Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Best friends Kayla and Mishalla know they will be separated for their Assignments. They are GENs, Genetically Engineered Non-humans, and in their strict caste system, GENs are at the bottom rung of society. GENs are gestated in a tank and sent to work as slaves as soon as they reach age fifteen.
When Kayla is Assigned to care for Zul Manel, the patriarch of a trueborn family, she finds secrets and surprises; not least of which is her unexpected friendship with Zul’s great-grandson. Meanwhile, the children that Mishalla is Assigned to care for are being stolen in the middle of the night.
After weeks of toiling in their Assignments, mystifying circumstances enable Kayla and Mishalla to reunite. Together they hatch a plan to save the disappearing children. Yet can GENs really trust humans? Both girls must put their lives and hearts at risk to crack open a sinister conspiracy, revealing secrets no one is ready to face.
Thoughts: There are a multitude of themes in this YA novel, all of them worth paying attention to. From racism, caste systems, the effects of bioengineering, slavery, corruption wihin the government, religious differences (and the issue of man creating god instead of the other way around), and more, this book has many of the earmarks of a typical dystopian tale without actually being typical. Tankborn feels new and fresh, not another copy of an oft-retold story in a new pretty package.
First off all, the vast majority of characters have dark skin tones. Second, rather than society having strong Western overtones, many of the cultural and societal traits demonstrated here bear a strong Indian influence, which alone would set it apart from a vast majority of other novels of its genre even if its plot didn’t show enough creativity to impress the reader. Which it does.
Central to the plot are the GENs, Genetically Engineered Non-humans, who are essentially slaves to the upper class. Created to have specific skillsets that would benefit them in their later roles, GENs make up a rich and complex culture of their own, having their own religion (the belief that their god created them to serve and so serving is the only way to achieve paradise after death) and linguistic terms that we see them use that are not typically used by the upper classes. GENs are supposed to have rights and limited freedoms under the law, but it comes as no surprise to discover that those rights are frequently ignored by those in power. Of course, unsurprisingly, the origin and purpose of the GENs is not what in initially appears to be, though there are some definite twists thrown in that I didn’t quite expect, when all was finally revealed.
The majority of the plot revolves around two GEN girls. Kayla, assigned to serve an aging man in an incredibly important family, is bitter about her life and her role in the world, and comes to find kindness in places she didn’t expect. Mishalla, kidnapped from her original assignment and forced to play caretaker to frightened babies and toddlers, falls in love outside of her class, and ends up in the middle of a illegal plot to give the upper classes yet more power and control. The two of them find themselves drawn into a plot for revolution and equality that neither of them could have predicted.
Sandler does an excellent job of putting the reader in the mindset of the downtrodden lower class as well as showing the viewpoint of the privileged upper class, giving us a good way to compare and contrast and to form our own opinions instead of having opinions forced down our throats. The writing style is smooth and easy to follow, the pacing is fantastic, and the story engaging and very creative. For fans of dystopian fiction who want something that isn’t “white-bread”, this is the book to have.
(Book received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)