This book is just so clunky and obvious, I almost didn't finish it. I kept putting the book down to roll my eyes at the two-by-four Healey was swinging around to get her messages across. Because, make no mistake, this is a MESSAGE novel. And not just one message, oh no, Healey squashes as many as she can into the book. And none of it is done with any sort of grace or ease. Everything stops to make sure that we, the reader, grasp the IMPORTANT MESSAGE Healey wishes to impart upon us.
For example, one of the characters is revealed to be a trans person. And it has nothing to do with the plot, just a bit of info. I actually like this, I think it's great to have characters who are not white hetero whatever and not have the novel focus on that particular point about the character. What I have a problem with is the way it's revealed. The entire novel stops in order to make sure we know that piece of info and then moves on. And it's not even revealed in a believable way. See this character is an established drug user (or at least someone who plays at it to disguise what she's really doing) so the fact that she's taking pills shouldn't be noticeable to the narrator. And yet it is, and then we stop what we're doing to establish what the pills are and that the narrator is a-ok with it, and then move on. AND THIS WAS DURING A RATHER INTENSE SCENE. It completely ruined the flow of the novel. And the fix is SO easy, you have narrator look at character A in annoyance when she pops some pills. She explains what they are and narrator accepts that, apologizes for her annoyance and then you MOVE ON.
In another instance the narrator mistakes a boy from the future for her past love. As in, she sees this future boy and flashes back to her now dead boyfriend. She calls him by the wrong name and insists that future boy looks just like past boy. Except she's a white girl and both of those boys were black. Well, she is humiliated. And to make sure that we got the message, Healey makes sure to state outright what was wrong. This was my first real jarring moment. It could have been handled much more subtly with the narrator rushing out of the room in shame (as she does) and the other kids calling her a white racist (as they do- or at least a slang term meaning white racist) and then left at that. There wasn't a need to come right out and say why the narrator was in the wrong, the text said it already. That's just clunky writing and talking down to the reader.
But where it gets hilarious is that a couple of chapters later, when narrator is starting a friendship with future boy she apologizes for the mistake and he says that he forgives her. He goes on to explain that it was explained to him who past boy was and since past boy was nationality from place A and he is same nationality from place B, he could see how she might mistake them for each other. Do you see? Right after the text comes right out to say that it's wrong to say people from one race all look like each other, it subtly goes back and says but really they all do. It's like Healey heard the lesson about why that particular form of racism is bad but didn't really learn it.
There were plenty of other things that bothered me about the novel. Like why, in the format that it's in, does the narrator talk about her romance? It doesn't make sense, it's supposed to be an interview type thing, and the narrator is established as a private person. Or why it's necessary to have two, count em TWO, different bad guy groups. The addition of the religious fanatics didn't add anything to the novel and you could have easily revealed the information they provided in other ways, Healey could even have used the army to do it. Or perhaps her female hacker character.
At this point I think I'm done with Healey's novels. I really, really liked Guardian of the Dead. But none of her novels since that one have come close in content. And this one was just plain bad.