This is the first novel by Canadian author Jael Richardson, who founded FOLD (the Festival of Literary Diversity). With a success like this, it’s hard to imagine it will be her last. Gutter Child is a great example of science fiction for people who don’t normally read science fiction. It also exemplifies one of science fiction’s oldest principles: taking an existing problem, and then imagining just how far it could go. In this case, division by race and social class are taken to such extremes that the world of the novel is literally divided into three main parts: the comfortable Mainland, the destitute Gutter, and Riverside which separates the two.
The titular Gutter child is teenaged Elimina Dubois. You might imagine that, in typical dystopian style, Elimina would start in the Gutter and raise herself out of it (possibly even starting a revolution in the process) but no. While she did start her life as a Gutter child, she was brought to the Mainland while still an infant as part of a social experiment. Can these Gutter children be raised to be ‘civilized’ Mainlanders?
Eventually, Elimina loses her place on the Mainland and discovers the depths of poverty and struggle that she has been shielded from.
The world of Gutter Child is not the same as the one that we know, but it is eerily similar, and frighteningly possible. Elimina is a great heroine who will really engage readers, and the book is an excellent if challenging choice for adult and older teens as well.
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