Monday, July 15, 2013

ANOMALY by Krista McGee

Anomaly is a 2013 young adult science fiction novel by Krista McGee. Here, in a post-apocalyptic eugenics lab, a girl is singled out for execution because she experiences emotions.

Anomaly is reminiscent of a number of books and films, including The Hunger Games, The Island, and THX 1138. The problem is not that Anomaly ever feels too derivative, but that it never really carves out its own niche. A little more setting and world building would have gone a long way toward making the book more immersive and giving it a distinct identity.

Anomaly follows all the traditions established by The Hunger Games for the currently popular female-protagonized dystopian young adult sci fi genre, no matter how forced, such as writing in the first-person present tense and including the obligatory two love interests, regardless of how believable. This doesn’t help Anomaly’s quest for identity, either.

Anomaly turns out to be an overtly Christian book, and McGee does a nice job of presenting the Gospel accurately and exploring faith in the face of death. Unfortunately, the Gospel presentation itself feels forced, like McGee has an agenda, and this contrivance saps meaning from Thalli’s obviously inevitable conversion.

Contrivance, which turns out to be widespread throughout the book, is Anomaly’s biggest problem. Things happen because McGee needs them to happen, perhaps leading the reader to ask things like “Why on earth don’t they ever lock Thalli’s door?” “Why doesn’t anybody seem to care that she has constant access to John?” and “Who the heck is responsible for the cameras around here?” (never mind questions like “Why do they call them ‘the Ancients’ when this is like two generations later and at least one is still alive?” and “Why don’t they ever kiss?”).

Complicating this criticism, however, is the fact that McGee tries to address nearly all these contrivances in the last few pages. It’s a nice try at getting away with it, I guess, but it’s pretty unsatisfying, it may make the reader wonder at just how oblivious these characters are, and it really doesn’t have the air of competence about it.

There are other issues. McGee’s writing is at a lower level than one typically expects from this genre: there are a lot of simple, see-Dick-run sentences, and it doesn’t help that Thalli is a master of stating the obvious or that everyone talks to her like she’s a little child (which may be necessary for the character but is grating for the reader). The general lack of contractions in speech makes for some stilted dialogue (but these test-tube kids do use them every now and then), and McGee has a tendency to go back and forth between the past and present tenses in an awkward way.

Thalli herself is just too passive to be a compelling protagonist, as by and large, she’s acted upon by various other characters, clueless, led here and there by their actions. No, the real protagonist of Anomaly is Berk, who perpetually risks both his life and career to act on behalf of Thalli. But he remains on the sideline as a supporting character, appearing when needed to save the day or advance the plot.  

Anomaly is a book I wanted to like, and I take no pleasure in giving it a bad review. But the volume of contrivance and the quality of the writing are deal-breakers.


*  *  *  *  *

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”