TheBoy from Cell Town by C.M. Chang is science fiction in the dystopian veinof The Hunger Games. Chang taps intothe darker tropes of contemporary young adult fiction -- emotional turmoil,familial and social neglect, escape into technological fantasy worlds -- andtakes them one step further, writing unflinchingly about a terrifying urbanfuture in which violence is part of every day life for a young anddisenfranchised underclass. NamJu -- the abused, motherless, and angry younganti-hero -- is struggling just to get by in the urban dystopia that is hisreality. He needs a job -- to feed himself and his invalid father as well as hisaddiction to virtual gaming. Although the Death Zone, a virtual reality game played en-masse in an abandonedbuilding, helps block out his emotional pain and suffering, it also leaves himliterally bruised and bleeding. This gritty, youthful subculture is the onlyplace where Namju feels at home. When his virtual life first leads him to theoffworlder Hui, a charming young woman with powers in both the real and thevirtual world, NamJu is tempted by her promises of emotional and physicalrewards, the possibility of different kind of life. However Hui is not who she appears to be andit is not long before NamJu is drawn into a dangerous series of challenges thatwill test his physical and emotional strength to the absolute limit. Suddenlythe stakes are no longer virtual, the fights no longer a rough simulation. NowNamJu is playing for real -- and against an enemy like no other.
Although this is a dark and violentdystopian adventure, the ultimate theme is a positive one -- strength in theface of impossible challenges -- a theme that will particularly appeal to youngadults facing prejudice, inequality and a lack of emotional connection in theirlives. The anger that the young gamers of Cell Town express in both the virtualand the real world is the result of too many encounters with violence, repressionand indifference to their suffering. Rather than attempt to change hercharacters, Chang allows them to express their frustration and sense ofhopelesness. It makes for a very different kind of read, one which may wellresonate with a new generation of readers all too familiar with violence inboth the real and the virtual world.
-- Jackie Hatton, author of Flesh & Wires