“Many years ago broken families overwhelmed us. Kids like you didn’t have stable homes, because without a married mother and father, kids can’t thrive—it’s impossible. Between soaring high school dropout rates, teen pregnancy, homosexuality, and rising juvenile crimes, the government had to act. Something had to be done to ensure kids grew up in healthy homes to prevent these travesties. Thus, mandated Partners were created. With a perfect Partner already decided, things like divorce and homosexual behavior became unnecessary."
In the beginning of this book it is early established that adultery is a crime worse than murder. I was intrigued. Very intrigued. And then we learned that one of the purposes for having an assigned partner was to have healthy offspring, and said partner would be assigned based on genetics. I was further intrigued. How did a western society turn into a society such as this one? My guesses were a third world war, a worldwide (or national) epidemic, or the rise of some seriously disturbed extremists. Naturally, I required some deeper understanding of this world.
I regret that now. The world building that is attempted in this book should never have made the final cut.
“The national government was dissolved, and power was distributed to local officials—our Mayor, for example, in this town—to enforce the legal system, state by state. As you may have already learned in school, each of the forty-eight states nominates one of its Mayors to attend the annual Council in Kansas City, at which point propositions of change in National Law are brought to a vote. Around the time this system was developed by our Founders, the United States made the decision to close its borders to immigration and emigration, with the understanding that trade and commerce across American borders would remain easy and accessible to and from all countries. Some notable countries, such as Russia, Costa Rica, and Germany, have adapted the American system. Some others, like Thailand and England, also recently began discussions of implementing their own Assignment system.”
Let's be honest. None of this makes sense. What did--loosely--make sense was that this new society had a two-children policy in place. If overpopulation was the issue, that should fix it somewhat. On the other hand, I call bullshit. None of the countries mentioned are even close to being overpopulated (maybe Thailand is due to its size, I'll admit though). All of these countries mentioned are below the 2.1 child per woman ratio that needs to keep a stable population (meaning no more, no less people in the next generation than the previous). So let's face it, this society had no reason to have a two child policy.
Still, I figured this was a society that had some sort of totalitarian government. But hey! It's not, because the national government was dissolved. And the fact that there are other countries joining in on this not so festive idea. Which ruled out that possibility (although I will come back to this later in this review). Neither of my other theories were right either. There is no mention of a war or even something close to it. And unless you find teenage rebellion an epidemic, that one didn't occur either. So my next guess was extremists. But I think that can be ruled out by the fact that in this society, deities are forbidden (and I assume religion as well).
We'll go back and take another look at the society. The worst crime you can commit is adultery or have a relationship with someone besides your designated partner. Said partner is chosen based on how well your genes will mix in a baby. However, before the inhabitants in this society can have a little fun in the sack, they must go through with the Ceremonies. Basically, there are more or less rituals where you do different stages of a relationship. So they have ceremony for your first kiss, and marriage, and what not. Before each specific ceremony, it is against the law to do any of the acts that take place in them, for example, kissing. Which, of course, means that they do it anyway. Which brings me to the next irrational part of this society. You see, when a person commits to cheating, it is a public offence. You are shamed for it, and they use the words you'd expect. They slutshame. And since cheating is the worst crime you can commit, being called a whore would be the equivalent of being called a murderer (or something worse) in today's society. The real problem with the world building is that, the teenagers use these words in daily talk basically just to tease. To put it in a better context: that would be the same as calling someone a murderer just for teasing said person in our society today. Which, of course, no one would really do.
My point with all this is that this book is ruined by its own attempt at world building. It's speculative fiction, but since it is clear that this society came out of the one we have today, one can require at least some logical history behind hit. This one doesn't even come close. Which brings me back to the totalitarian society theory.
In a way, it is a totalitarian society in the sense that it decides who you marry and more. On the other hand, it is probably the dumbest totalitarian society ever. I mentioned how the Partners are chosen based on DNA. This is a well known fact by the inhabitants. Yet, when our protagonists go on a field trip to see the computer that does this choosing, they are asked to do a personality test to see who their partner is. Because that makes sense, right? No, it doesn't. And anyone in this society would know that. Which means that a, it's a scam or b, it's bullshit. Either way, someone should've seen this through. Even if they find the assigning of partners a good thing, I assume at least someone would be interested about what is really going on.
And before we continue to the other aspects of this story, I must mention one more aspect of the world building that makes it unbelievable. Tell me how a society, if not the U.S., but like Germany would go against UN's Declaration of Human Rights. It is clearly stated that no woman or girl should be forced to marry against her will. I dare you to find a plausible explanation for this.
Now, to the other aspects of this story. Our protagonists, Tracey and Piren, are all right characters. Nothing exceptional, but Piren's character was far more entertaining and interesting than Tracey's rather flat character. But basically, the plot is this: Tracey and Piren are childhood friends, but they are not Assigned Partners. So, of course, they will fall in love. Unfortunately, the progress of this is far too slow, dragging down the pace of the entire story. The story opens with them in their early teens and ends with them in their mid-twenties. What we do is follow these two characters as they grow up. Not an entertaining process, I might add as their lives, given the society they live in, are rather dull. Instead we have drama such as: boring science classes,--and holy fuck, did I just say I found a science class boring?!--slutshaming, board-games, teenage girl drama ("SHE WENT TO HER COUSIN'S WEDDING INSTEAD OF MINE, HOW DARE SHE").
It doesn't help that whenever this story has a chance to turn interesting, it takes the safe path that eradicates any chance for interesting. Like, there's a town for Banished people (those who commit a serious crime). The people in charge insists this place is full of crimes--a murder a minute-- and STDs and whatnot. So, since this is a predictable story about how love is the most precious thing in the world, it is obvious what this town is.
This was meant to illustrate how the story never dared to step outside its own comfort zone and instead took the safe, well-traveled path. In the end, this story did not live up to its premise.