ios and keep moving.
"Who was that?" Ara asks, nose wrinkled as she glances back. Ios's paint job, intricate swirls and curlicues, waves and striations in aquamarines, purples, and pinks, looks like some complicated bruise over her arms, legs, back, and chest. Her shimmery silver dress dangles from a loop of metal around her neck and hugs the barely covered curves between shoulders and thighs.
"Daughter of the former EU prime minister. You know how they still love government over there." Ara looks blank. "She has that new song." I hum a few bars of "(Quark) Charmed, I'm Sure." "Probably debuted while you were recovering. They're trying to push it as a new genre, Quantum Pop, but I think it sounds like Sparkle Jam. They needed something more atmospheric to create a truly original sound."
Ara laughs at me, which she often does when I talk about improving songs. How a key change would add depth to the bridge or adding strings for a harmonic overlay would bring out the emotion of a lyric. Wasted energy, people tell me. A song is only as good as its Buzz.
"Anyway," I say. "I heard she had a double ASA, physics and music, but I think that's just hype to sell her new line of gum. 'Now in all the quark flavors!'" I say in a falsely perky voice just like the ad.
"How do you know her anyway?"
"We both did a summer camp in Malta when we were fourteen. She knew all my mom's music and sang Sugar Smack to me."
"Oh my god," says Ara as we weave through a group of waning movie stars, all just past their prime, looking desperate for some Buzz. "She sang it to you?"
"And did the choreography."
"Ew!" Ara squeals.
"I know, right? I was like, no thanks. What guy wants to think of his mother as a sexy teen pop star?" A tiny quake of revulsion goes through me.
From across the room, Elston and Farouk wave at us like they're flagging down a flying taxi. We make a beeline for them, whisking tangy drinks from a passing RoboWaiter along the way.
"First night out for Arabella!" I announce when we join our friends. We all lift our cups above our heads and laugh as if it's freaking hilarious that another friend had her brain zapped and woke up with a Chanson Industry trademarked and patented Acquired Savant Ability thanks to my father. Just a little brain surgery and POOF you wake up a genius. The hilarious part being, Plute parents pay for their kids to have the surgeries, then people like my father make a fortune off their talents, and we call this Art.
My friends and I clink glasses and down our drinks, everyone lifting hands up high and clicking pix with their ExoScreen FingerCams. The images are sent into the data swarm and culled by some complicated algorithm that sorts soundbites, 'razzi drone vids, and FingerCam images into what's Buzz-worthy for the night.
As soon as the group steps apart, they all check their palm screens, hoping that the moment we just experienced will get plucked from that deluge of data and fed into the Buzz for everyone else to see. Are you famous enough, are your parents, has your patron's PromoTeam pushed for more coverage this week? Fleeting disappointment passes over my friends' faces when our real-time moment doesn't reappear in the Buzz. None of us are worthy enough. Yet.
Farouk turns his attention back to Arabella. "You look gorgeous! Amazing! Isn't she beautiful?" Elston and I nod and nod and nod. "So, what'd you have?"
She blinks at him for two seconds, like she can't quite remember. It takes a while for everything to come back online after an ASA so we all wait patiently, trying not to stare. "Music," she says after the delay.
"Nice," says Farouk.
"You?" she asks.
"Double in math and spatial reasoning. For architecture," he says, then adds, "My parents ... immigrants, you know, wanted something practical." He lifts his shoulders almost as if in apology. "Anything happening for you yet?" he asks Ara.
Her vacant eyes settle on me. She is beautiful and empty — just the way Chanson Industry Promo Teams like their talent. It's a convenient side effect of the surgery. Sparking all that genius seems to short out other parts of the mind, at least long enough for a Promo Team to fill you up with everything (besides ability) that will keep you rich and make you famous. If everything goes as planned, once Ara's auditory cortical pathways settle into their new wiring, her brain will be consumed with music. It'll be all she wants to do. In the meantime, while those circuits are getting settled, her Promo Team will work their tails off to make her into pre-star material: the look, the walk, the talk, the network, the brand. Because as every one of us Persons Of Normal Intelligence knows, you can be the most amazing savant ever to walk the planet, but if you don't have a patron's corporate machine behind you, you might as well be singing to your reflection in the bathroom mirror.
"Don't worry." I rub Ara's shoulder. "It takes time, that's all."
Just then the crowd parts and Rajesh swaggers up. He's decked out. Vertical stripes on his jumpsuit, pulsating chartreuse polka dots on his bowtie, hair pomped up almost as high as the girls'. And he's trailing a cloud of 'razzi dragonfly drones because he's the current boy wonder of the literary world. His parents got his ASA in early. He was only fourteen when they did it, which can be tricky because as my parents found out the hard way with my sister, Alouette, the brain is so vulnerable at that age. Yet like everything Raj's family does, they hired the best in the world, which is an option when your father is a rare earth-mining magnate heir and your mother ruled Bollywood for two decades, so money is no question. And it paid off. In the two years since his literary ASA, Raj has gotten one of the largest publishing contracts in history. Now, his patron is about to release the final installment of Raj's Captain Happenstance trilogy called Revenge of the Shadow Thieves, sure to be another worldwide best seller.
"Friends, Romans, and countrymen!" Raj shouts and inserts himself into the center of our group, arms around shoulders, pulling everyone in for a round of photos taken by the drones. Girls lean in, boobs pressed forward, butts out, heads cocked to the side and huge smiles while the guys lay back, lift their chins and purse their lips, slouch to the side as if nothing is that important. Party pose, they called it at SCEWL where we all perfected it. I slip behind the line to give the others more prominent positions because (much to my father's chagrin) I'd rather stay behind the scenes. A few seconds later, something else catches the attention of the 'razzi and they move en masse across the gallery, casting shadows as they pass beneath the lights, except for Raj's stalkers, which stay close by.
"What's this?" Raj shouts as the others sneak peeks at their palms to make sure they were in proximity of his celebrity to make it in the Buzz. Yes, yes, they are worthy now. "The great Arabella is amongst us. Beautiful eagle heroine. Orabilis, I bow to thee in prayer!" He bows deeply as if waiting for applause.
"Easy there." Elston gives him a playful bump. "The drones are gone and we're not your adoring fans."
"Yeah, yeah," Raj says, beleaguered by our lack of fawning. "Speaking of adoring fans, anybody seen Quinby yet?" He cranes his neck.
Elston lifts her eyes to the ceiling and blows a puff of air into her tower of rainbow curls, which don't budge. "I'm sure she's in the middle of the hive, Queen Bee that she is now."
"Jealous?" Farouk asks.
Elston gives him a look of death. "Hardly," she snaps, but we all know better. Elston had an art ASA six months ago and while she's been mad prolific since she woke up, nothing has popped for her yet. She mostly works from photos, zooming in on details of fireworks in night skies or phosphorescence under the sea, then paints over the images in brightly colored squiggles. But what she really loves is distorting videos of the Plebes. Groups running, brawls for food, a protest gone terribly wrong. She takes the footage from security cameras or HandHelds, zooms in close, slows things down, and forces viewers to confront the faces of the masses. I think her work is brilliant, but it doesn't resonate with most Plute art collectors like Quinby's ever-repeating images of woodland decomposition does.
I step to Elston's side and touch her elbow. The bright yellow and orange stripes of her paint job twist around her upper arm and disappear beneath her steel-blue top. Unlike the other girls wrapped in skin-tight tubes, she favors billowy fabrics that dance around her when she moves. "You're gorgeous and talented, Elston, and it'll happen for you, too," I whisper close.
She sighs, weighty and sad.
Raj steps up. "Cover me," he says through gritted teeth.
On cue, the whole group huddles close, blocking the circling 'razzi dragonfly drones from view while pressing ExoScreen cams against our thighs so no pix get out.
"Lookie what Papa Raj brought you," he says and slips a slender silver bottle from his pocket. "My Plebe connection hooked me up with some fine black-market Juse."
Without hesitation, everyone shoves a glass close to the bottle. Raj tops us all off, then we toast once again. "Down the hatch!" Raj says. In unison we toss back our drinks, smack our lips, and wait for the night to get much more interesting.
On stage at Nowhere, under one bright light, sweat pours into my eyes as the music pours out of me. My mother, Rainey, and Dorian's father, Marley, dug this place out of the riverbank before we were born. They made their own music here for years, then abandoned it to the frozards and squimonks when my mother disappeared. I rediscovered it a year ago and have been putting on concerts ever since, but tonight is the first time Dorian's played with me.
Although the space is small and cramped wall-to-wall with black- masked people, it feels like a cathedral to me. Dorian and I go from one song to the next, pushed forward by the backing tracks I prerecorded and his driving beats. When I sing, the crowd moves with me like beads of water drawn together to form a puddle. I tilt left. They tilt left. I bounce up and down and so do they. I lift my arms. Arms go up. They hang on my words, listening to me sing about working Plebes like us, perpetually treading water so we don't drown, a feat my father couldn't manage. The terror and thrill that we could all be caught at an illegal concert feeds the frenzy from first song to the last. And when the final note reverberates over the crowd, Dorian and I both yell, "Thank you!" then bolt offstage while everybody else streams out the door like floodwater spilling over the riverbank into the night, as black as the masks we all wear to protect our identities.
Dorian and I work quickly to dismantle any evidence of what went on here tonight. We haul the pallets out back. Take apart the lights. Carefully fold up the canvas curtain and put it, along with the ancient equipment, in an alcove my mother so cleverly constructed to hide all of her ramshackle instruments, mixing boards, turntables, laptops, and headphones back in the day. When we're done, the only things left of this evening are the audio and video recordings that I hold in my hands.
"What will you do with those?" Dorian asks. He slumps against the wall like he just worked a double at the warehouse, his dark skin sheened with sweat beneath bleached blond dreds. But in his shiny silver pants he's every ounce the rock star.
"I'll release the audio tomorrow," I tell him, and stick the little digital recorder in my pocket. "If that's okay with you."
"Far be it from me to stop a pirate," he says with a laugh.
I grin. After my mother left, I took one of her old transmitters to Tati who helped me get it up and running with a few spare parts scavenged from the electronics dump. Tati showed me how to hook up an antenna so I could start my own pirate radio broadcasts. For the first year, I used it only to search for my mother. "Rainey, this is your daughter Zim, come in Rainey. Please come in." Then I'd sing sad songs that she loved — Sarah Vaughn, Mavis Staples, Mary J. Blige, Trinity, Libellule — like a siren trying to lure a sailor back to the rocky shore.
One day Marley pulled me aside. He squatted down with his hands on his knees so we were eye to eye. "I heard you on the air," he told me, which made my cheeks burn red. I hadn't thought about other people scanning the waves with the black-market receivers they bought from Tati and hid inside their PODs. "You have to stop. You don't have a license and you're broadcasting music you don't own the rights to."
"I'm just trying to find her," I told him.
"Honey." He put his hand on my shoulder, which made me feel small. "If your mother wanted to be found ..."
I squirmed away. I didn't need him to finish that sentence but right then and there I knew that the music I'd make had to be for someone other than my mother.
"I just hope we pulled in enough," I say to Dorian. I never ask for money when I put on a show, but people leave it anyway and since I don't really need it, I give it to someone who does. "Levon's son, Luka, is coming home from the MediPlex tomorrow but Levon says the prosthetic leg is terrible. The kid can barely walk."
"Did they ever catch the person who ran him over?" Dorian asks.
Excerpted from Gifted by H. A. Swain. Copyright © 2016 H. A. Swain. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In a dystopian world where dragonflies are almost extinct and have been replaced by 'dragonfly' droids to monitor the world and be the Paparazzi for the famous. Cameras are no longer held but are on the tip of a finger, cars fly, things are controlled by a glove or hologram. Being 'Gifted' is a surgical procedure for the wealthy and a crime for those who are born with it. There is much more to this story than a dystopian world with a lot of gadgets. The two main characters are from opposite ends of the spectrum yet are able to come together to make a change in a mixed up world. I liked this novel but I would have given it 3 1/2 stars! It was a bit slow and lacked substance that would have made it a 5 star. It was also a bit confusing in the beginning, however it picked up about a 1/4th of the way into it.
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** Gifted by H.A. Swain Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Publication Date: June 14, 2016 Rating: 4 stars Source: ARC sent by the publisher Summary (from Goodreads): In Orpheus Chanson's world, geniuses and prodigies are no longer born or honed through hard work. Instead, procedures to induce Acquired Savant Abilities (ASAs) are now purchased by the privileged. And Orpheus's father holds the copyright to the ASA procedure. Zimri Robinson, a natural musical prodigy, is a "plebe"--a worker at the enormous warehouse that supplies an on-line marketplace that has supplanted all commerce. Her grueling schedule and her grandmother's illness can't keep her from making music--even if it is illegal. Orpheus and Zimri are not supposed to meet. He is meant for greatness; she is not. But sometimes, rules are meant to be broken. Here is a thriller, love story, and social experiment that readers will find gripping--and terrifying. What I Liked: This book surprised me! I have yet to see any of my blogging and reviewing peers read this book, and when I received it several months ago, I didn't know much about it. I was going into this story with a clean slate, which is sometimes the best way to experience a story. While some general ideas of the story are not unique to this book, the story was very enjoyable and I couldn't put it down, even until the ending. Zimri is a "plebe", a warehouse worker who lives with her grandmother. Zimri has a great voice, but in this world, no one is legally allowed to sing patented songs. But Zimri is determined to make music, and interrupt LiveStreams of concerts and radio streams is certainly one way to do it. Orpheus Hanson is a "Plute" and the son of Harold Hanson, who created Acquired Savant Abilities. ASA is purchased by the rich, and once the surgery is done, you wake up with a newly acquired ability. Hanson has control over the music industry, as most musicians have a music ASA (and Hanson has control over the profits made by those with ASA). Orpheus hasn't received an ASA, and he's not sure he wants one. But his father wants him to have the surgery so that Orpheus will be ready to take over the company. Orpheus and Zimri are on two ends of the social spectrum (Plute and Plebe), and their lives were never supposed to intersect. But together, they could change society forever. This is a science fiction thriller, which I don't think I was expecting! Granted, I didn't really read the synopsis (or if I had in the past, it was a long time ago and I forgot about it), and somehow I thought this was a fantasy novel. I love science fiction, and thrillers, and so this novel was right up my alley. The idea of this story isn't unique; we have this surgery that will make you really good at one thing (music, physics, writing, etc.), or perhaps two things (if you have the money). The Plutes are the elite that can get the ASA surgery, and they are celebrities and frivolous people. The Plutes are the ones that work in warehouses and poor fringes of the city, scraping by. The Plutes can't afford the ASA surgery, and many are not familiar with it. But everyone is familiar with Hanson's monopoly on music, and how singing and recreating music that is patented is totally illegal. Read the rest of my review on my blog, The Eater of Books! - eaterofbooks DOT blogspot DOT com :)