Wendy Darling's Reviews > Tankborn

Tankborn by Karen Sandler
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"When is the DNA surely human? When is it not?"

"I speak. I feel. I laugh and cry." She broke off and looked away briefly. "Some things I want so badly I think I'll die of it. I do worship the Infinite. But to be told everyday that I'm not human..."


In the 400 years since the end of Earth, human society is a vastly different place on the Planet Loka. There are levitating cars, strange monstrous creatures, and babies that are suddenly taken by the government without any explanation. Best friends Kayla and Mishalla were not born of birth mothers in this world, but were designed to be GENS, Genetically Engineered Non-Humans. Each GEN is enhanced with special skill sets that make them desirable workers for trueborns, who are the wealthy, high status members of society. When Kayla is assigned to work for a dying trueborn named Zul Mandel, she must leave her nurture family and the only home she's ever known--and she's forced into close proximity with his all-too-attractive grandson Devak.

The GENs are really slaves, forced into servitude and at the mercy of a cruel caste system that treats them as lower than the lowest born human. Skin color, clothing, jewels, land, drugs, and levitating cars are all blatant status symbols in this world, and it's interesting to see how the author works in echoes of previous shameful world events in the segregation of the GENs, the widely-held belief that touching a GEN would result in shriveled skin or crooked bones, and even in the saying "Work will make you safe," which is of course derived from "Work makes us free" from Nazi Germany and "Be happy in your work" from The Bridge Over the River Kwai. These themes are all intelligently and subtly worked into the book in a way that never feels too blatant or pretentious.

Once the story got going, there are plenty of exciting events and issues to think about. I was fascinated by the well thought-out society as well as the presentation of the two very different religions to which humans and GENs subscribe. There is finely built tension in several "search and seizure" type scenes and there were moments when I felt terrible pity and sorrow for the characters, including the first time Kayla comes upon the gorgeous Mandel house and sees the shocking contrast to the slums where GENs are kept, and Kayla's constant, devastating fear of punishment by being "reset," which wipes out all of a GEN's existing personality but retains his or her body for recycling and reuse.

There are a couple of really nice, slow-building romances in this book, but as the relationships between Kayla and Devak and between Mishalla and Eoghan develop, the young protagonists also discover who they really are and what they really stand for. Some of the best parts of the book are the forbidden, snatched conversations between Kayla and Devak as they discuss what makes someone beautiful, what makes someone kind, and most importantly, what makes someone human.

I do wish that the bookends to the novel were a little longer, as the beginning was a little abrupt and all the new names and rules and creatures took some getting used to. A little more time showing the friendship between Kayla and Mishalla before their Assignments would have helped as well. The ending chapters following the climax could have been a little more developed too, as they felt a little rushed to me and some of the details involving Devak's father were a bit sketchy.

Still, this was an immensely enjoyable dystopian novel with excellent character development, a complex story, and nuanced themes, with everything I had hoped for from A Long, Long Sleep and Matched, but didn't quite get. (view spoiler) The ending leaves the door open a bit for a possible sequel, and I for one would very much like to visit Kayla's world again.

Tankborn is one of the first books from Lee & Low's new Tu imprint, which is dedicated to publishing YA books with protagonists of color. The majority of the characteristics, society, and customs in this book are derived from South Asian and African-American influences, and if this is an indication of the type of products that Tu will be producing, then sign me up as a dedicated fan. This is the sort of young adult literature we can definitely use more of--books that not only feature more diversity and world views, but ones that are also thoughtfully conceived and exceptionally well-written.

This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.

Additional Content:

On the book's official website, you can Visit Planet Loka, where you can see illustrations of the giant arachnid animals that inhabit this unusual world. There's also a free short story download that is set in the Tankborn universe. Enjoy!
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Reading Progress

10/29/2011 page 50
13.0% "Ahhh, things are starting to get interesting." 7 comments
10/29/2011 page 157
41.0% "This is really, really great. Flann, Kaethe, Cillian, Moorchild, AH--I think you'd be into this." 11 comments
10/30/2011 page 326
85.0% "Ohhhhhhhhh. :(" 3 comments

Comments (showing 1-37 of 37) (37 new)

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message 1: by Simcsa (new)

Simcsa The premise sounds great. How is it so far?


Wendy Darling I'm only a couple of chapters in, but so far it's entertaining. I wasn't sure about this one, but then a couple of friends whose taste I tend to agree with posted great reviews, so...here we go! :)


message 3: by KJ Shadows (new)

KJ Shadows Tankborn huh? Sounds interesting.


Aly (Fantasy4eva) Hmm the synopsis doesn't do anything for me, but the reviews seem to be pretty positive. Let us know how you find this one wendy. :)


Wendy Darling It's really good, KJ and Aly! It took me awhile to get into it at first, but after about 50 pages or so it started to get really interesting--and it keeps getting better and better.


message 6: by AH (new) - added it

AH I've been eyeing this book for a while. Glad you liked it. I'll be adding it to the to-read pile.


Wendy Darling Oh, good! Check out starus update #2, AH. ;)


message 8: by Surin (new)

Surin Dystopian and East Asian influences?! So there! I'm gonna try to pick this up after I've cleared my currently reading list


message 9: by KJ Shadows (new)

KJ Shadows We should read this one together sl ;) lol since we were debating about it.


Wendy Darling I really liked this one, SL and KJ, hope you two do, too! I think I'm going to rewrite my review, though. I feel like it's a little dry and doesn't adequately convey how much I enjoyed it.


message 11: by Surin (new)

Surin Ok KJ! let's readalong this together! I'll let u know when I get the book!

I have faith in your reviews Wendy, I tend to have similar tastes in book as you do so I'm guessing I'll like it too. :)


message 12: by Kaethe (new) - added it

Kaethe This sounds great! Thanks for the head's up: I've moved it to the top of the list.


message 13: by Has (new)

Has This sounds great! And I love the look of that new imprint!


message 14: by Elena (new) - added it

Elena I already have this checked out from the library! *moves to top of library book stack*


Wendy Darling Kaethe and Elena, I think you two would really love this. Can't wait to hear what you think!

And Has, I'm really excited about this imprint as well. I'm always cautious when I hear about ventures like this (sometimes good intentions don't always lead to great results), but after reading this, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what else they have coming up.


message 16: by Sam (new)

Sam Thanks for introducing me to the Tu imprint, Wendy. It sounds like a great idea. There are not very many YA novels with protagonists of colored descent compared to those from white backgrounds, so it is nice to see them drawing more attention to such books. Great review, by the way. :) I've added this to my to-read list.


message 17: by Marta (new)

Marta Acosta Wonderful review. I've been curious about this book. The plot seems to echo the most interesting theme in Battlestar Galatica, the religious beliefs of the humans vs. the cyborgs' religion. I've heard of Tu and glad they're offering diverse voices.


Wendy Darling Thanks Sam and Marta! I really enjoyed this, hope you will too when you get a chance to read it. I hope people will support the Tu imprint's early efforts, too, as I think it's important when they're launching a new division like this.

Interestingly, this was originally an idea written as a spec script for Star Trek: TNG, Marta. Knowing that, the thoughtful nature of the story and the philosophical questions really make sense.


message 19: by Erin (new) - added it

Erin Hot dang... I've never heard of this book before but now I have a huge desire to read it. Thanks for reviewing it!


message 20: by Rachel (new) - added it

Rachel Wow! I've had a copy of this for a while and, while it sounded intriguing, I just didn't know if it could live up to what I was expecting. I'm glad to know it's so good. :) I'll have to get to it very soon. Great review!


Wendy Darling My pleasure, Erin! And I look forward to reading your review, Rachel. If you have trouble with the beginning, just push through those first fifty pages. ;)


message 22: by Tish (new) - added it

Tish Wendy, you read too fast! You're killing my TBR list! Maybe you just need to read more bad books. :) Anyway, along with most of the ones you like, this book sounds like one I'd enjoy, so I'm adding it.


Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews) I'm starting this in a few days. Yours is the last in a line of good reviews so I am pretty excited for a smart dystopian :D


Wendy Darling Come on, I read plenty of bad books, Tish. ;) I hope you enjoy it when you get around to it!

And yay, I'm glad you're going to be reading it, Jessie. It's definitely one of the most well thought-out dystopian YA novels I've read yet.


message 25: by Candice (new) - added it

Candice Abraham Sounds great! Can't wait to read this one!


Wendy Darling Hope you get a chance to read it soon, Candice! :)


Shera (Book Whispers) That is quite the quote!!


Wendy Darling Yeah, I liked that quote a lot, too. When I read it, I knew I wanted to include it my review. Hope you like it, Shera!


Pricky Because of you, I'm picking this up at the library today! I can't wait to read it! Thanks for the review!


Wendy Darling Oh good! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Pricky. :) I thought it was very well-thought out and a lot of fun once it got going.


message 31: by Raina (new)

Raina Conceptually, it sounds a bit like House of the Scorpian. Plus romance, of course. :) Thanks for the heads-up on the imprint!


Wendy Darling My friend Pricky mentioned that to me, too, Raina, thank you! I've had that on my TBR list for awhile, I'm looking forward to reading it and comparing the two.


message 33: by AH (new) - added it

AH House of the Scorpion was really good. The paperback was on sale with Scholastic books for $4.99 this month.


message 34: by Arlene (new)

Arlene Awesome review Wendy. This sounds like something I would really enjoy. Thanks for the FYI on th short story too. :)


Wendy Darling Thanks Arlene! I liked this one quite a lot.

I will definitely check out HOS, AH. A number of my sensible friends here have recommended it, so I'll try and read it in the near future.


message 36: by Shveta (new) - added it

Shveta Thakrar Great review, Wendy! Just one thing: rather than "East Asian," it should be "South Asian." :)


Wendy Darling D'oh! You're right, thank you. :)


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