- Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina – “Aboriginal writer and illustrator from the Palyku people”
- Genre: Sci-fi, Fantasy, Dystopian
- Pages: 383
- Age Range: 12+ according to Publisher’s Weekly
- Grade Level: 7-12
- Publication Date: 8 April 2014
- If you want to buy it, click here.
The story is set in the future, some 300 years from now after human greed and focus on technology caused an environmental catastrophe that has destroyed the Earth as we know it. Humans have survived, but due to the disaster, “accords” have been written and new government entities have formed to regulate existence and ensure that humans don’t go overboard and destroy the planet ever again. Ashala Wolf, the protagonist, is the leader of The Tribe (called Illegals by dominant society), a group of young runaways who have special abilities and are ostracized because the dominant society believes that their abilities offset “the balance” in the world. Set in a futuristic time, the teens work against a system that despises them because they are inherently different, and they fight against this system in order to force those who are generally accepted to question the society that has forced these teens to live a life of seclusion in the forest.
Fulfilling her position as leader, Ashala makes the decision to be taken into custody by the evil Neville Rose in an effort to save her friends. She is pitted against Neville’s creation, “the machine”, a device that extracts significant memories from a person’s subconscious. Neville intends to use the machine to locate the other runaways in an effort to eradicate them from the planet because he believes that those who are different don’t have a place in the future of society – the children’s special abilities are “unnatural”, so they must be destroyed. Ashala’s job, then, is to not only save her friends, but ask those in society an important question: “Does a person with an ability belong to the Balance?”
What I like about this novel is not only that the main character is a part of the Indigenous population, but also that the forest itself is a character with as much consciousness, life, and vibrance as the human characters. For example, before Ashala and her friends can live in the forest away from the society that imprisons them, they must ask the forest for refuge and vow to protect it, showing that the forest itself has agency that exists with and without human intervention.
I also like that the story took me on an unexpected journey. At the beginning of the story, I truly disliked Ashala’s consistent empathy for characters who were her enemies, specifically Connor, the guard who captures her and takes part in her interrogation. But, as I continued reading, I realized that there was so more to the story than the author gave me initially, and I was pleasantly surprised by the way the story turned out. Of course, I don’t give spoilers on this page, but there’s much more than meets the eye in this story, and I appreciate Kwaymullina for offsetting my expectations in the best way.
- The main character is a young Indigenous woman;
- Diverse secondary characters such as Georgie Spider (tribe member) and Rae Wentworth (Doctor in the detention center)
- Ashala experiences trauma with the loss of her sister, and there is a short discussion of seeking psychological help for panic attacks and coping. I think this is a diverse element because it shows that seeking assistance for trauma is sometimes necessary and ok.
- In this story, racial segregation and discrimination is a thing of the past (as noted in the story), but the themes and deep feelings associated with discrimination due to differences is still prevalent.
- Australian Aboriginal culture is interwoven throughout the novel by including the concept of Dreamtime
The diversity of the characters is shown through the characters’ racial makeup, and I love that the characters are flawed and nuanced. For example, Ashala is known for her extreme empathy for others, but there are times when I feel like this empathy impact was over-the-top. But later, there is discussion about how she was so filled with hatred over the loss of her sister at the hands of the government that she almost loses it and exacts revenge, wishing to kill anyone that may have had a hand in causing her this pain.
Additionally, this is considered an “Aussie” dystopian story, but I feel like there are so many aspects of the novel that can be used to promote cross-cultural discussion about the oppression that exists for diverse populations; how uniques family dynamics and friendships can go beyond blood, race, and/or other identity markers; how allies can assist in liberation/emancipation from oppressive forces; and how the ignorance of those who are not oppressed can restrain diverse populations.
- The Dreaming – describes the relationship between land, animals, and people
- Aboriginal Art & Culture Explanation of The Dreamtime
- Australian Aboriginal Creation Stories by National Geographic – I would look up more stories because the representation is limited.