Book Review: Possession by Elana Johnson

8337087Title: Possession
Author: Elana Johnson
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult, Drama
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: June 7th 2011
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Rating: 4,5 stars
Review copy provided by S&S Galley Grab.

Vi knows the Rule: Girls don’t walk with boys, and they never even think about kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn…and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi’s future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.

But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they’re set on convincing Vi to become one of them…starting by brainwashing Zenn. Vi can’t leave Zenn in the Thinkers’ hands, but she’s wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous–everything Zenn’s not. Vi can’t quite trust Jag and can’t quite resist him, but she also can’t give up on Zenn.

This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.

Vi is a Goodie, which basically means that she lives on the Goodgrounds, plugs in for transmissions from The Thinkers every night (she doesn’t really, but that’s beside the point), that she follows all the rules The Thinkers come up with, and that she certainly doesn’t run off with a boy in the middle of the night, not even if he happens to be her Match. When Vi does exactly the latter, she is caught and transported to a prison. But it’s not like Vi to give up that easily. When The Thinkers tell her she’s going to be transported to the Badlands, but she’ll be tagged first, Vi isn’t about to let them get away with that. Fortunately for her, her cell mate Jag seems to have the same idea. Together, they manage to escape, and to find their own way to the freedom of the Badlands, and probably the way to each other’s heart as well. But as Vi begins to fall for Jag, she is also forced to question his trustworthiness, and that of her best friend and Match, Zenn. With two guys in her heart, each of them on opposite sides, Vi has to make a choice. Will she let herself be controlled? Or will she be the one doing the controlling?

I love the dystopian genre, although I have to admit that there’s still a long list of YA Dystopian novels I should probably read. I’ve read The Hunger Games and Wither, but that’s about it. Possession is another Dystopian novel, and I must admit that although I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed The Hunger Games, it came fairly close. Possession is original, fast-paced and it focuses on the balance between Good and Bad – and the blurry line inbetween – on what it means to be controlled or to control others, and what that can do to a person. It asks the most prominent question of all: if we are controlled, day and night, by others – be it through transmissions, reading thoughts or mind manipulation, as is present in Possession, or some other way – how can we still be an actual, genuine human being then? How can we be human if we cannot think for ourselves? And how far are we willing to go for our freedom of mind? What and who will we sacrifice to be released from said control? The people we love? Would we be prepared to control others in exchange to longer being controlled ourselves?

It is a vital and important question, and the fashion in which Elana Johnson answers it, is most humbling for our kind. Vi starts off as the heroine-type we’re used to: she’s one of the few people willing to think for herself in a generation where people let others do the thinking for them, she refuses to listen to the transmissions from the Thinkers every night and she’s a rebel enough to hang out with a guy – and even kiss him! Although this behavior might not sound extremely rebellious to us, it is instantly recognised as an act of rebellion in Vi’s world. A world seperate in Goodgrounds and Badlands, where the Goodies are continuously forced to think as The Thinkers order them to, and at least the Baddies preserve some freedom. Freedom enough so guys and girls can walk in hand in hand and wear whatever clothes they want, instead of having to cover up most of their body to prevent direction sunlight – which the Thinkers swear is deadly. Vi is the rebellious hero, an outspoken and stubborn girl, with a strange affinity for techtricity, which is everywhere in the Goodgrounds. I didn’t find her personality all that original, but I liked her, and I found this kind of hero very fitting for the time of story. She had a nice sense of humor, and although she had a soft spot for long and unnecessary inner dialogue, I couldn’t help but root for her anyway.

While in prison, Vi meets Jag Barque, a fellow rebel but from the Badlands, with tanned skin and a mischievous smile to make him all the more appealing. Plus, Vi needs to share a prison cell with him. As the two of them start to get along, mainly because Vi admires Jag’s hair and he admires her, they form an alliance and manage to escape together. Jag is a likeable character, although he’s a bit stereotypical as well. He’s your typical bad-boy-with-a-good-heart character. He has the appearance and rebellious side of every YA novel’s bad boy, but he has a heart of gold and instantly falls for our main protagonist. They even have an own language: “Vi speech for… and Jag speech for,” which is probably the most annoying part of the book in my opinion. It just made the storyline drag. Anyway, apart from that, there are a couple of traits that make Jag more authentic than he might seem at first. He’s more heroic and brave than he appears, he has his own agenda, and he might not be that trustworthy after all. I enjoy characters who are not all good or all bad, and who have their own purposes and reasons. It’s fun trying to find out what drives a character, even if it isn’t clear from the beginning. That’s probably why I like Jag as a character: he’s multifacetted, I didn’t really know what exactly to think of him, and he made me laugh every now and then. I could easily understand why Vi would fall for him. He is the living image of freedom in a world where she’s only known control. He portrays everything she ever wanted to be, but was too afraid to be.

But then there’s Zenn. Vi’s Match, and a Goodie, and initially the reason why Vi ended up in prison to begin with. He’s the only person Vi really trusts, the only true friend she’s ever known, but as the story progresses, Vi cannot be sure of this anymore. It seems quite likely that Zenn had an agenda of his own as well, and that he might not always have had her best interests at heart. As she loses her faith in Zenn, Vi practically loses her faith in humanity, uncertain of who she can trust anymore now. She faces some heart-wrenching decisions, one of them being to help Zenn or not to help him, even if it turns out he may have betrayed her (I’m using vague terms not to spoil anything). But what can I say about Zenn? He might not be the most trustworthy fellow out there, and we hardly see him in this book – he gets a lot less screen time than Jag does, which is blatantly unfair in my opinion – but I’m Team Zenn all the way. Even if he may have betrayed Vi somehow, he always chose her interests above his own, and he didn’t act out of his free will, and if he did, it was to protect her. I can’t really explain why I like him more than I like Jag, especially since we don’t get to know him all that wel in this book, but somehow I do. Maybe it’s the mysteriousness. Maybe it’s the sense that I had while reading that when she needed it the most, Vi could always count on Zenn. Or maybe it’s just because I hardly knew anything about him, and I wanted to. Or maybe it’s because I instantly made the connection in my mind between Zenn and another character from an entirely different series, namely Zero from Vampire Knight. Alright, they have nothing in common but a Z in their name, and a four-syllable name. But when I imagined Zenn, I pictured Zero in my mind. I don’t care if they don’t look the same based on their description. From the moment I first read his name, I totally and completely adored Zenn, and this didn’t dissappear as I kept on reading. So, I’m Team Zenn all the way.

Possession is a rather long young adult novel, at just over 400 pages, but it doesn’t feel that long while reading it. The characters are interesting, the storyline is fast-paced and action-packed, the setting is absolutely breathtaking in its authenticity and originality. I have to admit that I loved the characters and I adored the dystopian setting, the mention of techtricity and Vi’s possible affinity with it, the notion of Goodgrounds and Badlands, Goodies, Baddies, Thinkers and Rangers. The entire world felt new, innovative and refreshing to me. Although I was a bit wary at first at the world-building, because it seemed so different from our own world and so much had to be explained, I grew to like this world, and the endless possibilities it offers in terms of potential adventures, upcoming wars, etc. But what I loved the most, was the conflict at heart of the book.

At its core, Possession is not about a dystopian world or about a girl falling in love with some ‘bad’ guy. It’s about betrayal, trust and breaking that trust. It’s constantly about being controlled or being the one in control. Control is everything. Freedom is practically non-existent. Your friends, family, your own parents could turn against you. Or they could be ripped away from your life from one day on the other, murdered or dissappeared, like Vi’s sister and father. Everything depends on having control and being in charge. The Thinkers are the ones in control: they set the rules, they decide who gets to live and who needs to die, they say what’s right and wrong. The Goodies and sometimes even the Baddies are the ones being controlled. From page one till the very end of this book, Vi is fighting for that control. She wants to be able to control herself and her own actions, and not be controlled by The Thinkers. She wants her mind to be her own, and she doesn’t need mind manipulation or some Thinker’s voice in her mind telling her what to do. But from the moment Vi struggles for that control, everyone else is struggling to take her control away from her. It’s all a game of who can be trusted, and who controls who.

The only remark I had while reading this book, was that the storyline was confusing at times. Sometimes nothing happened for several pages besides inner dialogue (unfortunatley, Vi’s inner dialogue isn’t all that interesting) and then plenty of stuff happened in only a couple of pages, leaving me confused and forcing me to reread entire paragraphs to actually understand what was going on.

Possession is so much more than a young adult Dystopian novel. It’s a suspenseful thriller, a praise for our most basic and significant human ability: our freedom of mind, and a girl’s continuous struggle to keep hers. It’s about resistance and rebellion against submission, and individual’s need for freedom against a society’s need for law, order and control. It’s about all the things we come across in our own society nowadays, but expanded, enhanced, and all the more breathtaking and suffocating. There’s a thin line between how we are nowadays controlled by the media and the government and between how Vi and her fellow citizens are treated in this book, with even their minds being controlled by others. The potential truth of this future is what is so utterly mesmerizing, shocking and confrontational. I would recommend it to all fans of dystopian novels, and to everyone who’s ever wondered what would happen if we got to the point where governments, media and other sources could somehow control our minds as well. Possession is an excellent read.


  1. This book sounds good! I hadn’t heard of it before now. I’ve read Matched though, which sort of follows this same premise. I liked it so I will have to try this one. Thanks for coming to follow me on my blog too! I look forward to reading more of your reviews! 😀 I followed you back!

  2. I tried, but just never got into the story. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

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