Title: Gutter Child
Author: Jael Richardson
Genre: Fiction, Dystopian
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Release Date: January 26, 2021
A fierce and illuminating debut from FOLD founder Jael Richardson about a young woman who must find the courage to determine her own future and secure her freedom
Set in an imagined world in which the most vulnerable are forced to buy their freedom by working off their debt to society, Gutter Child uncovers a nation divided into the privileged Mainland and the policed Gutter. In this world, Elimina Dubois is one of only 100 babies taken from the Gutter and raised in the land of opportunity as part of a social experiment led by the Mainland government.
But when her Mainland mother dies, Elimina finds herself all alone, a teenager forced into an unfamiliar life of servitude, unsure of who she is and where she belongs. Elimina is sent to an academy with new rules and expectations where she befriends Gutter children who are making their own way through the Gutter System in whatever ways they know how. When Elimina’s life takes another unexpected turn, she will discover that what she needs more than anything may not be the freedom she longs for after all.
Richardson’s Gutter Child reveals one young woman’s journey through a fractured world of heartbreaking disadvantages and shocking injustices. Elimina is a modern heroine in an altered but all too recognizable reality who must find the strength within herself to forge her future and defy a system that tries to shape her destiny.
The nation is divided into the wealthy Mainland and the policed Gutter. Elimina was taken from her mother in the Gutter and raised in the Mainland. She didn’t get to live a privileged life because her adopted mom was always protecting her from the prejudices of the Mainland. After her mother dies, Elimina is sent to an Academy where she will be trained for a life of servitude. Elimina was raised on the Mainland so she doesn’t fit in with the other Gutter children in the Academy, which is further enforced when she gets put in a position of power in the school. Then, Elimina’s life takes an unexpected turn that leads her back to the Gutter. She must find the strength to keep going and stand up to the injustices that she faces.
This was a coming of age story set in a dystopian that has roots in history. Elimina had a youthful innocence when she arrived at the Academy. She hadn’t had much experience with people from the Gutter, even though that was where she was born. She is suddenly forced to grow up after her mom dies and she meets friends with horrific backgrounds. The story takes place over a couple of years, but Elimina has to become an adult during those years.
This story had strong themes of systematic racism and slavery. The children were purchased by employers and had to work off their debt to society to earn their freedom. However, most people didn’t ever earn that freedom no matter how hard they worked. Elimina was right between the Gutter and the Mainland since she grew up on the Mainland but was born in the Gutter. She had experience in the Mainland but she didn’t know much about the Gutter despite being born there. Elimina was in a unique position to bridge the gap between the two societies.
Many parts of this story were difficult to read. Some possible content triggers are racism, abuse, rape, death in childbirth, and suicide. Though these are difficult things to read about, they are part of the history of racism that this story was about. It’s important to read stories like this to learn how to change in the future.
This is a beautiful debut from Jael Richardson, the founder of the Festival of Literary Diversity!
Thank you HarperCollins Canada for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
What to read next:
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Centaur’s Wife by Amanda Leduc
Have you read Gutter Child? What did you think of it?