Title: The Secret Under My Skin
Author: Janet McNaughton
In the year 2368, humankind must struggle to survive under dire environmental conditions and strict government control. In this startling world, one brave young woman begins to unravel a web of lies about life on Earth that will empower her to discover, at last, who she really is. McNaughton vividly imagines an all-too-believable future and celebrates the impact that one person can make on the world. (goodreads.com)
It’s really difficult for me to discuss this book without just giving a run-down of the plot, but I’ll do my best. Blay Raytee is a very intelligent person. We see this quickly; she enjoys reading, especially poetry, and quickly reads through all the books that are in her home, a “model social welfare project”. She re-reads the books of poetry. I found her hunger for learning charming.
Her government tells the people what they think the people should know, and even go so far as to lie to the public. I was quick to draw relations to certain governments in the past, but then I realized that, to some extent, all governments lie to the people. Blay’s government takes it to the next level, telling the children in her Model Social Welfare Project a story about the technocaust on Memory Day. The story is enough to scare little kids.
What I really liked about this, outside of the social movements, was Blay herself. She’s an unreliable narrator; we see her opinions of history change as what she is told changes. At first, she believes what the government tells her. Then she believes what Erica tells her. She is, at first, afraid of Lem, a recluse who lives on the hill and, according to legend, eats little children. Of course, after meeting Lem for herself, she is quick to discard the stories of her youth, and indeed spends a lot of time with him, learning.
It’s not until Blay learns about her past that we see a true turning in the book. As Blay discovers more about her past, things are happening around her. The government is crumbling against the rebellion. She learns more about the individuals around her, and in fact reunites father and son, but she becomes jealous of this reunion and avoids Lem for a while.
Blay develops throughout the book, learning to think for herself, decide things for herself. She begins to learn more and more as the novel progresses; not just about herself, but also about the history that she thinks she knows, and about the culture of the city she comes to reside in. I really found Blay to be not only a likable character, but also a true one. She is torn between wanting revenge for all that was done to her, and feeling sorry for the guards that she had once been so frightened of. She is indecisive about how she feels about Lem’s son, who has expressed interest in her.
I’m really glad there’s a sequel to this novel (The Raintree Rebellion), because despite all that I liked about the novel, I felt the ending was lacking. Hopefully the sequel ties things up a bit more nicely.
Originally posted on October 13, 2010