They call me “Jane Doe.”
They say it’s because I won’t tell them my real name, that they were forced to allocate me a generic ID. The name is ironic, since there’s nothing generic about me.
But they don’t know that.
They could have given me any name, but there’s a reason they chose “Jane Doe.” I hear the whispers. They think of me as little more than an unidentifiable, breathing corpse. That’s how they treat me. They prod, they poke, they badger and tweak. All of them want to coax a response from me. But their efforts are in vain.
Whisper by Lynette Noni is narrated by Subject Six-Eight-Four, a girl with monstrous capabilities who has survived internment at an underground compound known as Lengard, for two years, six months, fourteen days, eleven hours and sixteen minutes. Her internment has consisted of the same mind-numbing routine psych evaluations, strength and endurance training and experimental therapy. She believes survival is only possible by maintaining her silence and not trusting any of the Lengard personnel. But, Director Maverick Falon informs her that if she doesn’t comply, she will be eliminated from the program, and given the program is top secret, she knows she will be killed if she doesn’t obey. She is transferred into the care of the golden-haired Landon Ward, whose informal tone and dimpled cheeks causes her to consider the possibility that not everyone at Lengard is as bad as she thinks they are. But, the more she learns about Lengard, the closer she comes to learning its secrets, secrets that could destroy the world if she doesn’t speak out, but if she does speak, she might destroy the world anyway.
When I first heard about Whisper at the 2018 YA Showcase it went straight to my top ten most anticipated YA reads of 2018. I love speculative fiction, and the mention of secret compounds, government conspiracy, and a potential female anti-hero or villain origin story made me all kinds of giddy. I am all for the reluctant imperfect protagonist, who has to struggle to earn her gift (or curse). “Jane” is harbouring a secret so deadly, she only has to utter a word to bring about the destruction of the world. She is wilfully held at Lengard, as she knows she can’t hurt anyone if she is locked away. But she is mistrusting of her wardens, as believes they are either underestimating or seeking to exploit her explosive potential.
At the outset, Jane is apathetic towards her own existence, as she describes her daily routine and the limited people who attempt to interact with her with some degree of detachment. The detachment at times proves jarring, as Vanik embodies the dark side of Lengard, as she describes her “experimental therapy” sessions as two hours of hell where he pushes her to the point of brain damage. Given Jane says that nothing could be worse than Vanik’s experiments, it’s strange that Jane never offers any detail about what takes place during the session. If Jane was apathetic to her existence, then wouldn’t she be able to provide some detail about the session? Or, if this was one part of the day that tore her out of her apathy (as evident by Jane mentioning her fear of her sessions) then would it not be possible that she would relive fragments of the session through nightmares or anxiety-driven thought? Vanik’s role at Lengard made it hard for me to hope for any positive relationship with Falon, Ward or any of the other Lengard staff, as given the regularity of her sessions with Vanik over a two-year period, and the lack of narrative to suggest there was any issue with his sessions, I could only assume the other staff were complicit in the experiments Jane endured, despite any voice of disapproval. The lack of narrative concerning her sessions with Vanik sat at odds with the impact these sessions had on everyone within the compound. This made it hard for me to suspend my disbelief and allow myself to become immersed in the story.
Despite my misgivings about the way Vanik’s sessions were presented, Whisper was still an enjoyable read. While it is the first of a trilogy, Whisper still works as a standalone book, as it answers many of the questions it sets up. There are some great characters in this book, the most notable of which are Cami and Sneak. Cami is a refreshing change from the testosterone-filled evaluators, as she acts as a refuge for Jane, but her connection to the evaluators maintains a point of tension for Jane, as she constantly has to remind herself that no one can be trusted. Sneak lives up to his nickname, in both ability and as someone who is sure to surprise. The special abilities that the characters possess are intriguing, as is the politics of the rival factions, fuelling my anticipation for the subsequent books.
Whisper will be published by Pantera Press on 01 May 2018.
With thanks to Pantera Press for giving all 2018 YA Showcase attendees an ARC.