In "The Collection," Shannon Stoker continues the story of Mia, Andrew and Carter, three teenagers in a future America. It's an America quite different from ours -- one in which daughters are sold to the highest bidders (the parents and the government split the proceeds) and sons are given away.
Family units are husband and wife, and the wives are basically slaves with no rights. Unmarried women work as indentured servants for the government forever, and all boys must enter the military at thirteen and serve for ten years.
Life is bleak for all but the most wealthy, but Mia has a family that can provide her with anything she wants (except her freedom). She is beautiful, and they are expecting lots of money when she is "selected," when she is posted on the Registry, the place where young girls are listed. Kind of a catalog.
Mia learns of the evils of the Registry from the experience of her sister, who was married to a cruel man and eventually died at his hands, a victim of the horrors of the Registry system. She's not sure what to do because she is being readied for the Registry.
Mia meets Andrew, a boy waiting to enter the Military who has been working on her father's farm. After she meets and is forced to marry her husband, Grant Marsden, she decides to flee. Andrew becomes a victim to her decision, an unwilling accomplice, and then begins to have feelings for her.
The first book details their struggle to get out of America, and this second book is about their exile in Mexico and then Guatemala and the dangers they find there. Of course, Mia's husband is still looking for her and with the most evil of intentions.
The plot is a good one and most readers will enjoy this bit of escapism. Stoker's writing is getting more fluid, and she is more adept at "showing" and not "telling." But her characters are a bit contrived -- especially Grant Marsden, the husband. He is too evil to believe. An effectively conceived antagonist is not usually all bad. There is some spark, no matter how small, of goodness or conflict deep within. It is impossible to find that spark in Mr. Marsden.
Also, perhaps due to less-than-perfect editing, there is some awkward writing here. Instead of simply stating that a character is smiling or making some other facial expression, Stoker describes the expression in a kind of detail that is both unnecessary and ambiguous. So the flow of the narrative is unceremoniously interrupted because the reader literally stops to try to figure out what the description means.
"Sarah raised the corner of her mouth and her forehead wrinkled..." It's not clear from the text if Sarah is angry, confused, frustrated or smiling. And "The corner of Eleanor's lips curled upward." Only one corner? Is she smiling, smirking, or angry?
The ending is also a bit weak. No spoilers, but Mia's character is weakened by the unfolding of the plot. . Until the ending, Mia has been likable and courageous. Now she seems slightly deluded, and worse yet, she seems to be suffering from an overabundance of self-importance.
Those complaints, however, do not mean I won't be waiting for the release of the third book. Stoker's writing has improved since the first book (which I chose not to review), and I am optimistic that the third book will demonstrate even more clearly the effective and exciting writing of which Stoker is obviously capable.
Please note: This review is based on the final paperback book provided by the publisher, William Morrow, for review purposes.
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