Seeing as it is now October, I thought I would review my favorite book from the month of September: Floor 21 by Jason Luthor. As some of you may know, I love dystopian fiction. I am currently taking a college course that discusses the multitude of perspectives through which the famous Hunger Games series can be viewed. Through this course I have learned that the Dystopian genre has a diverse audience, and is often enjoyed by teens and adults alike. Additionally, many books within the Dystopian genre have similar style or plot characteristics, including futuristic settings and climate battles. Occasionally, however, I will stumble upon a book that contributes unique elements to the genre, and Floor 21 was one of these books.
I ran across Floor 21 whilst browsing through the Young Adult category on my Kindle, and was intrigued by its abstract. It read:
“As humanity lives out the remainder of its existence at the top of an isolated apartment tower, young Jackie dares to question Tower Authority and their ban on traveling into the tower’s depths. Intelligent and unyielding, Jackie ventures into the shadows of the floors below. But will her strong will and refusal to be quiet—in a society whose greatest pride is hiding the past—bring understanding of how humanity became trapped in the tower she has always called home, or will it simply be her undoing?” (Goodreads)
The abstract itself does not reveal much about the plot of the book, but instead sparks a curiosity in the mind of the reader. The premise of limiting humanity to one building was a plot element I had not yet come across (more commonly, environmental disaster or technological advancements gone wrong limit the human population to a larger geographical area). The idea of a new society being confined to the walls of one building is almost unfathomable, and as such I knew that I had to learn more.
The book opens from the perspective of Jackie, a teenage girl with a naturally curious conscience. Within the first chapter, Jackie details the daily life of the tower residents: the tower is oriented so that the top floor is Floor 1, and the numbers continue to increase the further down you go. Food and other necessities and luxuries are brought up from the lower floors by a group of people called Scavengers. Nobody is allowed to enter Floor 1, but they all must pass it in order to reach the garden where the crops are grown. Nobody knows how far down the tower goes, but artifacts have been brought up from as far down as Floor 30. The only energy available is solar, and the Before (meaning the history of human events before the existence of the Tower) is taboo to discuss. The lack of discussion causes inner turmoil for our lead narrator, and this conflict creates an intense plot progression for the remainder of the book:
“When I am in this kind of mood, I go to the rooftop and look out. You can actually see other towers rising up in the distance. Some aren’t even that far from ours. I stare at them, and I’m just like…is anybody over there? Is anybody looking back at me? Does anybody know or remember we’re trapped in this place? Or are we all that’s left?”
We also discover why the writing style has such a casual and conversational tone: “Um, Mom told me I should start recording my thoughts when I am in these kinds of moods…because I go nuts thinking about how nobody else cares that we’re trapped here“. We learn that Jackie views society as trapped, and that she is one of the only residents questioning the reality of the situation.
Jackie continues by revealing one of the main dystopian elements of the plot in these preliminary chapters: “Oh, about Floor 12. Yeah, that;s where the Creep really starts. The Creep? It’s this…gunk…and the lower down the Tower you go, the more you see it”. The Creep can sense disturbances in human emotion (it often feeds off of anger and distress), and reacts by causing an infestation. All of the security forces within the Tower are called to control it, while the rest of society questions whether they will finally be overcome.
The disciplinary system of this confined society is also introduced in Recordings 3 and 4. If you are found breaking one of the laws, you are brought in for what is called Reinforcement. Nobody knows what happens in Reinforcement, but those who come out of it are significantly changed. Those who were previously energetic return lethargic and obedient. The society claims that they are put through a strict regimen of training, but Jackie suspects that there are secrets hidden below the surface of these simple explanations.
Eventually, our story switches to the perspective of a Scavenger. We are led through his journey to the lower floors of the Tower, and we experience the thrill and peril of scavenging alongside him. This new perspective provides a jarring contrast to the story that precedes it, which is a unique stylistic element. In most Dystopian fiction, there is an even split between character perspectives and distinctive overlap and interaction. In Floor 21, however, we are thrown into two very different versions of the same world in a manner that emphasizes the uncertainty of their history, present, and future.
Seeing as I do not want to reveal too much about the plot of the book, I thought I would end with my overall impressions. This book managed to take me on an emotional rollercoaster and keep me guessing at every turn. Even though I tried to predict the story’s plot twists, I was never correct in my conjectures. I also found the narrative voice to be very impressively constructed. I am always amazed when an author from a completely different background can immerse themselves entirely in a character so as to create an authentic and dynamic narrative style. In this case, Luthor was able to convey the voice and intentions of a seventeen-year-old girl whose world has been deceiving her in all aspects.
Even if you are not well-versed in or interested in exploring the Dystopian genre, I encourage you to give this book a try. It is unlike many Dystopian books that I have read in the past, and for that reason it has the potential to appeal to readers of all interests. If you do decide to give Floor 21 a read, let me know what you think in the comments! I would also love suggestions for books to read and review!
©The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.