In the aftermath of Nowhere, but still carrying the legacy of the Unnamed with them, Eddy, Ina, Alice, and the rest of the residents who survived the rapacious and dictatorial Lion are left with one overarching, reinforced truth: a person defined or marked as a woman exists in constant danger.
Flora knows this better than anyone. She may have been forced toward womanhood, but it’s also part of her identity. Those who rule Ommun, the city that takes the people of Nowhere in, do not respect this; the residents of Shy, an exclusively women’s city that she encounters while scavenging for books, might even commodify her womanhood. But Flora knows who she is.
In this installment of Meg Elison’s bold and genderqueer dystopia, survival cannot be achieved through masks or illusions; it is instead dependent on Flora’s variety of self-assurance. Inward constancy carries her and others through the unimaginable: Trafficking. Castration. Rape. War. It gives survivors something to hold on to and aspire toward.
The series hallmarks are here, including feverish concerns about reproduction and its aftermath. In a world where babies are near currency, they are also an albatross: “A person with a baby believes in possibility. They carry the whole future in their hands. A person with a small child is tired.” What people think they want is not always as desirable once it’s obtained, and understandings must be constantly reconfigured.
As Ina puts it, “the choosing never ends.” True stories may be the key to humanity’s best tomorrows, and Flora’s story moves her back to the road and toward a future that resists the definitions of others. On a boat headed to what was the San Francisco Bay with Alice, Eddy, and her new allies Bodie and Connie, gender paradigms turn upon themselves; something more expansive is reached toward.
The Book of Flora is a challenging and rewarding dystopia that will make you reconsider every absolute.
Michelle Anne Schingler
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