By Jael Richardson
Recommend? yes! Buy or borrow? buy!
“‘Mainland Guard Kept Out: Gutter Descends in Chaos,’ the papers read, as though no one cares about how the chaos really began or the prospect of stopping it by giving Gutter folks what we want and deserve: freedom instead of scars at birth.”Jael Richardson – Gutter Child
Set in an imagined world in which the most vulnerable are forced to buy their freedom by working off their debt to society, Gutter Child uncovers a nation divided into the privileged Mainland and the policed Gutter. In this world, Elimina Dubois is one of only 100 babies taken from the Gutter and raised in the land of opportunity as part of a social experiment led by the Mainland government.
But when her Mainland mother dies, Elimina finds herself all alone, a teenager forced into an unfamiliar life of servitude, unsure of who she is and where she belongs. Elimina is sent to an academy with new rules and expectations where she befriends Gutter children who are making their own way through the Gutter System in whatever ways they know how. When Elimina’s life takes another unexpected turn, she will discover that what she needs more than anything may not be the freedom she longs for after all.
Richardson’s Gutter Child reveals one young woman’s journey through a fractured world of heartbreaking disadvantages and shocking injustices. Elimina is a modern heroine in an altered but all too recognizable reality who must find the strength within herself to forge her future and defy a system that tries to shape her destiny.
When I finished Gutter Child, I spent the better part of a week sitting with my thoughts, thinking about the best way to articulate how I feel. To be honest, I’m not sure I can fully articulate just how wonderful this piece of work is.
We navigate the world with Elimina following the death of her Mainland mother. Not once did she expect to have to encounter or experience what happens following the passing. Elimina is put in a situation where she learns about her family’s past and the unjust system and circumstances surrounding the Gutter, her home. Although she feels as though she has no emotional ties to the Gutter, the X on Elimina’s hand says otherwise.
Imagine being born into this world with a debt that is required to be worked off for your freedom. Imagine having to work endlessly for your ability to leave a place that was created to segregate you and anyone that looks like you. Imagine a place that where you’re hardly provided with the bare minimum to survive, let alone thrive. This is the life of those who are from the Gutter.
Despite it being dystopian, there are astounding parallels between the life and circumstances that those from the Gutter are born into, as well as the history and current life on the Mainland, and situations surrounding injustice and inequality in our world.
Immediately after I finished the book (I’m not kidding, that same night), I attended a virtual talk with Jael – alongside with Amanda Leduc, author of The Centaur’s Wife – with HarperCollins Canada. Interestingly enough, Jael mentioned that she didn’t use the words race or racism throughout the novel. When she said that I was taken back a little, because I hadn’t noticed it! I think that it just goes to show how akin and comparable to story is to our world. Needless to say, listening to this talk only enhanced my adoration and love for both Jael and this brilliant piece of work.
Overall, the writing is beautiful, and the characters will definitely pull at your heartstrings, I wish I could reach in and comfort each and every character. It’s definitely a heavy read, and the author mentions at the beginning of the book to take your time with it if needed and I 100% agree.
I truly cannot stop thinking about this book, the characters, and the uncanny resemblance to the real world that we live in. I will never not recommend this one, so I highly, highly suggest and urge you to pick this one up. Buy it, borrow it, do whatever you need to do. It’s already found its place among my favourite books.