Betts, A.J. Rogue. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia, 2019. RRP $16.99, 368pp, ISBN: 9781760556440
Most of us accept the world as it is. We view our surroundings and choose to believe what we see as real, believe only what we are told, what we are made to think and feel. Some of us do not challenge. Explore. Investigate. Think over and above what’s in front of us, or care what lies beyond what we are accustomed to.
Rogue, as the title portrays, ‘to live or act as a Rogue’ (thesaurus.com) is the story of one girl who discovers the truth, ‘the possibility of another world’, by questioning her entire existence.
In this sequel to Hive, we join protagonist Hayley after her escape from the underwater vault she was raised in. Set in 2119, ninety-nine years after Earth has been hit by pieces of an asteroid, Hayley learns the story of how her community came to be forgotten at the bottom of the ocean. ‘In 2020, your ancestors went down there with two instructions: keep the people and seeds safe; and only come up when they get the sign (319).
Hayley surfaces at Maria Island, off the coast of Tasmania, a place author A.J Betts hiked and biked during her research for this Young Adult novel. She says ‘Maria is her idea of paradise, that’s why it’s one of several locations fictionalised in the book’ (359). It’s a vast contrast to the world Hayley knew before, and she learns many words reflecting her new surroundings: Drones, Drifters, Legals, blood codes, marions and pathos. In amongst navigating these new lands and colourful characters both good—such as Kid, the boy who discovers her—and bad, tattooed Buckley who isn’t all he seems. Hayley takes the time to appreciate her environment in close detail.
Although Rogue is written as fiction and set in the future, Betts’s take on our planet after the snowball effect of extinction is eerily present. A gardener and keeper of bees in the seed vault, Hayley soon learns Earth is without bees. ‘By the time the dust clouds finally lifted, a third of the crops had died. Then after the bees disappeared, another third went too’ (97). ‘For fifteen years, the population kept shrinking until there were fewer than four billion people left in the whole world. None of that matters now. What matters is we survived’ (98).
In the wake of a global catastrophe, the focus of Rogue’s survivors is not on adversity but on community and restoring a positive balance of energy through coping with the loss of sunlight, electricity, water and the internet and not knowing when it will end. ‘They played games. The neighbours pooled resources and cooked food on outdoor fires. They told stories and made jewellery out of stones and string. They were grateful. They’d survived after all. And they still had each other.’ (89) The people embrace change and by doing so are rewarded with the predecessor before the machine age: a human connection from a simpler time.
This is more than a story about a ‘girl lost between worlds’. It’s a story that touches on current subjects such as climate change, the Refugee Status Determination (RSD), family, friendship, and above all the power of love in amidst the end of the world. And a new beginning.
Fellow drifter Jarrod carries messages of love and these messages intrigue Hayley. He comes to her aid more than once on her journey to the cities. The exchanges between the two as they try to understand one another add a comical element to the appreciative, nostalgic tone of the work.
‘I’m coming.’ I grumbled.
I swung around, fearing a man called Christmas was stalking us’ (189)
A subtle love story is incorporated in the background amongst heavy science fiction themes throughout the novel. Will, the boy from the vault who’d been her ally and set her free, is a recurring figure in Hayley’s subconscious. Until he’s there for real. And her direction is challenged.
The writing from Betts in Rogue is as expected: punchy and exquisite. Told in first person, Reading the book felt like Hayley stuck out a hand and pulled me into this world and along on the journey with her. Rogue, like Hive, Zac and Mia, and the rest of Betts’s body of work, serves in every way you want a narrative to deliver: your life is richer for reading it.
Joanne Morrell is a local writer of children’s and young adult fiction. She conducts author events around Perth’s writer’s centres and libraries on subjects such as freelance writing and social media. Her non-fiction business Author Linings will launch later this year providing material on the emotional and physical aspects of building a successful author career.