I’m not sure what prompted me to grab a book so obviously in the dystopian YA camp. I guess it’s that bad habit of reading widely—I mean, it’s great in the sense that I discover books I love I might not have read otherwise. But it means I tend to read a lot of books that I find mediocre even when I know others are going to love them. It’s one thing to rip into a book that is legitimately terrible and another to lob half-hearted critiques at a book I don’t actually feel passion for, one way or the other.
Perfect Ruin is perfect in that regard: Lauren DeStefano shows us the intriguing floating city of Internment, whose citizens are beloved of the sky god but can never jump off the Edge. If you do, you get ricocheted back up by the winds that surround the city, and if you survive, you are broken, mentally and physically.
Morgan’s brother jumped, and now his family lives with the consequences. Morgan just wants to get through school and marry her government-arranged betrothed and, you know, get on with life. But all these pesky murders get in the way. As public order unravels in Internment, Morgan starts to question the very basis on which her society operates.
In other words, your standard “teenager starts to reflect on the organization of her society, discovers it’s a dystopia, and decides Something Must Be Done.” Points for making that Something a jailbreak rather than a revolution. Unfortunately, Morgan spends most of the book out of the loop of most of the interesting stuff. Right around the climax—which kind of came out of left field—we get a huge infodump once Morgan has the curtain pulled back for her. Just once I’d love for the main character to know about all this terrible stuff at the beginning.
The stakes, too, are extremely low, then they’re suddenly life-or-death high. For most of the book, the question seems to be, “How will this affect Morgan’s utterly normal life?” before it suddenly becomes “the powerful people want Morgan dead!” Don’t get me wrong: I love the twist and subsequent high-stakes plotting. I just wish I had the opportunity to read more of that.
I’m also calling shenanigans on the cliffhanger ending. Although it’s an appropriate place to leave off in the narrative, I suppose, I’m just disappointed because I would love to find out what happense next … but not so much I’m actually going to read the sequel. Just not that invested.
The characters offer little for me to care about. Morgan is a nice enough girl, and I like her friend Pen, and I guess Thomas and Judas are all right. But Morgan just never shines for me. And while Basil’s unwavering support for her is a refreshing change from jealous and manipulative fiancés, I just wish he had more depth to him. Pretty much the only secondary characters with more than one dimension are Pen (who proves she has a mind of her own when she isn’t immediately on the whole “let’s escape” bandwagon) and Morgan’s brother and sister-in-law.
Similarly, Internment is pretty “meh” as far as dystopian worlds go. I’m not going to bother critiquing the way DeStefano explains how it gets power or controls its population size or whatever. I’ll even pretend that DeStefano doesn’t carry the baggage of Lois Lowry’s over-simplified approach to naming things (“decision-makers” anyone?). Let’s assume the logistics of Internment make sense in this world. Aside from its different-from-us policies about social conformity, let’s examine its dystopian nature, and specifically, it’s name.
Internment implies imprisonment, albeit on a grander scale—Britain used to “intern” people in Australia, because its empire was so far-flung it literally gave zero fucks about colonizing a continent with criminals. So were the original inhabitants of Internment prisoners, or exiles from Earth? If so … why?
I don’t care how your prison floats in the sky, but it must be expensive. Unless the universal constant of gravitation has altered, you can’t just suspend a chunk of rock and dirt and people in mid-air without spending some serious juice, not to mention using some serious technology. That is a lot of work to go to if you’re going to store prisoners there. Internment should be a resort spa.
And maybe it was. Maybe Internment was actually some kind of refuge for the privileged during the apocalyptic global war. Then, somehow, they forgot all that and called it Internment and made up their sky-god religion. I guess stranger things could happen.
If the second book explains any of this, then I’d welcome anyone who has read it to spoil it for me in the comments. (Please use spoiler tags, though, for the benefit of people who do want to continue with this series!)
DeStefano is a capable writer on the micro-level (i.e., sentences and paragraphs). On the macro-level, Perfect Ruin could have used another editing pass to condense some scenes and fix what I see as a weird transition between two plot states. None of my complaints about the pacing, plotting, or even the dystopian nature of Internment actually ruin the experience of the book.
But here’s the thing: I read more than a hundred books a year. It’s not just that I can handle a dud every now and then; statistically, I expect several duds at the very least. I know most people just don’t devote the time to reading that I do—they manage, what, 10 books? 20? If you’re reading 10 or 20 books a year, even if most of them are dystopian YA, you probably want to prioritize and read the best 20 books you possibly can. I just don’t see Perfect Ruin making that list. It’s OK, I guess, but there are better ways to spend your precious reading time.
Shame. It has such a pretty cover.