I had just finished reading The Giver (for the umpteenth time) with my middle school English class when Book of the Month Club revealed its February selections — which included the new release and work of utopian fiction, Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson.
I’m a major fan of dystopian fiction, primarily because the genre provides so many futuristic possibilities for the society we could crumble to in our increasingly dysfunctional world. However, I’ll also be the first to admit that the trope is becoming increasingly trite, especially within the realm of YA fiction. Utopian fiction, though? That is something rare in the world of adult novels, and such an optimistic digression from the herd. Naturally, I had to have the book.
Perfect Little World opens on a vignette of main character Isabelle (Izzy) Poole’s dramatically messy life. A recent high school graduate (like, she graduates that day), Izzy should have the world at her feet. She’s smart — valedictorian, straight-A smart — with a penchant for artwork and literature. She’s also pregnant . . . with her art teacher’s child. Without the guidance of her mother (long deceased) or her father (long drunk), Izzy grapples with her choices for the future, the picture of which grows increasingly tedious, lonely, and impossible. When Izzy is approached with an offer to participate in a scientific experiment of sorts — one that focuses on communal child-rearing and erased boundaries between families — she jumps at the opportunity to create a better life for her unborn child.
The premise appears simple, but of course, is exceptionally complex: ten couples (well, nine plus Izzy) move into a fully staffed living complex isolated from the rest of society, following the birth of their children. As a single parent, Izzy experiences some expected twangs of jealousy: in every difficult situation, she is left to deal with her emotions and doubts on her own, despite the community of parents that should theoretically serve as family members to one another, in addition to their roles as parents for each child. For ten years, the couples will live together, the first five years of which the children will be tended to in a way so as to avoid attachment to any one parent. At the five-year mark, the children will meet their biological parent(s), while hopefully retaining a communal attachment to the rest of the parents and children in the complex.
What could possibly go wrong with a plan like that?
From the beginning, Wilson draws readers in with an unconventional lead character and a problem that hits so close to home, one can’t help but root for the positive outcome of a social experiment that is so frequently difficult to reconcile with centuries of traditional family values that have been ingrained in the deepest parts of our brains.
The Good: This novel is a fast read — I devoured most of it in one afternoon, as I waited in doctors’ offices and coffee shops. However, it’s probably better consumed over the course of a week, savored bit by glorious bit. The main character — Izzy — is down-to-earth, flawed, and relatable. Her relationship with Mr. Tannehill is one element of the novel that I especially cherished, though at times it was a bit trite. The psychological aspects of the novel are intriguing, and as a parent-to-be, I found myself ruminating over the methods in which society has been taught to raise children. (That said, I have no intention of moving my family into a commune.)
The Bad: The cast in this novel is extensive, and seems more so by the lack of development in supporting characters. If you’re capable of reading through the novel without ever really being able to match a parent to child or particular personality trait, this quality of the writing can be overlooked. (I didn’t let it bother me too much, though I can see why some would complain.) The ending didn’t blow me away, but I was okay with the way the story concluded.
The Verdict: 4/5 stars. I enjoyed this novel a great deal, and would highly recommend to anyone looking for an alternative to the heaps of dystopian fiction that have crowded the market over the past few years.