Review: Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

Perfect Ruin
Lauren DeStefano

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Released October 1, 2013
356 pages
YA / Fantasy / Mystery

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On Internment, the floating island in the clouds where 16-year-old Morgan Stockhour lives, getting too close to the edge can lead to madness. Even though Morgan's older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. She tries her best not to mind that her life is orderly and boring, and if she ever wonders about the ground, and why it is forbidden, she takes solace in best friend Pen and her betrothed, Basil.

Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially when she meets Judas. He is the boy being blamed for the murder — betrothed to the victim — but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find — or who she will lose.

I’m not entirely sure why I reserved Perfect Ruin from the library after the end of the Chemical Garden trilogy left me wanting to punch something, but I did. I’m getting into this habit of not giving up on series and authors despite visceral negative reactions to their earlier works. In this case – as with The Girl of Fire & Thorns – worked out in my favor. Perfect Ruin is what the Chemical Garden series could have been with a little more exploration of the world and a little less gloom and doom.

Perfect Ruin takes place on an island in the clouds under the pretense that god created a people and didn’t like how they were turning out, so he was going to wipe them all out. The sky god swooped down and pulled a part of the land up into the sky to save these people before the land god created a second group of humans to populate the world. This sky land experiences no rain and extreme winds throw back anyone that attempts to jump from the edge, leaving them a little messed up in the head if they survive. This is a strangely peaceful land where marriages are arranged from birth and families wait in queues to become pregnant only after an allotted number of people reach their 75 birthday and are “dispatched”.

It had definite The Giver vibes, but on an island in the sky. The particulars on how these sky people have similar technology as us land dwellers is glossed over a little, possibly to be explained a bit more in future volumes. They are a modern people but without some of the distractions of modern life.

Morgan is a little strange, at least in the opinion of those around her. Her brother was a jumper and is now left damaged and blind. She has dreams of the ground, both when she’s awake and asleep. As the story goes along, she begins feeling as though these dreams are a sign of a deeper craziness that will lead her down a similar road to her brother. When the first murder in Morgan’s lifetime shakes this island society, her dreams of the mainland seem to grow stronger as her suspicions that perhaps the ideal life she leads isn’t quite what it is.

Morgan is smart and suspicious of authority, saying and doing what’s needed to save herself, her family and her friends. She grows to question the face value of the life she lives and is thrown into drastic situations that obliterates her life. I really liked living in her head for these 350+ pages as she manages to keep her cool as the world around her falls to pieces. Even when she makes a stupid decision, she recognizes that she’s making a bad choice and should probably be doing anything else than what she’s doing, something that actually goes a long way in defusing my usual reader rage at characters doing stupid things.

Even the slower moments of Perfect Ruin maintain a level of interest that was missing in DeStefano’s other series. Every page contributes to a fascinating world and culture along with a mystery that never seems to have an obvious answer. I was genuinely surprised by events that happen towards the end of the book as new characters were introduced and things took a turn against Morgan’s best interests. The ending was a perfect cliff hanger conclusion that left me wanting more, but not upset that it ended where it did. It felt like the place this volume should naturally end.

Or maybe I just love cloud cities and my opinion of this book is colored by DeStefano fascinating creation of a world that seems just real enough to get lost in. This is a series that I will gladly continue on.