Seventeen-year-old Mirii only needs to make it through one more week in an orphanage to gain her freedom. Any trouble and she’ll be transferred to adult prison indefinitely. Here’s the catch: the orphanage is a ruthless detention centre in which the children are nothing but resources and discipline is absolute; and Mirii suffers from a powerful compulsion to break rules.
So opens a novella of such surging energy that it almost seems determined to break free of its bindings. In the same way, Mirii and her friends sidestep, skirt and flout the regulations, which aim to dehumanise and mechanise them. (The children are given ‘contact warnings’ if they touch one another: they retaliate with secret ‘cuddle parties’, held in the bathrooms at night.) This very brief narrative finds space to explore issues like friendship, love, sexuality, loyalty, the logical extreme of corporatisation, and the beauty of defiance. This is fearless writing that tears along at a feverish pace, yet is anchored by Mirii’s voice: ragged, angry, tough and eminently likeable. Framed by searing satire, with a tone that verges on surreal, there is, nevertheless, warmth and humour here, and a world that feels absolutely real.