Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Freefall

Freefall

Joshua David Bellin
Fiction
For ages 13 and up
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017   ISBN: 978-1481491655

For his whole life Cam has been told, and has believed, that the people in the Lowerworld “had wrecked the planet.” He accepted that the Two Worlds model was a good solution. Why should, the people in the Upperworld, the elite, having anything  to do with Lowerworld people after what they did. It is better to keep the two societies separate. He thinks nothing of the fact that many Upperworld citizens feel that Lowerworld people are barely people at all.

Now, even for Upperworld people who have the resources to live in great comfort and even luxury, Earth is no longer a viable place to live long term. The planet is dying and it is time to look for a new home world for humankind. The father of Cam’s friend Adrian is in charge of a project, the Otherworld colonization. The plan is to move one million people across miles and miles of space to a planet that it he hopes can be transformed into a good home for them all. Less than one percent of Earth’s population will be able to leave, and all of the travelers will be Upperworld citizens. Cam and his two best friends will be among them.

Then Cam sees an illegal video of a Lowerworld Girl and he is immediately bewitched by her. She is a disciple of a Lowerworld leader who is called Sumati. Sumati has spent most of her life speaking up for the rights of the Lowerworld people. Cam tries to find the girl on the worldlink, with no success. The corporations who control commerce, communications, and everything else on the planet, don’t want Upperworlders to listen to Sumati’s words, and the only way Cam gets to see videos of her speeches is to get help from his friend Griffin, who is an expert hacker.

Then Sumati and her entourage come to the Upperworld to talk about including Lowerworld people in the planned Otherworld colonization. Sumati, the girl Cam saw, and their supporters come to the city where they speak at a symposium. Sumati hopes that the discourse will make it possible for the two sides to agree on an acceptable “collaborative colonization. One that benefits all mankind and not a select few.”

Thanks to Griffin, Cam is able to get into the event. He and many others watch as the girl, Sofie, speaks about the grievances of the Lowerworld people, and she asks that some of them be allowed to travel on the colonizing spaceships. She quotes from secret documents, revealing the policy of the Upperworld leadership in all its ugliness. They always planned to exclude Lowerworlders because they are considered “sub-humanity.” The crowd is applauding for Sofie when an assassin kills Sumati.

In the chaos that follows the shooting, Cam is swept up by the crowd and without knowing what is happening he finds himself on the helicar that is taking Sofie and her people to safety. For some reason that Cam cannot understand, Sofie does not get rid of him. Instead, he travels with Sofie and her people, and he sees, with his own eyes, the terrible lives that the Lowerworlders are forced to endure. He finally understands why Sofie is fighting so hard to have the grievances of the Lowerworld people recognized.

Eventually Sofie does discard Cam and he goes back to his Upperworld life, though of course he is a very different person now; one who is viewed with suspicion by his own kind. In spite of his fall from grace, Cam is still allowed to board the Executor. He knows that somewhere out there Sofie, who has managed to secure passage for her people on a second space vessel, the Freefall, is also beginning a new chapter in her life. On their respective ships the teens sleep for a thousand years as their vessels cross space.

Every stage of the journey, and the arrival on Tau Ceti e, has been planned, but something goes terribly wrong. When Cam wakes up, his pod is not on board the Executor. Instead it is lying on the ground on a planet that is inhospitable and inhabited by monsters that try to kill him. Cam feels as if he woken up in a living nightmare, and the situation only gets worse.

This remarkable book takes us into a world where a small percentage of the world’s population live in comfort and the rest scrabble for survival. The gap between the haves and the have nots is enormous, and not surprisingly this means that both sides of the divide hate and distrust one another. It is fascinating to see, through Cam’s eyes, how such a gap can be crossed, and how suffering can breed both tolerance and further intolerance.

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