Reviewed by Eric Postma

Margaret Verrall is approaching her Sorting, the point at which children are tested to see whether they will become New Adults or not. Like most people coming of age, Margaret is nervous. However, she has more reason than most to be concerned about her Sorting: she can’t do more than basic math.

  • Genre: Dystopian Sci-Fi
  • Themes: Religious Freedom, totalitarianism, self-defense, chastity, friendship, sacrifice, martyrdom, abortion, pro-life
  • Audience: Teen and Up
  • Author’s Worldview: Catholic
  • Year Published: 2018

Set in the not too distant future, I Am Margaret is a dystopian tale that explores what happens when certain present-day trends are followed to their logical conclusion. Population is tightly controlled, with only two children allowed per couple. Technically anyone could have more, but the licenses required are so expensive that only the very rich can afford them.

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To further control the population, the EuroGov has instituted Sorting, a process by which those deemed mentally and/or physically unfit are sent [to?] the Facility. There, they are exercised until they are considered to be in Prime Condition, at which point they are literally dismantled and used for spare parts by those who can afford them. No one who gets sent to the Facility will leave in one piece.

Her inability to do math is not the only thing that makes Margaret nervous. She has two other marks against her. As is always the case with totalitarian regimes, both fictional and real, religion is outlawed and Margaret and her whole family are devoutly Catholic. As such, they are also part of an Underground, quietly hiding priests and other refugees, helping them to get to other, freer corners of the globe.

Margaret’s fears become reality when she fails the Sorting and is sent the Facility, much to the horror of her boyfriend Bane. Bane, is an agnostic, but he has little love [for?] the brutal government and promises to find a way to rescue Margaret. Though no one has ever managed an escape, Margaret doesn’t doubt that the brave and stubborn Bane will at least try.

Other subplots develop based on the arrival of Bane’s blind friend Jon in the girl’s dorm. Essentially, he’s placed there for protection from the other boys, who have nearly killed him on multiple occasions. Normally, that wouldn’t be such a problem, but his genetics are such that he has high value as spare parts and so needs to be kept alive as long as possible.

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Many of the girls get excited, because they see Jon as primarily a means to have sex. As it turns out, Jon shares Margaret’s religious convictions and so, to keep those convictions a secret, they fake a relationship. While they both manage to remain chaste throughout their ordeal, there is a clear love triangle at work by the end of the novel.

Bane also convinces Margaret to enter the post-Sort writing contest as an opportunity to tell the truth about Sorting and the Facility. While this seems clever, it is the weakest point of the book as it necessitates some lax security at the Facility and a curious lack of vigilance on the part of censors at various stages. 

I am Margaret forces the reader to wrestle with the question of when violent resistance to an evil ideology is permitted. The primary vehicle for this is Margaret sharing her opinion of the Resistance, a movement that has no qualms about using violence wherever and whenever possible. Bane is associated with the Resistance, and the group proves instrumental in facilitating Margaret and the rest of the inmates’ escape. One is left contemplating how far the right of self-defense extends, and how that weighs against the culpability of those working for the government. No clear answers are presented here, which is just as it should be, as Catholics have wrestled with the concepts of self-defense and just war for centuries.

I Am Margaret is a fine addition to the dystopian genre that leaves the reader with questions to ponder, and I look forward to the rest of the series.