When I read the Goodreads summary for Prismatic, by Sarah Elle Emm, I knew I had to read it. It’s a dystopian, but with a new take that I hadn’t seen before. The stars of this story are “multi-racial”, “bi-racial”, “mixed” or however you want to categorize them. Rain, the narrator, is part white and part African-American. All except one of the teenagers she interacts with has a diverse heritage. This is because America has been taken over by a crazy woman. She dissolved the USA and created the UZTA (United Zones of Authority). Everyone has been relocated by race. There are White, Asian-American, Latino and African-American Zones.* If you don’t fall cleanly into one of these zones, you are send to the Mixed zone. Parents of young Mixed children are allowed to accompany their children, but that’s it. It is the ultimate form of segregation. President Nicks believes in the purity of race and it’s sickening.
The novel appealed to me personally because my children will grow up with a “mixed” heritage. I don’t talk about my family much, but I’ll give you the quick take. My hubby is very Canadian; his Scottish ancestors fought in The War of 1812. My parents are from Trinidad, a small island in the Caribbean, just north of Venezuela. Their/my ancestors came from the South-Asian region. So my babies are going to grow up with all kinds of fun, interesting cultural stuff to call their own. I think they’re lucky.
They wouldn’t be lucky in the world of Emm’s novel. In it, America has closed its borders. People trying to escape to Canada or Mexico are shot on sight. Other governments are trying to find out what happened to America. They are sent propaganda videos, but no one is allowed into the country. NIcks apparently hates the Mixed Zones the most. Though the White Zones get more privileges than the others, the Mixed Zone has the most rules imposed on them. She clearly wants them to die off. They don’t go to school, the work long shifts, they can’t get married and it’s illegal to have babies out of wedlock (see the problem). The idea of it is really scary.**
I don’t usually say this, but Prismatic could have been longer. It was a lean 250 pages. I really like the premise. I thought the first scene and the descriptions of the segregations and the Zones were fantastic. I just felt like the story was rushed. Emm mentions the grey concrete and lack of colour from Indy Mixed Zone, where Rain and her friends live, but I don’t really feel like I felt it. While I enjoyed Rain’s relationship with her brother and her best friend, I don’t feel like her relationship with Jabari was well-developed. Their meeting and feelings felt too convenient.
I also think their goals could have been fraught with a little more difficulty. Or maybe the tension could have been built up more? I feel like if the book was longer, the characters, setting and tension could have been deeper. I still can’t believe that I’m wishing the book was longer. Because of the genre, I can’t help but compare it to Divergent, The Hunger Games and Wither, all dystopians I’ve read over the past couple years and loved. They were all at least one hundred pages longer. I think it allowed these novels to go more in depth into the characters and worlds that were created.
I do like that in terms of gender, the men and women are treated equally (whichever Zone they happen to inhabit). Though Rain falls victim to certain circumstances, her friend Zi is strong and as instrumental as any of the boys in their battles and victories. There was also some teenage sarcasm, which might have actually been lacking in two of the other books I mentioned. The change in government is only about four years old, so these people still remember what it was like to be in a world where they went to school, could relax and play and think about their future. It’s nice when they’re not serious all the time.
While I wish I could have loved this book, I still really liked it. I'll be looking out for Opalescent, Prismatic's sequel when it comes out. There's so much unfinished business, I have to see how the story ends.
*Question: Would my family fall into the Asian zone because South-Asia is still Asia? Middle-East is still part of Asia too, is that where the Arabs and Persians go? Again, though I like the book, I found these people missing.
**Thankfully I’m in Canada and since most of these crazy dystopians seem to take place in America, I feel a little safer.