Summary: In a world that could easily show our own future, 17-year-old Lia Kahn is happy. She’s beautiful, rich, popular, shallow, and frankly, kind of a bitch. Then she gets into a near-fatal car accident, and in order to save her life her parents have her brain downloaded into a new body, a robot body.
She spends months learning how to be human again, but it proves a little difficult considering she doesn’t get tired or hungry, she barely feels anything, and she can’t die. At school she is immediately ostracized for being a “skinner” (the robot people prefer to be called “mechs”). Even Lia’s sister has abandoned her, not to mention taken over her social life. Soon, her only friend is a hipster-nerd named Auden, who, for some reason or another, thinks it’s cool that she’s a robot.
She falls in with other mechs like snarky, arrogant Jude (who she is definitely NOT attracted to, of course not), broody, silent Riley, hedonistic Quinn, and the kind but desperate Ani, thrill-seekers who are no longer even trying to be human.
That summary barely even covers it, but I can’t go on forever. I mean, do you want to read books about robot teens struggling to realize their own humanity or don’t you? Your answer should probably be “yes.”
I originally decided to read Skinned because I read a blog post about a school teacher who wanted to teach it in her English class, which was at either the 8th grade or freshman level. She wanted to use it as an alternative to Frankenstein because it deals with a lot of the same issues. (But instead of being really old, and about old people and a boring monster who just wants to love and read books, and then maybe somebody gets killed, and if Victor wasn’t such a fucking pussy everything would have been FINE, it’s new and fresh and about teenagers who do crazy things and then maybe somebody gets killed.)
Anyway, so this teacher got a complaint from a parent because some characters in the book use “derogatory language” towards the main character, Lia, and he thought it was disrespectful towards women or something, and didn’t want his daughter to read it. The teacher handled the situation by suggesting to the guy that he and his daughter read the book together and discuss it. Which they did. And everything was fine! (This is how things should be done, y’all.)
Naturally, knowing that the book had some censorship issues, I wanted to read it.
While this father took issue with a couple F-bombs dropped at a certain point in the book, I think it’s kind of silly to focus on that considering almost the entire series features Lia being mistreated by various people. The central conflict of the trilogy, which escalates with each installment, is that regular living people (or “orgs,” as the mechs say) do not believe/cannot accept that mechs are real people.
This is really frustrating, considering we’re getting the story from Lia’s point of view, and WE know she’s real. Well, as the books delve into frequently, that depends on your definition of “real.” The downloading process involves chopping up the brain, digitalizing all information that makes Lia Lia, all of her memories and opinions, her personality, etc. Assuming the process is flawless, what else is there to a person, really? What does it matter if all that information is the same, but in a different body?
These are the questions that really started to freak me out the more I read. Basically, an exact copy of Lia was made and put into a new body. But the old copy is dead. She does have all of Lia’s memories, but is she technically the same Lia? I mean, they have the digital information, they could easily make TWO Lias (which comes into play in Wired in a terrifying way that you can’t even guess, so don’t bother trying), would BOTH of them actually be Lia? She’s supposed to upload her memories every night so they can be saved properly, but what if she didn’t?? CRAZY.
Naturally, the mechs’ biggest enemies are some religious nutbags called “Faithers.” Traditional religion is passé at this point, but these guys still manage to stir up a huge movement against the mechs. One of the scariest parts of the book to me is when mechs are no longer legally considered people, and consequently the equivalent of Lia’s Facebook is deleted. She has this freak-out moment of feeling like she doesn’t exist because all the pictures and videos and comments are gone. Obviously the ramifications go much deeper than being unable to use Facebook, but I thought it was a really simple and relatable way to demonstrate the issue.
At one point in the series, to combat the Faithers’ movement Lia does a three-week stint staring on a reality TV show, the purpose of which is to show everyone watching that she’s just a normal person like everyone else!! I thought it was kind of cool but sad that an effective way to sway the public’s opinion was using trashy television.
There’s a lot I could talk about here, because I wanted to cover the whole trilogy (because you need to read the whole trilogy), but it’s hard to do so without spoiling too much. I’ll explain a little bit about one thing I find interesting about the world of Skinned. The way you’re introduced to the society with all these kids addicted to social networking, it seems closely relatable to the universe of Scott Westerfeld’s Extras, but I was particularly interested in the class hierarchy and how the characters explored it. Obviously the main issue of the books is that we’ve got these kids who are robots-but-are-they-human, but there’s a lot more to the world, and most of it is pretty messed up.
Society is broken up into three distinct classes. If you’re like Lia, you’re part of the upper class, where your family is involved with running a corporation, and you live in a big fancy house on a huge, fenced-in property, and buy fun clothes and b-mods (recreational drugs that let you adjust your mood to anything you want), and spend all day social networking. SOMEHOW, this lifestyle is the most recognizable.
The middle class are all stuck living in “Corp Towns,” from which they are usually not authorized to travel. The town is where they live, study, work, and enjoy leisure time between shifts. Their entire lives are creepily run by corporations. Living in a Corp Town means you have a job and food and clothes and security, but the price of those things is your right to vote. That’s the deal, and if you don’t like it they kick you out, which makes your only option living in the city.
The cities are abandoned by all “good” and “civilized” people at this point. The cities are rationed with certain amounts of electricity, but they are otherwise completely run-down and rusting. The horribly impoverished people who live there are completely uneducated, commonly ill, and are mostly divided into street gangs who guard their territories with guns and make-shift weapons. The sewers are full of Reaver-type people who will literally skin you alive. Living the protected life she does before Lia becomes a mech, she has no reason to even think about the cities, and what it is like for people who live there. But as she follows around her new adrenaline-junkie friends, she ends up visiting one. And it is terrifying.
What disturbs me most about this society is that it’s A) something I could totally see happening in the future, and B) kind of a over-simplified and (MUCH) exaggerated version of how we live today. Scary.
One thing that kept me reading, even though sometimes the plot gets slow (take the beginning of Skinned itself, where it jumps right in to Lia spending months learning to walk and talk as a robot, and you get to sit through all of it), was Lia. I think she’s a great character. She really pissed me off in the first book because I found her to be shallow and complain-y. However, when you read her, she is a very real person who is shallow and complain-y, and despite all of the crazy changes in her life, in some ways she doesn’t necessarily seem to change very much herself. There comes a point in the book when you can tell she is fully aware of the kind of person she is, and I really respected her for that. And considering her situation, you can’t help but root for her.
I thought all of the characters were very realistic. The mechs all come from different backgrounds and react differently to what’s happened to them. The humans in their lives all react differently to the existence of mechs. It’s interesting to watch the politics and relationship struggles play out. In particular, the relationship between Lia and her sister Zo is weird, and complex, and kind of heart-breaking.
I put “Romance” as a genre, because there is definitely romance in the books, but none of it is going to be your typical YA fair. You’re not going to be on Team Jude, or Team Riley, or Team Auden (although you might briefly feel loyalty to one of those three). The relationships just sort of play out as they play out. It’s realistic, and it’s often kind of annoying or sad, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get caught up in it.
There are a lot of things that make this series worth reading, but if for nothing else you MUST MUST MUST get to the end of Wired because it BLEW MY MIND. I can’t even decide if I like it or not, but it’s almost like it’s not even up to me to like it or not, it is so insane. I don’t think anyone has ever finished off their series with something THAT CRAZY. So kudos, Robin!
-Really cool and interesting premise
-Detailed, realistic world with cool technology
-Interesting and relatable characters
-Occasionally will drive you crazy (but is this really bad?)