Today, I'm reviewing Lydia Kang's excellent Control. I've been dying to read this book for a year and a half, and I'm thrilled to say that it's everything I wanted and more.
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published: December 26th 2013 by Dial Books for Young Readers
Format read: E-ARC via NetGalley
Synopsis via Goodreads:
A spiraling, intense, romantic story set in 2150—in a world of automatic cars, nightclubs with auditory ecstasy drugs, and guys with four arms—this is about the human genetic “mistakes” that society wants to forget, and the way that outcasts can turn out to be heroes.
In Control, we're introduced to sisters Zel and Dyl, in the year 2150. They've pretty much been nomads for their entire lives - their dad's job as an old-fahsioned medical doctor constantly keeps them on the move.
But during their latest move, the family gets into an accident and Zel and Dyl end up as wards of the state. But to make matters worse, a twist of fate leaves the two sisters brutally separated, with Zel being relocated to a safe house with housemates possessing genetic abilities beyond anything she's ever seen.
Kang's debut novel is a stunner for many reasons, but it's the science in this science fiction novel that deserves the praise, first and foremost. Kang uses her background as a medical doctor to great precision in creating almost every facet of Control's world: from rounding out Zel's abilities and talents in lab work, to world-building lines describing the medical enhancements that are available to everyone in Neia.
But it's the science behind the genetic mutations where Kang really shines. Her explanations for how and why Zyl's new housemates have come to develop the abilities that they have, and how these abilities have been manipulated for use on the black market and for the general public were so simplistically elegant, I found myself marveling.
Kang also uses the science to ask thoughtful, serious questions on the ramifications of scientific advancement throughout the book, including opening the eyes of readers to both the potential benefits and downsides of genetic manipulation. E.g. a character proposes a serum that will have the ability to instantaneously fix bones, while self-serving parties also exhibit obsessive control(!) to ensure that the medical technology stays in the right hands.
Outside of the scientific elements, readers will also find a compelling and relatable heroine in Zel. Though the story starts off with Zel being put into multiple situations that would have literally made anyone else cry for weeks, Zel's sheer doggedness to reunite with her sister against all odds helps her adapt to the unexpected.
Kang does an especially fantastic job of showing Zel's transformation from a shy, unassuming young woman with a serious lack of self-confidence, to someone who begins to actually trust and grow under the guidance of her unconventional new family.
Though the transformation definitely doesn’t come easily, Kang effortlessly shows how a combination of a crisis, new (and generally positive) influences, and even being in a new, albeit strange and contained environment, can all encourage someone to develop in unexpected ways.
And while Zel’s character journey does fall to the wayside a bit in the latter half of the book as the tension amps back up in the attempts to rescue Dyl, there’s a definite sense that Zel's definitely not done growing, and I can’t wait to see how this plays out in Catalyst.
Lydia Kang's ambitious debut novel makes writing choices that absolutely pays off in spades. Readers will undoubtedly be clamoring for Catalyst as soon as they finish Control, and the wait will hopefully be a short one.
I highly recommend Control for YA readers in general, but especially for readers who are looking for science fiction that really gets the science down cold - Kang is your author.
Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of Control from Penguin, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!