Sarah Negovetich’s Rite of Rejection is a YA novel set in an imaginary society ruled by a leader named “Cardinal” with absolute power. The author masterfully depicts a country with a totalitarian regime (reminiscent of Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany) where its citizens are so brainwashed that they follow their leader unconsciously, like sheep. Not because they don’t have a mind of their own, but because they’re so enamored by Cardinal’s personality and his ideas that they wholeheartedly trust his “wisdom” and his supposed “devotion” to the well-being of the nation. (Here’s a classic example of the personality cult for you.) When, in an attempt to cleanse the country of criminals, the government designs a machine capable of sorting out the “good” citizens from the “bad” ones and sending the latter to a penal colony for the rest of their lives, no one has any doubt in the faultlessness of the Machine. Even those “rejects” who have never done anything wrong sincerely believe that they might have a propensity for committing a crime, just like the Machine has “predicted.”
That’s how sixteen-year-old Rebecca Collins feels when she, a good girl, is ripped from her family and home and exiled to the PIT, a place of no return. It happens right before the Acceptance ceremony, the biggest event in her life, when she’s about to be welcomed into the society as an adult. After she goes through the Machine (which is just a routine procedure in her mind), she will attend a celebratory ball, where she will dance with eligible bachelors, and, hopefully, with her future husband. (Yes, in this country, a woman’s role is limited to being a wife and mother.)
But Rebecca’s high expectations are crushed when the Machine rejects her. She’s in the PIT now, living in wretched conditions, among “criminals” like herself and actual hardcore criminals. She is confused and scared. How will she survive? Will she survive? Fortunately, she meets other teens who become her friends and who reveal the truth about the Cardinal’s “just” and indisputable policies.
There’s yet another test for Rebecca to go through, this time in order to prove her worthiness and loyalty to her new friends; there’s a love triangle; there’s an attempt to escape; there’s a vital-for-survival friendship and there’s an unfathomable betrayal… And, of course, there’s nail-biting tension all throughout the novel.
Will Rebecca and her friends free themselves of the abject existence in this hellhole? And if they do, where will they go? They can’t go back to their home after all.
Favorite line: “There’s freedom that comes with words that don’t fall into perfect measurements or even stitches.”