I really hope teen readers find “Control.”
If they liked “Hunger Games,” they should like “Control” because it has a likable protagonist who is surrounded by other characters who grow on you who are fighting an unjust system in the dystopian world of 2150.
“Control” also is better written than “Hunger Games.”
Its author, Lydia Kang, is a physician living and practicing in Omaha and a wife and mother of three children. She said working with the Seven Doctors Project has helped her flourish.
Her storyteller in “Control” is 17-year-old Zelia, who leads a rather nomadic life with her doctor father and younger sister, Dylia. The sisters' world comes crashing down after an accident kills their father and they are thrown into a scary foster system.
Zelia suffers from Ondine's Curse, or congenital central hypoventilation syndrome, a real disease that impairs breathing. Zelia wears a necklace that reminds her body to breathe, especially when she sleeps.
Dylia is snatched by two strangers and Zelia is thrown into an odd and scary foster family. She becomes determined to find her sister and rescue Dylia from the group that kidnapped her, thinking she has a special or unusual skill or talent or quirk in her DNA.
Although she's scared and small for her age, she discovers that she's also brave and special in own right. Adventure, fighting, love, betrayal and family become part of her new life.
Kang has imagined a future that has made Nebraska and Iowa one big state, called NEIA, and is full of interesting inventions and strange people. The universal theme of fighting uncaring authority is skillfully woven into the narrative. You'll pull for Zelia, who learns heroism requires sacrifice.
In a recent interview, Kang said she gave Zelia the disease to show that while illness can sometimes hold someone back from accomplishments, it also can be a catalyst for pushing the sufferer to act beyond her capabilities. Being a doctor gave Kang a knowledge of how disease can affect the body and of science, which gives verisimilitude to characters' actions and the futuristic aspects of the story. But the humanity of most of her characters also shines through.
More important than the scientific side of the novel is Kang's lyrical turn of phrase. Zelia describes her sister's sorrow at one point: “I know this sound. If you drained the blood out of my heart, it would be the sound left over, echoing in the chambers.”
Her description of sudden blindness after an attack: “My eyes feel like rubber globes, my lids fluttering strangely over them as they search for light, people, anything,”
Kang said she had a hard time coming up with a story, but you can't tell. It's a fine first novel that sucks the reader in and doesn't let go until the story reaches its end.
Readers who like this book will be happy to know that the second in the series should be out early next year.