Review: SKINNED and CRASHED by Robin Wasserman


Author: Robin Wasserman
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Year Published: 2008 & 2009

Recommended: There is a lot of teenage stupidity (and adult stupidity) on display, which can get frustrating, and the books hit on one of my biggest pet peeves (religious zealotry with no balancing moderates), but they’re engaging stories, and I’m excited to see where the series goes. Because of the intense teenagerness (it’s a word), I don’t think non-YA readers would really get into these, but afficianados of the psuedo-genre should be safe giving these a shot.

Spoilers: Very general spoilers, nothing that I think would diminish the experience.

The basic premise: Lia Kahn is rich, beautiful, and popular. And then she dies. Her parents opt to have her mind uploaded into a mechanical body. The process is still fairly new, and most people seem to agree that she may have Lia’s memories, she may think she’s Lia, but she’s just a machine. In SKINNED, Lia struggles to come to terms with her transformation and tries to reclaim her old life. In CRASHED, Lia lives with other mechs, working to carve out a place in the world for people like her, who may not be people at all.

I read SKINNED just after reading THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, which has a similar theme but a much “quieter” treatment of the subject; both books are largely about a psychological struggle, but in SKINNED, Lia and everyone else are well aware of what she is, and so there is much more overt and external conflict over her transformation than in Jenna’s case (which is a different situation in other respects, but I won’t get into that, you should just read the book). I think SKINNED suffered in comparison to JENNA FOX, but as similar as the subjects are I’m not sure it’s fair to compare them. Jenna struggles with what it means to be a particular individual, while Lia struggles with what it means to be a person at all. She muddles through the question convincingly, wavering from one side to the other.

When her friends drift away from her, Lia finds companionship in another outsider, a young man named Auden who insists that she is a person, albeit a very different sort of person than she used to be. But Lia isn’t convinced, and is both intrigued and repulsed by a very different young man, Jude, who leads a group of mechs who have embraced their new state of being and separated themselves from the “organics.” Opposing Jude are the Faithers, a group of religious zealots who think that mechs are abominations, not people at all, and should be destroyed. This is the element which caused me the most trouble. There is a slight nod to the fact that not all Faithers are crazy zealots, but none of them are ever shown, only discussed in the past-tense. The Faithers come off as a monolithic, cruel, bigoted, violent organization. I get annoyed enough when Christianity is depicted as a monolithic entity. In SKINNED, it’s religion in general that’s one big seething mass of evil.

CRASHED started to redeem itself in this regard, not by making the Faithers more nuanced (if anything, they got more cacklingly [also a real word] evil), but by acknowledging some of the similarities between Jude’s mechs and the organization they oppose. Fortunately, Lia’s journey to a new identity as Lia-the-mech is engaging enough to (mostly) overcome this issue. There are real and sometimes tragic consequences to her actions, and most of the essential characters are bundles of contradictions, insecurities, convictions, and emotions that pull off the handy trick of being complicated enough to avoid stereotype while avoiding becoming so muddled that you can’t put your finger on who they are and how they’ll react to the situations Wasserman throws at them.

SKINNED and CRASHED both focus on Lia’s psychological struggles, but CRASHED takes her struggle and puts it in the context of the external, societal struggle with how the orgs should treat the mechs and how the mechs should protect themselves from the orgs. The extra layer of action and meaning keeps the momentum going on and prevents the series from retreading the same ground. In short, YA-friendly SF readers and SF-friendly YA readers should give these a shot. Surgeon General’s Warning: Contains angst.


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