Review: Arca

Van Jensen (Two Dead) and Jesse Lonergan imagine a near-future dystopia in Arca, a sci-fi graphic novel with retro art and classic but updated themes. The Arca is a high-tech "vessel holding the last survivors of the human race." It is home to hundreds, and contains dozens of levels with everything its passengers need to survive, and creature comforts for a privileged few.

To maintain the careful balance of resources on the Arca, life is highly structured. Nothing is wasted and roles are carefully circumscribed. Those known as Citizens are the revered founders of the Arca, and the power they wield as former oligarchs is clear from the beginning. Citizens rely on Helpers, armed security personnel, to maintain order on the Arca. Settlers, young people under the age of 18, do all the work.

Persephone--"Effie"--is a Settler assigned as aide to one of the Citizens. She tends to his children and his household while her friends work in other functional areas like food and sanitation. By day, the Settlers are fed a stream of propaganda over loudspeakers, and at night they return to their tiny, continuously monitored bunks. Few question their roles, secure in knowing that when they turn 18, their chores will end and they'll "retire" to another area of the ship to live out the rest of their days in relative freedom.

Arca's creators aren't subtle in their depiction of this dystopia. Fairly early on, Effie begins unraveling the tangle of lies she's grown up with. It's upon finishing the book that the layers become clear, however, and readers will want to start over from the beginning to look for the clues Jensen and Lonergan drop along the way. While the plot mostly focuses on human interaction, the full-color artwork brings to life the setting with cleverly rendered machinery, living spaces, and even fake sunny skies.

Though it treads some familiar ground, Arca's critique of massive wealth and power inequality at the end of the world is timely. It's intentionally uncomfortable to read about the ways in which scientific advancements are combined with class oppression to benefit only those who have the most. Those excited to colonize Mars may want to take notes. Part mystery, part coming-of-age sci-fi adventure, Arca sits comfortably among books like Brave New World and The Giver. --Suzanne Krohn, librarian and freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: In this dystopian graphic novel, a young woman discovers the harrowing truth about the ship and post-apocalyptic society in which she lives.

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