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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) It's the future, and most jobs are done by machines. Now that school is over, Lisse and her friends are consigned to a bleak neighborhood for the permanently unemployed. Then they receive an invitation to the Game, which transports them to a paradise. Is it a dream or a computer simulation? Each time they play the Game, the new world seems more and more real...
Thoughts: Whenever I read this book, I am reminded of the fact that short summaries, even the back of the book itself, simply do not do this story justice. It's one of the few books that I would recommend without hesitation to be on a school's reading curriculum, since not only does it tell an engaging story about unemployed life in a dystopian future, but it also has the thread of hope running through it that tells people that no matter what, they have useful skills, even if they don't yet know what use those skills are.
The story is told from the perspective of Lisse, who has just graduated from school and found herself with no employment prospects. This is far from unusual, as she came from one of the top schools in the country, which had a 10% job placement rate in a world essentially run by robots. Along with her friends from school, Lisse starts out her new life as an unemployed.
The world Hughes set up is an interesting one. Unemployed people are taken care of, in a basic sense, by the government, given shelter and enough credits to buy food and cleaning supplies. Anything else they want they must get by scrounging materials from garbage cans, anything throw away or to be recycled. They may not work, except at "indie" things like selling art to the employed who have money to spare. They may not travel, and they are limited to their Designated Area. Gangs essentially rule the streets, the goverment's first line of defense is the thought police, and overcrowding is a major problem.
Then when the tables turn and they find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, they are forced to exercise every one of their individual talents to the utmost in order to survive as a society. That, in a nutshell, is what this book is about. Society, whether it be overcrowded and terrible or tiny and held together by only the bonds of friendship and necessity. What makes a society, and what makes a good or bad society? Monica Hughes is not afraid of asking the big questions, nor of posing them to young people who most of us would deem incapable of truly understanding such broad concepts. Most adults couldn't properly answer what makes a good or bad society, after all, and I enjoy coming across good YA novels that don't dumb the issues down for children, but instead present the questions in an entertaining and provocative way.
And like Michael Grant's Gone, this book doesn't flinch away from the fact that life involves death, killing, and other unpleasant things, especially when one is in exceptional circumstances.
I could read this book a hundred times over and never get bored of it. I highly recommend it to, well, just about anybody, really, be they young or old. It's the kind of book that makes you want to think, that makes you want to be productive, and makes you examine yourself and your place in the world.
I know I, for one, feel pretty confident that if I were in the same situation as Lisse, all my friends would have plenty of clothes to wear. Most people would consider skills like making a drop spindle, spinning yarn, and knitting to be quaint hobbies at best in this modern world, but when I read this novel, it's easy to remind myself that there are plenty of situations in which my "quaint hobbies" could be the difference between barely surviving the cold and being comfortable and warm.
Read this book for yourself and then take an inventory of your skills. You'll be surprised at what you don't even know you know.