This book is not at all what I expected when I picked it up. I had thought that it might be about tattoos and people’s reactions to them. While it IS about tattoos, it is more about a dystopian society that touts education as a way to move up in society while, at the same time, making it nearly impossible for that to happen.
In this society, if a person is caught in a misdemeanor crime such as buying food or medicine in a “shadow market” – an unsanctioned market where items are available that are not normally available in the regular stores, they immediately receive a tattoo around their wrist. Three tattoos, and they go to prison. Tattoos are given immediately without any sort of trial – only that the police had caught them doing something “illegal.”
Lyla Northstrom is one such girl who has received a mark when she went to a shadow market to buy medicine for her ailing mother because her mother is not able to get medical care from any acceptable medical facility. A police officer, who she has known since a child, offers her a way to redeem herself and to get her mark removed. He wants her to spy on one of her best friends who has also been marked for participating in underground activity. She must decide if her freedom from condemnation and a chance to get an education is worth betraying her friend. As she gets further into the underworld and into the world of the government that is controlling her world, she learns that many things are not as they seem.
This book is also a sort of commentary on the control that government can get over people’s lives and the results of that control. I watched a documentary on freedom just yesterday, and I was hit with the comment that one can either have economic freedom OR government regulations – not both. This books is a good example of what MIGHT happen if the government reigns supreme in all aspects of one’s life. It is too frighteningly possible for such a society too exist is freedoms are eroded one by one.
This story is told as a combination standard novel and graphic novel, an unusual approach but may help get the graphic novel people reading something a little more challenging. I could not list it as a graphic novel, but it does have elements of that genre in it. And, one of the characters does write a type of graphic novels.