Chang-Rae Lee

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Dystopia is all the rage these days, especially in young adult fiction: There's the "Hunger Games" trilogy of course; Veronica Roth's "Divergent" series, in which Chicago has gone to the dogs; Cassandra Clare's "Mortal Instruments" series, inspired by a nightmare vision of Manhattan; and Stephanie Meyer's non-Twilight novel, The Host, where Earth has been colonized by alien parasites.

The imagined near future of Chang-Rae Lee's new novel is entirely credible. So much so that one is, for much of the book, lulled into reading the story as merely a warning of the perils of unbridled consumerism and neglect of our environment. And indeed, yes, there is that, but there is so much more besides.

Fast-forward to a few hundred years into the future: Resources in the United States are scarce. The government has fallen apart and most of the population has left, looking for a better life somewhere else.

Immigrant laborers — many from China — have come to fill the labor void, and life in the new America is divided into three distinct societies. First, the Charters, walled-off cities populated by the elites. Next are the working-class cities where the laborers live, and last are the lawless and wild places in between.