HomeAll postsErasure Initiative by Lili Wilkinson

Erasure Initiative by Lili Wilkinson

A review by Nalini Haynes

Cecily wakes up on a bus in the middle of nowhere with 6 other people, all of whom have amnesia. The Erasure Initiative has erased their memories.

There is no driver. The bus drives and drives without pause. A computer asks them to answer the Trolley Problem. Every time people appear in front of the bus. They’re pixels projected onto a screen. No one wonders if the other pixels – the scenery – is a projection.

These amnesia victims need to find themselves to solve the puzzle. On the way through, group dynamics emerge.

Then the stakes get higher…

The Erasure Initiative is a speculative fiction thriller delving into questions of identity, power and choice.

Vital ingredients

In my opinion, a good story has an engaging plot, believable characters whose motives drive their actions, and in some way this good story explores the human condition. The Erasure Initiative has all three. When I put the book down, its story taunted me, driving me to finish. If you – unlike me – have the physical capacity to read a book in one sitting, be prepared because this plot doesn’t let up, it doesn’t let go.


Nia, one of the passengers, discovers she has a prosthetic leg. Although she’s a person of color, her leg is porcelain white with a Blue Willow design, augmented with a gold-filled ‘crack’ as in Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing an object with a gold join.

Once Nia’s cyborg nature is revealed, Sandra (another passenger) says

‘I bet your story is really inspirational.’

Nia makes a disgusted sound. ‘I don’t want my story to be inspirational,’ She says. ‘I’m not here to make you feel better about yourself’ (p. 49).

Can I get a “Hell yeah”?!

Wilkinson’s representation of disability is pretty damn good. Nia’s prosthetic is never explained. She walks without a limp, has agency and loads of attitude. However, the prosthetic serves as a plot device so Wilkinson doesn’t get a “perfect score”. I can’t help wondering if she’s ever included a disabled character without needing the disability to be a plot device.

Later, Nia’s prosthetic becomes disabling. After years of watching the Last Leg, I’m still not an expert. However, from what Adam Hills and Alex Brooker have said about their prosthetics, it seems events surrounding this development are pretty realistic. I believe Wilkinson did her research, but I’d love to hear what prosthetics users think about this representation.


Racial characteristics separate the characters. Cecily, Sandra and others make assumptions based on color and appearance. Nia challenges assumptions aggressively while the narrative challenges assumptions implicitly. And yet racial bias continues. Someone mentions a “white savior complex”.

Although Wilkinson doesn’t labor the point, she explores race, racial bias and white privilege that results in people of color struggling as kids because their parents struggled and their parents before them.

While Riley – a colored guy with “prison tatts” – suffers immediate prejudice, he becomes a real person whose history largely explains the position he’s in. Wilkinson discusses inherited economic disadvantage to some extent although she doesn’t go into detail. She contrasts people of color’s inherited economic disadvantage with white people’s histories.

Again, Wilkinson explored the issues well without sermonising.

Speculative Fiction

The Erasure Initiative uses a lot of the same tropes evident in Babylon 5 episode “Passing through Gethsemane”.

[Redacted because spoilers and I can’t get show/hide codes to work because Classic Editor HTML view isn’t working and Block Editor won’t let me alter HTML. Screaming into void.]

Anyone familiar with speculative fiction will have seen certain plot twists coming but a Young Adult audience – the target audience – may experience this device for the first time. Although I anticipated certain tropes, Wilkinson’s execution is excellent in The Erasure Initiative.

The verdict

The Erasure Initiative is spec fic thriller with engaging – not necessarily likeable – characters solving a layered mystery to escape a “locked room” scenario. It’s part Speed and part high school drama, missing only the Drama Queen. I highly recommend it.

Those who enjoyed Foul is Fair may well enjoy The Erasure Initiative.

Book details

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9781760525057
Imprint: A & U Children (Allen & Unwin)
Format: paperback, 336 pages
Released: 2020
Children’s, Teenage & educational
Age: 14 – 18

Erasure initiative: a black and white face has a tear through which we see a landscape

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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