I’m reading this Young Adult novel the day after participating in a protest against library cuts, so its message is especially hard-hitting. Riot is chillingly relevant – and I hope, not prescient. It’s 2018 and after years of recession, Britain is facing a population crisis. The government’s response is to impose sterilisation on all teenagers who are not in employment or training (those pesky NEETs…). Society is about to go into meltdown.
Tia is angry and at the forefront of organising protests against the “Snip Bill” as it’s known; but shot in a demonstration, she is recued by Cobain, leader of a notorious movement of thugs and thieves. As the government sanctions shoot to kill policies, Tia and Cobain go into hiding, desperate to find a way to stop the inevitable slaughter and to scupper the government’s plan. Just one problem – the government official responsible for the sterilisation policy is Tia’s father….
This is an action-packed, fast-paced and utterly plausible thriller. There are many obvious parallels with the current state of our nation and this is where the novel gets its raw power. Government documents filled with dehumanising jargon, identifying the poorest and most socially excluded as being responsible for the crisis – ring any bells? It’s so horrifyingly familiar. As it becomes clear to Tia that the government are engineering the crisis in order to cement the power of the privileged few, her outraged disbelief that this couldn’t be happening in Britain gives way to the determination to stand up for the people, at whatever cost. We’re aren’t at the same point (I hope) but this novel makes it abundantly clear that we’re not that far away. Dystopias lurk just over the horizon, and yes, in Britain too. It’s the power of public protest – shockingly depicted here – that is the only power we have. I hope this novel inspires many young people to develop a questioning attitude and interest in politics and human rights. When you compare events in this story to the landscape of British politics today, it’s clear that horrendous things can be done to human beings in the name of “austerity”, in the face of “national crisis”, and that we can reach that point far, far quicker than we imagine. Wake up and pay attention – this is real life, and not just a story.
Hodder, 2014, ISBN 9781444910100