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The Secret Under My Skin    by Janet McNaughton order for
Secret Under My Skin
by Janet McNaughton
Order:  USA  Can
Eos, 2005 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

It is the year 2368 when dire toxins in the air and water are blamed on the 'techies'. One young woman unravels lies as she fights to untangle her past. She is around thirteen years old. The work-camp named her Lobelia September (for the month she was found on the streets), but she recalls the name Blay Raytee. Nothing more of her past comes to mind, but she has in her possession a small, box-like 'Object'. Lobelia is an avid reader, and secretly takes books from the camp archives, absorbing knowledge like a sponge. Each resident in the work-camp is labeled with a 'UR' ('Use Rating'), which determines jobs assigned. But some have no UR and they disappear ...

Up on a hill lives Lem Howell, once a gifted musician and a 'techie'. Howell is rated as a 'UR-9', vital to the hydroponics project to sustain those in the work-camps. He lives alone, cares for his gardens, and creates aeolian lyres. Lem plays a large part in Lobelia's life, and in uncovering her true name. Lobelia September is selected to reside with Erica and William Townsend. Her task is to assist Marrella, whose only desire is to go through the induction ceremony to become a bio-indicator (one who collects information on UV readings, greenhouse gases, and changes in the ozone layer). Marrella has to pass specific tests. Blay is the one who knows the right answers from her 'gut-feeling', and provides them to Marrella.

We learn about the 'Dark Times' when violence ruled, and environmental hazards were blamed on technological thinkers, leading to the 'technocaust' (concentration camps). The powerful and controlling 'Commission' was formed, and divided the rich from the poor. 'The Archive of the Lost' has family records; the 'Weavers Guild' creates material and garments, and is part of an underground operation; 'Tribes' exist in St. Pearl where groups of homeless children have formed a structure of their own.

Janet McNaughton intersperses quotes from classical poetry in her story. And she writes lyrically herself, as when Blay muses 'millions of stars press down as if I could reach up and catch a handful, the radiant spine of the Milky Way arching over my head. The beauty of this place fills me like water rushing into an empty space.' The Secret Under My Skin is masterfully written, with exceptional character development, and an intense momentum to keep readers' attention. I highly recommend it to both teens and adults as a compelling, thought-provoking, can't-put-down read.

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