Expiration Day, by William Campbell Powell, was a book I almost didn’t bother finishing and only ended up doing so because of that added sense of obligation of having received it for free to review. Had I picked it up on my own, I almost certainly would have dropped it somewhere about halfway in. As usual, in these cases, this will be a relatively short review so as not to belabor the issue.
In 2049, humanity has all but died out and is racing to find a cure to this plague of infertility that has been around for some while now. Meanwhile, to give the race hope and meet the parenting instinct, “teknoids” (sophisticated androids) can be rented by couples to be brought up as their own child, with regularly scheduled “revisions” to mirror the physical development due to aging. Everyone knows this happens, but it’s considered ill manners to speak of it too bluntly, so nobody is ever quite sure who is a true human and who is not. Young Tania Deely (the novel is told via the form of her diary) is about to enter a new school, a new stage of life (young teen), and a new lack of certainty about her world: is her best friend Sian a robot? Is that cute young boy she just met on vacation? Is she?
There is no doubt Expiration Day is YA, and it’s quite possible that it is the sort of YA that I can’t really fairly review thanks to my being far, far (far) more A than Y at this point in my life. What I can say definitively is that it is not the sort of YA that crosses over into adult territory. The plot was almost wholly predictable step by step; I can’t say any revelation was a surprise and some were so clearly omened that I wasn’t sure they were meant to be or not. Pacing was off, with the book lagging in many spots and having a sense of imbalance in terms of urgency/active versus quiet moments, and so forth. A hearing at the end felt tacked on, not fitting organically into the storyline and feeling wholly artificial, coming across more as a simple plot device to have characters speechify or explain certain things than as a true legal proceeding.
The basic premise is interesting enough, but never felt fully or clearly explained; I was left with a lot of the “but why would . . . “ or “but wouldn’t . . . “ sort of questions. Characterization, beyond Tania, were shallow, and while she was more fully formed, her voice was too teenager banal for me as was the requisite love triangle (this may be where my years work against me in enjoying this aspect). And there were several times where things just didn’t feel real.
As one small example, Tania agonizes over a boy finding something out about her but never once wonders if her friend (who hangs out quite a lot with said boy) might divulge the secret. Finally, Tania joins a band and there were just too many “music moments” for me — descriptions of practices, of gigs, of picking out the right instrument, etc. Music I think is extremely difficult to capture the spirit of via language even in the best of stylistic hands and here it just slowed the story down too much too often.
And now I’ll shut my window and stop yelling at those damn kids to stop playing their loud music and get off my lawn. Even accepting that I’m not the target audience for Expiration Day, I think I’m on safe ground pointing out its storytelling flaws, whether they be based in style or craft, and so regardless of whether the story might capture a teen’s interest more than it did mine, I recommend giving it a pass.