Firstlife is Book #1 of the new YA Everlife series by bestselling author Gena Showalter. I can’t stop thinking about this novel so I’m reviewing it about a week before it is published. What if you were told your life on earth wasn’t the one that mattered; that the only life that really mattered was the one that came after you died? How would you feel about that? How would you feel about living life on Earth as just a dress rehearsal for what comes next? And what if your family was literally willing to do anything to ensure you made the next life choice they wanted you to make? How would that make you feel? Whether or not you like allegorical novels with some religious undertones/overtones, if you like kick-butt teen heroines then you might want to consider this one – see what you think.
Tenley “Ten” Lockwood grew up the pampered daughter of a well-to-do family, a girl with a real quirk about numbers. But that life ended when she let her parents know she couldn’t decide which Everlife she wanted. You see, in Ten’s world, the first life a person lives on Earth is not the one that counts. The only life that counts is the Everlife that comes after death. There are two different Everlife groups a person can choose, Troika or Myriad. Ten’s parents belong to Myriad, and have reaped a lot of material firstlife benefits for belonging to Myriad. Although children are in theory free to choose which group they want to belong to, in practice most choose the same group as their parents.
Ten knows her decision is a crucial one and wants to make up her own mind, since the consequences for her choice will last forever. How can a teenager be expected to make a decision like this that is basically eternal? She’s smart enough to know she doesn’t have enough information to make a decision that will not just impact the rest of her firstlife but will impact her Everlife for – well – forever. Logically, it makes sense that she’d like some time to consider all of the ramifications, not just the PR sell on the surface, right? Wrong! Not on this world. (Oh, and FYI, there is a 3rd choice that no one really talks about…possibly because nobody knows what happens to people who make that choice.)
So Ten’s parents pack her off “for her own good” to Prynne Asylum, where they have been assured she will see the error of her ways and will make a decision much faster – just to get out of the awful place if for no other reason. What no one has taken into account is that Ten is stubborn as hell, um, I mean persistent and determined, and the harder the asylum makes her life the more determined she becomes to wait them out until she has all the facts she needs to make a good decision. And the asylum can make life extremely unbearable – we’re talking not just an austere boarding school from hell kind of place but a place where waterboarding, torture, and even rape are common practices. The asylum will literally do anything to force its inmates to make the decision the inmate’s parents want. And no matter what the asylum throws at her, Ten just gets tougher and more resolved.
“I’ve been locked inside the Prynne Asylum – where happiness comes to die – for three hundred and seventy-two days. (Or nine hundred and seventy-two hours.) I know the exact time frame, not because I watched the sun rise and set in the sky, but because I mark my walls in blood every time the lights in the good-girls-gone-bad wing of the facility are turned on.
There are no windows in the building. At least, none that I’ve found. And I’ve never been allowed outside. None of the inmates have. To be honest, I don’t even know what country we’re in, or if we’re buried far underground…I’ve heard friends and enemies alike ask the staff for details, but the response has always been the same. Answers have to be earned.
No, thanks. For me, the price – cooperation – is simply too high.”
For some reason, both Troika and Myriad are determined to get seventeen-year-old Ten to pick them – far more determined than anyone has ever seen. What is it about her that both sides consider crucial to their agenda? Ten has no idea but the more they try to persuade her, the more suspicious she grows. To make it even worse, these two groups are at war with each other. Why is Ten such a prize? She’s starting to think she can’t believe what anyone tells her about anything. Maybe it’s fitting that she’s in an asylum because if things get any worse she may just go mad for real.
And now, both sides have sent someone to infiltrate the asylum to woo her – one overtly and one covertly. One of these two guys (and they are both guys, Archer & Killian, even though one is disguised as a girl at first), is a classic bad boy. The other one seems very authentic and honest. Ten, however, has been betrayed enough times that she doesn’t know which is the bad guy and which is the good guy – or are they both bad guys – or could they both be good guys? Frankly, she is so confused by this point that she doesn’t know what to think about either of them. All I’m going to say is that neither one of them is going to be what you’ll expect…spoiler?…maybe a little bit…
Ten’s situation broke my heart yet I admired her courage even when it looked like it was going to get her killed or at best mangled. This novel has some great heroes in it and some rotten-to-the-core villains and, just like in real life, you don’t always know which is going to be which. And then there are the characters who are really pleasant surprises. And, yes, there is romance – conflicted paranormal romance – has Gena Showalter ever written a novel with no romance in it?
The world in Firstlife is very well and thoroughly drawn, with enough similarities to things in our reality to make it pretty easy to drop into that world. Yes, there are some obvious religious threads running through this story but they could just as easily be political threads or any other belief system that people feel passionately about for whatever reason. I think Gena Showalter has the beginnings of one hell of a series in Firstlife and I’m chomping at the bit to read Book #2, which I believe is going to be titled Lifeblood. Should you read it? Only you can answer that. I devoured it and it went pretty fast even though it’s over 400 pages…probably because it is one hell of a rollercoaster ride!
Here are just a couple of tidbits from a Q&A Session with the author:
Q: You write stories for both teens and adults. What is different about the way you approach writing for each age group, and what is the same?
A: This might come as a surprise, but I approach every book in the same manner. I don’t consider my audience while writing a first draft, because I know I’ll never be able to please everyone. I write for an audience of one. It is the characters that set the tone for the book. Teenagers and adults have different mindsets, different experiences and pasts, different expectations, and they stop me from pushing when it isn’t time to push.
Q: Where did you get the idea for Ten’s obsession with numbers? How much fun was it to incorporate all the number facts into the book? Will numbers remain important to the Everlife novels?
A: Ten’s obsession with numbers wasn’t something I planned – despite her name! – but as I wrote that first draft, the obsession grew organically from her character. I had so much fun hunting down numerical facts as well as numerical possibilities. And, yes, the numbers will remain important throughout the Everlife novels…will be even more important!
Can’t wait to read it? Firstlife is available for pre-order in all formats from your favorite online bookseller. It is being published on 2/23/2016. Pre-order it now and you can have it as soon as it’s published!
I’d love to get your comments on Firstlife, Gena Showalter and/or her other work, and/or this review.