Jenni Merritt’s Prison Nation imagines a world where the US has become The Nation, cut its ties with the rest of the world, and erected a large wall along all borders and coasts to keep the rest of the world out. As a dystopian young adult novel, the book seeks to point out the value of freedom and questioning truth, along with the notion that freedom is relative.
Millie is the daughter of two convicted criminals, living in the Spokane prison. She was born inside its walls and grew up there under the watchful eyes of guards, psychiatrists, and her parents. Millie feels little towards her insane mother and silent father, but she knows that she will have the chance to be released on her eighteenth birthday. Always told that she has remained in the prison because it was her parent’s fault, Millie finally discovers what it was her parents did to be put into the prison in the first place. Torn between the feeling that her parents are monsters and that she loves them because they are her parents, she passes the release exam and exits the prison.
Millie is assigned to work on a farm and is in awe of the great Nation outside the walls of the prison. Soon enough, though, she learns why many commoners call her home country the Prison Nation. People disappear randomly, never to be heard from or spoken of again. Some things are illegal that seem almost silly, and she eventually witnesses a crime that is so obviously unjust that she can barely stomach it. With her new friends that she can trust, Millie decides to run away to outside of the great wall that surrounds the world. The only catch is if they can get away without anyone noticing.
Prison Nation was a semi-interesting take on feeling like an inmate in your own country. Some nations out there probably feel like Prison, but none in the sense that Millie experiences. She accepts that her presence in a prison is her parents fault, as she is brainwashed her entire life to believe in the good and the strong of the Nation. Eventually, however, she has the presence of mind to think that something isn’t right.
Millie is quick to trust her new friends outside the prison, which could be considered a weakness. I think that it just shows how much she’s had to appraise people while living among murderers, thieves, and the innocent all her life. To see her have a little love story is nice.
The story is overall predictable, but not necessarily in a bad way. I wasn’t too thrilled with the ending. I can see why it ended the way it did, but it seemed like they were escaping freedom and going back into the Nation for nothing (and if you’re worried I just spoiled something, you can totally tell they will reach freedom from page one). I can accept the ending, but it does discolor my thoughts about the book.
If someone is particularly into dystopian fiction like I am, I would say this is a decent read. For others, though, I wouldn’t recommend the book. It doesn’t really do much other than explore what freedom is to a girl that has been locked in a prison all her life in the shadow of a dystopian society, and if that sort of thing doesn’t interest you then you probably will only find yawns in between the pages.
Speculative Fiction Challenge 2012 – book # 12