NINE sets the story with this opener:
“In the summer of 1808, in a world parallel to our own, the sun flared, the sky turned orange, and the clouds gathered. It rained torrentially for months straight. After this “summer of storms,” society emerged forever changed.
“People discovered they had not one life, but nine. In order to avoid overpopulation and famine, governments devised a system of elimination in which people are rewarded for shedding their extra lives, bit by bit . . .
” . . . until they are left with one.”
Julian Dex, Lakeshore Academy scholarship student, is an anomaly on his campus because he is only on Life #1 (#9 promises lucrative rewards and societal status). He resists peer pressure to “burn” some lives (i.e., kill himself) in order to experience rebirths in the mysterious Lake, mainly because his late mother Lucy, scientific researcher for the Department of the Lakes, vehemently cautioned her family against doing so. As he tries to stay firm, he sees his best friend Molly and others attend wild parties at which they dramatically and violently toss away their lives so that they can return in more perfect form. He sees his father agonize over being unable to provide for the family because of their collective low Life Score. He finds himself unable to get a part-time job because he is only a “1.” He learns, too, that the rebirthing process sometimes results in the acquisition of “wrinkles,” or unpredictable, odd physical traits such as loss of taste, color perception, madness–things that indicate that changes are taking place in the lake cycle. As all this occurs, he becomes more and more uneasy, leading him to make deals with the leader of the prestigious Burners club and at the same time intensify his search to find out the truth about his mother’s death with the help of a couple of sharp subversives from the local public high school.
This is an exciting book and a fast read. There is blood-and-gore violence, language (mostly shit-damn-hell), a couple of sexual references, but above all it is a masterful satire of our modern world–massive, unpredictable environmental changes, global overpopulation and scarcity of goods, society’s emphasis on youthfulness and physical perfection, political machinations, loss of individual agency and control, even access to advanced education. For the brave high school teacher, this would be a great novel for classroom study.