Book review: Self/less, Aviva

A dystopian YA novel set in a city where self-expression is illegal

Self/less by Aviva is a dystopian YA novel about 17-year-old Teddy Veodrum who lives in the great city of Metropolis. In the Metropolis, every aspect of life is carefully controlled, embodied in the city slogan: ‘We watch because we care’. Teddy is going through the Occasions that mark her coming-of-age and adulthood; she has just been given her job placement and will soon meet her Partner, with whom she will go on to lead a productive life contributing to the great city. But self-expression and creativity are illegal in the Metropolis, and if a person is found to be ‘infected’ – by humming, drawing, playing, dancing, or any other self-expressing activity – they are sent away to be ‘sanitised’. As she’s on the cusp of having the rest of her life set in stone, Teddy follows a shadowy figure in the middle of the night and discovers that there is much more to her city than she ever knew. 

Read: Exhibition review: William Robinson: Nocturne

I’d recommend this book to adolescents who are new to the YA genre, as it’s a story of difficult friendships, untrustworthy family, and a world that will literally kill anyone who puts a foot wrong. These all-or-nothing, adolescent versus the world stakes are a very recognisable genre marker for YA, and Aviva has used them extensively within the story. As such, it’s a difficult book to enjoy if you’re not really interested in angst and want a bit more action. Aviva creates a very interesting dystopian world, but we don’t see much of it beyond the protagonist’s immediate oppression and persecution; readers may be left wanting when it comes to knowing more about the world she lives in and how other people survive it.

But the story ends wide open with very little resolution, so maybe we’ll find out more in the next book – it’s the first in Aviva’s Self/less series, so keep an eye out for further instalments.

Self/less by Aviva
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 9781760984892
Format: Paperback
Pages: 416 pp
Publication date: 28 September 2021
RRP: $29.99

Jemimah is a Gippsland-based writer and editor working in fiction, creative nonfiction, and newsletters. She reads and reviews books, edits work for other writers, and publishes the fortnightly Substack newsletter The Brew. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.