Control by Lydia Kang
Series: Control, #1
Published: December 24, 2013, Dial Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Source: From publicist via NetgalleyGoodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble
I draw back, considering the threat. I’m never one to cause trouble. I don’t rock the boat, because I don’t know how to swim. But this isn’t about me. Dad’s voice replays in my mind.Take care of yourself. Stay safe, no matter what.
Control is a different sort of book, one far outside my traditional reading tastes. I have been making an effort to read a greater variety of genres, however, and so when I was given the opportunity to review this one I took it. And I’m glad that I did. For the most part, I found myself quite impressed with Kang’s debut.
Sister Zelia and Dylia are used to being on the road. Their father’s job as a scientist requires them to move to a new part of their futuristic United States every year or so. But when their father informs them of their latest move, the girls barely have any time to prepare for their departure, and then their father’s death causes their plans to come to an abrupt halt. Orphaned Zel and Dyl are taken in the foster care system and subsequently split up.
Zel finds herself living in Carus, a group home for misfit teens who all seem to possess extraordinary powers. She learns that Marka, the adult in charge at Carus, has snatched each teen away from the greedy grip of Aureus, which is the very same place that has taken Dyl. Although Aureus is also a home for teens with special powers, it seeks to exploit their powers. And so Zel, the normal human living among extraordinary people, must search for a way to save her little sister.
Let me first say that Control puts the “science” in “science fiction.” I say that with complete seriousness. Far too often have I come across books labeled as science fiction that have barely an ounce of truth behind their scientific facts. I knew that I would get something better through Control; in fact, I expected it. Author Lydia Kang has her MD and has helped other authors add more scientific validity to their own works. While I do not have a scientific background myself, all scientific aspects of Control seemed plausible and I had no trouble in believing them to be true.
Zel herself has a penchant for science, and so much of the book deals with science in one form or another. She finds herself surrounded humans with incredible abilities — abilities that are not based on magic but on genetic engineering. Marka can smell emotions, Cy’s skin has a miraculous healing capacity, Vera’s skin can perform photosynthesis, Hex has an extra set of arms, and Wilbert has an extra head. Even her own sister is the apparent possessor of atypical genes. In comparison to them, Zel believes herself to be painfully ordinary.
Nevertheless, Zel is quite the atypical heroine. At sixteen, she remains incredibly underdeveloped physically. She suffers from Ondine’s Curse, which is a respiratory disorder where her body has trouble breathing on its own. She’s a rule-follower through and through, idolizes her father, and is willing to do whatever it takes to rescue her sister. Her love for Dyl, in many ways her polar opposite, felt like a spot-on depiction of sibling relationships. Zel can be a bit too self-deprecating at times, but she’s genuine and I enjoyed the fact that she has such a strong passion for science.
I suppose I should also mention the burgeoning romance that develops between Zel and Cy. I actually liked it. Me, who has problems with the majority of relationships depicted in YA novels. The rawness and complexity of their feelings for themselves and with regard to one another was compelling and very well-written. In Control, Kang takes two misfits whose lives are anything but normal and is able to make their relationship itself very believable.
My issues with this book stem primarily from the fact that I’m not a fan of stories about humans with genetic/superhuman abilities, apparently (I should have realized that earlier as I’m also not a fan of the X-Men franchise). As much as I found Zel’s adoptive family fascinating, I also found myself feeling a bit uncomfortable by it all. Even Zel’s physical immaturity was a bit too out-there for me. Perhaps the plausibility of so many aspects of this book also affected me; this is not the kind of reality I’d want for myself or others.
Although Control was not quite my cup of tea, I still am glad that I had the opportunity to read this book and am looking forward to its sequel, Catalyst. The characters are well-crafted and Kang writes very well. It is written with a specific audience in mind, however, and I cannot quite count myself as part of that (at least, not yet). The fact that I still enjoyed my experience reading this speaks volumes to the quality of the story, in my mind. For those who do enjoy more scientifically oriented stories and stories about extraordinary humans, this is not a book to miss.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Disclaimer: I received this review copy from the publicist, but that in no way affected my opinion. The quote is from an advanced copy of the novel and is subject to change in the final edition.