When I read the opening pages of Filtered, I expected to find the book clichéd. A teenaged girl in an oppressive, gas-mask wearing society begins to question the structures that surround her. She deals with broken parents with a broken marriage, and frightening images of death by painful asphyxiation all around her. Will she be the chosen one? What unique power will manifest, turning her into a superheroine that cleans the toxic, ashen air?
I was being superficial, and I regret my initial write-off of G.K. Lamb’s first novel as “just another” YA-targeted story. Filtered was engaging and well-crafted, and at the end of the day it was simply a good read.
It hit me with particular intensity through vivid descriptions of waiting in line to enter and exit buildings—the heads-down shuffling, seeing only the legs and feet of the person in front of you, the weight of your skull and brain pulling painfully at the muscles in your neck. It was a powerful way to show an oppressed society. But it was also directly relevant to an experience I began having shortly after starting the book. I changed my commuting pattern, and I now get on and off the train at one of the busiest stations in San Francisco. For more than a little while, the escalators were out of service, and the vast numbers of commuters clogging the platform had to walk up thin staircases, in single file, to get out of the station. Everyone looking down at their phones, shuffling slowly, waiting for their turn to lift a foot to the first step.
Here I was, reading about the psychological torment caused by the kind of waiting I was doing in my daily life.
But it’s not just that I was having an analogous experience to the protagonist. It’s that this notion of waiting, and others like it in Filtered, are eminently relatable. Even if we don’t have to wear gas masks to keep toxic air out, we can understand oppressive figures in schools, the shame and boredom and inanity of waiting in what feels like a senseless line, the confusion of adolescence, and the pain of solitude. These are the things Evelyn Brennan (the protagonist) is dealing with, but they’re all punctuated by—and indeed caused by, in a sense—the setting of Filtered, which plays a key role in the story.
Filtered presents Evelyn in peril, using her wits to investigate the un-investigable. Where Lamb departs from conventional thinking, however, is in punishing her, immediately and very harshly, for her actions. The injustice of it is stunning, and you’re left feeling her shame alongside her as she watches the torment meant for her delivered to an innocent creature. It’s far more powerful than if she’d been punished herself.
That moment foreshadows the climax of the story, in which our determined protagonist learns the secret of the Great Society’s founding (oppressive empire figure in Filtered) and galvanizes a heretofore-unknown radical group to action, resulting in catastrophe.
Filtered does what it does well, but the climactic action rises a little quickly given the pacing of the first 60% of the book. I enjoyed the pacing of the first half, but I think the book would have been greatly helped by more hints at revolutionaries throughout, laying foundation for Evelyn’s personal rebellion.
Filtered is available on Amazon.