As an Irish reader, it’s hard to avoid hearing Cecelia Ahern’s name. The daughter of a former Taoiseach, she’s a phenomenally successful women’s writer, with two film adaptations under her belt and a rake of novels published and adored in Ireland and around the world. Flawed is her first try at writing for a different audience – a YA dystopia, it’s certainly on-trend (or is it a year or two behind, hrmmm?)
I like Cecelia Ahern – I really, really liked Where Rainbows End (which was made into the film Love, Rosie last year) and I quite enjoyed PS, I Love You, and I know I’ve read three or four other books, including one about an imaginary friend, but sometimes they blur together. In any case! I saw announcements that she had written a YA dystopia, and I thought ‘I like YA; I like dystopia; I like Cecelia Ahern.’ It was definitely a recipe for a book I would like to read.
I actually was lucky enough to win a copy of Flawed, courtesy of HarperCollins on Facebook. I quite fancied the look of Flawed, and it was accompanied by An Ember in the Ashes (which is now on my favourites shelf) and Dumplin’ (which I have yet to read), so I was quite the happy camper.
I read Flawed one night in May while I was at home, and I think I ended up going to sleep at 3am, because I wanted to finish it. Now, this may have been because I didn’t want to lug a hardback around in my bag when I’m going to college, but it may also be an indication of how good the book was. You’ll have to read it yourself to decide.
The stunning YA debut from internationally bestselling author Cecelia Ahern.
Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan.
But then Celestine encounters a situation in which she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED.
In this stunning novel, bestselling author Cecelia Ahern depicts a society in which perfection is paramount and mistakes are punished. And where one young woman decides to take a stand that could cost her everything.
Despite reading this book in a single sitting (or maybe two sittings, I think I broke for dinner), I thought it was quite mediocre. Celestine was a typical special snowflake protagonist – her only flaw was her compassion for others – so she was hard to relate to at times. Her boyfriend was impossibly perfect, the villain of the story is entirely morally corrupt, the society is unanimously dismissive of the flawed – it just seemed too black and white.
Of course, in a dystopia, you’re going to have to have someone who rails against the society. But to do it by being compassionate, well, that’s a bit dull, isn’t it? And the whole premise – that any act of moral inferiority will result in a permanent branding with no chance of ever escaping it – is overblown. It’s even pointed out in the book itself – being Flawed is lifelong, whereas violent criminal acts aren’t visibly displayed on the skin of the convicted. It just seems excessive.
Then there was a love triangle – although admittedly with one character notably absent for the majority of the book and another missing for a large portion. Furthermore there’s a second love triangle (briefly) set up, and shot down eventually. That’s a tired and overblown trope as well, especially in YA dystopia. Pretty sure when you’re trying to overthrow a morally corrupt system, you’re not going to waste too much time on wondering which pretty boy is a better match for you, but apparently (according to the literature) I am wrong, so very wrong. A love triangle isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s overplayed in YA dystopia, that’s for sure.
The setting of the book is never specified. It’s clearly Europe, because Switzerland is mentioned, but for some reason the country is never named. There is a description given near the beginning of the origins of the Flawed system, though:
Banks folded, the government collapsed, the economy was ravaged, unemployment and emigration soared. People were blindsided by what happened, and the leaders were blamed . . . It was their bad judgment, their bad decisions that led to the country’s collapse.
This is quite clearly Ireland, but it’s never explicitly stated. I wasn’t quite sure on the reasoning for this – maybe to give it a more universal appeal? At any rate, I was on board with the ‘unnamed, unspecified country’ lark and could respect the neutral language of the characters and lack of colloquial speech until Celestine got out into the public at one point, and one sentence was so clearly, amazingly, specifically, colloquially Irish that I was completely thrown out of the book, and had to stop and wonder if I had missed a statement at the beginning that this was, definitely, Ireland. It was incredibly jarring to read, simply because the cadence and language of the rest of the book had been so neutral.*
Neutral is probably a good word for this book, actually. It reads very neutrally. It’s not a bad dystopia – far from it. It’s not a good dystopia either, though. I’ve read a lot of dystopia, especially YA dystopia (GoodReads Shelf) and this really blends into the middle of the pack. It’s not so bad that it’s notable. It’s not so good that I’d be raving about it. I’ll probably read the sequel, but I won’t be frothing at the mouth for it to be released. I remember the names of the main characters, but none of the supporting cast. I would say twelve months from now I’ll have to re-read Flawed before I read Perfect, but I have no real criticisms about it. It was just really rather bland.
*I totally forgot what the sentence construction was, so I went back looking for it when I wrote this blog post. It went as follows:
“She rolls her eyes. “Sure what’s wrong with our hospitals? They can’t just play God like that.”
Later on the page, the same character says “He’s grand”, which is also a really Irish way of saying things. A lot of the time when I’m over here, and people ask how I am, if I say I’m grand, they look at me in bemusement. I had never realised before that it was a colloquial thing. I just thought it was strange that this random bystander was given such a strong Irish way of speaking.