I read the book Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch, which got me thinking about writing in an unexpected way. So many times writers are bombarded with the concept of a fresh spin on an old idea. However, just like the writing cliché, “show, don’t tell”, that concept is also outdated. Freshness is important to fiction, but no book is wholly original... as there are only so many stories that can be told.
And that’s why Perfected is worth reading. Because the novel uses familiar concepts in a new way.
Perfected puts a fresh spin on the Young Adult Dystopian genre, because the novel isn’t about some sort of rebellion or totalitarian government. Aside from the issue of some teenage girls being kept as pets, the United States is the same as it is now. Writing a book about how some teenage girls are kept as pets for rich people and are the new status symbol (like what yachts used to be) is a new take on dystopian literature, since the novel deals with one societal flaw as opposed to starting with something monumental. The smaller approach offers people something noteworthy because readers still get a sense of characterization, despite how the book is “commercial.”
The idea of having teenage girls as pets is also a clever allegory for America’s slavery past. Sure, pets are pampered and don’t serve their families like slaves. However, there are still overlaps with the issue of slavery. There’s a network of people disobeying the law and helping pets go to Canada for political asylum. There are also rewards for runaway pets, which mirrors the idea of rewards for runaway slaves.
The realism makes Perfected “scary”, since there aren’t any fantasy or super-advanced science elements in the book—meaning a country could really have a major societal flaw that people look the other way about. And while it is unlikely that teenage girls would ever be kept as pets in the United States, the novel still exemplifies how a societal flaw can turn the United States on its head. Another example besides slavery would be McCarthyism and the mass hysteria that ensued. The point is that whether the issue is large or small, a country could become unrecognizable by virtue of its flaw.
Another strong point is Birch’s avant-garde spin on romance in young adult fiction. The new twist is a backdrop romance as opposed to an all-consuming love. Readers see romance between the main character, Ella, and Penn, the teenage son of the family that buys Ella. He and Ella form a slow bond, which intensifies over time.
This subtler approach to romance is better. Characters should stand on their own without depending on love or sex to make them appear 'interesting'. But don’t get me wrong. I still want a snappy plot. As a result, “building over time” should not be equated with boring. Because without spoiling the final third of the novel, I'd like to say that the stakes get bigger.
The conclusion is wonderful too, because the momentum continues till the last sentence. Perfected doesn’t become quiet or flat after the climax. People cannot underestimate the need for momentum and conflict till the last sentence, since readers deserve a payoff. That means that they should prevent an ending from feeling abrupt, even if there’s a sequel planned.
So go ahead and give Perfected a try, because you will not be disappointed. I definitely wasn’t, and I can’t wait to read the sequel soon.