In Want (published by Simon Pulse on June 13, 2017), Cindy Pon transports readers to an unsettlingly believable but dystopian futuristic Taipei, where air pollution writhes in the sky and class unrest seethes on the ground. Society is divided into “haves,” the yous (pronounced “yos”), and “have nots,” the meis (pronounced “mays”). Encased in air-conditioned suits that protect the yous from smog, the wealthy lead long lives. Unable to afford these suits, the meis cough and wheeze until they die at the age of 40.
Enter our narrator, bad boy Jason Zhou. An orphaned mei who flips knives in one hand as a nervous habit, he’s already used up half his expected lifespan. Trouble begins for him and his friends when their mother figure, Dr. Nataraj, reports two attempts on her life in the past week. An environmental activist who advocates for legislation to combat global warming, she suspects that big corporations are behind these attacks. After all, these polluters bribe politicians to ignore her pleas all the time.
When the evil Jin Corporation, which makes the air-conditioned suits, succeeds in murdering Dr. Nataraj, Zhou and his friends become radicalized. Zhou kidnaps an anonymous rich girl in order to raise a fortune in ransom, which enables him to masquerade as a sleek you playboy and infiltrate the highest levels of society. His mission? Use skimmers to ferret out the Jin Corporation’s secret passwords as well as replicate brainscans of its trusted employees. If he can gain this information, his friends will be able to sneak in and bomb the servers that run the yous’ suits. Once the yous are forced to breathe pollution like everyone else, Zhou and his co-conspirators reason, their support for pro-environment legislation will grow.
Complications arise, however, when Zhou comes face to face with the person he most needs to charm – Jin’s daughter, who has access to all the company’s facilities. Guess what? She’s the very same rich girl he kidnapped. The sleeping drug he gave her was supposed to wipe the abduction from her memory. But as they start spending time together, he expects her to recognize him as her former captor at any moment. Worse, he actually starts to like her.
Want is a timely, thought-provoking, and original page-turner with cool characters (including a female teen ninja!) and a hyperreal Asian setting. The only reason this book’s shelved in the Young Adult section is because the protagonist and other major personages happen to be teens. There’s nothing in its pages to turn off an adult reader. Like Orson Scott Card’s classic Enders Game, the characters might be young, but they’re smart. If they don’t always think through the potential consequences of their actions, it’s not because they’re perpetually impulsive or immature. The exploits in this book could easily have happened to older people.
Pon’s previous YA fantasy novels have garnered serious accolades in the industry. Both Voya Magazine and Booklist ranked Silver Phoenix, her debut, as one of the top science fiction and fantasy books for youth in 2009. Want joins Serpentine (2015) and Sacrifice (2016) as Junior Library Guild Selections.
Simon Pulse has released Want as a 336–page hardcover with a list price of $18.99 in the U.S. Its 9th-grade reading level makes it appropriate for readers 14 years old and up. An excerpt is available here. According to Pon’s author bio on Amazon, we can anticipate the sequel to Want, entitled Ruse, in the spring of 2019.
Elizabeth Galewski is the author of The Wish-Granting Jewel, a fantasy novel, and Butterfly Valley, a tale of travel and transformation based on true events. To learn more, please visit her official author’s website at www.elizabethgalewski.com.