The Back Cover:
WHAT IF YOU WERE IMPRISONED FOR A CRIME THAT HASN'T EVEN HAPPENED YET?
Alenna Shawcross hasn't seen her parents since they were dragged out of her house by government soldiers of the UNA, a new nation formed from the remnants of Canada, the USA, and Mexico. And now, as a sixteen-year-old orphan, she has failed a government personality test designed to diagnose subversive tendencies.
As punishment, Alenna is banished to the Wheel, a mysterious island where all the kids who fail get sent. It's a place where all the conditions are brutal, and a civil war rages between two very different tribes of teenagers.
So when Alenna meets Liam, a charismatic warrior who is planning to escape, she must find the strength to make a difficult decision: either accept her new life on the Wheel, or embark on a journey that will uncover shocking secrets about the UNA- and her own identity as well.
Right out of the gate, Stasse paints a picture of an all too scary future where the government basically controls everything. What you read, what you watch, what information you learn. Earpieces must be worn that will even pump out classical music to calm people down when nerves are raised even the slightest bit. Secretly drugging everyone to control how they think and behave. No cell phones, no personal computers, no internet access. All under the rule of Minister Roland Harka. One of his biggest rules- all students, in the fall of their junior year of H.S. are made to take the GPPT, the Government Personality Profile Test. It's not a normal test like you would think. Serum gets injected into your veins, and then computers scan your brain looking for abnormalities. It's purpose, supposedly, is to identify potential murders, thieves, psychopaths, etc. years before their crimes are actually committed. Although the odds of failing are fairly low, if you do, you are immediately swooped away from life as you know it and sent to the "Wheel" to live out the remainder of your life. The Wheel is an island located in the middle of an ocean somewhere. It's location is top secret and strategically chosen so there is basically no way off. Once there, you are trapped. The only escape from the Wheel is death. The life expectancy there is eighteen years old, approximately two years after your arrival.
On the Wheel, which is divided into zones, there are essentially two groups that make up it's population (besides the hoofers- pig like animals, just bigger and nastier, whose meat is the main source of food on the Wheel and whose skin is a very useful resource to both groups). The "drones" make up the majority of the island's inhabitants. Often drunk, their behavior is wild, untamed, and uncivilized. With teeth shaved down to razor sharp points and multi colored painted faces, they definitely appear cult like. Their leader, referred to only as the "Monk" is often spoken of, but rarely seen. Their (or the Monk's) main goal is to take over the entire island and have everyone on it worship the Monk. It seems like they have accepted their fate on the Wheel, and have no fear of death, convinced their "Monk" holds the only key to a safe passage to the other side. The others on the island, who the drones refer to as "heathens" are more peaceful, civilized, clear thinkers who seemingly don't appear to fit the mold of those that are banished to the Wheel. They have made the best of their lives as they could on the Wheel, and all share a common, clear goal. Each day they survive on the Wheel is a day closer to getting off, returning home, and fighting against the very government that sent them there. The heathens prefer peace and would rather work together as one to get off the island. The drones see the heathens as non-followers of the Monk and launch attacks on them almost daily.
I wanted to give you somewhat of a mental picture of what's up with the Wheel. It's pretty much the setting for most of the book. I'll move quick from here. Alenna wakes up on the Wheel after failing the GPPT. As fate would have it, she is sort of found and claimed by Gadya, who is pretty much the heathen's only female hunter/warrior. With not much time to adjust, she gets thrown into life on the Wheel. She falls for the lead hunter/warrior Liam, who she feels some sort of connection to. One she believes even predates the Wheel, but has no idea how. A few weeks after she arrives on the Wheel, Alenna, Liam, Gadya, and a small group of others set out on a mission. The mission is to get deep into the gray zone and search for aircrafts they believe to be coming and going off the island, landing and taking off from some sort of UNA hidden city that has not yet been reachable. The idea is to figure out a way off the island. The gray zone however, is uninhabited by either the drones or the heathens, and little is known about it. What is known, is that for some reason it is much, much colder and darker there than the rest of the island, which for the most part is a tropical setting.
Besides getting off the Wheel and wanting to be with Liam, Alenna does have an ulterior motive. She is looking for information on her parents, who she was separated from when she was about six years old. They were taken by UNA soldiers ultimately for being part of an original movement against the UNA. Alenna had always presumed they were dead. While on the Wheel, she is given information that if true, means that her parents were possibly on the Wheel themselves at one point. Once the journey to the gray zone starts, there is no turning back. Battles with drones, run-ins with Feelers (unmanned helicopter like machines with mechanical tentacles for snatching kids up), below freezing conditions, and even being forced to make part of the journey side by side with the Monk himself, all stand in their way of reaching their ultimate destination. Approximately twenty people set off on the journey originally. Only two make it to the hidden city. What they find when they finally get there was the farthest from what I was expecting. A huge twist. If that wasn't enough, soon after, the second part of a "one-two" blow is delivered with another huge twist. About a chapter or so before the end, comes a third twist. This well executed tri-fecta gets the excitement flowing right when it would normally be winding down. With an excellent ending, not only does Stasse leave the door wide open for book two, she also invites you in for a warm piece of apple pie, and begs you to stay a while.
I have to say, hands down one of the best books I have read all year, and definitely up there on the all time list. That is not to be taken lightly. I have read and reviewed a ton of books over the years. Few have earned a spot on my all time list. Great story, great characters, perfect pace, and very well written. The action is constant, but not overdone. I absolutely loved it. Most impressive- this was Stasse's debut.
***A copy of this book was provided to me for review by the author, Lisa M. Stasse***