‘For bad decisions, it’s their temple.
For lying, it’s their tongue.
For stealing from society, it’s their right palm.
For disloyalty to the Guild, it’s their chest, over their heart.
For stepping out of line with society, it’s the sole of their right foot.’
The premise of ‘Flawed’ is a good one: in this dystopian society, perfection is bred. If you step out of line in one of the above ways, you are deemed Flawed and you are branded with an ‘F’ in the corresponding location on your body.
We follow Celestine North, who – you guessed it – is found Flawed. She goes from being perfect to being Ousted from society, all because she helps a Flawed man who is choking to death. Her boyfriend, Art, and her sister, Juniper, both refuse to help – the blame falls completely on Celestine, and because of her actions she becomes the first person in history to receive all five brands.
Well, she’s supposed to receive five. Judge Crevan, the man who oversees all of the trials of character, is Art’s father, and he puts his neck out on the line for her because she’s his son’s girlfriend. Celestine refuses to repent, so in a fit of rage he brands her for a sixth time: at the base of her spine, because he has “never seen anyone so Flawed to their very backbone like this lady”. As one of the characters says towards the end of the book ‘”So you’re the one. The One.” He widens his eyes in mock-worship.’ Yep. The Chosen One. Of course.
The problem is, the above events take up the first thirty chapters of the book (which is only about 40% of the book on a Kindle, because for some reason the chapters are unbearably short. It’s under 400 pages and has over 60 chapters – what the heck is that?!) when they could easily be fitted into ten at most. You can tell this is the first book in a series (likely to be a trilogy, but I can’t find out for certain) because there is so much setting up the world and establishing the evil overlord and the corrupt government. It’s a dystopian, so it’s pretty standard stuff – I certainly felt like I’d read this exact same book in the past – so it didn’t need that much establishing. It would have been better if the novel had started after Celestine’s Flawed verdict and had given her story in flashbacks – it would have sped up the pace and caused a bit of tension. Because everything’s so predictable, it really trundles along.
I definitely couldn’t get on with Cecelia Ahern’s writing style. You can tell she’s an adult author, because a lot of this could have been trimmed and edited down – the book is over a hundred pages longer than it needs to be. There’s a lot of repetition, which is instantly irritating, but Celestine also has endless internal monologues… There’s a writing tip that tells you to show something rather than say it, but most of this is definitely blandly recited (particularly the seemingly endless sections about Celestine’s love for her boyfriend).
It also gets preachy. Because it’s focused on the fact that you can’t really be perfect and everyone is Flawed in some way, Celestine deeply ponders what good and bad truly are, and whether her actions were justified. This is nice enough the first time, but when it’s the fourth or fifth time she’s had the same internal discussion with herself it gets quite frustrating.
This book also tries unnecessarily hard to be feminist. A footballer is put on trial for being Flawed after cheating on his wife, but the media focuses upon her rather than him, leading Celestine to comment that the media are acting ‘like she is the one who was Flawed. Not him.’. Her mother is a model, so when Celestine is being hounded by paparazzi her mother also gets photographed, and that’s when the quote ‘I understand that, for the media, shows off and displays merely means has.’ and while that’s true it seems jarringly out of place in the narrative. Perhaps, because Cecelia Ahern is writing for younger people, she’s trying to get a point across about the insidious nature of media – smacking it in the middle of your novel isn’t the most effective way of tackling that. If it had been done subtly it would have worked much better.
Of course, being a young adult book there just needed to be some relationship drama: you can’t just have a happy relationship in YA land! So despite the fact that Celestine and Art have been together for months, are extremely happy and are attempting to keep their relationship going after her Flawed verdict, there had to be a love triangle! Yay! Can you taste the sarcasm yet?
Yes, we have the relationship between Celestine and Carrick, a boy who is waiting for his Flawed trial at the same time as her. They don’t speak, but she can see him through the glass and just feels so connected to him – it’s spooky, because they’ve never spoken, but she’s completely drawn to him – and it’s the most cliched thing I’ve ever read. Even though they don’t speak, she thinks about him all of the time, and then he just happens to be in the vicinity when her life needs saving towards the end of the book – retch.
But because there’s a second book in the series, it doesn’t matter that Celestine literally doesn’t speak to Carrick during book one, because at the end of ‘Flawed’ she’s on the run and attempting to track him down. You know what that means: EVEN MORE LOVE TRIANGLE IN BOOK TWO! YAY.
Seriously, if you’re a fan of dystopians, read this. It’s so standard that you will fall in love with it instantly. If you’re over the whole dystopian thing (and come on, who isn’t at this point?) you’ll agree with me when I say that this book has been released about five years too late. It’s unsurprising that they’ve already sold the rights to the film, but I sincerely hope they let this one go without making that adaptation – the market is saturated enough as it is, and we don’t need another YA flop dragging down the industry. Cecelia Ahern is a good adult writer, but I think she should have stuck to the day job.