Any reader or librarian can tell you that after paranormal fiction, the second most popular style of book to be published in the last few years is the dystopian novel. We can thank books like The Hunger Games for that trend.
But like any genre, there are some hits and plenty of misses. For me, The Line straddles the line there. For me as a reader, I was never once convinced and I had some other gripes, but for the upper elementary age audience, this might work quite well.
Rachel and her mother live on The Property, which is owned by Ms. Moore who runs a greenhouse in the backyard. The Property is close to The Line: a border which is meant to keep the Others in Away. That is, it protects citizens of the United States and detracts those from outside from ever venturing in. The US had been attacked from the outside before and this was its means of having total control of borders and of its citizens.
Rachel, being young — age never given — is curious and wants to explore. As she does more and more research through their version of the internet on this so-called Away place, she wants to see it for herself. But her mother Vivian will make this difficult by reminding her of her deceased father, the hierarchy of society in the US, and ultimately the story of why they are living on The Property.
But will Rachel listen to her mother or will she take her fate and curiosity into her own hands?
The Line has a premise and a conspiracy element to it that spoke well to me, but ultimately, I found that Hall’s writing relied far too heavily on telling me, rather than showing me, about this dystopia. Never once did I feel like I saw or discovered anything for myself as a reader. Instead, I was hand-held through explanations from Rachel’s mother and Ms. Vivian about this world and why things are the way they are. I was a total outsider and had to put my trust into their versions of the history, and never once was I convinced. But I had to be because there was no other way. It was a bit alienating and off-putting, so I never found myself wanting to care about Rachel, her mother, or Ms. Moore. It never mattered because it would just be explained away in a few pages.
Tension in the book never happened, again as a result of the telling-rather-than-showing writing employed. When we are introduced to a new set of characters about 2/3 of the way through the book, it was jolting, but I never found myself really wanting to know more about them. Rachel did, but since I was so removed from Rachel, well, you get the idea.
The language and writing in the book itself is simplistic, and Rachel seems to be very young. I believe this is the sort of book that would appeal to the crowds reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver, rather than the crowds reading The Hunger Games. I mean that in terms of age, not necessarily interest. This is a good thing, as this isn’t a bad book. It just doesn’t work particularly well for those expecting something akin to other well-known dystopian reads, as older and wider readers likely are. But I must also interject here that those younger readers may find themselves boggled with the political issues that arise in the story; they may not be mature enough to understand some of it.
Since The Line is the first in this series, I think that might have huge appeal for the younger readers, too. There’s a lot that’s laid out in book one that lends itself to plenty of opportunity for future volumes. I’m half wondering if this is the sort of book that requires reading all of the volumes at once to get a real appreciation for the story and style; it could be the case that Hall purposely makes the first book a tell-rather-than-show so she can pull a cord and switch the course in the next book. Time will tell.
I’m waiting on a number of loose ends, including the greater purpose and meaning of the green house on The Property in the next story. Rachel is forced to be a sort of apprentice in it, making her a god-like character. I anticipate this to play a large role in the next book, and it is certainly something I am eager to read more about.
Although certainly not my favorite book and though it has a number of faults, I do plan on picking up the second book when it pubs. I wish this volume would have been a one-off, with more depth and development that I’m anticipating in the next one, but because of what seems to be the intended audience (young readers), maybe this is a better route.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).