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OnReview - The Defiant by M. Quint

by Megan Orpwood-Russell
Published February 11, 2016

Aboard The Defiant, six schoolmates of the Greenly School, a haven for the troubled, difficult and orphaned find themselves in the midst of a storm in the San Francisco Marina. Fuchsia flashes of light tear the sky as the ocean bubbles beneath them, toppling their teacher and guide into the water.

The children find themselves thrust out of their complex inner lives and into a shared one when their school trip leaves them out at sea, with San Francisco ablaze in the distance. Ungoverned by adults or experience, the children are forced to survive

There is a surreal, dreamlike quality to the islands they arrive at. One society is so fixated with democracy that they have not yet made a unanimous decision about food and they are starving. Another is obsessed with technology, so wholly dedicated to finding a neat solution that they overlook their natural resources. Much like Gulliver’s Travels, Quint’s debut novel satirizes the excesses of civilisation, and warns against myopic societies.

Each island holds a mirror up to the kids of Greenly School, they glimpse a projected utopia that dissolves before their eyes, revealing a truth. The transient and unstable chaos and joy of each new harbour is a perfect metaphor for the uncertainty of identity, and how we arrive at our stable selves in the absence of parental guidance. As the crew of The Defiant traverse uncharted territory, they learn about their strengths and weaknesses.

Two colours wind through the narrative, pink and white. The former a visual warning for when people have grown too close and the latter for when they are too alone. A menacing boat of children with shocks of white hair stalks the crew of The Defiant, whilst one island features twins conjoined by pink. It’s a subtle exploration of how we integrate our social and our introspective selves, and how we negotiate our personalities to belong.

This YA novel offers no solutions and provides few answers, the story rippling beneath the reader like the ocean. There is something innately comforting in the concept that younger readers aren’t always offered resolution. That literature, like life, doesn’t neatly reveal a clear path. What this book delivers is a superb sense of the importance of adventure and what we learn from the unexpected.

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