THE CHAPERONE, by M Hendrix, Sourcebooks Fire, June 6, 2023, Hardcover, $18.99, Paperback $11.99 (young adult, ages 14 and up)
A young woman seeks freedom from the constraints of New America in M Hendrix’s new dystopian young adult novel, The Chaperone.
Like every young woman in New America, Stella knows the rules:
Abstain from sin.
Navigate the world with care.
Respect your chaperone.
Girls in New America must have a chaperone with them at all times. Because of this, Stella is never alone. She can’t go out by herself or learn about the world. She can’t even spend time with boys except at formal Visitations. Still, Stella feels lucky that her chaperone, Sister Helen, is like a friend to her.
And then the unthinkable happens. Sister Helen dies suddenly, and Stella feels lost. Especially when she’s assigned a new chaperone just days later.
Sister Laura is…different. She has radical ideas about what Stella should be doing. She leaves Stella alone in public and even knows how to get into the “Hush Hush” parties where all kinds of forbidden things happen. As Stella spends more time with Sister Laura, she begins to question everything she’s been taught. What if the Constables’ rules don’t actually protect girls? What if they were never meant to keep them safe?
Once Stella glimpses both real freedom and the dark truths behind New America, she has no choice but to fight back against the world she knows, risking everything to set out on a dangerous journey across what used to be the United States. —Synopsis provided by Sourcebooks Fire
It’s hard to read The Chaperone without having some kind of reaction. The world of New America is beyond frustrating. A woman/girl’s place is to be seen, not heard. Not ever. A woman’s purpose is to become a loyal wife who bears lots of children. Until then, she must remain pristine. She must protect boys from impure thoughts. She must be perfect.
But it doesn’t take much for this ideal to crumble. A suggestion here and question there. That’s all it really takes. And when Stella’s given a taste of freedom, she can’t go back.
At the beginning, Stella is a touch annoying. Her ignorance makes her fairly one-note. But that quickly changes as her knowledge of the world expands. Her ability to question, to think, to move beyond, is what makes her compelling.
The Chaperone is written in such a way that it could be a standalone — a satisfying open-door conclusion — or it could be the start of a series — there’s lots of material to explore. Either way, it’s worth reading.
Though written for young adults, The Chaperone has real crossover appeal. As an adult, it resonated with me way more than I expected. The book has definite Handmaid’s Tale vibes that are sure to make it one you won’t want to put down.
Sensitivity note: The suggested age for The Chaperone is 14 and up. This is due to the overall topic and setting, and a scene of sexual exploration that’s not overly graphic but isn’t appropriate for younger readers. It’s the equivalent to a PG-13 rating.
Copyright © 2023 Cracking the Cover. Unless otherwise noted, all books — digital and physical — have been provided by publishers in exchange for honest and unbiased reviews. All thoughts and opinions are those of the reviewer.