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Sarah Govett – The Territory

Book Cover

To pass with flying colours…

Publisher: Firefly Press
Pages: 202
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-1-910-08018-4
First Published: 2015
Date Reviewed: 24th July 2015
Rating: 3.5/5

It’s 2059. The world has largely flooded and there is very little land left. In Britain the Ministry deals with the population problem by making 15-year-olds sit exams – those who achieve high marks get to stay, those who don’t are sent to the Wetlands where there are few resources and disease is rife. It’s a death sentence. Wealthy and/or influential parents can pay to upgrade their children, set them up with the technology that streams information straight into the brain, and many do. But Noa’s parents didn’t. A ‘norm’, she spends her time revising and hanging out with her friends whilst she still can; Jack is good at art but may fail science, and Daisy is an average student with little support. But then there’s Raf, the ‘freakoid’ surgically-enhanced new kid who isn’t like the others.

The Territory is an ambitious and very ‘current’ young adult novel that looks at the way exams impact students in the context of a dystopian society. Comparable to The Hunger Games on certain levels, the book marks the start of a trilogy, the beginning of a bold journey for Govett. The book sports appeal for both teenagers and adults – teenagers are more likely to accept the language, adults more likely to enjoy the political elements.

Let’s get the characters and language out of the way first. Noa isn’t at all likeable. She’s irritating; she judges people based on their appearance (this can be argued to be fair considering exams and social standing are everything – it’s the sheer number of times she does it that is the issue); she uses offensive language on every other page (“mental”, “psycho”, “denser” – again understandable where intellect is of utmost importance, it’s just the repetitiveness of it that’s uncomfortable and off-putting). Her use of language is seemingly at odds with her education, at least in the context of our day.

But, and this is a big but – this is Govett’s point. Noa is average, an average teenager, as likely to cause offence as any other, as likely to be nice or nasty as any other (and Noa isn’t heartless, she’s far from it). She’s cited as clever but there’s the ongoing question of whether or not she’s clever enough to be saved. Govett’s point is thus – why shouldn’t Noa, who stands for the average school-aged child, be free to live happily? Why shouldn’t she be saved, why should she be placed behind a person who has had every advantage? In this way Govett questions our present, real, society, and the importance we put on status, on exams; she questions elitism and the barriers placed in front of disadvantaged children that effectively hinder their progress. And so Govett has taken her questions and woven a dystopian tale around them.

Going back to the language and Noa, the language is something your typical adult reader, and likely many younger readers, too, are going to have to work around, to get past if they can. Noa’s language is almost too colloquial – there are words here I know I’ve never heard of that may or may not be made up (this is the future and language is always evolving) – and there are many capitalised words and exclamation points. The book is written in the first person in what seems to be a diary – at least it reads like a diary.

The second thing that needs to be worked around, by the reader for them to enjoy the book, is Noa’s attitude, specifically the way she expresses herself and her emotions. Noa is sarcastic and favours humour, which is obviously at odds with the situation but makes sense when you consider she probably needs to let off steam. What doesn’t work so well is the distance between her and the reader. You can draw parallels with the way Katniss can come across as uncaring until you peel back the layers and realise she is suffering from PTSD, but unlike Collins’s trilogy, The Territory‘s lack of stated emotion has a negative impact on the world building.

Govett has obviously spent a good while on the world-building; most questions are answered and the only big mystery that remains by the end refers to the Wetlands. This itself is quite fine because it’s evident that you’re going to be visiting the Wetlands at some point and any amount of experience with dystopian fiction is enough to alert you to the fact it’s likely the Wetlands aren’t cut and dried (excuse the pun) much in the same way you don’t hear about District 13 or any other dystopian underworld right at the beginning. The problem is that there is too much focus on language – an obvious focus on getting the language right to the detriment of the world-building. You are told much, and see a little, but more could have been made of what is said. Being in Noa’s head limits your knowledge and her seeming lack of care, her distance, means it’s difficult to care yourself.

As you can see it’s a trade in and trade off – The Territory is undeniably excellent for what it does, says, presents and asks. It includes most everything it needed to to attract the reader and it does keep you wanting to read. But it could have used more outward emotion, detailing, and immersion in the world.

The promise at the end is that the second book will be full of action and there’s no reason to think otherwise. The Territory is very much the set-up book and where the political elements are put into place. It’s a book that’s worth the read so long as you keep in mind that there are two levels to it and you remember which one is yours. (This itself is not something that limits or detracts from the novel.)

I’ve met the author.

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