Stranger, by Rachel Manija Brown & Sherwood Smith (2014)

Ages 13-18
The StrangerPicture the wild west, in which a teenage boy is on the run from a bounty hunter after the valuable package he carries on his back. He escapes capture, but is mortally wounded. Luck intervenes in the form of a patrolling sheriff who lifts him effortlessly onto her back and races back to the walled town. On foot, dodging the carnivorous roses and deadly crystal shards along the way. In town, a doctor saves the teen’s life by warping time. Oh yeah, and it gets even better. This first in a series (The Change) can only be described as a genre-bending futuristic fantasy dystopia with a utopian twist. It offers the mindblowing and cool factor of Cowboys Vs Aliens but with much richer results. Los Anclas is located on the Pacific Ocean. A long-ago disaster caused civilization and technology to collapse, and a western frontier society has emerged. In Los Anclas (a bastardization of Los Angeles), a diverse community works collaboratively to raise food, defend their walls, and solve the technical challenges that put lives at risk. All sexual identities are accepted as normal, and ethnic diversity is celebrated. But discrimination still exists, against those who have “changed” – a mutation connected to spikes in hormones that can result in telekinetic powers, strong protections, or physical changes such as feathers or claws. The novel is presented in multiple points of view, shifting between five teens, and slowly revealing important details. The plot itself is rather slow to develop, but it’s such an enjoyable exploration of this strange world that I didn’t mind at all. The two authors collaborate very well, with no awkward shifts in writing style that detract from the storytelling. The characters’ voices and motivations are distinctive enough to let you keep track of whose story is being told, always in third person. I thoroughly enjoyed this innovative story and its wow setting, peopled with characters who struggle with the same challenges and regrets we do. Highly recommended. While it’s aimed at teens, there’s a lot here for adults to enjoy as well.
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