by Sarena Straus
Winding Road Stories

"Everything that made her fall in love with him was gone. It felt less like breaking up and more like mourning his death."

In this intriguing novel, the development of protagonist Leandrea is a work of genius by author Straus. Through her journey, the reader can see the innovativeness of the author’s worldbuilding, spearheaded by ReInception, a neurological process by which individuals can essentially remove any bad habit or trait of their choosing. At first glance, Straus’ work is reminiscent of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, a unique rendition of dystopian science fiction. Digging deeper, though, Straus’ novel probes into themes and elements that are directly relevant to today’s society, providing readers with not only an electrifying storyline but also food for thought as to what future societies of humanity could look like.

Set a century into the future, the narrative revolves around Leandrea Justus and an interesting twist on the age-old discussion between free will and predestination. Growing up in a highly charged political climate, Leandrea’s actions perfectly represent the call-to-action portion of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. What starts off as friends coming together to experience a protest against modification policies quickly tests Leandrea’s mettle along every turn, creating riveting adventure after adventure for the reader’s delight.

Leandrea’s initial motives are centered around Hallyn, her boyfriend and a staunch supporter of her being one of the few not modified. At his bequest, she, along with her friends Andromeda and Kammeo, take a trip down to the Catacombs, where the “lowly” Prole reside. The Prole are akin to the lower caste, a group reminiscent of history’s “untouchables” who function essentially as indentured servants. An explosion at the Catacombs creates a state of chaos where the group is separated. Leandrea is saved by Ward, a Prole who carries himself unlike any other Prole and who clearly knows far more than he lets on.

Interestingly, Straus’ world also exhibits “Big Brother” influences, with the communicator tracking devices on each resident being distinctly Orwellian in nature. Even in numerous timely situations, the act of shutting off your “comm” is no less an admission of guilt, making it clear that you were somewhere you shouldn't have been and doing something you shouldn’t have been doing. In theory, this world of ReInception should be utterly utopian, with everyone from prisoners to the disabled community being able to more or less write their own futures and mitigate their own limitations, or in the case of prisoners, diminish the propensity of being career criminals. Yet some of its denizens, such as Leandrea and Ward, recognize that within the benefits lies a major con: the gradual and systematic unraveling of the human race and the bedrock of individuality upon which it is built.

As the plot continues at breakneck speed, the ReInception side places the fault of the protest bombing squarely on the Origins, while Ward alleges even the thought of that is unimaginable. Caught in the middle is Leandrea, who fights for her new friends despite being pursued relentlessly by Aisling and the authorities. A firm believer in “Pro-choice” when it comes to modification, Leandrea’s character grows from a naive girl infatuated with her boyfriend to one who understands the power of her voice and actions and the impact this can have on entire groups and the way society functions. Ultimately, the fusion of captivating character development and a worldbuilding setup to test the author's characters makes Straus’ work an excursion audiences will relish as they wait for more.

A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home