Remembering Green, by Lesley Beake (Francis Lincoln, 2010 in the US, middle grade, 111 pages) is a dystopia for upper middle grade kids, set in a future Africa.
Two hundred years from now, the oceans have drowned much of the earth. On a fortified island that was once a mountain in South Africa, technology has created a hold-out of "civilization," where the Tekkies live in relative comfort. But one thing technology can't do is make rain come from the dry skies...
North, on the mainland of Africa, a girl called Rain inherited the promise of her name...bound to a lion cub in an ancient ritual, she might be able to restore, at least in part, the balance of nature. Rumors of her existence lead the Tekkies to kidnap her, to try harness her for their own use, and now she, and her lion Saa, are prisoners on the island.
"Sometimes, on days when the wind blows from the north for a change, I can smell Africa. Here they call it 'Out', and they worry about it, looking over their shoulders as if there were something there waiting to pounce." (page 16)
For Rain and Saa, life on the island is far from paradisal. Lonely and afraid, Rain is unsure what the Tekkies expect from her, and even more unsure that she will ever find her home again. But she has friends from outside who have infiltrated the island and are working to free her. One of these is Ghau, a boy she might be falling in love with. When word comes that a Grand Ceremony is being planned, one that involves a sacrifice, Rain and Saa are forced to risk everything to try to escape....
One the plus side, this almost fable-like story* has a central plot I found compelling, and it manages to pack a powerful message about the risks of global warming without being too didactic. It is also great to find a science fiction story in which the central character is a young girl from Sub-Saharan Africa, and Rain's heritage was most intriguing.
But I found the book as a whole to be somehow thin--it is very short, at 111 pages, and I just don't think the author gave herself enough time to fully develop either her world or her characters. I wanted more! The complicated story, with its the clash of ancient mystical heritage and technology in a world where the climate has been irrevocably changed, and the set-up of a lonely kidnapped girl living in an alien society, cried out to me to be explored in greater detail.
It's still a book I'd recommend to middle-school kids, especially those looking for young African heroines--and this isn't to disparage the sophistication of middle grade readers, but simply a feeling that they might not yet be so familiar with futuristic dystopias that they will share my disappointment. Indeed, the succinct story telling might well be an asset for this audience.
And I bet that the relationship between Rain and her lion cub, the one area of where the book fully realizes its potential, is a bit hit with animal-loving kids.
"I couldn't touch Saa. There was not enough space through the grid. The only thing that could reach her was my voice. I lay on the ground beside her cage and let my words surround her.
And so our nights would pass on our journey to nowhere, Saa and I. She lay very still. Her ears hardly twitched and her great paws were lifeless--both of us were powerless in the face of this captivity. I would not run--our captors knew that. I would not melt into the darkness and disappear, not with Saa caged and broken. Saa was my life now. Saa was everything. I would die for her if I must." (pages 19-20)
*I am now struggling a little in my own mind about what I mean by "fable-like." I think the cadence of the storytelling, with many paragraphs beginning "And" and "But" and "So," gives the story a spoken feel, which in my mind is part of "fable." This sort of story telling also slows down, I think, the immediacy of the action, distancing the reader from what's happening--another quality of "fable" in my mind. I might, however, think fable means something entirely different tomorrow.
(Note on age: Amazon has this as YA. In my mind, it's not--there's little violence, and romance is in the future).