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Special by Georgia Blain

A review by Nalini Haynes

Fern Marlowe was datawiped and dumped in a corporation where she works for data to eat. She remembers her earlier life while she tries to figure out the present.

It’s the future when corporations have taken over the world and polluted the planet so badly that scientific intervention became necessary to propagate plants and environments for survival.

As Lotto Girls, Fern and 3 friends at the prestigious Halston school are the product of a lottery: their parents won the opportunity to have a child genetically modified within parameters specified by the company to meet the company’s needs. If all goes well, these impoverished families may be looked after by their Lotto Girls, rising from soul-destroying poverty to a comfortable old age.

Something goes wrong.

I found this story confusing. ‘Data’ is mentioned so often that I dreamed of replacing ‘data’ with ‘penguins’ just for the helluvit.

Fern is datawiped: in the beginning I thought this is a memory wipe or partial memory wipe but her memory seems intact, it’s her identity on the internet and in public records that have been wiped.

People work to earn data as currency. Special lost me when Fern explains to the reader that ‘…traders are roaming the line… They’ll give you enough data to buy two meals in exchange for other data.’ WTF?

When someone is datawiped, they lose their money as well as their identity. I guess partial wipes are a partial loss of finances because data = money/currency. There’s no explanation for why a group of subversives datawipe a dead schoolgirl who shouldn’t have any money.

Fern narrates Special with a tendency to tell rather than show. For example, ‘We looked at each other, three Lotto Girls, here in this unfamiliar place, and we tried to comfort one another.’ She tells us what she’s trying to do — like trying to access data from inside an autocarrier — but there is no clue as to what the setting looks like or what Fern does.

Early on, I realized Special isn’t to my taste, however, it’s a good analogy for a privileged upbringing leading to a crash. About 10 years ago PACFA counsellors started engaging with the fact that children who receive a disproportionately high percentage of their family’s resources — money, time etc — tend to grow into adults who suffer depression.

The reason is that they grow up with unrealistic expectations then are hit with the harsh reality that they’re not special snowflakes — or they are special snowflakes but there are millions of OTHER special snowflakes AND older, more experienced people ahead of them in the queue.

Fern grows up knowing she’s special, privileged: she watches her brother eat less and poorer quality food and complains when her mother gives a little of Fern’s special food to her brother. Later she leaves her privileged space, becoming slave labor struggling for survival.

Boom. Crash. Burn.

For a YA novel, Fern disappoints in her first sexual experience. Chimo makes a move on her, she says no. She goes off in her head to think about her friend Wren’s reputation at school then she comes back to the present. Chimo pushes Fern for sex and she gives in, in spite of Wren having a bad reputation for having had sex (although I don’t know how she managed it in that chaperoned, segregated environment) and Fern not being in the mood. Fern goes from nearly screaming rape to having sex after being pushed. I’m not convinced Fern was a willing participant. The message seems to be that if a boy does a girl a favor, she’s expected to put out.

Early on I developed a theory about Fern and where Special was heading. After reading 138 pages I skipped to the end of the story to see if my plot-based predictions were confirmed. Yes.

(I have a huge pile of books to read and Special isn’t to my taste so I am moving on.)

Special will be beloved of some YA readers, especially those who experienced a crash when transitioning from privileged child to insignificant adult. I recommend Special as a potential psychological cushion for privileged teenagers about to transition into the adult world.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Format: paperback, 320 pages
ISBN: 9780857988072
Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Special — one eye looks through an aperture torn in creased paper

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



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