In this dystopian-esque fantasy thriller, fourteen-year-old Vega Jane lives a quiet — if lonely — life as a factory worker in the village of Wormwood. That is, until she witnesses one of her fellow citizens running into the forbidden land outside of the town. When the town leaders find out that Vega Jane not only saw the escape, but also knows other details about the incident, it pits her against them.
This one takes a long time to pick up before launching into a pretty convoluted plot. Not a surprise, considering it weighs in at a very hefty (for a middle-grade novel) 512 pages. It takes even longer to figure out all the weird terminology made up for the story. I never did remember who every character was or distinguish them all from each other, since there are so many, and the cast members seem to be in one of two camps: ugly and mean, or attractive and nice. Although this is marketed as a middle-grade story, the language is very strong and completely gratuitous in many instances. While many of the words used are British swears, that doesn't make them any less real. The violence, too, is overdone -- frequently horrific and detailed and, again, gratuitous. Most disconcerting, though, is when the very tough, very tom-boyish Vega Jane wins a little money, so she (VERY uncharacteristically) uses it to give herself a makeover, and then goes to a restaurant where women have to constantly remind their husbands not to ogle her. Sexualizing a fourteen-year-old by having every middle-aged man in the vicinity drooling at her? Not cool and very, very creepy.
All in all it feels as if Baldacci — who generally writes for adults — didn’t truly understand the age group of his target audience. From the unwieldy length, to the violence, to the pacing, to the language and mature content, this book feels very much like an adult story. The only thing that makes it at all middle-grade is the protagonist's age -- which, of course, would make it a tough sell for those high school students who could actually handle the content.
MS — NOT RECOMMENDED. Reviewer: Caryn