Imagine living in a time when infertility runs rampant and babies are no longer being born. The world is crumbling around you as people start talking about the end. This is the world Hazel DeSales grew up in. After her mother dies from a mysterious cancer, Hazel finds herself taking care of her younger sister Netty and alcoholic father.
It’s not until twenty women, known as the Elect, become pregnant all across the Barronlands when things start looking up. Hazel and Netty apply for jobs working as domestics in the Antioch Center where the Elect will be taken care of and protected. Hazel feels change in the air and her outlook for the future starts to improve.
But she soon learns that change is not without consequence. Rumors are brewing about a government cover up and Hazel finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. So begins the unraveling of secrets that uncover things from her past and, threatening her future. Hazel is determined to seek the truth and promises herself to do whatever it takes to succeed.
The Barronlands is divided into wards, and all of the tyrannical Officials rule out of First City in Ward 8, located at the center of the domain. Each ward beyond encircles the previous one, and the farther you get from the center, the worse conditions get. Hazel and her younger sister Netty live with their dad in Ward 7, and things wouldn’t be so bad if he hadn’t become a drunkard after their mother passed away from the cancer known as “The Affliction” that swept through the Barronlands when they were children, killing off large chunks of the population and leaving surviving women unable to conceive children.
The inability to conceive children is causing the population to dwindle, so everyone’s starting to wonder if the human race is even going to survive. Meanwhile, Hazel is forced to sell off as many of her family’s belongings as possible just to put food on the table, and she ventures into Ward 1 to purchase a gun to protect her family from thieves. Life in Ward 7 isn’t supposed to be this hard. But just when things are getting desperate for the human race and for Hazel’s family, twenty women are miraculously found in the Barronlands that have conceived children, and they are taken to the Antioch Center in Ward 8 to receive proper medical care from the best of the best. As a trained nurse, Hazel receives a job offer to care for one of the the twenty women at the Antioch Center, and her sister receives a job offer to work in the kitchen there, but she’ll have to leave behind her father and the mysterious Shane, a boy she’s developed feelings for over the past few months.
Once there, things seem to be looking up. Hazel makes friends, and starts getting close to Luka, the Lieutenant of security at the Antioch Center. But strange things start to happen. Hazel accidentally overhears bits of information that seem to point to the Officials being involved in shady business, including causing The Affliction. This puts her, and her family, in a grave situation, and she has to decide whether she’s going to stand up for what’s right or keep quiet to protect her family.
I really enjoyed the strong female MC in this book. Hazel has a strong desire to protect her family, particularly her sister. Since her mom passed away, Hazel has been the only one taking care of Netty, and it shows throughout the whole book that Hazel has a burning desire to take care of other people. Sometimes it causes her to do stupid things, but for the most part, it’s well-intentioned. Right from the beginning of the book, she shows the reader that she’s not afraid of getting her hands dirty by going to Ward 1, the most dangerous ward of all, to buy a gun. Granted she needs a little rescuing from Shane once she gets there, but A for effort. You can’t get from Ward 7 kid to Ward 1 pro overnight, right?
This book had me hooked from the very beginning. I spent at least half of this book obsessing and theorizing over who the mole at the Antioch Center was, and the other half wondering when Shane was going to show up with guns blazing to rescue Hazel from the Officials. This book moved quick, and I was very pleased to find that it was very intriguing read.
However, it definitely wasn’t perfect. At first, I was really impressed by the world-building in this book. A country where a cancer has killed off everyone’s ability to procreate? CRAZY! Then, I started thinking about it, and it kind of bugged me how Hazel kept talking about the impending doom of the human race. Where are all the other countries? Were they affected by the Affliction, too? There were just some details that were missing for me to get a clearer picture of what happened, so I feel like this was a “neutral” point.
I struggled with the awkward relationships in this book. Hazel is incredibly awkward around the opposite sex, and maybe this is legitimate for someone who’s never been in a relationship before. I guess this character quality is getting a little bit old for me. Either way, her awkwardness caused a lot of awkwardness in her relationships with both Shane and Luka.
I was also frustrated with the faceless antagonist. We never really get any perspective on the Officials, how they came to be in power, why they are the way they are. They were just there, in the background. It created the mentality of “the government is bad because it’s bad,” which is never actually the case. Let’s be serious, the world’s worst tyrants think they’re doing the right thing in some capacity, or they have an immense love of power. No one just wakes up in the morning and eats their evil flakes for breakfast.
Has anyone else noticed that books seem to be getting pushed out without a review from a decent copy editor lately? There was a smattering of minor editing mistakes including spelling errors, homonym errors, and grammar errors that just irritated me.
I had a lot of conflicting thoughts throughout this book, but overall I really did like it, and I look forward to the release of the next installment in this series. I’m giving The Twenty a strong 3.5 stars, and I would definitely recommend it to lovers of dystopian.