We all know there’s no such thing as “Perfect”; but in Ella’s world they try, maybe a little too hard. Ella was born and raised in a kennel, but she’s not a dog. She’s a human; born in a lab, and raised to be the perfect “pet”. Ella spent the first 16 years of her life learning how to pose, speak, and perform in order to be bought and spoiled as the perfect family companion.
She is overjoyed when she’s purchased by a congressman and his family and couldn’t be happier about her new home and surroundings. She’s suddenly surrounded by beautiful things, shown and given more than she could ever have dreamed, and is perfectly poised to live a contented life of luxury. But when things aren’t what they seem and Ella is suddenly feeling things and thrust into situations that she was not bred to have any idea how to navigate, her world takes a sinister turn. Ella is forced to make a decision to stay and adapt to the horror that has become her life, or leave, and experience the freedom that she never thought she wanted, but may be what’s best for her and those she cares about.
I understand why Perfected is classified as “Young Adult”, given the age of the characters, and the intensity level of the language, sexual content, etc. But, underneath, I think it would appeal more to an adult audience. I say this because there are some definite innuendos and political themes that while not readily apparent to a teenager (especially a younger one), could be picked apart and analyzed a million different ways by an adult that finds joy in such things. There are undertones of commentary on hot-button issues such as cloning, human trafficking, and modern-day slavery that are just not discussed by your average teenager.
This novel is not your average dystopian story. It’s more like an “alternate reality” story– different, but equally awesome. It doesn’t take place sometime in a distant future, or in a place that may or may not exist. It takes place in Connecticut, and it takes place in the now. In our current existence, we keep pets like dogs, cats, and sometimes rats. I bet I’m not the only one who constantly wonders “Are they happy here?” or “What is he/she thinking?” The reality Kate Jarvik Birch has created in Perfected is a very dark and disturbing answer to that. Although they’re bred not to, the human pets in this story could theoretically tell you exactly how they feel and what they’re thinking. After reading this book, I look at my pets and realize there are just some things better left unknown.
My own reality, and this novel’s implications on it aside, I really loved not just the content, but the flow and development throughout Perfected. The author did a wonderful job of pulling the reader through the story at a pace that felt natural: not rushed, but not dragging along. The characters were unique and for the most part totally heartbreaking, although all for different reasons. Ruby, the congressman’s 10 year old daughter and Ella’s primary “owner”, isn’t as perfect as her mom or her older sister. She has freckles, unruly hair, and very few friends. Like many of us, she’s happier in her room with the characters in her books than she is with the characters in her real life. Penn, the congressman’s son, is completely under his father’s thumb. As much as he tries to break the mold, he is being “bred” to follow in his father’s footsteps, every bit as much as Ella was “bred” to be the perfect companion. It’s no surprise that these two characters found a commonality in one another that made for some very interesting developments. And, speaking of development, Ella’s character was, pardon my pun, but, perfect. As I was reading, it was easy for me to put myself in her place, see things through her eyes, and learn with her as she gleaned new understanding of the world around her.
Don’t be fooled by my rating. I really did absolutely fall in love with this novel. Unfortunately, there were some major issues that just grated at me both as a reader, and somebody who has a not-so-slight obsession with grammatical perfection. First, I did not receive this novel as an ARC; I bought the finished Kindle version from Amazon. That being said, there were, for me, an unacceptable amount of typos, auto-correct issues, and grammar mistakes. There were even a couple points in the book when the wrong character’s name was used in dialogue. At certain points, it made reading and understanding the content unnecessarily difficult. Content-wise, I feel like there was a big chunk missing here. While you are given a little bit of how “human pets” became a reality in Ella’s world, and how they’re “created”, I feel like more elaboration on this point would have made the novel much easier to comprehend. As a teenage reader, I don’t think it would have mattered as much, but if I were reading this novel looking for political or human-interest related substance, these things would matter to me. However, given where the novel left off, I have a suspicion that I may get my wish for more back-story in the next installment.
(Side Note): Speaking of the next installment, this novel left off with a major cliff-hanger, and it was perfect. It wasn’t so subtle that Perfected would be anywhere near okay as a stand-alone novel, but, unlike the last novel I reviewed, it didn’t leave me throwing things in angry and impatient disgust either. So, again, well done.