This book was on a lot of “best of” lists for 2023, and I can see why though it is not a lighthearted read! In the near future, private companies have taken over the prison systems and have created a kind of gladiator system. The federal government passed a law making it possible for prisoners to opt into a death-match program that is televised. In these matches, members of different prison conglomerates (chain gangs) fight each other to the death. It is bloody, violent, and never-ending. That is unless you survive for three years. Then you are exonerated and freed.
The story follows one particular link (what they call members of a chain gang) as she approaches her last two matches. It also follows a protest movement and a particular couple who are watching it. The emotions are strong and deep. I often put the book down at the end of a chapter and got up and walked around just to take a break from the unrelenting drive of this book and its message. it really puts you in the place of the prisoners and how they must be feeling. Interspersed as footnotes are also facts about the US prison system that are just as shocking.
The writing is visceral. It delivers body blow after body blow. But somehow, it isn’t completely bleak. There is hope. And the story is driving and compelling. I would say that I loved this book, but that isn’t quite the correct word. It isn’t really a story to love. I appreciated it. It moved me. I think it is important how through hyperbole it shows what prison does to people, both those incarcerated and those who house them and administer the system. It makes you uncomfortable while it makes you think. That is my kind of book.
My rating: 5/5