A hundred years ago aliens defeated and colonized Earth. For the most part, humans now live in peace with the aliens. A minority of humans have been chosen to go through the aliens’ hardening process when they are young. This gives them a type of exoskeleton that makes them very hard to kill. These Exos constitute a military upper class and they look down on “squishies” — those humans who can’t be, or refuse to be, hardened.
Donovan Reyes, the son of the Prime Liaison to the aliens, is an Exo. One of his jobs is to patrol his city, flushing out and arresting any dissidents who remain. When a raid goes wrong and Donovan is captured by a rebel group, his father refuses to negotiate with the terrorists. Donovan’s whole life is turned upside down and his loyalties are challenged.
Exo (2017), the first book in Fonda Lee’s EXO series, is an exciting Young Adult science fiction thriller. The story moves quickly, there’s lots of action and plot twists, and Donovan is a likeable hero. It’s easy to feel his confusion and to feel sorry for him when tragedies occur. As for negatives, some of the action scenes feel a bit too frenzied and characterization, especially of secondary characters, suffers a bit. The romance is a bit unsatisfying (it quickly develops and isn’t based on much) and possibly unnecessary, but the characters are teenagers who don’t quite know themselves yet, so it feels realistic.
As a thriller, Exo doesn’t require much contemplation from the reader who’s just looking for an exciting story. But for those who want to think about it, Fonda Lee has something to say about colonialism, the conflict between peace and autonomy, and the way we tend to categorize our fellow humans into “us” and “them” groups.
In Fonda Lee’s world, humans are at peace with their conquerors and enjoy the technology they provide. Most people are content with this situation and many argue that life is better with aliens in charge. (Humans have screwed things up.) But others perceive themselves as subject to their colonizers and are willing to fight for their freedom even though they know that will cost many lives. The rebels consider themselves freedom fighters while others call them terrorists. Is human autonomy worth all the deaths it will cost?
It’s natural for people on both sides to perceive the other group as evil, but when Donovan is captured by the rebels, each side has a chance to discover that good and intelligent people can hold opposite views.
I am eager to find out what happens next in the second EXO book, Cross Fire. I’m listening to Scholastic Audio’s version which is narrated by MacLeod Andrews. I always enjoy his performances.