By Christine Davis
I remember being seventeen in Ms. Knudsen’s AP Environmental Science class. She was Canadian and had purple streaks in her hair, so everyone wanted to enroll. Each day we learned that the planet was doomed. G.K. Lamb’s dystopian, debut novel is about this inevitable doom as told through the first-person lens of Evelyn, a young girl full of hope and fight. She might have done well in Ms. Knudsen’s course, but in Evelyn’s world free thought is rebellion, family is complicated, and answers come at the ultimate price.
World building is key in young adult fiction, and Filtered delivers in this arena. The novel centers on the premise that air pollution has resulted in toxicity so severe all citizens must wear masks while outside, and rely upon air filtration systems inside. Lamb creates images of tall buildings, tightly locked doors, and a billboard declaring, “Remember, a fresh filter everyday keeps death at bay!” The Great Society is responsible for regulating safety, but their regulations encroach upon almost every human right. Evelyn’s schooling is a perfect example of The Great Society’s stiff expectations. Students aren’t permitted to look authority figures in the eye, move out of synch, or question anything about their world. When Evelyn encounters her first taste of rebellion, she says, “There’s life here,” and her new companion retorts, “Uncomfortable, isn’t it?” Lines like this capture the psychological world-building Lamb accomplishes alongside the physical landscape.
Readers fall even deeper into the familiar landscape of family, but once again they find a filter. The family lives in an upscale apartment with plenty of fresh filters and store bought food. Her father works late. They watch T.V. However, any displays of “normalcy” are interrupted by the ever-present threat of death. In addition to communicating through literal filtration masks designed to protect them against pollution, they also must communicate through the masks of fear and ignorance. Evelyn’s mother falls deeper into isolation as the novel progresses, leaving Evelyn thinking, “I wish she were someone I could trust…one look at her and I know she can’t be any of the things I wish her to be. Her frame is already withering, no doubt from malnourishment and confinement.” She wonders, “How much of our imprisonment is self-inflicted?” but she is alone with this question, unable to include her family in any quest for answers.
Lamb’s plot and ultimate climax are nicely tied to both the world he creates, and the family Evelyn must break away from in order to come of age in a time of rebellion. Readers will want to engage in her fast-paced adventures, full of villains, broken heroes, and misguided youths. The more Evelyn commits to uncovering the truth, the more she finds herself entrenched in a historical tug-of-war that leaves her fighting for her life in more ways than one.
The result of reading a book like G.K. Lambs’s Filtered is not only to leave entertained, but also educated. At Evelyn’s age I had Ms. Knudsen to tell me about the perils of this world, but did I listen? Filtered provides young readers an intricate look at the results of environmental collapse through a character they will want to follow anywhere.
Saturday, February 27, G.K. Lamb is signing books at Bookmans from 3:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m., as part of the Bookmans Flag AZ Author Fair. Lamb joins Mark Bordner and Austin Aslan.