By Monica Hesse, published by Hot Key Books.
Lona Sixteen-Always has spent all of her life in part of a unique virtual reality experiment called The Path, which claims that it will bring up orphans in better ways than foster homes. Lona spends twenty-three hours a day inside a ‘Pod’, re-living the childhood and teenage years of a boy called Julian, who lived fifty years ago and apparently had a perfect childhood. Lona is not allowed to be in love… but during the one-hour-a-day she getts ‘Off Path’, she falls for Fenn. A few months after he leaves for a real life adulthood, Lona is rescued from her virtual life by Fenn and his rebellious, Stray friends.Upon beginning a new, dangerous life as a Stray from The Path, Lona discovers dark truths behind The Path, finds love again, and embarks on a journey to find out what it really means to live. Can Lona and her new group of friends, the Strays, spark a rebellion against The Path?
This book has to be one of the best debuts I’ve read in a while! The plot was thrilling, with great, unexpected twists and shocks. Monica’s writing was brilliant; her story structured expertly. I especially loved how every few chapters, the scene would switch back to who was, at the beginning, a minor character (Talia), and how Lona and Talia came together at the end to try to put a stop the The Path’s ways. The idea was just genius- it’s one I really wish I’d thought of! The author has generated a dark, technologically advanced possibility of a future America that I really loved and want to read more about.
The characters were great; I really loved Lona and Fenn. Although I didn’t know anything about their pasts, or their real names (Lona Sixteen-Always and Fenn Eighteen- are Path-Generated names), I really connected with them and enjoyed reading their adventure. I liked the character of Talia, too, and how she came from being a normal Path Staff-member who I guessed would be a bad guy to playing a totally unpredictable part in the start the rising up against The Path!
Overall, I seriously enjoyed this. It’s got to be one of the best Debuts of the year, and I really really really want a sequel. Keep writing, Monica Hesse!