Review of Lush
By Anne-Marie Yerks
Published by Odyssey Books
Available as a trade paperback or ebook
“I was forced by birth to live in the past, but I was more excited by the future and longed to shape mine in many different ways.” So thinks 17 year old Isla Kiehl in 2151 as she works at a spinning wheel. It’s Saturday in a Heritage Mennonite farm and Isla is chatting about the old ways circa 1856 with busloads of Citizen tourists “in pastel pinks, yellows and blues—the standard shades for retirees.”
This time and place in the environmentally ravaged future is rich with possibility, for Isla’s life ahead of her and for us, as readers. Runaways and revolutions come to mind immediately. Isla narrates the novel and her voice is immediately engaging and trustworthy. What she wants, with her 18th birthday mere days away, is not to be married off to Archie Pimm, her only suitor to date. But there is another outlet for bright young women and Isla and her best friend, Esme are more than curious about it.
The Center for Research on Ecological and Intellectual Advancement or CREIA is rumoured to have a legendary library and state of the art research laboratories. It’s also the place where women who want to be teachers can be selected for training there. Or at least, this is the glossy promotion offered by a glamorous speaker at their high school. It would seem to be a respectable escape from life as a living museum exhibit in Cherish Our Past and especially from a suitor with an egg-shaped head and unfortunate eyebrows.
Another young man Isla has eyes for, a mutual crush, warns her about her charismatic teacher and CREIA and Isla’s brilliant brother is uneasy about his little sister leaving the safety of their farm and their father. They’ve already lost their mother to cancer and their elder sister ran away from home and was found dead in mysterious circumstances. But Isla is young and spirited and she wants to see and experience life beyond the derelict houses and trailers near their farm. Off to CREIA she goes with her best friend in a car driven by their teacher despite some last-minute misgivings.
There is a constant undercurrent of fear and menace in the highly stratified colony where they have been taken. The writing throughout is a brilliant example of ‘show, don’t tell— and trust your readers.’ Those of us who are fans of adventurous stories where female characters thrive because they are strong and ingenious and determined when confronted with challenges will bring our reading history to Lush. We will experience a delicious sense of anticipation mixed with dread as we read about the colony where some will teach, some will serve, some will garden and some will have their fertile eggs harvested to contribute to ‘composites’. Did you just shiver involuntarily?
The pacing, meaning the rate at which we learn about this new yet strangely familiar world, is perfectly maintained as well. There are great disparities in food and potable water and housing and power and footwear, things great and relatively small. Like the best dystopian world-building, there is just enough ordinary evidence of civilization to scare the bejeepers out of anyone when Isla has to evade a hologram spider the size of a rabid house-cat. Every character, major or minor, is distinctive and decaying urban streets and rural landscapes are fully imagined, endowed with crucial details— the bare feet, the rope belt holding up frayed jeans, the dignified man on a park bench reading a newspaper, one of the UnSaved. Or the cargo ship heading downriver with a cargo of prisoners which makes me think of the Mississippi or even the Thames. Will the toxic world be restored by working with science or nature, or both? Will Isla succumb to an assigned role in society for the sake of good food and clean water? What price freedom? How can the goodness of humanity prevail over the power-mongers and their allies? What keeps the human quest for hope alive? All these questions and more are deftly and intelligently explored in lyrical language that is never heavy-handed which it could be in less accomplished hands.
The author lives in Detroit, Michigan and the publisher is based in Wellington, New Zealand. Kudos to a creative partnering of Northern and Southern hemisphere denizens!
Highly recommended for readers 12-18 especially but as with all good writing, this book is for any reader of any age who loves a ripping good plot, interesting characters and very good writing guaranteed to keep you reading far later into the night than you should.