Book Review: "The Union"
Leah Vernon is a well-known author and body-positive activist along with being the first international plus-size Hijabi model. Her novel "The Union" was first released as a self-published titled under the title "Impure," though it's noted that it has experienced substantial editorial revisions on its way to release as "The Union" and as a featured title with Amazon's First Reads program.
With "The Union," Vernon creates a dystopian nation thousands of years in the future. There is a Black elite class that reigns and lower classes who toil in the farmlands and who struggle to survive in the cities. The story centers around eighteen-year-old Avi Jore, an Elite born to a powerful father who is destined to one day rule, and Saige, a mixed-race enslaved girl labeled as an Impure and longing only to escape the boundaries of this seemingly hopeless land. When Saige saves Avi from an assassination attempt, their paths become intertwined in ways that the two never imagined and in ways frightening to those around them. Saige plots her freedom. The increasingly aware Avi begins attempting change from within.
Will they succeed?
"The Union," which hints of being a sci-fi novel more than immerses itself in the genre, is as much a story about friendship as it is a story about the revolution that may very well occur should this friendship blossom.
The first of two planned books exploring this world, "The Union" takes a familiar narrative and brings it engagingly to life thanks largely to the vivid portrayal of its two central characters. This isn't a story we haven't read before and even seen in the cinema, though Vernon adds her own unique touches to it all and gives us characters we can connect with, characters we wonder about, characters we despise, and characters who leave us scratching our heads.
The narrative itself occasionally falters and I'll confess to having grown tired of the latest fiction trend of having each chapter a back-and-forth between the novel's main characters, however, I'll also confess that I enjoyed these two main characters enough that for the most part I was still able to surrender myself to the story.
"The Union" is most definitely visual storytelling. It would be interesting to see Amazon Studios pick up the story for a cinematic presentation, an approach that would allow for delving even more deeply into the story's subtly portrayed racial politics. While the ending is in some ways anti-climactic, knowing the intention for a second novel it all makes sense as you are left both waiting and wondering about certain characters.
In terms of rating, a 3.5 feels more accurate. However, a 3-star feels too low considering how much I enjoyed these characters and how well Vernon developed them. While "The Union" is not without its flaws, it's engaging and vital storytelling that leans into the culture-changing power of friendship and the absolute importance of even the smallest choices we make as human beings.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic