BOOK REVIEW: Evalene’s Number by Bethany Atazadeh
Author: Bethany Atazadeh
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Warnings: Brief mention of sexual abuse
I became familiar with Bethany Atazadeh’s work at a time when I was suffering from MAJOR dystopia burnout on the heels of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner. I was tempted to pass Evalene’s Number by, but a combination of Miss Atazadeh’s genius marketing campaigns, lovely YouTube channel and the new cover release for EN finally convinced me to give the Dystopian genre one last visit.
I couldn’t be happier that it did.
Evalene’s Number follows the story of Evalene Vandereth, a girl born into a post-WWIII society where it’s believed everyone is assigned a God-given Number delineating their place in the society of Eden. The daughter of wealthy, high-Numbered parents, Evalene is convinced her Number will be nearly as high as theirs. But when the opposite comes true, Evalene learns to adapt as best she can to a life of servitude to her own family. Desperate times and social unrest collide when Evalene and her friend flee their low-Numbered stations in search of a better future – and Evalene winds up tangled in the midst of a rebellion against the Numbering system, Eden’s concept of God, and the Number One who first proclaimed the divine Numbers for the good of society.
Evalene was a protagonist I fell in love with from page one. She’s clever, witty, caring and a solid person – but also heavily and realistically influenced by her upbringing and circumstances. Right away, it’s clear to see how much of her outlook is shaped by life in the high-society of Eden, as well as by the personal effects of Bloom Rebellion several years prior, which saw her mother erased from society and their family name tainted forever. There’s a time jump fairly early on, and yet Evalene remains an absolute anchor to the reader, driving the plot forward with her choices rather than being a victim of circumstance. All of her reactions to the plot’s events felt natural to me, and there was never a time where she seemed weaker or stronger than she realistically ought to be.
One of the highlights of this book for me was the deep and believable female relationships. From the bond between Evalene and Lola, her nanny, to her friendship with Kevra, to her friendship with Olive (which was maybe even my favorite part of the book) I found myself deeply invested in every relationship throughout EN.
Another character who stole my heart right off the jump was Jeremiah. I’m a sucker for mutinous yet charming boys in YA which is exactly what we get with Jeremiah’s introductory chapter; yet by the end of that first peek into his life, I could already see an intriguing change in his life’s path. His bond with Lady Beryl hooked me from the get go – she’s another character you can’t help but fall in love with right away – and I found myself desperate to see him again once the time jump guided us back to Evalene’s journey!
And once their paths collided…y’all. THOSE SPARKS. This bond is different from a lot of what you see in typical YA. Jeremiah is an all-around upstanding guy and where he and Evie have bumps in the road to trusting one another, these things feel realistic and they’re handled with maturity as learning experiences for both sides. Also Hiccups is the cutest nickname ever and my knees got weak every time it came up.
Another place where EN excels is in the worldbuilding. Atazadeh strikes a great balance of doling out the proper amount of information without blowing out the proportions of the world too much. I felt like I had the right amount of information at any given time – the introduction of the Numbering system, Bloom Rebellion history, layout of Eden’s sectors, etc. all came at times that felt natural to the plot progression and relevant to the characters at the time of reveal.
The scariest and best thing about the worldbuilding aspect of EN to me is that it has a sense of plausibility I haven’t often encountered in Dystopian novels, especially YA. This post-WWIII world seems perfectly feasible: that someone would come along with a holy segregation system, proclaim it would save the world, and slowly dehumanize their inferiors through it.
Another thing that I loved, as a heart-and-soul Christian, was the way Atazadeh handled the religious aspect of the worldbuilding. It would be so easy to swing wildly to either religious-bashing or a holier-than-thou attitude when including religious extremism in the central plot of such a novel, but Atazadeh does neither. Within the world of Eden, there were those who completely turned away from God because of the Numbering system; those who simply believed it was His doing and followed blindly; and those who refused to believe it was His will. Evalene’s personal journey of belief was neither overpowering to the plot nor brushed aside, but integral and approached with respect to both the believer and nonbeliever.
The plot of EN is perhaps one of my favorite parts about it, which is not something I often say (I’m always a more character-driven than plot-driven reader).
Dystopian fiction, especially of the YA variety, often relies on the suspension of disbelief that no one has ever successfully fomented a rebellion until a certain teenager comes along to bring down the hierarchy. But Atazadeh subverts this trope by having not only the Bloom Rebellion, but an anti-Numbers propaganda movement happening before Evalene even becomes involved with resisting the system. Her participation in these events feels MUCH more natural than many other Dystopian books I’ve read. I found myself frantically reading on, desperate to know who was passing out these equality bulletins and how Evalene would become a part of this resistance.
Without giving too much away, I’ll say the plot, especially as it pertains to the Number One, caught me off guard in how it resolved. Yet as I thought about it I realized that the purpose of this book is to tell a different narrative than I’d expected, and that the message of EN is less about the question of “Will they or won’t they defeat the Powers That Be?” so much as it’s about “Who decides who YOU are?” To that end, it answers its questions in a satisfying way, bringing both Jeremiah and Evalene to the threshold of having to answer that question: In the end, who decides who they truly are?
I will say this: I was totally satisfied with both their answers.
EN is a very easy read (about 5 hours on my Kindle). The prose is lively but not too challenging; it’s a straightforward delivery that fits well with the theme, genre, and topics at hand. Atazadeh takes time to flesh out certain prosaic elements, especially where colors are concerned at they play intricately into the fabric of society (and the clothes, and the descriptions of Hofyn, oh my word…). This book would be a great fit for readers who aren’t eager to delve into pages and pages of prose, but it proves equally satisfying in painting vivid pictures of locations and characters throughout the story.
Evalene’s Number brings a breath of fresh air to the tired Dystopian genre, offering more realistic – and perhaps therefore more challenging and more rewarding – conflicts than many of its peers. Full of true-to-life and engaging characters, high-stakes and high-emotion plots, gorgeous worldbuilding and both personal and societal challenges that will leave the reader thinking deeply about what defines us all once they turn the last page, Evalene’s Number is a book I recommend to everyone. Yes, everyone.
I’m so happy I discovered this incredible author and her breathtaking story. I am counting down the days to the sequel’s release and can’t wait to dive deeper into Evalene’s world and her journey!
Order Evalene’s Number in paperback or on Kindle HERE!
Preorder the anticipated sequel, Pearl’s Number, HERE!