Poster Girl by Veronica Roth is a mild dystopian thriller set after a coup in which the lead character finds out about past misdemeanours she was caught up in, and how the new regime has a guilty link to it as well.
As a dystopian novel it is fairly safe – life in the Aperture – the ‘imprisoned’ housing sector – feels more like a friendly community even though the new regime – the “Triumvirate” – is hands off with its organisation. It has become institutionalised in how it manages itself – but there is no sense of needing to be policed or that gangs roam.
The dystopian element is described in how one regime has performed a coup over the other with little to offer apart from apparently dropping the “Insight” ocular implant that dictates every aspect of people’s lives and enables the regime to operate as a surveillance state – but then it becomes apparent the new regime still uses it as a tracking tool.
The Insight also monitored the behavior of each citizen, awarding or deducting “DesCoin”—their currency—based on their actions – something we have seen in Black Mirror, and used to a degree in China. The question, here, is how we determine what is right or wrong and who makes those decisions, sadly Veronica Roth doesn’t debate these questions in the novel.
The Triumvirate has replaced the Insight with “Elicits,” which are much closer to the smartphones we have today. Unfortunately Veronica Roth never properly weaves Elicits into the plot.
The story focuses on Sonya Kantor being offered the opportunity to leave the Aperture in return for finding a missing girl. Why she was chosen for this task and Why Alexander Price is involved is held back until the end of the novel.
So the dystopian story is actually more about the history of the coup and one woman’s role in unravelling what happened the plot device of children going missing in the old regime – the “Delegation”. For all the horror the plot focuses on learning the truth of what happened.
Roth’s strength lies in the characters that Sonya Kantor – the ‘poster girl’ – meets in her journey. The women – Knox and Naomi – are spikey – but the main man – Alexander Price – is a little dull. Oddly, it is difficult to work out what Sonya Kantor’s age is herself, from how she relates to other characters and reflects on her family life.
Veronica Roth weaves the story clearly and at a steady pace. With the exception of a moment with a gunmen there is little danger. This leaves the plot to concentrate on unravelling what happened in the past – a whodunnit with a twist.
Sonya Kantor’s journey starts in the past when she was loyal to the previous regime and found comfort in its dubious moral code. She was its ‘poster girl.’ And with her discovery of the behaviour of the regime and her own father’s complicity in its crimes. Her family’s suicide is nothing less than tragic but it is her own re-evaluation of her own past that is the most interesting – a flawed hero.
Ultimately the story reads well as a light political thriller rather than a dystopian take on what if. The themes of people going missing and use of tracking technology are already present in our current lives.The lack of danger means the story at times is short on intensity but makes up for it with the twist at the end.