EVALENE’S NUMBER was written by Bethany Atazadeh. She is an AuthorTuber, self-published author, and also published a children’s picture book, THE CONFIDENT CORGI. (To learn more about Bethany, visit her website or YouTube channel.)
I received a free copy of EVALENE’S NUMBER in exchange for an honest review.
On iWriterly, we published the video, SPOILER BOOK REVIEW: Evalene’s Number by Bethany Atazadeh | YA Dystopian.
As I stated in the video, I tend to compose book reviews similar to book reports for my clients and didn’t want to the video to be overly long. Read on for the full book review.
Please note: Bethany is in the process of re-publishing EVALENE’S NUMBER (as of August 2018), which includes a new cover and tweaked beginning chapters. The copy I received and read was the originally-published book.
EVALENE’S NUMBER was categorized as a YA science fiction on Goodreads, though it could be categorized more specifically as a YA dystopian. If you haven’t read this book yet and don’t want spoilers, I recommend reading the book and coming back to watch the video/read the book review later. Consider yourself warned.
The story follows a young Evalene before her numbering ceremony in a dystopian society called Eden. She goes from being the daughter of relatively high numbers to a 29. After which time, she’s forced to work as a lowly servant in her father’s household.
We also meet Jeremiah when he’s young and adopted by an older woman. She’s what they call a “True Believer” (rebels who read the Bible for themselves, something that is forbidden in this society), and she teaches him about the Bible and faith. The two slowly form a friendship and later go on to planning the next rebellion in Eden.
Evalene meets Jeremiah at age 18 when she flees her father’s household with her friend Kevra, hoping to escape on a ship off Eden. Kevra betrays Evalene and ties her to a chair in an abandoned building because they have only one ID card, which is required to board a ship. You later find out the passengers are checked—their numbers against the ID card to see if anyone is trying to run away—and Kevra was hanged for running away and impersonating a high number.
Jeremiah finds Evalene in the building and offers her passage on his vessel, a submarine. Evalene agrees and meets Luc, Jeremiah’s second in command, and Olive, a girl from an island free of Eden’s rule, on the submarine. While traveling, she learns of how Jeremiah and his crew have been recruiting lower numbers to fight in their rebellion, though these people are given the option not to fight if they don’t want to. She’s bullied a little by a recruit named Talc.
When they’re on the island (a land not governed by Eden or the Numbering System and where the rebels have been trained in combat), a romance starts to develop between Jeremiah and Evalene. Evalene doesn’t want to participate in the war and considers starting a new life on the island. In the end, she boards one of the ships headed back for Eden to start the war.
She remains on the ship, due to sea sickness and lack of training, when they arrive and she is captured by Regulators alongside Olive. They convince a Regulator to help them escape and then go to the news station, where the bulk of their forces and Jeremiah are fighting so they can broadcast the news of the war as well as people’s stories in the numbering system to the citizens.
Although the fighting gets tough, and it appears the rebels are losing, the citizens join the fight and the government is overrun. In the epilogue, Evalene is a part of the new government system.
Although the protagonist is 18 for the bulk of the story, the book is categorized as YA science fiction on Goodreads. Given my background in traditional publishing, I found that surprising, as most YA protagonists are usually somewhere between 14 and 17.
Over the course of the book review, I will provide feedback on:
- Story structure and plot
These sections will contribute to the ultimate five-star ranking, which will be revealed at the end. I construct my book reviews a bit like my reader reports for freelance editing clients and tend to look at stories with a literary agent’s eye. Without any further ado, let’s get into it!
I think the most unique and interesting thing about the book was the world-building. The story takes place after World War III, and the city of Eden is built into the craters where the bombs had been. Like most dystopian tales, there is some technology, but that is often limited to upper-class use. The Number One, who is the equivalent of President Snow in this story, and government can watch people through their televisions to see if they aren’t complying with the enforced laws.
While there were so many cool world-building elements, I felt the inclusion of the world-building could have been smoother. In the earlier chapters, specifically, there were a lot of instances where the reader was pulled out of the scene and given paragraphs of world-building. I wanted to be more invested in the character first and learn about her story and what drives her while learning about the world she lives in.
I also thought while some sections of the book had a lot of world-building, others didn’t have enough. For example, when we get to the island (which I’ll get to later), the world-building felt skimmed over, and I would have loved to see more of the different culture there. In addition, after Evalene’s numbering ceremony happens, the world-building skids to a halt and we’re pretty limited to what Evalene sees as a servant in her father’s household.
The last bit of world-building I’ll mention is that everyday citizens aren’t trusted with reading the Bible on their own (page 13). The consumption (and interpretation of scripture) is limited to a Priest or the Number One. However, this is something that was actually done by the Catholic Church in our historic past; and I found myself disappointed that there wasn’t a world-specific (or more unique) version of this form of manipulation in society. What I mean by that is: our society/culture has already worked through that scenario in our history—and deemed having the priests as the sole consumers of scripture to be insufficient and manipulative. Therefore, why is this scenario being played out again?
The story is told through two POVs (point of view): Evalene and Jeremiah.
Evalene is the girl we heard about in the plot summary—she was born into the upper class with high number parents and received the lowest number in the rating system on her numbering day (a 29). Later, we meet Jeremiah, who’s also a low number, and see his journey of being adopted and sewing seeds for a new rebellion in Eden over the numbering system, which he eventually goes on to lead.
I thought both POVs were differentiated and unique, though both were on the “sweeter”/innocent side—again, which I found surprising given the climate they grew up in.
For this next section, I’ll be talking about our two main characters, Evalene and Jeremiah, along with a few other principal characters.
1.) Evalene (protagonist/one POV)
Personally, I had a hard time sympathizing with Evalene, while I like Jeremiah a lot more.
In the opening chapters, my first impression of Evalene was that she seemed sweet, if a bit entitled. I was surprised by how naive/sheltered she was at the start of the book. It made sense when she was a high number, but when she’s a 29? Although she would’ve been treated kinder as a servant in her father‘s household, I feel that she should have been less naive.
By page 195 (when Evalene is on the submarine), I questioned what her motives were. Evalene was still going along with the events happening to her and not proactively participating and didn’t have a clear motive. When Jeremiah asked her to help the rebellion, she said she couldn’t. On page 195 when she thinks of Jeremiah, she simply said she wished she could help. But she didn’t say why she couldn’t. What is she afraid of? Death? Going back to her old life? The authorities taking out their displeasure on her father?
Overall, I’d say she was a passive protagonist, which is probably why I struggled to like her as a character. Her friend proposes running away and she goes along with it. Jeremiah offers her a way out of Eden and she goes along. Olive offers her a friendship and she goes along with it. I wanted Evalene to proactively choose to do something in the story that moved the plot.
The last thing I’ll mention is regarding Evalene’s lack of urgency before the final battle (on page 318). For someone who’s decided she wants to fight for the revolution, I was surprised she had to be woken up after the ship had already docked on the shores of Eden and wasn’t hurrying off of the ship to help Jeremiah, despite having seasickness. She seemed to think of herself first a lot. Later when Olive is bleeding badly from a wound in her head in the dungeon cell, Evalene hesitates ripping her pants (page 332) to use as bandages to stop Olive from bleeding out. In the text, it’s implied because she liked the outfit (it was from the island).
2.) Jeremiah (second POV/leader of the rebellion)
As I mentioned before, I liked Jeremiah’s character. His motives seemed straightforward and pure, and he followed his convictions.
My biggest concern with him was regarding the first time he met Evalene, when she was tied to a chair. You can read on pages 127 and 128 that he didn’t ask her what happened and if she was all right. Instead, he checked out her number while she was passed out and then offered her a place on his ship when she was awake. Although he was confident she was running away, I feel like it would be human instinct to ask what had happened to bring her to where she was, tied up in a chair. Moreover, why wasn’t he curious?
How they met impacts their relationship for the rest of the book, so I thought that initial meeting could have been stronger, particularly if the dialogue was cleaned up a touch.
I did really like one aspect of Jeremiah and Evalene’s budding romance.
Specifically, I like how the author diverted from the romance trope of the protagonist, usually a girl, being shown her value through the love interest. Usually, a woman who didn’t know her true value is shown to find value in herself through her relationship (how her love interest sees her). Like many other book reviewers out there, I really dislike this trope because I’m a firm believer that a person needs to find a value in themselves first and not receive their validation from other people. However, I liked how Jeremiah introduced Evie to faith when she had no self-esteem and didn’t believe that she had any value (largely because she’s a 29). By doing this, Jeremiah assisted her in finding her value through faith/internal means and not external things such as a another person in a romantic relationship.
3.) Kevra (Evalene’s friend who abandoned her and tied her up in the warehouse)
I anticipated Kevra’s betrayal of Evalene. I never felt invested in their friendship or believed it was genuine for Kevra. When she did betray Evalene, I was wondering when the betrayal would happen (rather than being surprised by it).
4.) Luc (Jeremiah’s second in command)
Of all the characters, I thought Luc’s personality was the least consistent. I thought he was super sweet on the submarine, joking around with the recruits and answering questions. But when they got to the final battle, he was short with Evie and Olive (ignoring them or telling them to stay out of the way). I was surprised he wasn’t more supportive of them coming or that he didn’t give them a task to do to contribute (if they aren’t trained in combat).
On page 357, when Olive arrives with the regulator Sol at the news station, Luc punches him and tells him he’s not needed anymore and to go back where he came from. Again this seemed really incongruous with the welcoming, chatty character that we first met on the submarine.
5.) Olive (the girl from the island who’s nice and helps out with the rebellion)
I liked Olive’s character. I thought she was sweet and engaging, and I enjoyed the big reveal of her being a special person from the island—one of the few kids born there and who’s fertile.
6.) Talc (the bully from the submarine)
While I understood the author wanted to show people having a hard time adjusting to the lack of a number system (and wanting revenge), Talc’s motivation to harass Evalene felt like unnecessary conflict.
7.) The Number One (the ruler of Eden)
We hear so much about the Number One and his power—which is an ever-looming threat throughout the book—but we never get to see him in action. The only time we see him is when he’s tied up after the fight and described as a frail old man. I was disappointed he wasn’t an active antagonist or that we didn’t see the troops face him in the battle at the end of the book (and that he didn’t put up more of a fight).
Story Structure & Plot
1.) The opening pages were very heavy on narrative (vs. action and dialogue). Evalene is waking up, getting ready, looking in the mirror, etc. I would have loved to see Evalene more proactively participating in a scene in the opening pages as we are first getting introduced to her. I’m wondering if the story could have started in a more exciting/stronger place (vs. watching her get ready).
There’s a fantastic article in Writer’s Digest, called How to Balance Action, Narrative, and Dialogue in Your Novel. The author explains how we need to strike a balance between narrative, action, and dialogue in our writing:
“This is one reason you want to put your character in a scene with other characters as often as possible. Scenes that weave together these three elements engage the reader at an emotional level much more effectively than scenes that are only dialogue, only narrative or only action.”
2.) I wondered about how the rebels recruited people and if that would actually work in this society. On page 149, Jeremiah had been recruiting people who aren’t in support of the revolution to his very secret island location (through the Work Rule). Even if most people aren’t thrilled with the number system, there are likely to be plenty of people who would rather not stir the pot and could easily tell the authorities what he’s been doing once they return to Eden. In addition, wouldn’t these people insist they be brought back to Eden? Most of them are individual people. Therefore, their family would be back in Eden.
3.) We spend a lot of time on the submarine and it seems a bit like a hotel than a submarine used to transport low numbers in a society where wealth is hoarded. (Exercise room, bacon, pancakes, and other fancy food, showers, games, music room, etc.)
In addition, Luc spent a REALLY long time showing the men and Evalene the layout of the submarine. I found myself wondering why there was so much (unnecessary) detail. While it’s interesting, if it’s not integral to the plot somehow, then we don’t need to know about the bathrooms being renovated so that there were male and female restrooms.
Compared to the coverage on the submarine, we hardly spent time on the island (even though, I believe, more time passed on the island). I would have loved to see less time on the submarine and more of the island that’s free of Eden. What’s the culture like? How is the island run? Do they ever interact with Eden for trade?
4.) We learn on page 340 that the regulators were given orders to shoot to kill. However, Olive and Evie are kidnapped and put in a dungeon sell. This felt unrealistic. Given these orders, I’m surprised they weren’t killed right away.
5.) I really liked the big reveal of who Jeremiah’s parents are on page 347—the leaders of the bloom rebellion. His last name is also Bloom.
6.) At the end of Jeremiah’s broadcast during the final battle (on page 348), he asks the people of Eden to join the fight. However, I felt it was unrealistic to expect people to not only be in support of the rebellion, but to also leave what they’re doing at that very moment and fight. It seemed like too short of notice, and the people had only received a few pamphlets prior to then to warm them up to the idea of rebelling against the number system. Though, it’s clear that there are people who are unhappy with the number system, as the Bloom rebellion happened I believe it was 10 years ago. While people who dislike the Numbering system might exist, it was unclear how many people were actually eager to get up and fight at any given time. In addition, the citizens of Eden turned up pretty quickly to assist the rebels, which I found surprising. It was within a page or two of Jeremiah’s initial broadcast.
7.) The book ended on a pretty significant cliffhanger. Although the war to end the number system had been won, at least temporarily, Jeremiah flees the new station because he’s afraid of Luc trying to make him into the new Number One one. (Which I really liked about Jeremiah’s character—following his convictions.) The epilogue ends with a man telling Evalene that her mother is alive. While I know cliffhangers can be a very effective way to make readers want to buy book two, it is often discouraged to utilize cliffhangers for debut authors because you want that first book to be a satisfying standalone with the potential for more story. My background is in traditional publishing, so my mindset here is a little bit different than might be for self-publishing, but I did find the ending to be both intriguing and dissatisfying.
Throughout the book, I noticed a handful of instances where there was more telling than showing (when I thought showing would have been stronger).
- Page 97: Kevra and Evalene stop at a lookout point after they’d run away to see the ocean. It says in the text Evalene hadn’t seen the ocean since she was a little girl and described it as “heartbreakingly beautiful.” While most of us know what the ocean or a body of water looks like, I would have liked more description to be there in the moment with them. When there’s too much telling, I feel distanced from the protagonist and what they are experiencing.
- Page 137: “She was not fine. Her head spun and she was terrified she’d made the wrong decision, but she couldn’t tell him that.”
- Page 143: “ The men stood in a semi-circle around him, but Evalene hung back, trying to be invisible.”
- Page 204: “Jeremiah’s voice and charisma were captivating.”
In addition, I wanted the author to trust the reader more. Many times, the book told things that were implied (and didn’t need to be said).
- For example, on page 98 it says: “… And how will we get on a ship without—“ Kevra cut off, frowning, without finishing her thought.
- On page 133, before Evalene gets on the submarine, she gets nervous because she sees a group of men and thought they were getting on a ship. It read: “‘Who are they?’ She stopped at the foot of the dock, refusing to go any further.”
Five-Star Rating System: What Score Did Evalene’s Number Receive?
I have a five-star rating system for book reviews, similar to what you’d see on Goodreads. The average rating most books receive is three stars.
I will give EVALENE’S NUMBER three stars, which is: the story was enjoyable and writing was a good quality. While I enjoyed reading this book and thought there were a lot of intriguing elements and world-building, I did feel there were some character and craft issues that could be improved to help strengthen the story.
If you’re a fan of dystopian stories and enjoy having faith elements in your book, I would recommend checking out EVALENE’S NUMBER, which has a unique spin on the dystopian and Christian genres.