I stumbled across Teresa Grabs’ novel, Reflected Echo, one day while searching for a new read on the Amazon Kindle store. It was free for Kindle at the time and after reading the synopsis I thought it would be a worthwhile read.
The story follows a teenage girl named Echo who lives in the city of Bakerton. The city is like your standard dystopian metropolis – segregated into different districts, every citizen has a specific role to play, and the education is regimented to conform the youth to the ideology of those in charge.
Every student, when they hit their tenth year, is required to participate in the Citizen Fitness Exam – a series of physical tests, written exams, and an interview with agents of the state to best determine what their career path will be after graduation. It’s a right of passage for the youth of Bakerton which reminded me of Lois Lowry’s The Giver.
Unfortunately for Echo, unlike her friends, she doesn’t excel in school and doesn’t know what she wants to do when she grows up. It’s a mentality I think many people, not just young adults, can empathize with and allows the reader to connect with the character in this pivotal moment of her life.
On the night before graduation, she is visited late at night by an agent of the state and forcefully evicted from her home – and out of the city – with nothing more than her backpack and her dog, Charlie.
It was at this point when the story became really interesting. It’s assumed she was exiled because she failed her exam (can’t have any degenerate citizens in this utopia!), but like all dystopian stories, you know there’s more to the situation than meets the eye.
The majority of the story revolves around Echo trying to survive in the wilderness outside Bakerton. It’s in these wastelands where she starts to see the truth of the world around her – and how the government has been lying to its people.
THIS NEXT PART CONTAINS SPOILERS.
One of the locations Echo finds is another city called Hope. It’s abandoned and in ruin – destroyed by a war we learn about later on when the Premier of Bakerton finds her in the Hope City Hall.
It was at this point, in my opinion, this story lost a lot of the momentum it had going for it. Ever since she was exiled, we saw Echo defeat the dreaded anghenbeasts which claimed the lives of other exiled citizens, lived through the death of her beloved companion Charlie, and survive in what was considered a wasteland. But once the Premier revealed the intention behind her exile, I was left scratching my head.
From what I gathered, the Premier is a bad dude who is a bit on the crazy side. He explains to Echo that her exile was nothing more than another test in her journey toward citizenship – a test he admits he took when he was in school and had subsequently stopped all public communication about so there was no way she could’ve known it was a test.
He goes on to explain that because of her persistence to survive, she has the potential to become a leader of Bakerton and invites her back to the city with him and suggests a courtship between the two of them to become a power couple. This really caught me off guard because not only is it creepy, I assume the Premier is much older than she is, this plotline comes completely out of left field and blindsides the reader.
Additionally, this whole test hinges completely on the exiled student finding a small cabin and, subsequently, the Hope City Hall. When she was booted out the door, she wasn’t given so much as a map or cardinal direction to start walking. Assuming these characters live in a 3D world, what is stopping the exiled persons from walking in the completely wrong direction?
Another subplot to the story, which I think could’ve been expanded upon was Echo’s dreams. From the very beginning of the story, the reader is introduced to Echo’s dreams which are very vivid and presumably prophetic. At the end of the story, we learn the characters in her dreams were once real people and their actions helped teach Echo how to survive in the world outside Bakerton. What doesn’t get explained is why she has these dreams. Is there some genetic reason? Is there a dream machine that targets people’s subconscious? Do other people have these same dreams? The answer is we don’t know and it’s a pretty convenient power to have that I wish had some more explanation.
Maybe Teresa Grabs will write a sequel to help answer some of these questions.
- Echo is a relatable character whose troubles expand beyond the young adult genre.
- The story holds a good balance of action, mystery, and adventure.
- The last act of the story is awkward – the antagonist’s motives appear disjointed with the rest of the story.
- The world needs more building – We’re left with a lot of questions about how the world ended up in its current state (i.e. Why does Bakerton teach people that trees and other plant life are dangerous?).
Reflected Echo is a decent young adult story which has the potential to be really good. Echo is a relatable character for people of all ages and her story of survival will fill the needs of someone looking for a quick dystopian young adult novel. There are, however, issues with the climax to the story which left much to be desired.
Want to read it yourself? Get your copy here.