Title: The Secret Under My Skin
Author: Janet McNaughton
Obtained: borrowed from library
In the year 2368, humanity struggles to recuperate from a technocaust that has left a generation of orphans in its wake. Strict government regulations convince people that technology is dangerous; confusion and fear rule the earth.
Blay Raytee is a government workcamp orphan. Her future seems as bleak as that of the world around her. But when she is chosen for a special mission by a guardian of the environment named Marrella, Blay begins to discover that all may not be as it seems. The secrets she uncovers could hold the key both to the healing of the world and to her own past. What she learns may just empower her to join those who struggle to restore democracy–and to discover at last who she really is.
I’m still trying to figure out the cover, and what, exactly, it has to do with the novel. It’s a nice cover; it reminds me of a painting, instead of a photograph. I have a thing for “art” style covers. The face at the bottom, I’m guessing, is supposed to be Blay. It is a typical face; nothing stands out about her. In fact, outside of the “art” style of the cover, nothing stands out. This isn’t a book I would pick up just because of the cover.
It’s really difficult for me to discuss this book without just giving a run-down of the plot, but I’ll do my best. Blay Raytee is a very intelligent person. We see this quickly; she enjoys reading, especially poetry, and quickly reads through all the books that are in her home, a “model social welfare project”. She re-reads the books of poetry. I found her hunger for learning charming.
Her government tells the people what they think the people should know, and even go so far as to lie to the public. I was quick to draw relations to certain governments in the past, but then I realized that, to some extent, all governments lie to the people. Blay’s government takes it to the next level, telling the children in her Model Social Welfare Project a story about the technocaust on Memory Day. The story is enough to scare little kids.
What I really liked about this, outside of the social movements, was Blay herself. She’s an unreliable narrator; we see her opinions of history change as what she is told changes. At first, she believes what the government tells her. Then she believes what Erica tells her. She is, at first, afraid of Lem, a recluse who lives on the hill and, according to legend, eats little children. Of course, after meeting Lem for herself, she is quick to discard the stories of her youth, and indeed spends a lot of time with him, learning.
It’s not until Blay learns about her past that we see a true turning in the book. As Blay discovers more about her past, things are happening around her. The government is crumbling against the rebellion. She learns more about the individuals around her, and in fact reunites father and son, but she becomes jealous of this reunion and avoids Lem for a while.
Blay develops throughout the book, learning to think for herself, decide things for herself. She begins to learn more and more as the novel progresses; not just about herself, but also about the history that she thinks she knows, and about the culture of the city she comes to reside in. I really found Blay to be not only a likable character, but also a true one. She is torn between wanting revenge for all that was done to her, and feeling sorry for the guards that she had once been so frightened of. She is indecisive about how she feels about Lem’s son, who has expressed interest in her.
I’m really glad there’s a sequel to this novel (The Raintree Rebellion), because despite all that I liked about the novel, I felt the ending was lacking. Hopefully the sequel ties things up a bit more nicely.