6 Rated Books Book Reviews YA Appreciation Month 2010

Book Review: Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

Title: Inside Out

Author: Maria V. Snyder

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction

Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: April 2010
Paperback: 384 pages

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series

Keep Your Head Down.

Don’t Get Noticed.

Or Else.

I’m Trella. I’m a scrub. A nobody. One of thousands who work the lower levels, keeping Inside clean for the Uppers. I’ve got one friend, do my job and try to avoid the Pop Cops. So what if I occasionally use the pipes to sneak around the Upper levels? The only neck at risk is my own…until I accidentally start a rebellion and become the go-to girl to lead a revolution.

How did I get this book: Bought (e-version)

Why did I read this book: I’ve read Maria Snyder’s Study books and enjoyed them (Ms. Snyder was one of the first authors we interviewed on The Book Smugglers, waaaay back in the day), so when I learned that she had tried her hand at dystopian YA, of COURSE I had to give it a go.


Trella is a Scrub – one of the thousands upon thousands of packed-in worker drones that spends the majority of her day – of her life – working in Inside’s great Lower underbelly, scrubbing pipes and airducts to make life comfortable for the Uppers. Trella hates her life and her fellow Scrubs – she hates their stink, their proximity and their teasing. To the rest of the Scrubs, Trella is known as the “Queen of the Pipes,” but that’s no compliment. So, when her only friend Cog drags her to meet the latest Prophet, named “the Broken Man” for his broken and useless legs, Trella grudgingly agrees. The Broken Man claims to know the truth of Gateway – the mythical portal through which Scrubs pass to get Outside after they die – and even more shockingly, he claims to have PROOF of its existence. Trella’s curiosity gets the better of her, and she decides to take the Broken Man up on his challenge and searches the prohibited Upper Levels for his supposed “proof” (in the form of data files on disks). When she does discover the discs, she unwittingly trips an alarm and sets all of Inside on edge. The Population Control Police (“Pop Cops” for short) come tearing after the mysterious Broken Man, and immediately suspect Cog and Trella for their involvement. Under threat of being fed to the Chomper and recycled, Trella decides to hide the Broken Man and get to the bottom of the mystery. For if it means so much to the Pop Cops, the Prophet really must know something about Gateway.

The unwitting leader of a (sort of) revolution, Trella and her world in Inside Out makes for an entertaining, fast-paced read (if a little light in terms of thematics, worldbuilding, or grittiness). There are some aspects of this book that I loved, and felt were accomplished beautifully – the realities of being a scrub and living with thousands of people in a small, enclosed space; the smells of being packed in with so many; the idea of pipes and shoots that need to be cleaned; the hours it takes to wait for food. The basic idea of Inside Out – in which our intrepid heroine looks for A Way Out – is a familiar one, done many times before in recent memory. As such, it’s a little hard for Ms. Snyder to really gain any originality or perspective in this novel – it reads a lot like a kiddie version mashup of Ark by Stephen Baxter, Alex Proyas’ masterful Dark City, and Jeanne DuPrau’s Books of Ember. The good news? I love all of these things. The bad news? Inside Out doesn’t quite pull off anything even nearly as memorable or spectacular as the aforementioned books and film.

As with Ms. Snyder’s Study novels, the writing in Inside Out moves quickly and assuredly – but by the same token, it’s also somewhat simplistic and sanitized. Though Trella’s world is supposed to be gritty and dark and there’s the fear of the Pop Cops and Torture and Being Recycled, these dangers have no urgency. Similar to Yelena in her role as a food taster, even though there’s this background presence of malevolence and danger, it never feels threatening because the characters are so darn nice (and the villains so predictably inept).

It’s like…dystopian scifi for the dieting reader. If Dark City is a hearty, double-cut filet mignon with potatoes and red wine, then Inside Out is a handful of salad with a spritz of (lite!) balsamic dressing. Good…but not exactly satisfying.

Take for example the Pop Cops – I can understand how over years power falls into the wrong hands or stories become corrupted (think City of Ember), but the nefarious Pop Cops seemed a bit too one-note-villainous for my tastes. If the EEEEVIL Captain suspected Trella of so much mischief-making and sheltering the Broken Man, why wouldn’t she either have someone shadow Trella or else detain her immediately? (As opposed to letting her run amok, falling asleep left and right, missing work shifts, etc) And for all that the EEEEVIL Pop Cops are, well, evil, the culmination and ending of Inside Out feels a little too kumbaya.

In terms of descriptions and world-building, Ms. Snyder has clearly put a lot of thought and effort into mapping out the Inside and how such a world would work – as such, her descriptors are strong, and I love the concept of Scrubs and uppers, Trella’s grueling work schedule and the conditions of life for those both in the Upper and Lower levels. In practice, however, the execution of these elements were less compelling. I love the idea of the divide between the Uppers and Lowers, but the ease with which Trella manages to traverse the dividing levels makes it a bit hard to buy that NO ONE has ever done this before (I had the same issue in the study books with Ixia and Sitan being SO different and isolated, when geographically they are basically right next door). I guess the best way to describe my frustration with the plot was how every turning point seemed to develop as a matter of convenience. Trella can’t break into the technologically protected safe in Pop Cop headquarters? Technowizards appear out of nowhere offering Trella their services and unwavering loyalty. They happen to have magical machines that can break security measures without a trace. Even more infuriating was when anytime someone would try to explain the mechanics of these miracle devices, Trella would say “I don’t understand a word your saying” or something to that end, and conveniently leave it at that. I know Inside Out is not hard sci-fi, but passages like this are incredibly infuriating and read as technical shortcuts or cop-outs.

And then, there are the characters themselves. Trella, our heroine and narrator, is likable enough – she’s your classic loner, but with an inflective, sympathetic voice. Trella’s narration is honest and forthright, and readers get a great feel for who she is and can’t help but sympathize with her. But…where the other characters are concerned, no one else is as well fleshed-out as Trella. Each other character has a defining trait – Broken Man is zealous, Cog steadworthy and true, etc – but lack any true depth. And, frankly, the romance element of the novel is pathetic and has all the sexual charge of a tea light. Some of the scenes between Trella and her interest (I’ll keep from saying his name to avoid spoilers even though it’s painfully obvious from the get-go) are cringe-worthily bad. I can only imagine that this is because as a Harlequin Teen title, a romance is a prerequisite and so was sort of half-heartedly integrated into the novel. But, that’s just me – I felt similarly about Yelena and her romantic interest in the Study books, so perhaps it’s just a matter of personal taste.

Despite these sizable issues I had with the novel, I ended up finishing and liking Inside Out. It’s certainly worth checking out for those who aren’t into the heavy stuff and want a more fluffy, light on the facts and grit style SF dystopia. Definitely recommended for younger readers who aren’t perhaps as well-versed with the tropes in this book (or haven’t yet discovered Jeanne DuPrau).

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:

A VIBRATION RIPPLED through my body. I awoke in semi-darkness, unsure of my location. Reaching out with my hands, I felt smooth sides arching up and in. My fingers touched overhead. Pipe.

A distant roar caused unease, but with sleep fogging my mind, I couldn’t quite grasp its significance. The pipe’s vibrations increased as the thunder grew louder. Water. Coming toward me. Fast.

I scrambled in the narrow space. My bare feet slipped on the sleek surface of the pipe as I advanced toward a faint square of bluelight emanating from the open hatch. It seemed an impossible distance to reach.

Cogon’s voice in full lecture mode echoed in my mind as the water rushed closer. “Someday, Trella. You’ll screw up and there will be bits of you raining out of the showers.”

I reached the hatch and dove headfirst through the opening, convinced the water rushed at my heels. Landing on the hard floor, I shot to my feet and slammed the door shut. When I finished sealing the hatch, the whole pipe shuddered, then the vibrations calmed as the water returned to its normal flow . The metal cooled under my fingers, and I leaned my sweaty forehead against it, catching my breath.

That was close. Soft bluelight glowed all around the water-filtering machinery. Hour eighteen: I knew by the rush of water. The upper workers adhered to a strict schedule.

I checked my tool belt to make sure nothing was broken and my flashlight still worked. Then I climbed from the ductwork and made my way to level two by taking a shortcut through an air conduit. Traveling through the pipes and air shafts, I avoided seeing my fellow scrubs. But my peace and quiet ended too soon as I opened the vent, swung down and landed in the middle of a crowded corridor, scattering scrubs.

Someone knocked into me. “Watch it!”

“Come to mingle with the lowly scrubs, your highness?” A mocking bow.

Used to curses and hostile glares, I shrugged. The mass of people in the tight corridor jostled and pushed me along. Life in the lower two levels teamed with scrubs at all hours of the week. They moved from work to their barracks and back to work. We were called scrubs because rust and dust were the twin evils of Inside and must be kept at bay; however, scrubs also maintained the network of mechanical systems which kept both uppers and lowers alive.

The scrubs shoved. They frowned. They complained. I hated every one of them. Except Cog. No one hated Cog. He listened. Empathized with tales of misery. Made people smile. A rare occurrence—as rare as a person like Cogon.

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Additional Thoughts: So, you say you’ve read Inside Out and feel like you’re ready for the Major Leagues? (Or at least the minors?)

Give these a try:

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
The World Inside by Robert Silverberg
Dark City (film)
Ark by Stephen Baxter
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Rating: 6 – Good, Recommend With Reservations, although I was waffling between a 5 and 6, ultimately Inside Out is readable and likable enough to save it from “Meh” land.

Reading Next: The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice by Stephen Deas


  • Lenore
    August 11, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Ha! I do think it’s a matter of personal taste, because I LOVED the romance in this one, and I am generally not a romance fan. This got 5 zombie chickens from me (a rare feat) and was one of my favorites this year. So excited for Outside In!

  • Jessica S.
    August 11, 2010 at 5:11 am

    I really liked this one too! The suspense was down remarkable well and I was addicted rather quickly. Much as I was with her Study and Glass series! Looking forward to Outside In and the rest of the mysteries that are sure to come!

  • Sean Wills
    August 11, 2010 at 5:53 am

    This sounds too similar to The Declaration for my liking, which I had similar issues with. (Badly explored setting, flat characters, poorly-handled romance etc.) I’m glad I saw this review, because I probably would have been tempted to pick it up otherwise.

  • pidute
    August 11, 2010 at 6:23 am

    hum,exactly how i felt, the romance was ok but the book was meh….
    i finished it but i don’t think i will read the next.

  • KMont
    August 11, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Maybe I ended up enjoying this one because I’m not as experienced int he dystopian genre. I did have trouble getting into the book at first but it started to pick up for me after about 100 pages (thank goodness, that’s usually my cut off) and the end I absolutely loved. I didn’t worry so much about the romance, that was nice enough, but the suspense of what was Outside and what their real purpose was eventually drew me in. I’m pretty stoked for the next book.

    I do wonder if the romance maybe felt half-hearted or not as important in a good bit of the book because the people in this one really don’t have any incentive to fall in love. Their lives are determined before they’re even born, what type of service they’ll contribute to the community and all. Plus they’re not exactly encouraged to make friends, have families, or do any of the things people normally do. It’s a completely differet way of life, pretty much to serve one end purpose. Whoever started this way of life for them had to look at their future in a practical, utilitarian manner – or so it seemed to become that way. If any of that makes any sense.

    I also want to read the books you suggest instead. I’ve got Incarceron in the TBR. Looking forward to getting to it some day. 😉

  • Thea
    August 11, 2010 at 7:52 am

    KMont – (**NOTE: This may be considered an indirect spoiler, so if you don’t want to know, LOOK AWAY.**)

    See, the other thing is I *knew* what Outside was all along too. (Again, mashup of many titles named above, hence the Dark City shoutout). So that suspense was kinda of zilch for me *shrugs* BUT that said, I can see how mindblowingly awesome this would be for a new reader – either someone younger, or someone that doesn’t generally read or watch SF/dystopia.

    You know what it’s kind of like? Any movie after The Sixth Sense that had a dead protagonist that had to discover that later, or any film after Fight Club with a balls-crazy main character. The twist is great, but when it has been done (and done significantly better by others before you), it’s not really so impressive.

    Of course, that’s just my opinion. I’d love for you to have a sit down and watch Dark City and tell me what you think? Or read Incarceron or City of Ember which both play on the same entrapped-with-a-mythological-way-out conceit.

    Pidute – I hear you, dude. I think I’ll stick around for the next because it will be interesting to see how a book will stand up without the “twist” element of finding Outside. Maybe. Well, we’ll see!

    Sean – Ahhh, good example. I actually really loved the IDEA of The Declaration and the general story – but yes, I have to agree that the writing was not so hot, characters were caricatures, etc. I think it’s pretty telling that I enjoyed The Declaration more than Inside Out, if that’s any indicator.

    Jessica – Yep, despite the problems I had with the book, I still did finish it. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Lenore – Wow, really? Haha, that’s awesome that you loved the book so much, I’m glad! Who knows, maybe book 2 will be awesome. A girl can hope, right? 😉

  • Diana Peterfreund
    August 11, 2010 at 8:04 am

    FWIW, HqTeen titles do NOT have to have romance in them.

  • KMont
    August 11, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Oh, oh! I have seen Dark City! For some reason that didn’t click on in my brain earlier. I remember really enjoying it when I first saw it. I bought it from a bargain bin late last year, or early this one, and knowing the twist has possibly made it a little less thrilling, but the world and premise is still interesting. Plus the imagery is still cool and I think Rufus Sewell will always be awesome. 😉

  • pomot
    August 11, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    Ehh. I’m getting a bit tired of all this YA dystopian stuff coming out lately; it has to be pretty exceptional to make me want to give it a read. It’s almost like the next trend after vampires.

    Thank God you can sift out the average stuff, Thea! 😮

  • Stephanie
    August 12, 2010 at 2:42 am

    Great and insightful review–thanks! This sounds quite reminiscent of The Declaration–unfortunately it seems as though Inside Out may suffer from the same problems plaguing Gemma Malley’s dystopian efforts. A shame, because the concept is promising.

  • janicu
    August 14, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Chalk me up as another one who liked it a bit more than you did. I would give it a 7 or 8. I had a guess or two on the Outside and was wrong on one count but right on another – but I still like the way Snyder presented it.

  • The Book Smugglers » Blog Archive » Book Review: Outside In by Maria V. Snyder
    March 23, 2011 at 4:35 am

    […] read this book: Honestly, I wasn’t impressed much at all with the first book in this series, Inside Out, BUT, I’ve read and enjoyed Maria V. Snyder’s work before (the first books in her Study […]

  • plumbing naples
    July 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    We are a gaggle of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community. Your site offered us with useful info to work on. You’ve performed an impressive activity and our entire neighborhood will be thankful to you.

  • Heidi Cruz
    September 21, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    The Inside series are absolutely stunning books that keeps the reader fascinated through the entire reading!
    Trella is a scrub. One of thousands of filthy, hard workers, that spends most of her time (life), working in the lower parts scrubbing pipes and making life better for the Uppers. Trella hates her life altogether (which includes the teasing, stink, and people). To the other fellow Scrubs, Trella is known as “Queen of the Pipes” (which is no praise). So when she finds herself saving an injured man because of her friend Cog, she ends up starting to believe the myths of the Outside- a place where there is freedom and no one has to work for each other. Since curiosity gets the best of her, she finds others who are trying to get away from the inside (which include some good-looking uppers) and together they form an alliance. Throughout Trella’s journey, she faces decisions that no other girl should have to make, and things that can put not only her, but her loved ones lives at stake.
    The author creates an entertaining, fast-paced read which literally sucks the reader into the book. This book had me sniffling, awing at the romance (even if there was very little), and laughing my guts out! This descriptive story sends your imagination soaring, yet it’s so realistic, ex: “The hot, musty smell of people packed together greeted me at the cafeteria’s door as the noise of them slammed into me” pg. 11 Paragraph 3. What I love about this book is how the author wrote the date. Instead of using years, the author used weeks. There is this I passage that sounded funny to me where Trella was eavesdropping on Riley’s (cute Uppers) conversation.
    “What’s your birth week?”
    “It’s 145,414, sir”
    Ha. He was only seventy-three weeks older than me.
    Pg.88 Paragraph 2
    I found that pretty cool because the author didn’t just mention that they used weeks instead of years, no, she went all the way and used them pretty frequently.
    The story was written in First Person, in Trella’s POV and I found that very convenient. There were some parts in the book where you were dying to know what the other person was thinking but I’m pretty sure we’d all rather hear Trella’s thoughts. I know that what the author put most of her effort into was mapping the inside. The book highly describes the interior setting of the inside and I guess that’s one of the cons. At the beginning of the book, the author spends the majority of the time describing and explaining the setting rather than giving character information, and that’s what confuses the reader (talking about random sectors and where they’re located, ex: D3 and B5).
    Some of the characters were so amazing that I swear at some point in the story the reader would fall in love. To me when I read the book, I found Cog to be enormous and strong yet so vulnerable at the same time. He was probably one of the only characters in the book that my heart cried out for. Other times when the pathetic amount of romance started coming in, I’d constantly be thinking stuff like “Is she going to Riley?”, “Does Riley like her back?”, and “Go back to Riley!!” I swear this book has the romance of a kindergartener! I’m not talking fifty shades lust or anything but the author seriously needed to spice things up and bit and she could definitely do so by improve the romance. Riley was one of those characters who wouldn’t come in as frequently as other characters but when he would, you’d be begging for him to come in more often. His relationship with Trella is actually quite reserved. They start to become something more close to the end of the book and in the sequel. I found this book quite similar to Jeanne DuPrau’s “The City of Ember”. This book deals with the same dystopian theme but adds in a taste of Sci-Fi.
    When I read the sequel, I found that the first book better by a long shot. While the first book was dealing with trying to find the gateway to the outside, the second book was trying to keep the outsiders out. Only a few new characters are introduced but some of those characters play a huge part in the book, take Bubba Boom for example. Bubba Boom is an explosives dude that tries to help out Trella’s gang, but later on in the book when Trella’s not-quite-there love life is messy, he tries to get into a relationship with Trella.
    That’s the part of the book that had me screaming with frustration. Riley decided to end what they “had” with Trella. My reaction to this was like, “DUDE! Why would you want to end your rarely-there love with Trella!!”, but then again, Trella acted as though she had a death wish and threw herself at active bombs.
    This book was really frustrating and had me pulling my hair out thinking “Why would you do that?!” or “Trella! Stop being mopey and look around’ cause the answer is right in front of your face!!!” Thankfully the book had a resolution that fixed all their problems and Trella got back together with Riley. If I rated this book out of 5, I’d give it a 3.33 as in “don’t regret it, but there are better”. Despite the sizable issues I had with the second book, I ended up liking it but not luuurving it. I would definitely recommend it to people if they didn’t mind the lack of romance and if they were into Sci-Fi Dystopia. Overall I would say that this is a great read and hope that you will read it!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.