ARC REVIEW: Inside Out

Maria v. Snyder
Inside Out
Harlequin Teen
ISBN-13: 978-0373210060
Young adult science fiction
April 1, 2010

Keep Your Head Down. Don’t Get Noticed. Or Else.

I’m Trella. I’m a scrub. One of thousands who work in the lower levels, keeping Inside clean for the Uppers. I do my job and try to avoid the Pop Cops. The Trava family who rules our world from their spacious Upper levels wants us to be docile and obedient, like sheep. To insure we behave, they send the Pop Cops to police us.

So what if I occasionally use the pipes to sneak around the Upper levels? Not like it’s all that dangerous–the only neck at risk is my own.

Until a lower level prophet claims a Gateway to Outside exists. And guess who he wants to steal into the Upper levels to get the proof? You’re right. Me. I alone know every single duct, pipe, corridor, shortcut, hole and ladder of Inside. It’s suicide plain and simple. But guess who can’t let a challenge like that go unanswered? Right again. Me.

I should have just said no…

*book provided by publisher via NetGalley

This has been one of my most anticipated reads for 2010, and I was just devastated after not enjoying the first one hundred to one hundred fifty pages. That’s a lot of book to not really enthuse a reader. But I plugged along because the ultimate mystery had become clear – what exactly is “Outside”, a term the inhabitants of Inside use to describe whatever might be beyond the world as they know it. A world which I could only imagine as a huge office-style building with several levels containing living quarters, loads of air shafts, some assorted functional necessities to keep humans alive and probably, somewhere, a control room controlling it all.

Fortunately, the lure of that mystery was irresistible, and I do feel it paid off in the end, as well as made me seriously ponder what the author’s intentions were for those first unenthusiastic one hundred plus pages.

This is only my second dystopian read, but I have to say, if they all can embody what this one is trying to do, something ultimately compelling and un-put-down-able, I’m sold. I could become a fan of the genre itself. Snyder seems to take her time ratcheting up the suspense in Inside Out, but I do wonder if this was on purpose (or if it’s just a “me” thing, being bored at first). Trella, our main character, an air shaft-cleaning scrub extraordinaire (she’s referred to as the Queen of the Pipes), is at first a somewhat one-dimensional first POV guide.She does grow, but it seems to take a lot of time.

The worldbuilding came off as extremely stale at first, the world of Inside being described in monotonous meter measurements – which this math challenged reader just could not follow at all. And my lazy self just also refused to get a measurement converter tool out to figure out exactly how big Trella was saying Inside was. I instead kind of adopted it as a huge office style building, with several levels, all containing their own purpose. Trella, as a scrub, is relegated to the bottom one or two levels, where the scrub population seems wildly out of control. There seems to be no limits on scrub babies, which are not allowed to stay with their birth mothers, but handed off to a Care Mother instead. Everyone’s ages are measured in weeks, every one hundredth hour celebrated in an assembly, and the sheer number of weeks and hours spouted was a little too mind boggling to wrap my brain around at first. To give an example of how crowded the scrubs are, when they do assemble, it takes Trella an hour, sometimes two, to even get outside the doors of the room they were in.

Care Mothers take care of ten children at a time and the makeshift siblings are called care mates. The Care Mother is responsible for selecting her little scrubs’ professions. Given Trella’s small size, and her penchant for exploring the air shafts, it was natural that she become one who cleans them. For ten hours straight, that’s a scrub’s shift, then ten hours off, with five hour breaks. It sounds like a monotonous, grueling life, but the scrubs are used to it. It is all they’ve ever known. They do basically the dirty work: cooking, cleaning, laundry, hydroponics, waste management, while citizens called Uppers live several levels above in supposed luxurious comfort.

But all is not as it seems. There is unrest brooding in the lower levels in the form of a prophet named Broken Man, and he wants to speak to Trella, believing she can help start a revolution with her skills in navigating the shafts. Trella is a natural skeptic though, used to keeping her nose clean. She’s heard propaganda like Broken Man’s before, and it always failed to go anywhere, but rather disappointed those that gained hope, including that of her only scrub friend, Cog.

Broken Man believes there is a way out of Inside, to get to Outside, called Gateway. He says he has a way to prove it, and Trella decides to help – if only to prove him wrong. Like most scrubs, she thinks it’s all bull and that Inside is the way it is, end of story. Accept it and move on. But move on to what? There is nothing to move on to Inside except more labor, no possibility of having a family and eventually death, where they are recycled after being fed to a machine only known as Chomper.

Inside Out isn’t without its struggles. I thought about giving up on Trella. There’s not a whole lot happening in the first one hundred plus pages except for Trella navigating the air shafts, whether it was for her cleaning shifts, or to aid Broken Man, who is eventually found out by the Pop Cops, short for Population Control. Yep – the bad guys. There’s a lot – read: way too much! – of telling in this book, adding to the monotonousness of Inside life.

But then around the two hundred page mark, things began to change. By this time, Trella finally begins to show some depth of character. She begins to question not only Broken Man’s motives with his supposed proof of Outside, but also that of the Pop Cops and the way scrubs and uppers live. This was literally like a magical moment for me and this book. I finally felt as if I had something to grasp onto and it was very hard from there on out to put the book down. And I didn’t much until I finished it.

Other characters of importance:

Riley, an upper Trella meets after discovering an empty storage room. The two meet up many times after and a romance forms between the two that was achingly sweet. Riley is also the key to Trella discovering misconceptions about the Uppers’ way of life.

Cog is worth mentioning again, as his role takes on an extremely important status when the Pop Cops arrest him. He’s not just Trella’s only friend, but a symbol of all the scrubs come to hope for.

Lietenant Commander Karla Trava (Trava being the main Upper family in control of everything), who is ultimately the main villain in the book. She will stop at nothing to rid the scrubs of insurrection.

Dr. Lamont, who Trella meets eventually in the Upper levels of Inside.

The Controllers – a conglomerate of ultimate authority, whom the Pop Cops answer to.

After I finished Inside Out, I felt energized, adrenaline-pumping amazed. In the book’s last one hundred and fifty or so pages, Trella and her purpose becomes this fire torch of hope, not just for the other characters, who’ve begun to look on her as some kind of prophet or leader herself, but for me as well. I fell in love with her character, and it became a true reading joy to see her come to another realization, or another success in their plans for revolting against the Pop Cops. I began to see that those first one hundred fifty pages I thought were a flat boring mess may not have been at all.

In dystopian fiction (bear with me, I know I’ve only read two), it seems that in order to drive home the dystopian angle, the reader has to be shown how truly bad the characters’ lives are. Dystopian means that a group of people is oppressed by another in the wake of some disaster. Their existence is limited in some fashion, in ways that strip freedom and individuality in favor of blind obedience and conformity. They are often lied to and misled by the powers that be, who are the only ones to benefit from such a lifestyle. Think movies like V For Vendetta. I felt that this book carried off the dystopian theme immensely well.

I think the author’s purpose in making those first hundred plus pages so….blah, was to ultimately have readers realize how bad the scrubs had it. It already seemed so, but once we get a look at Upper life much later in the book, I think there is a very good reason that there was so much telling, that the scrub way of life was relayed so automaton-like. Without having read that, I don’t think Trella’s growth into a more aware citizen of Inside would have been as profound.  So my advice to anyone who might read the book too, if you find the first several chapters a bit of a stretch enjoyment-wise, push through. I found the reward at the end to be well worth it.

I think at times I had to suspend my belief systems, though most seemed to come back around instead of being details left floating with no rhyme or reason for being. The book does start off very slow, and for a good part of the book it is mostly telling as opposed to the more rich showing. Character development takes a while to really get going.

On the other hand, I loved the last one hundred and fifty or so  pages immensely. As a first book in a new series, perhaps it’s natural that we have to truly start from a rough and tumble beginning. The author does do an amazing job of turning it all around, sucking me in completely by the last sentence. I truly didn’t think it was going to happen, but as Trella makes an amazing discovery at the very end, I know I’ll be reading the next book, Outside In when it releases next year.

This started off as an alarmingly disappointing book. I’m a fan of Snyder’s writing. I did not want to feel this way! I’m so happy to say that it all came around, blew me off my feet and suckered me in, in ways a reader truly wants to be. By The End, I could not have been happier.

It was pretty hard to review this book. There’s SO much that goes on that turns out to all have a purpose by the end of the book. It was very hard to choose what to talk about and what not to, but I believe once you pick up the book and get into it, you’ll find that Inside Out has plenty left to offer you. Believe me, the truly good parts haven’t been mentioned.

If you’re a fan of science fiction in general, I think you might like this book. As a young adult, I can say with all assurances that it is appropriate for any young reader feeling the urge to tackle some science fiction, albeit fiction with not so much science as the journey of the characters. As an adult, I found it just as enthralling (eventually) as any adult science fiction I’ve read. Romance, a unique science fiction world and a great suspenseful plot, all revealed to the reader quite masterfully in the end – what more could anyone want.

Rating: Four Scoops

Series order:

  • Inside Out
  • Outside In (2011)

Visit the author’s site.
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  1. Oh I don’t know. 150 pages is a long time for me to hang in there if I’m not feeling it. This book does intrigue me but I’m going to have to think about it.

    • And that could’ve just been me of course. :) But I hear ya, and normally I’d not hang on after that kind of page count, if I found it lacking, but something told me to push on. I’m very glad I did. I cannot wait for the next one now.

  2. I’m glad you stuck with it! I enjoyed it from the get-go but I understand why some might think it starts out slow.

    • See, I’ve been wondering if anyone else thought the beginning was slow on purpose. Or rather, more dry and well, dystopian lol. I’m glad I stuck with it too tho. Cannot wait for the next one!

  3. I actually loved it from the beginning and I’m also math challenged. :) I wasn’t sure what was really going on but I did grasp they were living in a big cube and wondered where it would go from there. Trella was a little hard to like at first but she grew on me. Anyway, I really liked it and I’m glad to see we will get another book.

  4. Pingback: Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder « Janicu’s Book Blog

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