Branded. Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki. 2013. abiandmissy. 295 pages. [Source: Review Copy; E-Book format.]
Think dystopian romances are getting cliched? I mean, come on, I did too, first couple pages into Branded. But Branded really pulled me in and kept my heart racing until the very end, and surprised me with twists and turns I hadn’t exactly encountered before in this mixed genre. Written by two tight-knit best friends, Branded, a young adult dystopian romance, is a fast paced, shocking story of forbidden love, struggle, and perseverance.
Fifty years ago the Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society. He created the Hole where sinners are branded according to their sins and might survive a few years. At best.
Now LUST wraps around my neck like blue fingers strangling me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit and now the Hole is my new home.
Darkness. Death. Violence. Pain.
Now every day is a fight for survival. But I won’t die. I won’t let them win.
The Hole can’t keep me. The Hole can’t break me. I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter.
My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.
Lexi, a girl who’s been wrongly accused of having committed one of the deadly sins, is sent to the Hole and branded blue, where sinners – both innocent and guilty – are to live. Assigned to protect her is the guard Cole, who appears cold and sometimes harsh. The story further goes on to delve deep into Lexi’s past and find out why exactly she’s been sent to the hole, and a revelation as to who the true perpetrator behind all evil really is, a question which isn’t so easily answered.
I turn on the faucet for a long while only to discover ice-cold water rushing out. The water never warms and I begin to understand. The Commander thinks he can wash away my soul by freezing me to death. He thinks he can destroy me by stripping away my possessions. But he can’t and I won’t let him take my memories, my ambition, and my pride.
He thinks I’m so easily broken.
The Commander doesn’t know anything about me, what I grew up with, what I endured—the father I lost, the mother I hate, the brother who walked out of my life, and the stepfather I was forced to accept. He thinks since I was rich, making me poor will cause me to give up. What he doesn’t understand is that, after my father passed away, I grew up behind walls of hatred. I had nothing, but had everything at the same time. I owned expensive clothes, enjoyed good schooling, and lived in a nice home. But my body was just a shell protecting an empty, desperate heart. My life was a colorful façade.
I had so much time to sit and think. I spent the majority of my life between four walls. I was abandoned, neglected, starved, betrayed, and abused. I’ve already been treated like the scum of the earth, so the Hole is nothing new. He wants to erase every sign of my existence on this earth, but I won’t let that happen. He can strip me naked, but he’ll never reach my soul.
It’s personal, completely personal.
Personally, I found the characters extremely credible, and the character development at a nice pace; the backstory was delivered without chucking huge masses of info at the reader. Of the entire story, my favorite character was Alyssa, a little (ish) girl you meet at the hospital Lexi works at. I loved her bubbly personality, and I found her to be the character who I felt the most sympathy for, especially since I myself have spent quite a bit of time at the hospital for community service work and such, so to me, the scenes with her stood out to me a whole lot. Branded is set in such a unique setting; it was a bit refreshing to get away from the seemingly endless Battle Royale setting-esque dystopia.
If I had to change anything with the book, I guess it’d be the the ending. It’s got so many twists and turns – even more couldn’t hurt, but that’s kind of a personal thing. But also, a factual aspect – is it possible to brand colors? I thought it was only tattoos that had color really; though I suppose this is set in the distant future, so it’s understandable why and how things work differently. It’s romance, so of course there had to be some cliche in there – but not to the extent that it was cringeworthy, overly obvious, or anything like that.
My favorite line? A phrase constantly reiterated throughout the story –
“…I’m reminded of my father and hear his voice telling me, ‘Be strong, Lexi. You can overcome anything short of death.’ His words bring me strength, and I resolve to hold it together” (Ketner and Kalicicki, 154).
All in all, 4.4 stars out of 5! I’d recommend this book to all our romance lovers out there, as well as our dystopian readers!
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