________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 25 . . . . March 10, 2017



Fonda Lee.
New York, NY: Scholastic (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2017.
369 pp., hardcover, $23.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-93343-8.

Subject Headings:
Terrorism-Juvenile fiction.
Extraterrestrial beings-Juvenile fiction.
Science fiction.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-18.

Review by Rob Bittner.

**½ /4



On Peace Day, the President of West America would stand up onstage to commemorate a century of peace and cooperation between humankind and the zhree. He would speak about the lessons learned from the War Era and the importance of continued human self government. When the President sat down, Donovan's father would take the podium. Donovan pictured his father walking across the stage, in his stiff gait and dark suit. His father would tug on his lapels and clear his throat softly before speaking. Everyone watching—in the stadium, or at home—would shift forward and pay attention to what the Prime Liaison had to say, because even though the President was still nominally the head of state when it came to human affairs, was there anything of real importance that was purely a human affair anymore?

Donovan is what is known as an exo—the ruling alien race on earth has implanted certain humans with protective shield like material that helps protect them and keep them safe. Donovan is also the son of the Prime Liaison, a leader in the West American government who is responsible for keeping the peace between humans and the zhree. While Donovan and his partner are attempting to capture a group of suspected terrorists plotting to overthrow the zhree, he is overpowered and kidnapped by the Sapience, a group of revolutionaries. This act sparks a new level of hostility between the zhree and the Sapience, possibly leading to a new war after nearly a century of mostly peaceful coexistence. Along the way, Donovan discovers the whereabouts of his previously missing mother and learns some rather difficult truths about the zhree and his father's role in the regime.

Something that can be rather challenging in science fiction and fantasy is world building. While this book is more dystopia than fantasy, the future being explored is different enough from our contemporary society that the examination of a new world order requires a certain amount of detail. While there are certain elements that are confusing for the first third of the book—what does "erze" mean? Who or what are the zhree?—the answers are ultimately brought to light, allowing readers to focus on action and plot rather than being full of questions about terminology. As well, the action sequences throughout the novel are very well done, breaking up some of the more expositional portions of the text. That being said, the pacing throughout the overall novel is uneven, with some information being explained in great detail over many pages, and others being passed over with little fanfare amidst the action sequences.

      Lee's characters are well-constructed which, in the end, makes up for the pacing issues. Donovan is put through all kinds of hell, acting as the window through which readers are able to see the pros and cons of both sides of the zhree/human conflict. Donovan's mother and father are also intriguing, and, though his father is more two dimensional, there are still moments where one can almost feel sympathetic toward the man. The secondary characters are less developed than I would have liked, and perhaps this is one of the reasons that the protagonist does feel so fleshed out. One part of the narrative that I felt unnecessary was the inclusion of a romantic sub plot. While I understand that many YA narratives are expected to have a romance of some sort, I often find them rather contrived and unrealistic. Unfortunately, this is no exception. It does not entirely detract of the story, but it feels more added on than an integrated or integral component.

      Exo, in the end, is a book about power, revolution—much needed in this current socio political climate—and self awareness. This novel will make readers think, I hope, while also providing some good old fashioned alien/human fight scenes. Fans of sci-fi thrillers take heed!


Rob Bittner has a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies (SFU), and is also a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He loves reading a wide range of literature but particularly stories with diverse depictions of gender and sexuality.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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