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.
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:
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