Having read and loved Poison Study, I was glad to try Maria Snyder’s new book, Inside Out, a YA novel. The protagonist is Trella, a teenaged girl who toils as a “scrub”, a person designated as a cleaner of Inside, what appears to be a square-shaped biosphere made of sheet metal.
Scrubs are responsible for all cleaning, from laundry to the animal pens, and Trella is assigned to the ventilation ducts. This allows her the freedom to explore beyond the “lowers”, the two levels that are so crammed with people that everyone shares a bed with a person who works and lives an opposite shift, and waiting in line for food can take three hours.
Trella’s world is an interesting one. All scrubs have brown eyes, and are raised in groups of ten by a Care Mother. Time is measured in blocks and multiples of ten: Scrubs work five 10 hour shifts per week, and are divided into groups of 10. Weeks are 100 hours long, and 100 weeks equals a centiyear, so time moves slightly faster than it does in the modern day.
A meeting is held once a week for announcements, testing and population tracking. Population Control keeps track of everyone who lives Inside, and the Pop Cops are unpopular with everyone, uppers and lowers, and foment antagonism between the uppers and lowers while keeping them apart. The meetings led by the Pop Cops all end the same way, with a reference to reaching the millionth week, at which time a momentous event is supposed to occur, but no one knows why or how the prophecy came about.
Trella’s closest friend is Cogon, a Care Mate who was raised with her. Cogon tells Trella that there is a new prophet, Broken Man, who has been sent from the uppers to the lowers, and is in a wheelchair. Broken Man has news of Outside, and he tells the lowers that they no longer have to wait to be recycled to discover what awaits them Outside. For the people of Inside, Outside is as mythological as week one million.
A cynical Trella goes to hear Broken Man and he tells her her family names, and who her parents are. Children in the lowers are either born to scrubs or sent from the uppers. Trella knows that she was not born to one of the lowers, but doesn’t know how or why she came to be there. Broken Man also reveals that he has the location of the Gateway, the entrance to Outside and that it is stored on discs in his quarters in the uppers. Trella’s knowledge and ability to navigate the vents makes it easy for her to find the discs but Broken Man’s rooms have been booby-trapped by the Pop Cops, and Trella is nearly caught.
The ensuing struggle to hide Broken Man leaves a Pop Cop dead and Cogon imprisoned. Trella now spends her time avoiding the Pop Cops, keeping Broken Man safe, and trying to help Cogon who is being tortured for information. As she goes on to discover the secrets of Inside, she comes in contact with other scrubs like her who don’t believe that their lives should be nothing more than cleaning, eating, and sleeping. She also meets Riley, a teen from the uppers when he discovers Trella’s quiet place, an unused storage room. Riley becomes a friend to Trella and even provides access and cover when Trella needs information that can only be found in the uppers.
Inside Out was slow going at first, with the opening chapters being a bit info dumpy, but it worked, because they provided points of reference for how Inside was structured, physically and socially. As Trella discovered information about Inside’s history, I also found myself trying to piece together what might have happened to bring them to this point. It was nice to watch Trella as she learned the value of friendship and trust.
The book is told from Trella’s, so all impressions of everything and everyone are filtered through her. She is an interesting blend of snarky teenager and middle-aged office drone about to snap. The danger she faced was real, with the threat of being fed to the Chomper hanging over her head, as well as that of anyone caught helping her. She faced that with an acceptance that I found disconcerting, until I thought about it, and realized that all citizens of Inside lived with that threat over their heads for various infractions. The book ended on an uplifting and cliffhangery note, and I am looking forward to the next book in the series.
Note: Yes! Today is the day to post your reviews for April’s TBR Challenge. Please, take a moment to visit with the other participants of this month’s challenge. Alas, Keishon is still reading her book and will probably post her review on Friday. Hey, no laughing. She was uh, very busy these last two weeks.