Title: I am Margaret
Author: Corinna Turner
Publisher: Unseen books; an imprint of Zephyr Publishing
Age range: 14 and up.
I’m a great fan of British born author Corinna Turner. She writes extremely well and has provided us here with an astounding story. I’ve had to process ‘I Am Margaret’ mentally and emotionally for a few months before I could even write about it – such is the impact of this story.
I don’t normally read dystopian teen novels, although I have read one or two throughout the years. I found that I easily entered into the premise of the book – a world where ordinary people are surveilled and controlled by the powerful presence of Governmental violence and fear. Religion is outlawed as it is seen as a threat to the state. And the value of persons is measured by their ‘ableness’, ie: people are valued if they are whole bodied, able bodied and able minded. Hmmm… I was already seeing the parallels with our own world as I read the opening chapters of I Am Margaret.
Then Corinna Turner takes this premise one step (brilliantly) further. At age 18, everyone is “Sorted”. So high school finishes and those who are not considered ‘up to scratch’ are sent off into a detention centre. Of course, by the time ‘Sorting’ comes around everyone knows who will pass and who will fail. None the less, those who are happily sorted into the more valued category prance out of the school hall one by one to go off and celebrate their graduation and the rest of their lives. Leaving the dismally inadequate few in an eerily near-empty hall to be discretely bussed off to the detention centre. This whole scenario had a dark Harry Potter ‘hat sorting’ feel to it – as a reader my insides were sinking as the inevitable ‘losers’ were left till last and forgotten – very quickly forgotten.
This is where the story takes a devastating turn. We learn that those who are ‘out-sorted’ to the detention centre are well fed, exercised and medically cared for. Ok, that sounds good. But then the reality of the situation hits you with one hell-almighty wallop! The young people are being prepared for the harvesting of their organs – their skin, teeth, eyes, brains, tissue, nerves, bones, blood, heart, kidneys, liver. You name it; there’s an able bodied and minded individual out there who can use it.
Oh my Lord!
Now you’all know I spend my days reading children’s books to review for you. I WASN’T PREPARED for this! But the brilliance of Corinna Turner’s writing just keeps you turning those pages – even though you don’t really want to. The worst scene is where the inmates are forced to watch the dismemberment of a priest – so they know what is going to happen to them. As a punishment, priests and other dangerous rebels are dismembered while conscious – they are given a drug to paralyse them while the harvesting takes place.
Oh my Lord!
Well I managed to get past that scene but my blood pressure was topping the scale by this point. The story settled down then as Margaret and her boyfriend-on-the-outside scheme to escape – and liberate everyone else trapped in detention. Through a series of thoughtfully considered and well-rehearsed plans, the inmates manage to get on out of that horrifying place – except for Margaret of course! In a Christ-like gesture, Margaret sacrifices her own freedom to help the last young person escape. I LOVED that part – it’s just what young people need to be reading about, putting yourself last, thinking of others, self-sacrifice etc.
But then Margaret is prepped for conscious dismemberment and AAAAH! I couldn’t go on. Well not until I’d made a nice hot cup of tea and gathered myself for the ending of this incredible book. Will I spoil the end for you? No, I’ll make you read it for yourselves!! Suffice to say there are a number of sequels to the book, so that should give you a clue as to how it ends.
The themes in this story are relevant and topical in today’s world – the intrinsic value of all human life, religious freedom, martyrdom, self-sacrifice and loyalty. Reading this novel is like being forced to gaze into a mirror in which the dark and hidden aspects of our modern world are starkly reflected. As a person who struggled with Maths throughout my entire school years I was particularly dismayed when Margaret was ‘sorted out’ due to her deficit in mathematical understanding. Another of Turner’s swipes at our modern world obsession with all things STEM related and how we elevate the mathematical and scientific over anything literary, artistic or even (heaven forbid) spiritual.
So I’d recommend this book for mature young teens, or older teens who love a story with confronting material. I wouldn’t recommend it for anxious teens – dystopian novels are not for everyone. There is heaps of material for reflection and discussion, particularly from a Catholic viewpoint.
I Am Margaret and all of the sequels are available on Amazon HERE or be directed from the UNSEEN BOOKS website that has all of Corinna Turner’s books, and you can read the first chapter of I Am Margaret online for free.
You might also like to read my review for Corinna Turner’s book The Boy Who Knew, about Blessed Carlos Acutis HERE.
Homeschool and Teacher Ideas.
As I mentioned previously there is heaps to reflect on, write about and think about in this novel. For older teens I would be encouraging discussion followed by some essay writing.
- Firstly, a discussion about the themes of the novel: the value of persons who are intellectually or physically disabled; those whose talents are not considered valuable.
- Next, I would explore the parallels with abortion, stem cell research and the use of embryonic cells for making and testing vaccines. A question you might ask is: what if the unborn had a voice? What if we conducted these tests on eighteen-year-olds? What if people were conceived in order to fulfill the needs of others for bodily parts?
- Next: some discussion about standing up for your faith. There is a question in the trailer: Would you stand firm? Ask students/teens if they would stand up for their Faith. Would they stand up for the rights of others to practice their religious faith if it is different to your own. How far would you go – would you undergo conscious dismemberment?
These would make great essays. Some suggestions might be:
- Do we truly value persons who are intellectually or physically disabled? Compare our own world with the world in I Am Margaret.
- Would you stand firm? Discuss your personal response to Margaret’s choices in I Am Margaret.
- “The testing of vaccines with embryonic cells is warranted given the good that vaccines bring to the world”. Discuss this statement. Do you think that sacrificing one person for the greater good is acceptable? Discuss with reference to I Am Margaret.
A scientific style paper that explores stem cell research and the use of embryonic cells in vaccine development would really appeal to some teens. Get them to tease out the pros and cons, then identify the Catholic stance (the Pope recently made an interesting statement about this: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55409693).
Younger teens might like to compose a range of imaginative responses to the book, eg:
- Putting themselves in the lead role and writing about how they would arrange an escape.
- Respond to the story with a poem/painting/drawing/art work.
- Imagine being a journalist and writing a front page report on the escape: headline, opening statement, point of view etc. If you could interview Margaret for the newspaper article, what would you ask her?
- Compose prayers that any of the characters might recite at key points of the story. For example, what might the priest pray as he is prepped for dismemberment. What might Margaret pray just before they put their plan into action. What might Bane pray?