Al­ter­na­tive his­tory shines light on fit­ting in

Weekend Herald - - Weekend | Books -

In 1928, New Zealand Par­lia­ment de­lib­er­ated on a law al­low­ing the forced ster­il­i­sa­tion of men­tally dis­abled and “un­fit” peo­ple. Ul­ti­mately, it wasn’t passed. But what if it was? This un­set­tling al­ter­na­tive his­tory sets the premise for Welling­ton au­thor L.J. Ritchie’s lat­est novel, Mon­sters of Virtue. Af­ter years of re­search­ing New Zealand’s close call with na­tional eu­gen­ics, the YA novel is an ac­tion-packed story thrillingl­y close to non-fic­tion.

It’s New Zealand, 1932. The Great De­pres­sion rages through the coun­try, yet in the Otaki River Gorge there is a refuge of en­gi­neered per­fec­tion; Gal­to­nia. Run by mys­te­ri­ous mil­lion­aire Wal­ter Han­nay and the coun­try’s brand new Eu­gen­ics De­part­ment, ac­cep­tance into the school is an hon­our re­served for the best and bright­est chil­dren. While the ben­e­fits for their fam­i­lies and their fu­tures are con­stantly em­pha­sised, the un­der­stated yet in­tense in­doc­tri­na­tion with rad­i­cal virtues is just one of Gal­to­nia’s well-kept se­crets.

As cur­rent stu­dents, Nyx and Orion have op­ti­mistic fu­tures as long as they can keep their re­spec­tive re­bel­lious cu­rios­ity and weak na­ture un­der wraps. Mean­while, Eve is cer­tain she doesn’t be­long but knows to fit in is es­sen­tial for her fam­ily to sur­vive. Bonded by se­cret im­per­fec­tions, these three teenagers soon re­alise they aren’t the only ones with things to hide; at Gal­to­nia, things aren’t all they seem.

Split­ting the al­ready mys­te­ri­ous plot between the nar­ra­tion of Nyx, Orion and Eve means ac­counts con­flict and lines are blurred un­til wrong looks right, the truth is de­cep­tive and hu­man­ity is lost in the chaos. It isn’t un­til fin­ish­ing the novel you re­alise the real thrill lies not with the rev­e­la­tions of Gal­to­nia’s eu­gen­ics cru­sade, but in the sub­tle mo­ments when their strat­egy seems to make sense.

Fea­tur­ing de­ter­mined teens fight­ing against a to­tal­i­tar­ian sys­tem, Mon­sters of Virtue will be a hit with any Hunger Games fans ready to ditch pre­dictable high school plots and dig into some­thing a lit­tle deeper.

While top­ics like ster­il­i­sa­tion, con­trolled breed­ing and xeno­pho­bia seem some­what so­phis­ti­cated for a YA novel, it car­ries mes­sages that older teenagers and adults could do with hear­ing. In a so­ci­ety rampant with rad­i­cal supremacy, fake news and sen­sa­tion­alised pol­i­tics, Ritchie’s lat­est novel is a thought-pro­vok­ing crit­i­cism to the ways au­thor­ity can warp a na­tion. And how, no mat­ter your age or stage, ev­ery­one can join the fight for the truth.

MON­STERS OF VIRTUE by L.J. Ritchie (Es­ca­la­tor Press, $28) Re­viewed by Sarah Pol­lok

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