Tankborn by Karen Sandler

I received this book as a galley from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Kayla is a GEN, a Genetically Engineered Non-Human, born into a life of servitude and a member of the lowest rung of society.  Despite her life’s hardships, she loves the people she has come to know as her family and is not looking forward to her official assignment at the age of 15.  When she receives a mysterious package that she must deliver and is then assigned to serve a high ranking family, her ideas about her place in life and who she is start to unravel.  Her best friend Mishalla sees children disappearing and doesn’t know why. With the help of her master’s great-grandson, Kayla races to discover the truth behind who she is and what might be happening to the children.

This story was very involved and quite gripping.  It takes place in the far future on a planet that was inhabited after earth’s resources were depleted.  Society is highly structured and who you are and how you were born mean everything.  People’s skin color, clothing and even technology all tell you where they belong and how they rank.  My first observation was that it sounded very much like the caste system in India.  In fact, after reading the afterward, it turns out that the author was inspired in part by the stories that an Indian friend told her.  The story keeps you on the edge of your seat, as Kayla races, hides and dodges certain destruction to try to discover why children are disappearing and what that has to do with her own origins.  This was a book that kept me up late because I couldn’t put it down.

As a tool in the classroom, I think that it works well in bringing forward discussions about our own societal hierarchy and how this kind of prejudice, regarding where you come from or your skin tone, has existed and still does.  The fact that it is set on a different planet removes it from the context of our own history and brings it somewhere neutral so that it is free to be discussed without the burden of our own history and prejudices.  The conversation can then be brought back and compared to similar situations in our own time, like slavery or the feudal system.

My own big issue with this book, and the reason I cannot give it 4 stars, is the way it introduces new language.  The story moves very well, but it almost tries too hard to be sci-fi, and that holds it back.  It is one thing to introduce a new planet and a few new words, but when you have 2 or 3 created words in a sentence and several on each page, it becomes distracting and confusing.  All of my favorite sci-fi books have included words that belong only to that world, but they are presented in such a way that it gives context and makes it easy to assimilate into your own reading vocabulary.  There were several instances where new words are thrown at you so often that it takes away from the story.  This type of writing can be off-putting to people who don’t think that they like reading sci-fi, which is a shame.  (I believe that more people should be reading sci-fi, but that’s just me.)  I only mention it because I felt it took away from a very good story.

Despite that small observation, this was a good, thought provoking book.

Its publication date is September 15, 2011 from Lee and Low Book Publishers.
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Kate @ Ex Libris

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