“They call it the plague
A generation of children born with extreme genetic mutations.
They call them dangerous
They might be right.”
Trigger warnings for: sexual assault, violence, extreme racial prejudice, character death
In One of Us, the 1960s saw the rise of a virus of which the origins are terribly well known but are likely a combination of many things (radioactivity, AIDS, etc.). What is known is that if a person that has “the germ” has a child, that child will be born mutated. Their face may be upside-down, they may grow fungus on their skin, they may bear a strong resemblance to a dog or a gorilla.
In a panic as to how to handle this crisis, all plague-kids were taken from their families (usually without much of a fuss from said family) and put in a home where they were brought up and taught separately from the normals.
This book is about those children reaching their teenage years and realizing that not only were they dealt a bad hand in life to begin with, but they have been beaten down and ostracized for no real reason. Thus, tensions between them and the normals that feel smug in their superiority over the plague kids rise drastically to the point of bloodshed.
One of Us examines why prejudice in any form toward other humans is a thing and how it continues to live. How in this day and age can we possibly be dealing with some people treating others as if they are less?
The answer, unsurprisingly, comes down to fear. Fear of what one is not familiar with but also fear of accepting responsibility for what a person has allowed to continue on or has contributed to.
Every action that drove the plot of this story onward came from a place of fear and (often) willful misunderstanding. Which leads to danger actions which are of course misunderstood which means more fear, etc. And all of it inching closer to violence.
This book is very much character driven and as such it didn’t really have a defined plot and was more of a “follow the events” kind of thing even going into the ending. Because the problem is that some people are assholes to other people and will continue to hold prejudice because of their own fear despite not having a good reason to. One of Us does not end with everything tied up in a neat little bow because there is no easy solution to prejudice that that a 400 page novel can provide. It requires continuous, ongoing effort.
The only thing that I was not crazy about was how brief the discussion was on sexual harassment and assault in the story. Nothing that was presented was wrong but it also didn’t dive into the topic with the same depth that prejudice received. It felt like the discussion was only there to lead up to a particular plot event and then was dropped entirely. Personally, I think that plot event would have been just as impactful without a one-off sex-ed style lecture on consent.
Other than that though, One of Us is a beautiful constructed tragic tale of prejudice and where it leads. Several times through the course of listening to this audiobook, my heart broke into tiny pieces for things that happened. I cannot recommend this book enough.