This review was first published in The Irish Independent.
A new book by Cecelia Ahern always creates a stir. She has sold over 4.9 million books worldwide and with two movies based on her work, plus a television series to her name, she is one of Ireland's most prolific writers.
She has now added a YA (young adult) novel to her vast repertoire. Flawed is set in a dystopian future where being perfect is the ultimate goal, and it's aimed firmly at teenagers, although her loyal adult readers may also 'cross over'.
The main character, Celestine North, sees herself as perfect. She comes from a law-abiding family: her mother is a "model in high demand", her father is the head of a television station, News 24. Ruled over by the 'Guild', in this society those who lie, cheat or steal must wear an armband emblazoned with a red letter F, and their skin or tongue (in the case of lying) must be branded with the same letter. So far, so The Scarlett Letter meets Louise O'Neill's Only Ever Yours. At the opening of the book, Bosco Craven, head of the Guild and father of Celestine's boyfriend, Art, is celebrating Earth Day with Celestine and her family. Another family, the Tinders, are late for dinner and as the group sits down without them, sirens rent the air.
On the street outside, the mother of the Tinder family and Celestine's piano teacher, Angelina Tinder, is dragged away by 'Whistleblowers' in front of her friends and neighbours, deemed flawed by the Guild.
Celestine is "a girl of definitions, of logic, of black and white". Shocked by Angelina's arrest for an assisted suicide ("theft from society"), she understands that rules must be enforced; however, a day later, she boards a bus with flawed citizens and her logical and compassionate actions towards an elderly Flawed man land her in a lock up, awaiting trial as a Flawed herself, flipping her perfect life forever.
The jump from old, perfect Celestine to new, questioning Celestine is too sudden. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games (one of the most interesting heroines in YA dystopia) is a fearless, feisty hunter even before the Games commence, but Celestine's character isn't given time to bed in before she starts questioning her world's order. Luckily, this new, sceptical Celestine is worth knowing.
The perfect girl who challenges the status quo is a common theme in YA fiction and Ahern manages to breathe life into an intriguing and original teen character. Yes, Celestine and her love of structure and logic can be irritating and pedantic, but she is real, and her fear, pain and growing sense of outrage leap off the page. Add a love triangle with two handsome yet different boys to the mix - Art, and bad boy Carrick, who Celestine meets in the lock-up - some smart, thoughtful dialogue, and a powerful, heart-stopping torture scene in the Branding Chamber, and the reader will overlook any vagueness or lack of clarity in the world building.
Ahern is to be commended for trying something new. It would have been easy for her to stick to what she's best known for, contemporary novels for adults with a touch of magical realism. Flawed is a fast-paced, brave and compelling teen novel written with passion and heart that will fascinate her loyal fans and bring new readers into the fold. With movie rights already optioned by Warner Brothers, and a second Flawed book in the pipeline, Ahern's star shows no sign of burning out.