The Midnight Charter, by David Whitley

I was very impressed by this unique young adult fantasy. The city of Agora is ruled by the Director of Receipts. There is no currency here, you own yourself and barter your services for food and shelter, and it is up to each individual to produce something she or he can trade. So the fishermen trade their fish for food and medicine and rent, glassblowers trade their glass, woodworkers trade their handcrafted pieces. Those who have nothing to trade, whose bodies even are worthless, are debtors, damaged goods; these unfortunates are arrested by the Receivers for their debts or die on the streets.

Lily, a twelve-year-old (at the age of twelve, you own yourself rather than your parents owning you) who was raised in an orphanage, believes that just because one cannot offer anything doesn't mean one deserves imprisonment or death. She brings the notion of charity into this mercenary world, an idea that could shake the very foundation of Agora's success as a society. At the same time, Mark, sold by his father to pay for medicine, reaches his twelfth birthday and becomes a tool of the elites to play their power games.

It's a wonderful concept, very original and striking, though perhaps a bit beyond the age at which the writing itself is aimed. I'd say that the idea is appropriate for thirteen and up, whereas the writing is around a ten-twelve age level. The discrepancy makes this a difficult book to recommend, but I still really enjoyed it. It's the first of a trilogy, so I'll be trying to find the second and look forward to seeing the choices Mark and Lily make.


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