Partials by Dan Wells
Partials is a postapocalyptic dystopian YA novel. In this world about 70 years in the future, genetically souped-up soldiers were created in a lab to fight in a war against China; they were considered only “partial” humans, hence their name. After that war was over, the partials turned against those who made them, and a virus was released that killed 99% of the population. 11 years after “the break,” the survivors are unable to keep that virus, called RM, from killing all newborns. There is a law mandating constant pregnancy for all women, in the hopes of eventually producing a child who survives.
The main character, Kira, is a young medic who wants to pursue a new research avenue to finally cure RM: investigating the physiology of the partials. This leads her and her friends to make forays into enemy territory, defy their government, ally with rebels, and make great sacrifices for the sake of the species’ future. The novel is very much a thriller, and I think teen boys would like it for the puzzle it creates and for all the action scenes. There is not an over-reliance on romance or love stories. Though Kira has a boyfriend, Marcus, and they appear to care deeply for each other, their relationship is not the focus of the novel. Their relationship is actually startlingly healthy for one between two 16-year-olds, which is great to see. When they fight, they communicate fairly. She stands up for herself with him. She is clear about the fact that she doesn’t feel ready for marriage and pregnancy at 16. They come to understand each other and change each others’ minds a little.
This is just the kind of story that young adults today, especially girls, need to read. It’s about being skeptical of the government and what they’re telling you; it’s about reproductive rights; it’s about taking a stand. Though it’s set in an extreme postapocalyptic future, it would be easy to take the lessons of this novel one step homeward into critiquing the policies of today’s politicians. There are humanitarian issues: How do we treat a captured enemy combatant? How do we define “human” and “humane”? There are reproductive issues: Even when the species’ survival is at stake, is it ever ok to mandate pregnancy? There are political issues: How much control does a government need over its people? At what point does that control become so unbearable that rebellion is preferable? There are even science issues: How does a virus work? How can scientific research methods be applied to solving a global health crisis? There are detailed descriptions of Kira’s reasoning and thought processes as she investigates the RM virus and its life cycle. This is the type of science fiction that could even turn a young reader on to real science.
I’m excited to read the sequel to Partials when it eventually comes out. The ending was kind of a cliffhanger: Kira has broken up with Marcus and is going back into partial territory, just after making a startling discovery about her own past.