Back in June, I won a giveaway at The Book Smugglers for Karen Sandler’s novel Tankborn and its sequel Awakening. The books are from Lee & Low, a new publisher focusing on multiculturalism and diversity in children’s and young adult literature. Their mission is something that I fully support, and it’s especially heartening to see some of their science fiction and fantasy offerings.
Kayla is a GEN, short for Genetically Engineered Non-human. The GEN don’t have parents in the traditional sense; they’re born using a tank and then fostered. When a GEN is 15, he/she is given their Assignment, sent to work as slaves for the humans on Loca. The GEN are marked by prominent tattoos on their faces, making it impossible to be mistaken for another social class.
Kayla’s friend Mishalla begins her Assignment first, but finds that something’s amiss. Her task is caring for low-class (but not GEN) babies, some of whom have been injured. Mishalla realizes that everything isn’t as it seems, and that the humans she works for are involved in something shady.
As Kayla begins her own Assignment, she begins to question what she’s been taught about the roles of the GEN and humans. She meets an upper-class human teenager named Devak, and the two begin to fall in love. Personally, I found Devak to be a bit insufferable for most of the book, but it’s understandable because he’s a teenager who has led a relatively privileged life. For most of his life, the plight of the GEN was something that could easily be ignored, and even though he’s always been kind to the GEN, it wasn’t until meeting Kayla that he really started to get it.
Sandler uses Kayla and Devak’s story to explore how racism can become ingrained in culture. The social classes in Tankborn are rigidly enforced, and appearance is a major determinant of one’s social position. GEN do go to school, but their lessons are geared toward their capacity as workers. Even the GEN religion points to fulfillment only by serving humans. The GEN and the upper classes are taught that there are major differences between them, and that even touching one another can have serious consequences. Kayla and Devak both have to challenge their prior assumptions and take risks to be together.
Overall, I’m a big fan Tankborn. Kayla and Mishalla’s intertwined plot lines are filled with mystery and intrigue as they discover the real history of the relationship between the GEN and humans and fight to break down the social barriers between them. I can’t wait to read the sequel.