Thursday, July 24, 2014

Prison Nation by Jenni Merritt - Justice gone very, very wrong

In this view of the future, the United States has become a land of "mega-prisons" where a large majority of the population lives out its days laboring at jobs to sustain the prison population (and society's elite we later discover). Millie 942B is a "Jail Baby," born in one such prison - Spokane - to "lifer" parents. She has spent her entire existence within the walls of the prison never having experienced the outside world, touched a tree, or studied the stars.

The story begins as she is approaching her 18th birthday and her impending release to the outside when she is discovered and stalked by a senior prison guard, Carl. Carl wants Millie for his own purposes, and all Millie wants is to be a citizen, good and strong, and free. However, free means leaving everything she has ever known behind in the prison including her parents and her secret friends, Jude - a young night guard and Orrin - an inmate in a nearby cell - both of whom she's never actually met face-to-face, only through the grill of the closed cell door after "lights out." And "outside" may not prove to be as free as she's been led to believe.

Prison Nation is a fascinating vision: horrible, threatening, and exciting to read. The characters Merritt has created seem like ordinary people surviving under extraordinary circumstances (that have become the new normal). Millie is "street-smart" in the prison and naïve (yet wary) when she gets outside. She is a nice, regular girl - someone that you'd like. The supporting characters are well-developed and give us good variety. Carl, the villain, is suitably evil and creepy, and single-minded in his pursuit of poor Millie.

Fans of young adult dystopia should enjoy Jenni Merritt's creative story of the United States in the future where justice has gone very, very wrong. The setting of Spokane to Portland is both changed to support this future and familiar enough to make it all the more devastating a vision. The story ends at an appropriate place but poised to continue with book 2 - Lady Justice - coming sometime, I most fervently hope, in 2014.

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