Review: The Breeding Tree by J. Andersen

Author Andersen has just released the third book in this series, and when she asked me to read it, I asked if I could start with the first instead.  This was an interesting, well-written YA dystopian novel.  It builds on concepts you’ve already seen frequently in dystopian novels, but with a nice amount of detail and world-building (although I would have liked more of the back history).  I had some small issues with the writing sometimes, but then I’m also not the primary audience for this book.

Kate Dennard is a young woman about to be assigned a career by the Institution.  She’s hoping for the job of Creation Specialist.  The Institution has eradicated most diseases and created perfectly healthy human beings by controlling procreation.  Women no longer give birth; instead their eggs are stored, and when they are ready (at least 30 years old and in an approved relationship) they can apply to create a child.

Kate knows that the world she inhabits isn’t as perfect as it’s made out to be, because her Gran is one of the last of the natural born, and for some years she’s been pretending to have dementia so the Institution doesn’t kill her outright.  Still, Kate is excited to become an adult and enter professional life.  The only problem is she’s growing uncomfortable with the idea that her job is going to be terminating the life of any baby with a potential weakness.

There’s a lot going on in this novel — it begins with the public torture of a rebel and moves quickly from there.  Kate’s living in a world where she can’t trust anyone and where anything she says could brand her as a criminal.  Her father’s a bit of a free-thinker but her mother catches criminals for the government, and she’s caught in the middle.

The book has a clear message, which is that killing babies just because they have physical imperfections isn’t right.  The publisher of this series describes itself as publishing speculative fiction that appeals to Christian audiences, something I didn’t realize when I agreed to read the book. I was a little worried this book would be preachy and overly anti-abortion, but the issues are kept pretty balanced and Kate is presented with complicated ethical dilemmas. What I liked about the book was that the rebels had their own moral issues (for example, they are willing to kidnap people in order to further their own mission).

As someone who’s never wanted to have a child, I try to avoid stories that are too sentimental about babies.  It’s a little hard for me to get in the mindset of those who take one look at a baby and become emotionally attached.  But I’m sure those readers with children will be able to relate more than I could.

Throughout the story, Andersen raises interesting issues, like the role of sexuality in a society where procreation is no longer needed, and the idea that medical science could eliminate natural childbirth (which might be safer and healthier for mothers) while still allowing people to have children that are genetically their own.  She also raises issues about how much the Institution is controlling the lives of this society, from their jobs to what they eat to what they can talk about.

Those who like YA dystopian fiction will appreciate this thoughtful and entertaining story that raises issues similar to 1984 and The Giver.  There were elements of the story I didn’t feel were quite realistic, and there were places I felt the writing needed a little editing, but then the book is aimed at a younger audience.  All in all, I liked the book and look forward to seeing where the story goes.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the author and publisher Brimstone Fiction in exchange for an honest review.

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