Book – Lauren has hyperempathy, a disorder born from a drug her mother took while she was pregnant; it means that Lauren feels other people’s pain like it’s her own. When she was a kid, her brothers would cut themselves to watch her bleed. It’s a tough disorder to live with in a world like hers, where everyone lives close to the edge all the time. Her dad tells stories about the good old days, when his professor’s salary was enough to live well, when people didn’t live in walled neighborhoods just to keep the looters out, when you could buy your food at the grocery store instead of growing and trading for what you need to survive – but Lauren knows better than to listen too close to those stories, because she’s pretty sure it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Which means that when, one day, it does, she’s one of the only people from her old neighborhood who’s prepared for what comes next.
This is one of those books that people have been telling me to read for years, and I only just got around to it. It’s a classic of science fiction, and for good reason: Lauren is one of the most real characters I’ve ever seen. She’s afraid, she’s hurt, she’s brave, she’s stubborn, she’s uncertain, she’s a leader not because she knows better than anyone else but because she’s thoughtful, and has thought about things that most people are too afraid to consider. This is a quieter dystopia than most of the current run of dystopian fiction. There’s no Hunger Games here, just people fighting for their own survival. But it’s even more inspiring because of that, because while we can’t all be Katniss, it’s much easier to imagine ourselves being Lauren — someone who, when faced with the loss of everything she’s ever known and loved, does her best to help others build a future.