Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tankborn Book Review

Author: Karen Sandler. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Lee & Low Books. ISBN: 9781600606625.
Annotation:  Kayla and her best friend Mishalla are both GENs, genetically engineered non-humans, living in the strict caste system of the human colony on the planet Loka. Now that they are fifteen, they will receive their work assignments and likely be separated forever. But when both become unwittingly involved in a plot to liberate the GENs from their lives of servitude, Kayla and Mishalla face a danger that could mean being separated for good.
Personal thoughts:  I found the description of this book to be intriguing, but when I first started reading it I almost put it down. There is a lot of lingo in here that I found really annoying and I was wondering why the author didn’t tone it down a bit. As I continued to read, however, I began to really enjoy the novel and forgot completely about my initial irritation with all of the acronyms and phrases. I think this is one of those novels that could easily be misunderstood or given-up on when only reading the first few chapters. I encourage readers to plow through any initial misgivings because the result is a very entertaining story that has the potential to be a wonderful trilogy.  
Plot summary: Best friends Kayla and Mishalla are both fifteen-years living in Chadi, one of the sectors home to GENs, or genetically engineered non-humans. Centuries earlier, the people of Earth fled their broken home planet and set up a new human colony on Loka. Since its creation, Loka’s society has developed into a rigid caste system with “trueborns” of various statuses at the top, and GENs at the very bottom. GENs like Kayla and Mishalla are treated like slaves, destined to lives of hard labor and servitude. In their fifteenth years, each GEN receives an Assignment: a work placement that will determine how they spend the rest of their lives. Since GENs are given a special skill when they are created, the Assignment is specially selected to suit the individual GEN. As a strong GEN, Kayla is assigned to care for Zul Manel, an elderly, high-status trueborn in a neighboring sector. Mishalla, a nurturing GEN, is sent to Sheysa, another sector close to Chadi, where she cares for low-status trueborn children in a decrepit orphanage. As Kayla and Mishalla settle into their new lives, however, it appears that there are more to their assignments than they originally suspected. The children Mishalla cares for are mysteriously taken each night, with new ones returning in their place each day. Kayla soon learns that Zul and his great-grandson, a handsome and kind teen named Devak, are involved in a plot to liberate the GENs that has been decades in the making. Mishalla and Kayla seem destined to cross paths again, but when they do, what dangers will they face at the hands of people who see them as nothing more than animals?
Review:  Originally meant to be the screenplay for a science-fiction movie in the 1980s, Sandler’s Tankborn creates a whole world of adventure that works even better in novel format. Understanding the intricacies of Loka and the human society that inhabits it takes quite a bit of time. At first, all of the acronyms, phrases and names of the various sectors, objects and individuals on Loka is confusing to the point of irritation. Sandler thrusts the reader headfirst into the world she has created, leaving little time to become accustomed to the “lay of the land.” After the lingo is better understood, however, the novel becomes quite enjoyable. The caste system concept harkens to Hinduism quite a bit. The “untouchables” of Loka are the GENs, who’s treatment and oppression is very reminiscent of the 19th-century slavery system of the United States. Although Kayla and Mishalla are presented as both being the focus of the book, Kayla is by far a more developed character and, essentially, the protagonist. Her budding romance with the great-grandson of her charge, Devak, will be pleasing to many teen readers and doesn’t detract from the more serious science-fiction aspects of the storyline. Indeed, Tankborn is best suited for teens and adults who are more serious science-fiction fans; anyone with only a small interest in the genre will likely be lost in the first few chapters. Sandler has announced that Tankborn is the first installment in a trilogy, the next two novels focusing more on Kayla and Mishalla’s attempts to improve life for the GENs.
Genre: Science-fiction
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Across the Universe by Beth Revis.
Themes:  Genetic engineering, slavery, caste system, social status, dystopian, courage.   
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal.  
Series Information: First installment in Tankborn trilogy.
Discussion questions:
- Do you think there are any groups of people currently in American society who’s treatment is comparable to the GENs? What about in other parts of the world?
- Why did Devak’s friends refuse to talk to him after he stood up for Kayla and Jal? Do you think that this sort of behavior happens in our lives?
- If you had a sket, what would you want it to be? Why?
- Why did you first thing that Pia was stealing the children from Mishalla? Were you surprised to learn the truth?
- Do you think that Kayla and Devak have a future together? Why or why not?

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