Saturday, March 05, 2011

Crossing: The Line by Teri Hall

The Line itself was invisible. There was a barren ribbon of soil, running along the meadow as far as the eye could see, where the grass couldn't grow. And Rachel thought she could see a funny sort of haze, but even that was only apparent in certain lights--right before dusk or early in the morning.

Though the Line was almost imperceptible, it had affected many lives. It affected Rachel's, too. In a sense, the Line was the reason Rachel ended up working in the greenhouse, instead of just playing.

As a small child, Rachel's life on the Property felt safe and secure; there was just Mrs. Mason, the elderly owner for whom her mother gratefully worked as housekeeper, who allowed Rachel and Vivian to live in a small nearby guesthouse, and old Jonathan, who did odd jobs and helped in the orchid greenhouse which supported them all. But the greenhouse, in a corner of the Property, looked out upon the Line, some sort of government-ordered force field which prevented anyone from crossing into the benign-looking woodlands of what everyone called Away, where frightening beings called the Others were said to live, and so the greenhouse had always had a strange attraction for Rachel. She grew to love the orchids which Mrs. Mason skillfully tended there and longed to learn more about them, but her fear of the intimidating Mrs. Mason kept her from showing herself there. And the pull of the mysterious Line, taboo but so near, drew her there every day.

But as Rachel grows into her teens she sensed that beneath the sequestered life she lived, there were secrets being kept, hidden fears that her mother and Mrs. Mason shared. Her mother had always kept a low profile, venturing only into the nearby small town of Benson for household necessities, and in the lessons she assigned to Rachel was a strong distrust of government information. Rachel knew the United States had defeated at powerful enemy which had used radioactive weapons against her country and that her government had sealed off the devastated area behind the impenetrable Line, leaving the people there on their own, and controlling the rest of the population through rigidly managed media and a system of secret police whose "Identification Arrests" were feared. Rachel gradually comes to realize that her parents were some sort of collaborators against the government and that her father was conscripted forcefully and sent to his death somewhere in the forbidden territory.

Then Rachel finds a "corder," an old-looking device with a recorded message from the other side of the Line, begging for medicines for someone called Indigo, and as she struggles with what to do with the plea, she meets a boy of her age, Pathik, who says he comes from Away, asks for her help, and her efforts to provide that help reveal secrets about who she, her mother and father, Mrs. Mason, and the messenger Pathik really are. And when these secrets are spoken, it is obvious that choices must be made, choices which will end their secure, secluded lives.

Teri Hall's The Line (Dial Books, 2010) is, like Lois Lowry's landmark futuristic novel The Giver, an absorbing character-driven dystopian novel which develops slowly through dialog and its unobtrusive third person narration, building slowly but eventually coming to deal with serious issues of governance, individual liberty as opposed to group order and security, freedom of speech and due process, and the ethical responsibility of humans to each other. Hall does no preaching through her narration, unobtrusively allowing the major issues of the novel to evolve through the interactions of the all too human characters.

Hall's conclusion, in media res, leaves the resolution of these issues open, even as Rachel makes her choice to cross alone into the Away, with the outcome left unresolved in a way which encourages the reader to think about the issues of policy and ethics raised (and also laying the foundation for a second book as well.) Fans of Lowry's Newbery Award book, Margaret Peterson Haddix's best-selling Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1) and M. T. Anderson's riveting Feed will find Hall's work equally absorbing, thought-provoking, and, yes, exciting.

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  • This book sounds interesting.
    Oh, I so loved The Giver - how it starts out so benignly, and subtly builds the horror of a "perfect" society.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:20 AM  

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