Monday, April 7, 2014

Tabula Rasa=Awesome (the book, not the treatment)

Tabula RasaTabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So.  Much.  Fun.

This is what a good YA thriller should be.  There's action, action, action, a wonderfully dramatic bad guy, an isolated setting, a sweet yet subdued romance, and oh, right, a kick butt heroine!

Sarah--or at least, that's what they tell her that her name is--is in the tabula rasa program at a remote hospital.  She's repeatedly told that she is very lucky to have this second shot at life, so she'd better not act up.  Sarah's main activity is counting ceiling tiles and waiting for her next surgery. Brain surgery.  We jump right into this as Sarah's set up in her halo (a metal cage that holds the skull in place) and the doctor drills into her skull through metal ports.  He's injecting a substance into her brain to gradually erase her memories and make her a true blank slate, or tabula rasa.  During her last surgery, though, the power suddenly goes off, a mysterious figure shoves some pills and a note into her hand, and gunfire erupts.  Someone is besieging the facility, and Sarah's got to escape.

On the run from soldiers who don't hesitate to shoot hospital staff, Sarah runs into a hacker.  Actually, first she punches him in the face.  The boy, whose name is revealed to be Thomas, is a hacker who's there with his dad, 8-Bit, a super-hacker who's been contracted to take down the computer systems of the Tabula Rasa Hospital.  Problem: 8-Bit's gone missing and their extraction team doesn't arrive.

After hiding out in 8-Bit's yurt, Sarah and Thomas realize that they have to risk going back to the hospital--for several reasons.  Along the way they encounter other survivors who don't seem to have fared as well in the program as Sarah has.  They meet a small squad of vets suffering from PTSD and a boy named Oscar who's super-violent.  Like the storm around them, Sarah and her antagonists swirl around each other until a mind-bending, Bond-esque finale.

I liked almost everything about this book!  Sarah's reaction to her situation--very few memories, sudden blasts of remembrance that leave her incapacitated, and a strange abhorrence of a woman named Evangeline Hodges--feels very real.  She mourns the loss of her memories, but doesn't dwell in a sort of sludgy despair.  Rather, she channels that loss into anger and revenge, which, if I were her, I would think was totally justified.

Thomas is also a cutie.  He's awkward but not stereotypically so.  He has his own demons to deal with, and I particularly liked the exchange between Sarah and Thomas when he says he wishes he could take her place.  It was a bit shocking at first, but also heartbreaking.

Lippert-Martin deals a lot with family relationships, particularly the parent-child dynamic.  Sarah and her mother Blanca were exceptionally close, but she never knew her father.  She suspects it was a man her mom used to work for, since Latina girls don't usually have green eyes.  Thomas was adopted by a rich family and bonded with his adoptive sister, but was always at odds with his adoptive mom and dad.  When his genetic dad, 8-Bit, pops back into the picture, things don't get much better.  And the mother situation is even worse!  Lippert-Martin handles all of these relationship issues with aplomb, never delving too far into melodramatic overreactions from her characters.

Another aspect of the story that I really liked was the subplot involving the soldiers with PTSD.  They, too, underwent the tabula rasa treatment, only it backfired on them.  Instead of erasing the traumatic memories, the soldiers have become trapped inside of them.  Their trauma is now their reality.  It's deftly revealed and my heart really broke for these guys, who were obviously very skilled and very smart, but ultimately victims of their own experiences and the mad scientists at the heart of the program.

Okay, yeah, the whole "mad scientist" thing and the secret research lab and the very long MWAH-HA-HA villainous explanation scene at the end were a bit much.  It felt a bit silly after the earnestness of the rest of the book.  It was really just infodump time.  However, I can't hold it against the story as a whole--well, not too much.

I think the ending was handled very well.  It's not a super-rosy-future ending, but there is love and there is hope.

I'm shocked that I actually liked the love story in this one.  I need to go take my temperature.

Highly recommended!

Note: I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


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