Stray intrigued me the moment I read the pitch. The Matrix meets The Truman Show meets Never Let Me Go? Sign me up now! Sometimes when you have these high expectations and comparisons, a book can seem to pale from how you imagined it to be and I often end up putting off reading it in a sense of almost fear, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how much I enjoyed Stray.
Stray is the story of Lona Sixteen Always, a Pather. Pathers are troubled children who the government have supposedly rescued. Until the age of eighteen, pathers live their lives through experiencing the life/path of Julian, an ordinary boy with only a couple of hours a day away from these machines to practise calisthenics. During this time Lona bonds with Fenn, an older boy. However after he moves on to the next stage of the path she is shocked to find him on her screen one day. Now Lona can find out what comes next and what life there is after the path.
Stray is a highly unusual book and one that I don’t think will appeal to everyone. However it is thoroughly engaging and I found its exploration of the foster care system, and how those in it are treated, an important issue to discuss that wasn’t didactic. The idea of the Path felt worryingly plausible in its justification and filled me with dread as these Pathers’ characters were almost erased as a result.
Hesse isn’t afraid to show how flawed her characters are; indeed it is this that really makes her characters feel real, something important to the novel when you consider the way they have lived on the Path. The flaws, the difficulties in expressing themselves become the way the reader can see how stunted their development in some respects has been and how this should have not been the case. I thought Lona was a fantastic heroine; brave and so real as she tried to grapple with life outside the Path, define her own path, work out her feelings for Fenn and discover and quash the emerging threats of life off-Path.
Intelligent and thought-provoking, Hesse’s debut has a lot to offer readers and I would definitely recommend it.I received a free proof copy from Hot Key Books who very kindly sent it to me to review. As ever, how I receive a book does not affect the honesty or tone of my review. Stray is available to buy now.