Unfit by Karma Chestnut
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I met Karma through Twitter and we beta read for each other. I fell in love with the start of her manuscript, but she got a publisher and had to stop sending me chapters (ugh!). So when she reached out to me with an ARC (advanced reader copy), I was ecstatic.
5/5 stars. You need to read this book.
The premise: Nearly a century has passed since the world was devastated by pandemics and wars that wiped out over ninety-percent of the earth’s population. To assure the survival of mankind, the leaders of the rebuilt city of Haven are breeding a better human race: meaning those deemed too stupid, too weak, too poor – too “unfit” – are arrested and forcibly sterilized.
John Hunter is a penniless, self-educated young man from the wrong side of Haven struggling to make something of himself to provide for his wife and their hopes of starting a family. Until the authorities show up at his door and arrest him for the crime of being “unfit.” Heartbroken and humiliated, will John abandon his aspirations and resign himself to quietly accept his fate?
Having grown up devouring and loving dystopian novels, I am often critical of their cliches, abstract and unoriginal social critiques, unrealistic or incomplete world building, and more. That being said, this book is everything a dystopian, or any kind of book, should be.
The characterization and world-building are amazing. There is enough to draw the reader in but not too much that it takes away from the plot and tension. The layers of the story are expertly woven, each building on each other. Similarly, every character (from John and Morgan to minor characters like Tim) feel whole and unique. Their motivations are not just realistic and logical, they take precedence over easy cliches that many authors choose (like the romance trope of the breakup to add tension). The characters are flawed in ways that feel like parts of them, rather than aspects added as an afterthought to make them more complex.
The dialogue throughout is expertly done, not just in terms of the words themselves but also the tags and actions of the speakers. This helps give a sense not only of the physical space and people, but also of the emotions and thoughts contained within them.
I wish I could pinpoint exactly how this was done, but somehow the social critique of this book is big enough to matter without becoming abstract and tired. Rather than tackling issues of Democracy or Autocracy, especially from the lens of ‘evil’ people (as much dystopian does), it focuses on the slide from good intentions to bad consequences. Other topics, from Eugenics to Classism, are dealt with in a nuanced way that is both more interesting and more realistic.
This book is the first in a series, so I can’t wait to read the next one (soon I hope!). Read this book if you love dystopian or just a captivating story. If you’re looking to improve your craft, this would be a great one to read and analyze.
I will be doing an author interview with Karma soon, so sign up for my blog on the right to get notified when that comes out.