In case you’re thinking that every possible dystopian idea has already been written about, think again. Simon Mayo’s Blame imagines a society in which the relatives of criminals can be tried and imprisoned in the absence of those who actually did the crime; this means prisons full of people who haven’t actually done anything, which, you’ll be amazed to learn, is not a universally popular system. Through the eyes of Ant, a teenage ‘heritage crime’ prisoner, we are taken behind the bars of Spike, a London prison in which families are locked up for the relations’ arsons, armed robberies and embezzlements. Funnily enough, Ant is not a big fan of the system which has her and her younger brother, Mattie, locked away for something they didn’t even do, and Blame is focused mainly on the ways in which she fights the system, which escalate as the story progresses. It’s kind of Prison Break for adolescents.
Ant is a suitably spiky heroine; there’s a bit of a “chosen one” cliche running through the story, but it’s based on her determination and leadership rather than magic powers or anything, so her role as a figurehead for a revolution is convincing. Mattie is much younger and less savvy, but he is no sap and the relationship between the brother and sister is touching in a non-sentimental way. It’s hard to fully get to know the other characters in amongst all the action, with only Max, Ant and Mattie’s foster-brother, really getting enough focus for the reader to care about him.
The idea of heritage crime is interesting and I was intrigued when more details were dripfed into the novel; although there were a few gaps which made the concept a little less convincing, it’s easy to imagine this kind of scapegoating, particularly in a pos-Brexit Britain still battling the ridiculous idea that immigrants are the source of all evil. Mayo realistically depicts the hostility towards the “strutters,” as well as the right-wing rhetoric of the authorities in feeding that ill-feeling. In my never-ending struggle to find books I can use as my answer at parents’ evenings when I’m asked what boys should be reading, I feel like Blame is one answer to that question; it’s loaded with action, with no let-up in the rioting, chasing, punching and shouting. When reading action-packed books like this, I do sometimes wish everyone would just sit down and have a rest and a biscuit or something, although apparently this isn’t much of a possibility when you’re on the run from the law. All the frenzied running about was a little bit much for my delicate, character-development-loving brain, but it’s certainly not boring. The last quarter, in particular, is excellent, as well as a bit horrific.
Blame is an exciting YA read, with loads of action and an engaging premise. Mayo has come up with a scenario which is just believable enough to instil a tiny bit of fear in the reader’s mind. It’s definitely something I’ll be recommending to the teenagers I teach.