Book Review: Tarnished 

tarnishedBy Kate Jarvik Birch

I picked up this book in a random ‘smash and grab’ from the teen section in the local library. Well, to be fair, I borrowed them with my library card but I picked them from the shelves indiscriminately so it felt like a smash and grab.

The story is about a girl, artificially raised in a facility to be a pet for the rich. The premise is that in the future, we can create artificial people who are conditioned to be pets for the rich. It starts out with her having just achieved her freedom by escaping to Canada and then proceeding to undertake the difficult task of attempting to be reunited with her love interest back in the States where she came from. Problem is, in the United States she is classified as a ‘pet’ meaning she has a non-person status and is treated as property. The parallels to chattel slavery are rife.

The story itself is readable and enjoyable enough though the plot holes get larger closer to the end of the book. It’s things that seem to make sense at face value but don’t stand closer scrutiny such as a high tech companies reliance on paper files (as an example). Also, some of the characters are a bit too world wise for people who cannot read (reading is not part of their training).

What the book does very well and in a subtle manner lays bare the ongoing patriarchal nature of our society. As a reader the premise seems natural. The pets are all girls and youth and beauty is the main attribute that is valued by their owners. The rich didn’t own male pets nor did the company that bred and trained the pets sell a male version. Pets that escaped made their way in the world based on the beauty at the behest of the men and women that ran the black market.

As a thought experiment, consider, if people could be created and conditioned what would big business do? Where would the market be? Female? Check. Young? Check? Attractive? Check. Trade them in for a new model as they get older? Check. In short, if we were to commoditize any demographic of human, it would be pretty young girls. These are also the target for people smugglers. As a society, we have a long way to go.

Some of the characterization needed work, especially around motivations. Some of the actions that the characters took didn’t make a lot of sense given the situation they were in. Sometimes the author provided a motivation in the form of a statement from the character in question but even then, I struggled. The worse case is the antagonist, the owner of the main character pet. He seems to want her back to make some sort of example of her. This doesn’t make sense to me. Of you have a problematic dog either you discipline it, sell it on or, if you can do anything else, you put it down. The issue I have with his desire for revenge is that it dilutes the premise. If you consider her a pet (essentially not human) then why the desire for revenge. To me, it weakened the novel, not by much, but it was noticeable. Are they human or not in the eyes of the public? It would have been a stronger novel if that had been more consistent.

A final point of interest is I was initially left with some ambiguity around her motivation. She wants to return to her love interest, the son of the man who ‘owns’ her. Was this driven by love or her conditioning. This was a great question that did get resolved and is probably only ambiguous because I started with the second novel in the series (Perfected is the first).

Worth reading? Definitely. See how easily you slip into the ‘pretty young things are the right ones to buy’ mentality. It’s a great eye opener.

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