Fans of post-apocalyptic and dystopian YA will quickly be sucked into this stand-alone tale.
Once Aya was living in the Frontier with her unconventional family, including two young children she was charged with protecting, trying to make ends meet, but she has been captured and now lives in a slave pen, awaiting some man to make a purchase for her at market. In her society, a potential future of our own, all women are property: sold, abused, used for children, and killed or pushed aside when considered useless. Children are means to an end, and religion and prayer is banned. Also, any girl who is a virgin and gives up her virginity before being sold (even if the man buying her asks her to do it) is punished to live as a Virulent, the lowest caste of society that is visibly marked and usually ripe with disease. Aya tries to do anything to avoid being sold. She starts fights, gets sick, tries to escape, and usually she is punished by being unsuitable for market and sent to live in solitary confinement. In her brief exile, she makes a friend or two: Brax, a wolf puppy she saved, who keeps her warm at night, and a Driver boy, whom she calls Kiran, who is mute but eventually companionable. Then, she runs out of chances. Finally up for sale, Aya (her slave name is Clover) tries to be as repulsive as possible, which backfires. The mayor of Glasscaster buys her for his son, and Aya is slave to a young boy. Thinking she has lost all chance of escape, she is unexpectedly saved when Kiran pretends to be the mayor’s brother and helps her back into the Frontier. Aya’s only thought is to find her family, but a series of surprises leave her questioning her familial ties, her beliefs, and her future.
The Glass Arrow has been called a modern YA retelling of The Handmaid’s Tale and Aya has been drawing parallels to Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. (Actually, I thought it was going to be more like THG and Katniss than it was, so I was very pleasantly surprised by this.) However, it is not for the sheltered reader. It is designed to open eyes. To make the reader think about women, their vulnerabilities, the patriarchal society and how it can degrade into this view, which is very similar to some countries in the world. It is an emotionally difficult read (not inappropriate by any means), but will make you uncomfortable and expose you, if you weren’t already aware, to ideas about sexism and potential abuse of females.
Now the good parts! Aya herself is a strong character, inviting the Katniss comparison, and does much to shelter those around her, like the children, from the brutality of their world. Kiran is the best possible sort of boy, and Aya comes to realize this, discovering that she demonized most men in retaliation to the stereotypical treatment of her (and females in general). Kiran changes her mind, and Aya learns that despite society’s view, she and he can love honestly, honorably, and truly appreciate each other. Brax is both comfort and comic relief from the horrible situation, and the ending is satisfying, though I won’t spoil it here. Take a chance to read something that isn’t just a happy story, for it’s in these that you learn the most about yourself, how you think, and how you might need to change…
*Note: Middle grade readers may not be emotionally ready to read/discuss amount of sexual connotation and possibility of sexual abuse in this book.
P.S. Found it noted on Kristen Simmon’s website that she is working on a book called Metaltown for 2016. Unknown whether this is a sequel (though doubtful) or unrelated. Go there for more articles and bonus stories from The Glass Arrow!