Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review: Helper12, by Jack Blaine

Helper12, by Jack Blaine, is a fun read set in a fascinating dystopian society, but the setting is not what pulled me in. I was drawn to the main character. Helper12 is a believable and engaging young woman. Designated as a Baby Helper when she was very small, she has no memory of the details, just the H tattooed on her arm, with the hint of a sloppily removed B beneath.

The synopsis, which I first read through the Kindle Boards forum, caught my attention. I downloaded a sample as soon as it was available, on June 1, 2011. Two days later I read the sample and immediately purchased the book so that I could keep reading.

Helper12 is one of many similarly designated Baby Helpers in the Pre Ward where babies spend six months before being tested and tracked for vocations. She is mostly content with her situation. She has never known any other life, and she knows that being a Breeder would have been worse. There’s just one thing, Helper12 has a secret—she’s drawing.

At the end of one of Helper12’s shifts, the Sloanes arrive. She hears the young man address the older pair: “Mother. Father. It’s a real live family unit, right here in my Ward.” Only rich society members can afford family units, and this one is here to “adopt” Baby4. They need a Nanny for their new son, so they make a deal with the Director and walk out owning Helper12. A helper outside her designated task can be reported as “Negligent. As in, not present for one’s assigned task. As in, absent without permission. As in…life sentence.”

The first-person narration is one that I don’t often encounter in my reading, so it was a unique almost surprise each time I returned to reading the book. The unusual use of present tense verbs added to the effect.  I found Helper12’s naiveté believable. Her view of life is narrow because of her station and task-oriented upbringing. We learn of her stilted education as we absorb information about her life, first in dorms and now in her cube residence in a worker slum. “These walls have protected me against other things, too. The loneliness of my existence, the helpless feeling of knowing I will repeat my steps each day, that I will do as I am bid, do what I have been trained to do, until I can’t do it anymore.”

Helper12 has never known love. Despite this, she grows to love Baby4, named William by the Sloanes. Helper12 has already secretly named him Jobee.

The Sloanes also have a secret. Secrets build to put Helper12 in a situation where she has important choices to make, if she can learn to trust.

Helper12 is not a scholarly or in-depth work, nor is it meant to be. The setting is well developed with a strong narrative voice. The story took me on an adventure with plot twists and character development that held my attention from the beginning and did not disappoint with the satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended.

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