Salt by Maurice Gee
Text Publishing, 2009 (2007) ISBN 1921520082.
(Age 12+) Winner of the NZ Post Book Award for Young Adult Fiction, Salt is a thought provoking dystopian novel that combines hauntingly familiar issues of big company tyranny, racism and slavery with a futuristic twist. In the ruins of a city called Belong, starving men are herded together by guards with whips and sent off to Salt as forced labour. Hari is devastated when he realises that his father, Tarl, is one of the captured men. Because of his defiance, he is sent to Deep Salt a horrifying mine from which no one emerges. Hari, who has the power to speak to and control animals, is determined to rescue him. On his journey to Deep Salt he meets a young girl Pearl and her companion Tealeaf, who are evading the Company and also can speak with their minds. Together Hari and Pearl discover the hideous secret of what is mined in Deep Salt and do their best to improve things for Belong.
Describing the bare bones of the narrative doesn't do justice to the richness and complexity of this book or to the issues that linger in the reader's mind. Gee masterfully describes his two young protagonists. Hari is from the Burrows and starts out on his dangerous journey with only one aim in mind - to rescue his father and kill his capturers. Pearl has been the pampered daughter of a Company family, and seeks to evade a marriage of slavery to Ottmar, a grasping older man. However, issues bigger than revenge and escape overtake the pair and they are faced with taking huge risks to ensure that the secret of Deep Salt does not destroy the earth.
This is an adventure story that tackles big issues in a very readable way. The reader is left to ponder the nature of big business, greed, war and corruption and the voices in peoples' heads that allow them to act in certain ways.
There is a tantalising peep at Gool, the next book in the series, in a short extract at the end of the book. Salt would appeal to readers who enjoy books like The knife of never letting go by Patrick Ness.