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* This review will contain mild spoilers for the plot of Chosen Ones, be ye warned. *
Escaping with her life but forced to separate from her beloved James, a heart-broken and weary Tess flees Templeton with Henry and Robert to an Isolationist community and toward what she hopes is freedom and safety. But the Isolationists, their views and their expectations are unfamiliar to Tess, and she struggles to find a place among them. But when Tess receives a message that the little sister she left behind is in danger, she becomes determined to go back and rescue Louisa… no matter what.
Tess. Her continued character growth and deeply introspective narrative are perhaps my favorite aspect of this novel and this series. Tess is a young woman caught in horrible circumstances, for years she lived a hopeless, numb existence until meeting James awoke something within her – wonder, curiosity, hope, love, and a will to live for all of these things. Now, fleeing a world she knew and thrust into the Isolationist community where the customs, traditions, beliefs, and worldview are vastly different from those the Council imposed, Tess struggles to find her place as she resists against those who would define her, “protect” her and seek to control her because of what she is. Tess is done being pigeonholed and belittled because of her gender, and is not about to let anyone take away her choices and decide her fate for her because of her rare ability to bear children in a world where humans are fast becoming extinct.
This girl has been through so much in her short life, and lost so much, but still she carries on. Not that Tess is unaffected by her past; it haunts her continually, but she doesn’t let it defeat her. Her strength and resilience in the face of tragedy, her spunk and truthfulness in the face of prejudice and narrow-mindedness, her bravery and self-sacrifice in the face of certain pain and/or punishment – all of this makes her such a fantastic character to root for.
The issue of gender. Throughout both Chosen Ones and Naturals, Truitt explores the issue of gender equality. Or perhaps more accurately gender inequality. Natural humans in this world are all treated abominably, but women specifically have been targeted by the Council’s propaganda which claims females are the root of all evil. Women tempt men to lust, and since men obviously can’t be expected to control themselves, thus, women ultimately are responsible for the immoral actions of men. Individual responsibility thrown out the window and placed unfairly on the oppressed, repressed, forcibly-submissive shoulders of all women. This theme is especially prevalent in this novel given Tess’s ability to bear children as she escapes one world where she was objectified and censured for her innate “sensuality,” to another where some only see her value as a brood mare.
It’s easy to view this as just another dystopian novel that explores extremes, but it struck me as I was reading Naturals (and as Tess was reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles throughout the novel), how extremely relevant this theme is in our own culture today. Perhaps not to this extent, but in reference to certain current events as of late, I’m sure you’ve heard the term “rape culture” come up a few times as well as the disturbing ideology, comments, and arguments that perpetuate rape culture in our society (and I’m speaking here specifically of the violation of women, while recognizing that males are also victims of sexual crimes, and that males aren’t the sole perpetrators of sexual violence.) – the objectification of women in our media, defining women and their worth according to their relationships to men, that horrifying, ‘ole standby that she was somehow “asking for it” to happen, the humiliation of and brutality toward victims by the rapist(s), and in some cases, the hateful or dismissive reactions of a community toward victims of rape. It’s all indicative of the woman being dehumanized and viewed as somehow “less than.” Our culture isn’t nearly as misogynistic as Tess’s, but we’re not as enlightened as we might like to think we are. This is clearly an issue that stretches beyond the pages of a dystopian novel, and therefore makes this series not only an interesting one, but a relevant one with an important message for not just the teen girls who might be reading it, but for every individual who reads it.
This also feeds right into a discussion on prejudice, tolerance, and basic human rights which is also explored in Natur—
“Wow. Soapbox much, Self?”
“ Oh… um…………………………… heh. Sorry. I’ll shut up now and let you take it from here, Self.”
“Probably for the best.”
Romance. Ok… so let’s talk about a brighter side to female/male relationships… love. Forced to leave James behind, Tess feels the loss of him keenly. James was the catalyst to opening her eyes to the world and it’s possibilities, to herself and who she could become. He treated her with respect and kindness and taught her what loving someone truly means. Tess is strong and independent, but James is an undeniably important part of her life. However, her escaping with the Isolationists, and him forced back to Templeton means she’ll most likely never see him again. There’s no future for them together, Tess knows this, and watching her struggle with what she knows and against what she wishes and represses is sad. But it’s the kind of beautifully sad romance that I just want more of because I’m hoping beyond hope that this can’t be the end of their story… right?
Well, I’ll never tell. <insert evil laugh here>
Story. While Naturals is more of a character development, philosophically driven novel about a girl’s discovery of identity and purpose, it’s also about resistance and survival, living, and existing in this harsh, frightening dystopian world. The world is vivid, yet unsettling and stark. The villains are chilling, even though most of the time they exist invisibly, an omnipresent threat that hovers over the heads of Tess and her friends. It’s well-paced, a page-turner, and left me needing the next book. Like right now.
Overall. With a wonderfully rendered protagonist, a beautifully heart-wrenching romance, and featuring important and relevant themes, Naturals is a fantastic and compelling addition to the YA dystopian genre, and a fabulous continuation of Tess’s story.