The Girl Who Dared to Think

The Girl Who Dared to Think was written by Bella Forrest and first published in 2017. It is a dystopian science fiction story, set in a futuristic city where people are ranked based on their attitude and productiveness. The novel forms the first part of The Girl Who Dared to Think series and is followed by The Girl Who Dared to Stand (2017), The Girl Who Dared to Descend (2017) and The Girl Who Dared to Rise (2017). A fifth instalment of the series – The Girl Who Dared to Lead – is planned for release later this month.

Even though the rest of the world has fallen, the Tower still protects the humans that live within. The city is governed by Scipio – an all-knowing AI – who uses complex algorithms to assign everyone who lives there a number based on their focus and optimism. High numbers are desirable as they show that you are a productive and loyal member of the community. However, problems arise when a person’s number drops too far. Threes are required to undertake drug treatment. Twos are put into isolation. Ones are taken away to the dungeons and are never seen again.

Twenty-year-old Liana Castell is horrified when her number falls to a three. She does not want to be dropped from her community as she has always dreamed of being a Knight, but at the same time she has seen what the drug treatment does to people and does not want to lose her sense of self. Things change when she encounters Grey Farmless – a one who has somehow managed to boost his number to a nine in a matter of seconds.

Liana knows that this is impossible and becomes obsessed with finding Grey’s secret. However, the truth causes her to see that Scipio isn’t quite as infallible as people believe. The computer’s judgements have been becoming more extreme but the loyalists still follow them to the letter. When Liana learns what the true duty of the Knights entails, she knows that she needs to get away. But how can she protect her friends and escape when the city itself is against her?

The Girl Who Dared to Think is tricky for me to review. Please don’t take this as an indication that it is a bad novel. It’s actually a pretty strong read that does have a lot going for it. However, I have reviewed a lot of dystopian novels on this blog and there were definitely a few areas where this one felt to be lacking.

The world building in this novel was, on the whole, very solid. In particular, I thought the numbering system was a really interesting idea. Okay, I admit, first-off I had to get around the fact that it just made me think of the MeowMeowBeenz™ episode of Community, but once I’d managed to put this fact to the back of my mind, I really did start to get into this story. It’s a scary idea that a computer could judge a person’s worth based on brain activity. In one particularly grim scene, we see that Scipio is unable to take situations into account as it begins to lower the number of a woman whose husband has just died, as her grief is affecting her optimism.

What’s scarier still is the fact that people think that this situation is a good thing. Most of the people who live in the Tower love the system and actively shun the lower numbers for fear of “psychological contamination”. Although this extreme, it felt believable in this setting as the seeds of this already exist in our culture. People with psychological disorders are already marginalised in our society. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine people losing their place in society and being ostracised by their peers due to their depression.

However, while the system at play in the Tower, is fascinating and rooted deeply in reality, the story itself was disappointingly generic. It played on a lot of common dystopian tropes and didn’t really do anything to break the mould.

Present in the story was the corrupt central government and the zealots who blindly uphold it, knowing that it is wrong. They also systematically hid the fact that another system (in this case, life outside of the Tower) could exist by killing all those who found out about it. Then there was the protagonist’s difference – the fact that she is a rare person who can’t ignore the flaws in society who finds a place for herself in a small resistance movement. Oh, and there is the central focus on a young woman who falls in love with a man when they have only spoken twice. Really, nothing about this is unique enough to stand out from the thousands of other dystopian novels out there.

The other thing that really gave me pause about the concept was its anti-pharmaceutical message. Perhaps I am over thinking this a little but the Medicas (doctors) in this novel prescribe all people who fall to a three with a drug known as Peace. These pills can raise their number, but leave them as an emotionless zombie. When Liana briefly takes the drug, she immediately loses memory of the subsequent week but later learns that she morphed into “Prim” – a perfect and humourless version of herself who complied with all regulations.

While the novel seems to postulate that Peace wasn’t necessary and that people would be better off being left to themselves, this did leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. In the world of this novel, it’s clear that the Medicas are unnecessarily medicating people to make them “normal”, however in real world terms this plays into a lot of myths about depression medication. For some people, taking medication is the only way to manage their condition and it does not cause massive memory loss or completely alter their personality. In this way, I felt like sometimes this novel was presenting misinformation which could be dangerous to certain readers.

In terms of the writing, The Girl Who Dared to Think was well written and intriguing enough to keep me turning the pages. However, I did think that it was a little over simplified and childish at times. Take, for example, the naming conventions. Everything in this story is named with a pro-noun – The Tower, the Core, the Knights, the Eyes, the Cogs, the Hands – which lacked a bit of creativity.

It’s also easy to forget how old Liana is supposed to be. Unlike a majority of young adult protagonists, the book notes on a few occasions that she is actually twenty and therefore an adult. However, she still takes regular classes with her friends in a school room setting and her attitude towards Grey makes her feel as though she is closer to fifteen than twenty. Due to her age, I was actually expecting this novel to be geared towards older teens but that’s clearly not the case at all – it’s very easy to read and a lot tamer than the likes of The Hunger Games.

It should also be noted that nothing is fully explained in this novel, as it’s very clearly designed to be read as a part of a longer series. After a short climax, the story ends on an incredibly abrupt cliffhanger that raises far more questions then it answers. As you’re probably aware, I hate cliffhangers of this sort as, to me, they feel very cheap. Your feelings on this matter could very well differ to mine, but I felt it best to make you aware.

The characters of the story are very well written, but I found them to be a little forgettable on the whole. While I really liked that fact that early chapters went out of their way to strip Liana of any sense of pre-ordained destiny, she was still a very typical young adult heroine. She had a strong moral compass, excellent hand-to-hand combat skills and the ability to fall desperately in love with a potentially untrustworthy dissident after only two conversations. However, I ultimately got very attached to her despite her frustrating habit of making enormous logical leaps that could have easily gotten her – and all those around her – killed.

The supporting cast in the novel were also very strong. While I was disappointed that a couple of the older characters were killed off in the last few pages (leaving a core party of children and people in their early twenties for the sequels), all of the survivors did seem to be pretty well-rounded which left me curious to see where their adventures will take them in the next book.

I think that about covers it. All in all, The Girl Who Dared to Think’s biggest flaw was its lack of originality. If you’re a fan of dystopian fiction and don’t mind this, by all means check it out. I’m certain that you will get a kick out of it. I did enjoy the story on the whole and will definitely revisit this series in the future to see where it will head next.

The Girl Who Dared to Think can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Girl Who Dared to Stand | Arkham Reviews

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