Kit Mallory’s dystopian young adult novel, Blackout, is full of as much stellar character development as it is breathless action. Mallory delivers the story with a sense of urgency but doesn’t neglect character backstory or the events informing the text’s destitute politics. This leaves the reader feeling like they’ve spent far more than mere hours getting to know the characters and inhabiting their world.
The setting is a near-future UK run by a group called the Board and divided by a wall separating North from South. Several young adult characters are introduced to the reader including Skyler, a young undocumented Northerner surviving in the shadows of the South. Skyler is a brilliant hacker and it is her point-of-view that is focalized through much of the text. Mackenzie, a sensitive young man with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, is another Northerner who has ended up in the South where he ekes out a space for himself as a thief. A third character, Angel, is a Southerner with a mysterious past. She is an equally skilled fighter and healer. She’s also a lesbian whose love story ends up being a central part of the story.
Blackout offers a critique of divisive and dehumanizing political rhetoric that warrants the treatment of marked “others” as well as an extreme imagining of its disastrous effects. In fact, the relevance of the text to real world contemporary politics makes it difficult to lose oneself entirely in the story. This isn’t a bad thing, timely speculative stories about future possibilities that prompt deep thoughts about the real present are exactly what young adult readers (and the rest of us) need right now.
Some reviews have suggested that the book is slow. I didn’t think so at all. But, I’m a huge fan of dystopian fiction and like texts to unfold with rich detail. In fact, I am distracted by action if it’s not clearly motivated and I’m not invested in characters. That wasn’t the case with Blackout! I found the characters fascinating and followed every punch and kick like I was watching them land on the bodies of people I cared deeply about.
This is a great summer read. I’m looking forward to the sequel!