In the near-distant future, a catastrophic, Earth-changing event called the Darkness has left the planet without trees. In their place are GenTech’s genetically engineered cornstalks, with each kernel imprinted with the company’s logo. Oh, yeah—and nearly indestructible killer locusts that make their homes in these cornstalks.

Ever since his father was taken a year ago, Banyan has been finding work as a tree builder where he can. Hoarders with enough assets and memories hire Banyan to transform scrap metal and running lights into tree-like sculptures. At his latest job, the violent landowner’s stepdaughter, an inquisitive photographer named Zee, shows Banyan a strange photo. Chained to trees—real trees—is his missing father. Using the photo as inspiration, and a cryptic tattoo on Zee’s mother’s body as a guide, Banyan sets out to find his father and glimpse living trees for the first time.

Nothing’s easy in this atmospheric story. A bleak, desolate land filled with outlaw poachers recalls the Old West, and sudden dust storms exacerbate symptoms of lung crust. But romance is possible when he runs into tough, leggy Alpha and her roving band of road pirates. And a meeting with an old Rasta with bark embedded in his skin and mumblings of Zion provide the teen with more clues along his quest.

Finding his roots is far from a happy homecoming, especially when Banyan discovers the actual source of the trees. While dystopian novels proliferate in young adult literature, Rootless stands out for its world-building that skillfully blends the familiar, such as the walled city of Old Orleans, with a disturbing premise of a treeless, authoritarian society. Banyan offers a seed of hope in this barren land, but fans will have to wait for the sequel to see it realized.

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