Monday, September 21, 2015

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz

In a future dystopian world, Kavali Kerwin, 15, is more than a little perplexed when she is suddenly dropped off at CropCamp by her foster Sheila.  CropCamp is run by the SayFree Gov for the purpose of teaching teens to grow organic vegetables while turning them into responsible (read conforming, obedient, gendered) adults.

Successfully completing the summer camp program gets a person certification, so that they can return to society for more education or take up Agriculture and not end up in Blight, the place where the gov puts defiants, defectives and other problem people, including expuls from camp.  Kavali is a bender, which means she could be boy or girl, gay or straight, leader or follower, human or lizard (she was found on Sheila's doorstep wrapped in a lizard t-shirt, and Sheila gave her the middle name Sauria and she is never with her small metal Komodo Dragon cum ttalisman).  Kavali quickly gets the nickname Lizard when her tent neighbor Sully overhears her talking to the Komodo.

On her first night in camp, Lizard sneaks out of her tent for some lizard time, but once out, she witnesses a bender boy from camp vaping - one second he's there, then he's gone in thin air - willfully vaporized.   But Lizard isn't the only witness, the camp director, Ms. Mischetti, a/k/a Machete, is also there, very visibly upset by the vaping.

Generally a loner, at camp Lizard becomes friends with Sully, a free spirit who believes she is headed straight to Blight, Rasta, a sweet innocent girl with a bit of a defiant streak in her, and Emmett, a boy who is very kind and loyal to Lizard,  Confused, maybe a little afraid, Lizard tries to keep out of trouble, so she can get her cert and leave at the end of August, but trouble seems trouble finds her.  To begin with, she is completely attracted to Sully, and Sully knows it, teasing and playing with Kavali, but any jazz contract is grounds for an expel, and samer jazz contact is worse.

But as the days pass, Lizard begins to question things that she sees around her, and slowly CropCamp becomes a scary, sinister place.  One bright spot for Lizard is when campers are given kickshaw, a drug designed to make them feel good and mellow.  Lizard looks forward to getting her kickshaw morsel every week, but Rasta keeps telling her not to take it and soon Kavali also begins questioning the drug use.

More questions come up, such as why the bender boy vaped, why Ms. Mischetti so interested in Lizard, is she trustworthy or a dangerous enemy, and what really happened to Sheila when she dropped Lizard off at camp and most important, who exactly is Kavali Kerwin?

This is the kind of novel that is so hard to review because you have to be so careful not to give too much away and yet, Pat Schmatz's world building is so well constructed that it is hard not to inadvertently let in spoiler slip in.  My apologies if that has happened.

Wisely, however, Schmatz has given the reader a very small part of Lizard's world, but CropCamp contains everything one needs to know about the wider world in microcosm.  There is no explanation about how things got to be the way they are and I don't think one is needed.  Everything you need to know you can figure out from the context, including the jargon, which is thankfully not hipsterish, but easy to figure out. I've used some here to give you a feel for it.

By giving Lizard Radio an other worldly setting, Schmatz is free to explore questions about identity in term of binaries, or really, she is asking why must things always be binary - boy/girl, gay/straight, male/female, leader/follower.? Why can't some people be bender, instead of samer?  It's a lot to think about.

I have been off dystopian fiction for a while because so much sounds the same to me, but then Lizard Radio can along and I remembered how good it can be when it is original and well done.  

 If you like intelligent dystopian fantasy, this is a book you are bound to enjoy.
This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

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