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Jemma7729 Paperback – February 15, 2008
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About the Author
Pheobe Wray is a director, actress, and playwright and has starred in the Off-Off-Broadway Movement in New York City. She was the voice of the Tree Dragon and the Twell Tribe on the PlayStation 2 game "Darkling Skye".
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Jemma7729 and J2
Phoebe Wray, Author
by Mike Riley
First things first, let me say that I recommend both these books highly. They comprise one story, and should be read in order, Jemma7729 first, then J2. These would probably be categorized as "Young Adult" (YA) reading, which is good because they should be read by young adults (and older children), but maybe bad, because they could also be read by older adults with great pleasure. Here, I count myself, as I am a long, long way from being a young adult.
There are several books, and series of books, available right now that speak to our love of the "initiate hero," but cast the hero as a girl/woman where traditionally, the role was written for a boy/man. The Hunger Games series, the Behemoth series, the Divergent series, all are well-written stories about young heroes in which a teen-aged or even pre-teen innocent is plucked up by circumstance and thrust into the center of a violent, emotionally taxing, and strenuous quest on behalf of the down-trodden of society, stories in which the hero happens to be a young woman.
All these books happen to also be cast in the Fantasy / Science-Fiction genre, so it helps if that sort of story is a comfortable place for your taste, but I would recommend any of these series to someone who is looking for an heroic adventure tale featuring a plucky girl hero.
Synopsis - Jemma7729
Jemma7729 is set in a dystopian future Earth in which she is raised in a house and family of privilege. Like most good stories of this type, the setting of Jemma7729 and J2 is a projection of growing trends and problems in our own, current world. In this case, the world has been ravaged by a war, which Jemma* has been taught was started by bands of renegade women against the rightful order of society, and led to a bloodbath, an upheaval of the social structure, and environmental damage so bad that human life is only possible inside environmentally-managed domed cities connected by above-ground tunnels.
Unsuitable people, those who are physically imperfect or who have mis-behaved, or who show too much individuality are controlled either by being "deleted," or by being "altered." Being deleted simply means you disappear entirely, neatly and cleanly removed from everyone else's lives. The reader assumes being deleted means being killed, but that idea is simply not considered by the citizens who have to live under that threat; simply being "deleted" is so much more neat and sanitary. Being altered, on the other hand, is both a lesser punishment and a worse one, being something like a frontal lobotomy, in which you are still physically present in society and among your family, but your personality has been stripped of all tendencies to individualism, creativity, argumentation, or any other inclination to disturb the placid order of society.
Women (and girls), of course, having been responsible for the devastating war that ruined Earth's environment and nearly destroyed human civilization, were under a much heavier burden of "right" behavior than men or boys. Women, we are told, are a constant threat to civil order, a necessary evil which must be tolerated and strictly controlled. In an early incident, Jemma and a schoolmate (a boy) exchange words then exchange blows. The school administrators admonish the boy, who is cautioned to be less rambunctious, and to treat girls kindly and gently. But it is, after all, in the nature of boys to be aggressive. Jemma, on the other hand, is physically punished for the same behavior, and reminded that "I am a female; I do not fight!" - a mantra she is forced to learn and repeat after each stroke of the strap. This is a short-hand version of "the Women's Creed," which she later dutifully recites for her mother: "I am a female. I will not question nor defy authority. I will not be aggressive in thought or action. I will obey the request of and male unless what he asks is immoral or unlawful."
* Jemma's actual name is JE2MDRA7729FF400RT913. By convention, face-to-face naming is shortened to something more manageable, such as Jemma7729. This of course, helps dehumanize the people in Jemma's workd, and also serves to de-individualize them to help ensure against further organized uprisings.
Jemma and her family are from the Stable class. In her school, she is exposed to the other, lesser societal classes: Productive, Useful, and Necessary children. The story opens on the eve of the annual Choosing Day, on which each girl of age seven must express her preference of life role among those reserved now for women; each class in society has a very limited number of roles among which the girls must choose. For the Jemma's Stable class, one may become a "married woman," who is a mother and house-keeper, a "fiction writer," (a cute snub of mens' noses by the author, I think), or a "designer." One may also choose "corporate assistant," but only if one is willingly "altered" first (again a snarky commentary by the author - clearly any woman who wants to get ahead in the corporate world must surrender all her aggressiveness and creativity or be seen as a mortal threat!) There is also "listener," and "museum worker."
Each of the other classes has its own list of life roles among which girls of that class may choose, Productive Class being upper-middle-class jobs by our reckoning - technician, writer, etc., Useful Class being working-class jobs such as cook or seamstress. Finally, there is the Necessary Class, who fulfill the roles of cleaner, driver, or prostitute.
Oh yes, there is also an elite "uber-class" called X-Class, composed of those who are born gifted. They alone may choose to attempt to make a life of music, science, athletics. Unfortunately, Jemma isn't sufficiently gifted to choose one of these more interesting lives.
Jemma, of course, has all the characteristics necessary to ensure her "deletion." She is physically flawed in that the iris of her eyes is so dark as to be invisible, seen as if she only had pupils. She is feisty, creative, and uncooperative. In short, Jemma is a born leader.
Exactly the type of girl her society has decided they want to expunge from the gene pool.
So it probably comes as no surprise that Jemma dislikes all of this restrictive culture, and detests "altering" which is primarily performed upon women in an attempt to keep the species docile and well-controlled. Jemma may not express it in so many words, but she realizes that her destiny, if she remains in main-stream society, is one of servitude as an "alter."
So Jemma breaks away as we knew she must. It is the hero's bargain: she jeopardizes then gives up her life of privilege as well as her contact with loved ones, and sets out on the life of guerrilla warfare against the "powers that be." Jemma becomes an outcast guerrilla warrior, and a symbol of freedom and independence for the suppressed in her society.
The bulk of the book follows Jemma's Choosing Day, follows her eventual later true choice not to choose, but to step outside the boundaries of society's rules and strictures. It is a coming-of-age story in which she all-too-quickly becomes an adult and learns that there is no moral high ground, exactly. She learns that to be effective, she must do harm, and like anyone facing a mature moral quandary, she must judge accurately, with too little information, which course is for the greater good. Her choices result in her becoming a hero, and therefore a serious threat to the male-dominated civilization under the domes. Her choices also result in her facing painful anxiety, guilt, and loss, and eventually result in her undoing.
This is an excellent story. There is so much set up in the beginning concerning the structure of Jemma's society, literally dozens of books could be written with this material as background. Perhaps that is in the future for Ms. Wray, and for us, which would be a good thing.
Synopsis - J2
I can't reveal the ending of Jemma7729, but leave it to say only that the last Chapter or so of that book and the first Chapter or so of J2 are virtually the same. J2 is Jemma's daughter, sister, clone. Her family is the staff of the laboratory in which she was created, and, through videos, lore, and internal insights, her absent mother, sister, original version: Jemma7729.
Jemma7729 ends with a tragedy. J2 opens with a different view of the same tragedy, and it is revealed that the circumstances are even more tragic than the reader was led to believe in Jemma7729. J2 is a complete innocent in the ways of the world, but she has her "mother"'s brilliant mind, left even sharper for being uncluttered by the details of society and a normal human upbringing.
J2 is devastated by the horror described in the scene which is the transition into this book from Jemma7729. As did her "mother," J2 flees the only home and society she has ever known, and soon takes up Jemma's mantle and her quest. The oppressive establishment uses her to denigrate the memory of Jemma, and to further suppress the tenuous support structure which both Jemma and J2 find outside the domes.
If anything, J2 is a stronger book than Jemma7729. But really, they should be considered together as a single work. Do not be put off, however, by the notion that you have to read two books to enjoy either of these; either book stands alone as an excellent YA adventure, and a morality tale for our time. But I definitely recommend reading Jemma7729 first; you will then be called to read J2 because you must.
The female sex as a whole is blamed for this, and women are kept under tight control and given a very narrow list of occupational choices. They also have to make their choice at age ten. Women who prove difficult are "altered" by drugs to make them docile and content with their lot. Jemma refuses to choose at age ten, and is imprisoned in "rehab." She escapes both rehab and the Santa Monica dome, living on the run. Using stolen Internet access, she figures out how to make primitive bombs and destroys several of the plants where the mind-altering drug is manufactured.
Her real career begins when she is taken in by the Movers, a large and well-organized resistance who mentor her in guerrilla warfare skills and help her understand the big picture. The "Administrative Government of North America" (AGNA) has to be overthrown. The whole system must change, not just "altering." However, their main tactic of undermining the regime is to get people to leave the domes, where they are under tight control, and live in the Countryside instead.
Meanwhile, the state-run media demonizes Jemma, making her out to be a dangerous criminal and terrorist. Her parents, still under the dome, disown her.
I would rate this book five stars, except it loses a star for having Jemma successfully fire bomb about a dozen altering-drug-making plants while she's still 11-12 years old, and unassisted. Maybe one, through a combination of lax security and underestimating her because she's a child (albeit a precocious one), but ten-eleven-twelve (I don't recall how many) is stretching it.
The last chapter is a heartbreaker but leaves plenty of hope the rebellion will continue. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I hope it gets much wider distribution. In the aftermath of the success of The Hunger Games, there's a growing market for dystopian sci-fi with young female protagonists.
Length: about 70-80,000 words.
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