Hello humans! Today’s book review is another example of what I’m starting to think of as a kind of sub-sub-genre. By that, I mean books (and it is mostly YA books) that divide things by gender and make readers looking for intersectionality a little uncomfortable. I’m looking at you Eve of Man. Ascension is, in a way, one of these books, but it also has a lot of similarities with The Selection which as we all know is glorious trash so I thought I’d give it a go.
Six girls, six boys. Each in the two separate bays of a single spaceship. They have six minutes each week to seduce and to make their choices, under the unblinking eye of the on-board cameras. They are the contenders in the Genesis programme, the world’s craziest speed-dating show ever, aimed at creating the first human colony on Mars.
Leonor, an 18 year old orphan, is one of the chosen ones.
She has signed up for glory.
She has signed up for love.
She has signed up for a one-way ticket.
Even if the dream turns to a nightmare, it is too late for regrets.
When I was reading this book back at the end of April my husband asked me what the book was about and the only thing I could think to say was ‘heteronormativity in space’. That’s a gross generalisation and leaves out a lot of the things that are genuinely great about this book but at its core, that’s the concept. I was really hoping that this book would subvert that expectation and (overtly) include LGBTQIA+ characters but it didn’t get mentioned. I could try to rationalise that in the setting but honestly, I think that readers of YA and young adult readers (not necessarily mutually exclusive) have come to expect more from books in terms of representation. It would not only have made sense for one of these characters to be, for example, bisexual but I think it would have enhanced this story beyond being ‘reality TV but sometimes people are weightless’.
I must admit that there is something compelling about this story. I’m sure it’s whatever voyeuristic tendency that makes me secretly love terrible reality TV, but I did find myself getting pulled along in this story, getting invested in the characters and wanting to find out what happens. So I would call this an entertaining but not ground-breaking read.
The best parts of this book (in my opinion) are not the romance(s), or the relationships building between the six women in space, but the parts which record what is happening on earth. The idea of NASA being privatised and being used in this manner makes perfect sense for the world we live in now, and all the deception and intrigue that is recorded there is what kept me reading. Had this just been an entire book of twelve people headed to Mars with speed dating and mooning over which boy to choose I would have been hugely frustrated. But this book sets up what could be an excellent second novel if the romance/love triangle angle was taken down a notch.
There will be some people who adore the romance aspects of this book, and I can’t claim to not have known what I was getting myself in for, it’s right there in the summary. For me to have utterly loved this book I think the balance would need to be slightly different but, as I say, it is an entertaining read.
This is a translation from French, originally published in 2015 (I think?) and it is nice to read a YA book like this where the protagonist isn’t American (yes post-apocalyptic versions of America still count). I don’t know that I’d say that Leonor comes across as particularly ‘french’ in the translation, but it seemed worth mentioning in case you’re on the lookout for translated books.
I think there is hope for the second novel (which has already been published in French but I have yet to look up the synopsis) to be stronger than this first book. I feel like this concept and these characters could be pushed to be more than just reality TV and made into much more of a statement.
My rating: 3/5 stars
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Will you be reading Ascension? Should I post my reviews of the other books in The Selection series? Let me know in the comments below!