Author: Fonda Lee
Release Date: January 31st 2017
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Content Warning: Ableist language
POV: third person
It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.
When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .
“The future depends on people like you—those who can straddle the divide between the species.”*
Exo had a lot of potential for worldbuilding, character development, and morality conversations.There were some good things about Exo, but they were more ‘wow look at that potential’ than ‘that’s good content’. Unfortunately, it did not live up to its potential. Each of Exo’s flaws when combined together made each individual flaw worse.
Exo brimmed with discussion topics. Having dialogue about defining humanity and if alerting your body with alien technology still makes you a human, could’ve been so fascinating. Donovan, the main character, was in a really interesting position because the aliens regarded him as a human, while the humans regard him as a monster. He was stuck in the middle between two things, and had to make sense of it all. Since there was no character depth, the discussions between characters and the issues fell completely flat. Donovan didn’t truly develop into defining a place for himself in the world, and it was really disappointing.
One of the most damning things for Exo was its reliance on well trodden tropes. It became especially obvious when combined with lack of character development. From the first second of meeting most characters, I could already tell what their storyline was going to be. When Anya was introduced, I just groaned and thought, “It’s the redhead love interest. Great”. Even Max’s (aka the mysterious Sapience leader’s) identity was blatantly obvious. Because the cast of characters was so small (I’m looking at you worldbuilding), it became even more obvious as to what tropes were going to play into the story. The characters remained stagnant, so there was no opportunity for them to diverge from common tropes.
When dealing with a plot that involves Alien Invasions and future setting, extreme attention to detail and explanations about how the world functions is vital. Lee did not develop the setting enough. It was apparent when I was trying to piece along the story’s timeline. I’m okay with vague time settings, but when working with a plot that takes place in a dystopian, alien invaded version of America that involves technology, there needs to be good worldbuilding to help make it real. There were so many instances when I just wondered about how Exo’s setting was supposed to function. We are given all these government positions, and references to The Great Gatsby and The Hobbit, but not much beyond that to gauge how much of an alternate history this is, or enough to understand how the government worked and was formed. When there was explanation of historical events, there was too much vagueness surrounding it for it to be truly useful.
Also, there was also cultural appropriation in Exo. The Sapience members use a Native American Eagle symbol (that is all it is described as, and I’m still confused as to what it was supposed to look like exactly). One of the Sapience members has a tattoo of it, while others have symbols of it on their trucks or in their rooms. None of the characters are described as Native American, which is why it is cultural appropriation. They were using it as a symbol of freedom for themselves and their own cause for resisting against aliens. The fact that it was vaguely described as just “Native American”, which could mean any number of tribes, was even more concerning.
Favorite Quotes* (taken from ARC and may be subject to change):
“It’s not your fault, what you are. We don’t all have choice in our lives, you know? So it’s not fair to judge people for stuff they can’t control.”
“People still let you down,” He thought of his mother. And his father. “And sometimes, you’re not even sure what you’re doing is right, or if it’s worth it.”