Blueprints for Better Worlds by Tenea D JohnsonBlueprints for Better Worlds by Tenea D. Johnson is a dystopian science fiction book that takes place after the Earth is ravaged and abandoned by humanity. Well, abandoned by those that could afford passage off the planet that is. For those that remain, and even for some that managed to escape, life is a constant struggle. Perseverance, love, hope and the broken remnants of technology from a forgotten era are all humanity has left. Are they enough to overcome the oppression, environmental destruction, and illness people now endure? Can hope be contagious, and if it spreads far enough, will it be sufficient for humanity to not only survive but thrive once more?

The earth has been all but destroyed, razed by humans until it has become a poisonous wasteland where exposure to the air is fatal. Those who could afford it have fled, abandoning the less fortunate to try to survive in the devastation they left behind.

Jak and Clem are two young women born into this dying world. Through hard work and ingenuity, their inventions created from salvaged old machine parts improve the lives of those around them. But Jak has a secret. She has been working on something bigger. Something that could help them escape the dying planet. But abandoning everything you’ve ever known and all of your responsibilities is a difficult choice to make, even for love.

Leaving the Earth behind doesn’t mean humanity will leave their mistakes with it. In fact, society aboard one of the escaped ships hasn’t really change at all. Classism and oppression still prevail. How long can you continue to oppress people before they are willing to risk everything for freedom?

A group of teens have built an incredibly tight friendship even though the only way they can stay connected is virtually. When one of them finds a blueprint to build a shuttle they jump at the opportunity to construct it. Their hope is contagious and though their sacrifices are great, they ultimately change the world for the better.

The Characters

The main characters throughout the different story lines in this book share many traits. They are resilient and resourceful. In seemingly hopeless situations they push forward and try to make the world a better place whether through helpful inventions, fighting oppression or instilling hope in others.

Jak and Clem appear in multiple stories and time frames throughout the book. They begin as two young women in love with shared goals and dreams. They live in the harshest conditions and the fact that they are still able to love and dream is beautiful and powerful. I hesitate to say more for fear of spoilers, but their story is achingly beautiful and will stay with me for a long time.

Papahi is another unforgettable character. She is the last of her people as her homeland Tonga was swallowed by the rising sea long ago. Her resilience in the face of adversity is admirable and her positive attitude is contagious. She is the kind of woman I aspire to be, the kind of heroine who makes a difference in the world.

The Writing Style

The book is written as a compilation of different stories and time frames, but they are all linked to a common dystopian future. I love the way the multiple narratives relate to a common theme through different perspectives and how modern issues are woven into the story. The writing is complex and lyrical. The world building is dramatic, as dystopian worlds tend to be, but also believable and described so well it is not difficult to imagine.

My Favourite Parts

What I liked most about this book is the message that actions inspire hope and can be the catalysts for greater change. I also like that Johnson doesn’t discount just how much sacrifice may be required to make things better. However, the best part of all of this is who Johnson chooses to have the gumption to make these sacrifices: two young black women, the oppressed masses, a young Tongan teen in a wheelchair. The very people who are forced into these dire situations without a choice. But when the opportunity to choose does arise, they choose to work to make things better instead of surrender.

Heads Up

There isn’t what you would call a conventional happy ending for some of the characters in this book. However, I hope this does not discourage you from reading it as the overall message is full of love and hope.

The Conclusion

Michelle's Favourite BooksIf you ever have ever felt hopeless, insignificant, or like nothing you could do would possibly matter in the grand scheme of things. If you don’t believe that you have the power to change anything. Or if you just like great dystopian science fiction with unconventional heroines, you should definitely read this book. It depicts people in the direst situations where all hope seems lost, yet they persevere and make their world a better place. It is truly inspirational.

Excerpt from Blueprints for Better Worlds by Tenea D. Johnson

To Jak and Clem, the Gog’s ruins were more treasure than tragedy. They could create possibilities with those ruins, make progress, fix some of the broken they’d been born to.

They built their sun to bounce light into the deepest corners of Clem’s tenement. That sun’s light ran through the big adobe warren of three hundred, past the hydroponic garden in the basement, straight down to the subbasement where Clem’s grandmother fed the kiln that fired the pots she traded for her and Clem’s food.

Everything was work here. That is until the spring Clem met Jak and the Gog became more than the edge of a boneyard.

Still, the two of them built the best parts of it, two wild-headed girls barely in their teens.

So when a gale scattered their sun into oblivion, plunging Clem’s grandmother, Triz, and the tenements’ subfloor farmers back into the dark, Grand called on the girls to make another.

She called as the two of them lay face up, head to head, on a patch of grass surrounded by a sea of thin dirt that lay just outside of the tenement’s shadow. Grand’s voice cut through the orange murk of dusk, and their conversation.

Respirators covered the bottom half of their faces, but even those didn’t hinder their talk. The girls paused when Grand called, then went on sharing their dreams of space – the regular meals and clean water, the better life that beckoned them off world. But also the yawning spaces between ships and what prizes they might find there.

They spoke of flying away in the Newmoon Starfarer, of the end of gravity, and their best breaths released into a capsule that could clean them so they wouldn’t come hacking back every time their respirators clogged.

Grand called again.

A third call without a response would get Clem chores enough to fill a whole day. Clem pinched either side of the clean cell on her respirator and yelled back, “Coming!”

She rolled over onto her stomach and peered down at Jak. Clem moved her head so her afro blocked out the warmth that could have hit Jak, made a face that said, “So” and cocked her head.

Jak had tried to convince her to loc her hair like Jak’s but Clem preferred it grow out, not down, no matter how long it took to comb out. She didn’t tell Jak she wouldn’t be able to do this anymore if she did, but it figured somewhere in her decision.

“Coming?” Clem asked.

Jak looked past her friend to the edges of dark quickly approaching. “I ought to get back. Gotta seal up before the cold comes,” Jak replied.

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