Will Meadows is a seemingly average fifteen-year-old Westie, who lives and works in Zone F, the run-down outermost ring of the Corporation. In the future state of the Corp, a person's value comes down to productivity: the right actions win Units, the wrong ones lose them. If Will is unlucky and goes into Unit debt, there's only one place to go: the Rator. But for Zone F Breeders, things are much worse -- they're born into debt and can only accrue Units through reproduction. Every day in Zone F is a struggle, especially for Will who is fighting against time for access to an illegal medical drug, Crystal 8. Under the cover of night, Will travels to the Gray Zone, where life is less regulated and drugs -- and people -- are exchanged for gold. There, Will meets Rob, a corrupt member of the Corporation running a Breeder smuggling operation. Will also meets Alex, another teen whom he quickly recognizes as a Breeder in disguise. Suddenly, Will has an illicit job and money, access to Crystal, and a real friend. As the pair grows closer, Alex shares her secret: she is part of the Response, an uprising to overthrow the Corporation. Caught up in the new friendship, Will and Alex become careless as the two covertly travel into Zone B for a day of adventure. Nothing goes as planned and Will's greatest fear is realized. Will his true identity be revealed?
What works extremely well in this book is the tone the author creates. Every circumstance is life-or-death and no one’s safe. There’s no sense that the main character will be okay because he’s the main character, and since anything could happen, it feels real. Because of this, the book made me reflect on the structure of our current society in comparison to where Will is growing up. Spoiler alert, it’s upsetting.
As a rule of thumb, I don’t love it when the main character or narrator of a book hides secrets from the reader, which is how BREEDER is structured. Instead of interacting with the world through the eyes of the character, we as readers only find out about what the character already knows when the character is confronted with it. In my opinion, it’s a missed opportunity for greater tension-building and it also robs the reader from being able to fully imagine the world or connect with the character. For example, I am very confused about how fertility works here if only five percent of people can reproduce. If all reproduction is controlled by the government, except in regards to released Shadows, how are there enough Westie babies to replenish the working class, which the Corp desperately needs? Details like that are those that get lost when the POV is limited.
Aside from that, BREEDER is a fast-paced read with nail-biting plot developments. It’s perfect for fans of THE HANDMAID’S TALE and THE GIVER.