Pawn – Aimée Carter

Synopsis

YOU CAN BE A VII. IF YOU GIVE UP EVERYTHING.

For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There’s only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that’s not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she’s only beginning to understand.

Review

Interesting concept, interesting social commentary, but poor execution. This book pulled out every single dystopian trope known to man, and quite honestly, Kitty made for a lame protagonist.

Let’s start with the GOOD. This book seemed fresh. I knew going into it that it would unashamedly revolve around a rebellion (unlike almost every other dystopia that starts with a unique premise before falling apart through a revolution — I’m looking at you, Hunger Games, Divergent, Matched, The Testing…). I was excited to see an uprising start from within.

And for the most part, the social commentary was subtle enough to be thought-provoking rather than explicitly shoving an ideology down readers’ throats. The flaws with standardized testing, for example, were in prime display: some have unfair (dis/)advantages, and they are not a true measure of intelligence. Kitty was enraged when discovering that the Vs and VIs had tutors that taught specifically to the test, much like affluent students (at prep schools or under the receipt of private tutelage). And standardized tests themselves are flawed because they only target specific skills through specific means. Furthermore, these means do not directly correspond with practical intelligence used in day-to-day life. Kitty struggles on the test because she cannot read, but she’s observant and diligent. She also comments that Benjy was destined to succeed on the test because it appealed to his exact skill set. This is absolutely true of standardized tests today: reading, writing, and computation/logic are valued far more than interpersonal skills, yet the reverse is true in the workforce.

Pawn depicts the dehumanization of lower castes, which is true today, often for fewer and less valid reasons. Discrimination is still a battle to overcome in society, and it’s not always all about intellect. Race, gender, sexuality, and culture play a huge role in limiting people. Elsewhere was a unique way of showing this problem. People are sent there when they’re no longer productive, when they’re unskilled, when they’re criminals, and when they’re handicapped. And once there, they’re treated like animals.

I also liked how masking addressed the value of a single human life. Today, stem cell research is growing at an incredibly fast pace. We’re only tapping into the surface of cloning and its potential (hello, Dolly the sheep!). But as it continues, do people become indifferent to human life? Some lives are valued more than others, but the ethicality of valuing others’ lives is an interesting moral dilemma. If you make someone, do you have the right to control (and “own”) him/her? Augustus underestimates Kitty. She is careless with the true identity of Lila so long as she can uphold her image. It’s also interesting to note the achilles heels of masking (the tattoo imprint and eye colour). There is always new frontier to cover.

At the same time, I don’t blame Augustus for underestimating Kitty because she is such a spineless character. She’s passive. Things happen to her, and she mindlessly follows instructions. Regardless of her inner torment, actions speak louder than words. Her opportunities do not always correspond with her convictions, but she understands that complying with certain wishes help achieve her goals. And yet, for all she thinks, she speaks few words. And those few words make her seem like a doormat. She has a lot of inner turmoil over some fairly obvious questions. I didn’t need to hear her ponder over non-choices given to her by Daxton and others, which were practically rhetorical questions. “Should I take this cool, unique opportunity or lay and die now? Let me think, I really don’t want to die.” Lila seemed so much more interesting, opinionated, and charismatic. Kitty was more like Katniss worn down by the end of Mockingjay but with unsought after ambitions. Kitty pitied herself a lot too, which got annoying. And Benjy was so bland and personality-less that I didn’t see his appeal at all. I couldn’t empathize with Kitty for trying to protect him, because at this point, he hasn’t done much of anything.

Then there were the average dystopian tropes galore. Did seniors really have to get sent Elsewhere, or was that just expected ever since The Giver? Did the Harts need to live in the lap of luxury? I know it was meant to depict the huge inequality gap between the rich and the poor. But considering the large bourgeoisie in this book (83% were middle-class or higher, wow! In perspective, 58.8% of Americans are expected to spend at least a year below the poverty line), this felt overdone. And why bother with a Prime Minister and feigned sense of democracy/meritocracy when the usual dictatorial monarchy was in place? This book would have been even more powerful if the majority of citizens had at least some sense of choice for a leader, but were so swayed by Daxton’s propaganda/promises that they continued to re-elect him… or at the very least, anyone with the capability of running against him (VI+, I presume) were so content with their standing that they felt no need to run for office. Going down the line for the “throne” didn’t uphold the façade of a democratic system at all. Go big or go home: this half-baked execution was disappointing.

Related Reading

  • The Giver – Lois Lowry
  • Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
  • Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  • What’s Left of Me – Kat Zhang
  • Your usual dystopian rebellion/uprising book

Rating: 3.5/5

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