In the near future the world has started to implement Heritage Crime laws; if you are the child or grandchild of a criminal whose crimes went unpunished, you face prison. Ant and her younger brother Mattie are locked up in Spike, a family prison, as punishment for the crimes of their parents. With them are their foster parents, Gina and Dan, both of whose own parents were also criminals. Situated between Pentonville and Holloway, prisoners of Spike are known as Strutters, named because of the way the locator straps they are forced to wear make them walk upright. Tension soon breaks out, with Ant at the centre of things, giving her the chance to show the world that they are not to blame.
Blame is a worthy addition to the canon of Young Adult dystopian literature. This is a world that is only slightly removed from where we are living now; heritage crime does not exist, but it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to think that it’s something that could become a part of the way we live. The wider society in the novel needs someone to hold responsible, to blame, and if the actual perpetrators cannot be caught, their children will have to do.
As he proved with his Itch series, Mayo is adept at creating wonderful female characters, and he more than proves himself with Ant, a truly wonderful central character. Written in the third person, the perspective is almost entirely hers, with only a few scenes taking place away from her view. We learn that Ant is mixed-race, with a white father and a Haitian mother, and rather than rely on lazy tropes such as a long look at herself in the mirror, her heritage is explored through language; the phrases and expressions that she shares with Mattie, such as the way she counts to four when she needs to steady herself. Ant and Mattie’s heritage is significant to them as more than just a way for them to be punished for their parents’ crimes.
Ant is outraged by what is happening to her and her family, and she becomes a figurehead for the movement within the prison to try and fight back. In doing so, she joins the likes of Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior, who lead their own revolutions. The world of Blame, however, feels so much more real and familiar than those portrayed in other Young Adult dystopian novels. The technology, the politicians and the media are not so far removed from the world we live in, and that’s what ultimately makes Blame so frightening.
A couple of spectacular set-pieces give this story a real cinematic feel; the short chapters through which we experience the terrifying prison riot will keep readers of all ages on tenterhooks, and the climax draws everything together whilst leaving plenty of scope and room for a potential sequel.
The plausibility of the world that Simon Mayo has created is what for me, makes Blame such an essential read. Having read it, I couldn’t leave it behind; its themes and ideas are thought-provoking, and Ant is a character who, though not without her flaws, is more than worthy of standing alongside the likes of Katniss as a true heroine of her world.
Blame by Simon Mayo
First published: June 2016
Review copy provided by publisher