Once these illegally born children are discovered (and they almost always are) they are taken to a detention center and not shown an ounce of humanity again. Babies are allowed to sit in their own filth, they are not cleaned often, they are not held, and they are certainly not loved. Children are drilled in the facts that shape their world: they should not have been born, they are worthless burdens, they must work constantly to pay back the world for their existence. In other words, become a Valuable Asset.
We are introduced to our heroine Anna (Surplus Anna to be exact – she is surplus because she had no right to be born) who is writing in her contraband diary. Surpluses are not allowed personal property because they have been deemed worthless and sub-human and must constantly work to even out the valuable resources that are wasted to keep them alive. However, Anna was unable to resist the temptation to write in her soft pink leather bound diary and sneaks away to write in it as often as she can. In this way we gain insight into how fully these surplus children are indoctrinated. Through Anna’s words we know that these children are broken creatures that believe whole-heartedly in their own worthlessness.
The first half of this book is chilling. The setting, the inhumane treatment of these children, and the cruelty of Mrs. Pincent, the woman who runs the detention center is absolutely frightening. The brutality these children endure makes your blood run cold.
The second half, in my mind, left something to be desired. The ending was very conveniently wrapped up and I think the writing could have been a little more sophisticated. Regardless, it was a very good story and had it not missed a couple of opportunities would have been excellent. I’ll discuss my thoughts on this under the spoiler space.
Peter, the surplus boy who deliberately gets caught in order to rescue Anna and return her to her parents was not as subtle as I would have liked. He immediately spells out his intentions. In a world where people cannot be trusted, I thought more time was needed to see where Anna’s loyalties truly lay and whether or not she could be trusted. I also thought that this would have added drama and tension to their scenes.
I was also disappointed with Sheila. She was the legal girl who had been turned into the detention center as a surplus. Even though the authorities know she is a legal, she is not allowed to go home. Sheila saddened me because she felt it unfair that she was treated as a surplus, but never questioned the system where surpluses were allowed to exist. She bought into the system completely, even though she had experienced the inhumanity and abuse first hand.
And finally, we are repeatedly told that the men who track down surpluses are ruthless and play by their own rules. However, when they are presented with the “life for a life” scene where Anna’s parents end their own life in order to make Anna legal, they kick the dirt like disappointed kids and act like, “if it only wasn’t for those meddling parents we would have had them.” I didn’t buy that they would be defeated so easily.