New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC have been abandoned. The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes. There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior—instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested don't usually come back.
Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren't always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it's hard to forget that people weren't always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. That life in the United States used to be different.
In the three years since the war ended, Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the Federal Bureau of Reformation. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow. That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And what's worse, one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings...the only boy Ember has ever loved.
In her debut novel, Simmons portrays a right-wing dystopian America still reeling from a vaguely described war. Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller lives quietly with her free-spirited mother, trying to avoid the puritanical Federal Bureau of Reformation and their increasingly stringent Moral Statutes. When Ember's mother is arrested as morally suspect (she's an unwed mother), Ember is carted off to a repressive reform school that is essentially a concentration camp. Worse, one of the soldiers involved in the arrest is Ember's former boyfriend, Chase, now barely recognizable in military uniform. The novel details na ve Ember's experiences first as a prisoner, then as a fugitive, with the emotionally scarred and secretive Chase as her companion. Heavy-handed in its delivery, the tale is well-written, though there are occasional clunkers ("I answered as assertively as I could. I was so mad my organs vibrated"). Simmons's story includes a fair amount of believable action, a few mildly horrific events, and some not quite R-rated romance on its way to a conclusion that sets up the next installment in this planned trilogy. Ages 14 up.