October 22, 2015


by Kate Blair
Dancing Cat Books
194 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2015

Most of us are maddened when a good person becomes ill with a life-threatening disease. It just doesn’t seem fair.  And, even though we know that illness is not a reflection of goodness or badness, it’s hard not to lament an illness with “What did I do to deserve this?”, seeing it as a possible punishment for poor life choices.  But, in Transferral, illness is a punishment, one doled out to convicted criminals, the illness reflective of the severity of the crime.

That’s how Tranferral opens, with sixteen-year-old Talia Hale, daughter of the U.K.’s prime ministerial candidate Malcolm Hale, going to St. Bart’s hospital for a Transfer i.e., to get rid of the cold she was getting, knowing that on the other side of the hospital a criminal would be going through the painful process of being infected with that same cold.  But when leaving the hospital,  Talia witnesses a large black man wielding a meat cleaver at a young girl and Talia clubs him with a chair to protect the girl.  Though Talia’s actions are hailed as heroic and her father’s campaign manager, Piers, spins it to her father’s advantage, as leader of the National Law Party whose mandate is being tough on criminals and supporting the National Transfer Service, Talia begins to realize that the girl’s fear hadn’t been for the man hurting her but for Talia hurting the man.  Recognizing that the loss of her own sister, the same age as the young girl, and their mother to a criminal who broke into their house probably affected her take on the situation, Talia goes in search of girl she rescued.

Forging her dad’s signature, Talia goes to Holloway Quarantine, essentially a prison, to speak to Jack Benson, the man with the cleaver.  His confusion leads Talia to recognize he wasn’t fully cognizant of his actions, and she promises to find a way to look after his daughter, the little girl, Tig.  With that, Talia makes her first foray into the Barbican, the criminal-rich but poverty-stricken estate, where she meets Tig and Galen, a young man who is caring for Benson's daughter.  Sure that she’s doing the right thing, Talia gets Tig taken by social services to a children’s home.  Too late, Talia realizes that she’s been making everything worse, even getting herself convicted for the forgery, though Piers thinks he can spin that too.
We’ll leak the story to the media, along with your apology, and we might be able to get you off with a stomach bug or strep throat. (pg. 105)
Slowly, Talia begins to see that wealth and privilege affect everything, and that because of her perspective, as a rich and advantaged young woman, albeit a victim of a man who murdered her mother and sister, she has not taken the time to learn Tig and Galen’s stories.  Once she does, though, she has to find the means, criminal or not, to make things right.

There’s a lot of edge-of-your-seat storytelling with Talia’s search for Tig and her ventures into the subculture of the Barbican, amidst dealing with her role in her father’s election campaign.  Kate Blair gets the right balance of trepidation and righteousness, with Talia starting to break free from what she has always known and what she is just now learning about the world.  Talia makes a lot of mistakes but her heart is in the right place and she is determined to be part of the solution.

Tranferral is a strongly plotted story that builds on the surreal premise of linking justice with illness and comes through it all with a healthy ending that is neither sappy nor all wrapped up but a convincing remedy for a disturbing basis for dealing with criminality. 

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