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Expiration Day: William Campbell Powell

Book: Expiration Day
Author: William Campbell Powell
Pages: 336
Age Range: 12 and up

Expiration Day is set in a dystopian near-future England a generation after fertility levels have dropped precipitously world-wide. Hardly any babies are born anymore, though most people don't realize how bad the situation is, because they parents are able to purchase uncannily lifelike robotic children. These children don't even know (unless some incident occurs) whether they are human or not.

Expiration Day is related primarily as the diary of a girl named Tania, who lives with her parents just outside of London. Tania's diary has somehow been discovered, "encrypted and forgotten, but surviving through uncounted millennia" by someone from a future alien race. His comments and responses to Tania's story are included as brief "intervals" throughout the story. The title refers to the fact that the robot children must be returned to their manufacturer on their 18th birthday - the parents have them only lease. 

The world in Expiration Day is reminiscent in tone to that of P.D. James' Children of Men. In Willam Campbell Powell's world, however, the artificial children serve to keep society under control, filling an innate need that people have to form families and pass things along to a future generation (even if that generation expires at age 18). 

I found the philosophical underpinnings of Expiration Day thought-provoking. And I quite liked Tania as a character. Parts of the book, which begins when Tania is only 11, drag a little bit, plot-wise. But my concern for Tania's fate kept me reading. The end includes a couple of twists (one of which I'm still trying to wrap my head around), which will keep readers guessing. 

One thing that I really liked about Expiration Day was the importance of Tania's father as a character. Not a placeholder, or someone to be rescued, as is a common convention in books, but an intelligent, caring man who puts everything on the line in support of his daughter. 

Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Tania's voice:

"There's a word for legs like mine. Gangly. I count my knees, sometimes, and I know I have just two, one on each leg. But dressed like that, I felt like it was more--a lot more, with different numbers on each leg." (Page 18)

"I love words, though, and I wish I could control them better. Like Humpty Dumpty, to have them line up and do my bidding. So I read, as I said, from Chaucer and Shakespeare, via Dylan Thomas and Rupert Brooke, to Ray Bradbury and Roger Zelazny, and try to see how they get their words to behave." (Page 182)

"Nobody truly dies who shapes another person. Does that make sense, Mister Zog?" (page 227)

Fans of speculative and dystopian fiction, particularly that which questions what makes someone human in the presence of advanced technology (like The Adoration of Jenna Fox), won't want to miss Expiration Day. Tania's participation in a band, and her issues with dating and growing up, are also addressed, and make the book accessible to those who prefer more realistic coming-of-age fiction. For those who need to know, there are discussions about having sex (including a boy who wants to), but no real action to speak of in Expiration Day. This is a book that will stay with me, and made me think. I learned about it from this review at Ms. Yingling Reads

Publisher: Tor Teen (@TorTeen)
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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