May 28, 2018

Pulse Point

Written by Colleen Nelson with Nancy Chappell-Pollack
Yellow Dog (Great Plains Publications)
192 pp.
Ages 12-15
May 2018

With global warming, many of us acknowledge that things in our world are going awry.  Scientists have been warning about its consequences that include increased flooding, droughts, fires, mudslides and more, though it seems too few are listening now and in the world from the time Kaia's elder Mae (whom we would call grandmother) was much younger. But, in their world, when those impacts escalated and became dire, the scientists had prepared and created self-sufficient Cities run on the energy of its Citizens.

Though the Citizens may not consider it to be a problem, happy to be safe under the dome of the City, the social constructs of their new home have been exclusionary and are discriminatory. Only people with the right skills and genetics are allowed to live in the City.  Those excluded, called Prims (for Primitives), retreated to the Mountain outside, and the City is constantly on guard and setting Prim Threat Levels. Within the City, each Citizen is connected via a pulse point or microchip implanted in a forefinger to allow for monitoring of energy generation to ensure balance with energy usage. Kaia, who lives with her birth elder Sy, a gardener, and Mae, works as a fetal assessment technician (where defectives are identified for termination) and endeavours to generate extra energy at the gymnasium to share with the elderly Mae.  Anyone who cannot produce sufficient energy must undergo balancing, the process by which the Council ensures the City stays in equilibrium.

But Lev, the progeny of an Overseer, Kellan, a fallen hero, and Tar, a Councillor, is smitten with Kaia, though her genetic ranking is far beneath him. With Tar manipulating people and circumstances to ease Lev's path to becoming a leader, and Kaia's pulse point no longer working, essentially taking her off the grid, Kaia makes a decision that will take her from the only life and people she has known into a wilderness and on the run.

Colleen Nelson is well known for her dramatic YA fiction (The Fall, 250 Hours, Finding Hope, Blood Brothers) and Pulse Point is no less suspenseful in its story nor less powerful in its delivery.  However, because it is her first speculative fiction and collaborative work with her sister Nancy Chappell-Pollack, Pulse Point reveals layers in characterization and world-building that are new.  It's a tense read with all the attributes of great YA: relationship drama, interfering progenitors (i.e., parents), burgeoning romance, secrets, confusion, and conflict. But, all that takes place in a world in which stasis is achieved through the generation of energy and elimination of the unproductive, in which blue eyes are considered a defect, romantic matches are based on genetics, and everyone is monitored (a.k.a. linked) through their fingertips, making Pulse Point a bigger story. Look carefully and you'll see how Pulse Point's worlds could be our own. The two communities, one outside the City and the other under its dome, are a sharp contrast of old ways and new ways and the distrust and clash between the two is inevitable. While Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack resolve the story, revealing Kaia's origin story and secrets long kept hidden, they also leave a door open for a sequel. It's a good thing because there's still a whole new world that needs to evolve to make things right for Kaia and Lev, and Citizens and Prims alike.


Check back tomorrow for my Q & A with authors Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack in which they reveal much about their writing process and story lines from Pulse Point.  Always an insightful discussion when speaking with Colleen Nelson, we learn more than any blurb on a cover could reveal!

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