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Max Barry

Little Brown Book Group (2004)

ISBN: 9780349117621

Reviewed by Kathryn Linge (this review was first published in February 2008)

There are three different ways I could start this review.

1) Jennifer Government would make an excellent movie (the positive opening);

2) Jennifer Government has a lot of similarities with The Da Vinci Code (the neutral opening);

3) Overall I was disappointed with Jennifer Government (the negative opening).

All of these are true.

All of that is all very well and good, but what’s the book it’s all about? Jennifer Government is set in a dystopian reality in which most nations are controlled by the United States, except for the ‘socialist’ EU. Real power is given over to for-profit corporations, while the government’s power is extremely limited. Taxes are illegal, and everyone loves working for their company so much that they change their surname to that of their company. Jennifer Government is just one of a multitude of characters that Barry switches between to tell the story. Once darling of the corporate world, Jennifer has turned her back on it to work for the government (hence her last name), who’s only role is to prevent crime (although budget constraints mean they only investigate crimes if they can bill someone for it). Jennifer still has hang-overs from the corporate world, however, including a mysterious barcode tattoo under her eye, and a personal score she needs to settle. Read the rest of this entry »

Paolo Bacigalupi

Little Brown

ISBN: 9780316056212

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

I was looking forward to seeing what Bacigalupi would do with YA, having quite enjoyed his first book (The Windup Girl). I’m sad, then, to say that I was disappointed.

It begins well: Nailer, a boy of indeterminate age, clambering through the wreck of a ship and scrabbling for copper to salvage and make the quota required by his work crew. It’s dangerous, unpleasant work, and that is carried very effectively indeed in the opening pages. In fact, the opening is the most effective – and affective – section of the whole novel: it conveys the reality of life for Nailer and others like him in stark simplicity, complete with dangerous working conditions and the possibility of betrayal. I certainly felt for Nailer in his circumstances, and this sympathy was probably the only thing that kept me reading to the end.

Living on a beach with a crowd of similarly destitute and desperate types, Nailer’s life is of course no picnic. It’s made worse when a massive storm comes in and threatens the entire beach, but starts to look up when the storm proves to have driven a modern, very expensive, clipper ship onto the rocks nearby. Naturally, there are complications, and events proceed neither as he expected nor, entirely, as he hoped. There is fighting, betrayal, hope, and agonising decisions as the story plays out. Through all of this, Nailer is exposed to both the better and worse sides of humanity (and the not-quite-human). It’s not quite a coming-of-age story, although given this is (I think) the beginning of a trilogy, perhaps it will evolve as such. It is a discovery-of-the-world story, and Nailer’s eyes – until this point restricted to an unpleasant family and a little-hope life of scavenging and starvation – are the perfect vehicle for Bacigalupi’s exploration of a dystopia where oil is scarce, oceans have risen, and the divide between rich and poor is even more obvious, in the USA, than it is (believed to be) today.

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