I twist my hand at a weird angle to get to the itch on my wrist below the shackle. I mean, they call them ‘the Consequences of movement violations’, but shackles is what they are. When I forget to refer to them as such I get ‘the Consequences of speech violations’, which is pretty much just a gag. No one cares what I call that because everything sounds the same with a mouthful of rubber, doesn’t it?
This novella, one of this year’s Viva La Novella winners, had me hooked from that dark, wry, oddly funny first paragraph. Mirii is 17, she only has a week left of her stay in Orphancorp. When she turns 18 she’ll be turfed out into the wide world. But some part of her can’t believe it’s really going to happen. And perhaps it won’t, any infraction, from a touch to a comment out of place, could lead to Consequences and if you accrue enough Consequences they could lead to Prisoncorp. According to Mirii: “Orphancorps[…]buy unaccompanied minors from the state and can’t keep ’em past eighteen. That is unless they mess up, then it’s right to Prisoncorp. Once you’re in there it’s pretty much the end of it.”
The children in Orphancorp are put to work, caring for infants, building or repairing electrical equipment, kitchen duties. Anything they can be used for. Sex is common among teenagers, pregnancy is common, as is home made abortion and drug use. In a world that is so cold, so harsh, any touch – any kindness is a luxury.
The novella is gripping from the convincing tone of the narrator, to the bleak reality Ward has created. It’s whip smart, edgy and well paced. Perhaps my only hesitation is that I wanted to know more of the world outside the Orphancorp that has sunk to this. But even so this story is a triumph of dystopian inventiveness.
Welcome to Orphancorp, Marlee Jane Ward: four stars.
Read it for: a dystopian nightmare with urban sass.