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What would happen if women and girls joined their unique abilities together to change the world? In a world where access to the written word is reserved to men, Andra BetScrivener has been able to read and write ever since she was a little girl without anyone teaching her. She must keep her abilities a secret in the country of New North, or she could lose her hands, her eyes or her life. In fact, the only paths offered to her–and all young women–are to either marry or enter the government-run Women’s Training Program, where she’ll be taught “feminine” arts like drawing, painting, and homemaking.
On her seventeenth birthday, Andra discovers that her abilities extend beyond reading. She can write events to life. As she begins to explore her new ability, she must take care not to jeopardize her father’s job as head scrivener at the Ministry. Despite her efforts to keep her powers hidden, she comes to the attention of both the government and a rebel group, who each desire to use Andra for their own goals. At the same time, she begins to meet other gifted women who have never dared use their unique powers. With the help of her friends Brian and Lauren—who has the ability to read minds—Andra must find a way to unite the power of women to create change.
When one side manipulates Andra’s words into killing someone, and the other threatens her father’s life and her own freedom, Andra decides to use her writing to empower others to stop governmental oppression. But in a society ruled by lies, cruelty, and inequality her journey will not be easy or safe. For each book sold, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to causes that support women and children around the world.
My stomach dropped as soon as Dad entered the kitchen scowling at a thick card embossed with the government seal. My hand started to shake so much that I had to put down my mug of tea. I knew this day was coming. After all, it was my seventeenth birthday, the first day of the last year of my life.
“That’s the letter, isn’t it?”
Dad looked at me with one of his half smiles, the one that never reached his eyes. I hadn’t seen him smile with genuine happiness for years, not since Mother died. This smile made no effort to cover the sadness and defeat in his face. “Pour me some cocoa, please.” He lowered himself into his customary chair next to me, “I’ll do my civic duty and read this to you.”
“I could always read it myself,” I said. I waited for him to respond the way he always did. I hoped that provoking him a little would reawaken the Dad who let me believe I could do anything, while still protecting me from the cruelty of our society. That Dad had disappeared over recent years.
“Andra!” he said, “You know I don’t like you to say that out loud. You never know if someone might be listening. If I could let you read everywhere, I would. We can’t let your secret get out.”
“I’m sorry.” I handed Dad his cocoa and watched as he took several sips. For a moment he closed his eyes and his face relaxed. The secret to giving him those brief moments was in the cocoa. I make it just like Mother used to. She left us too soon to teach me all her cooking secrets, but she taught me a few. She was a woman who turned everything she touched into something beautiful, warm and comforting. She could make people calm even in the most terrifying circumstances. Mother and Dad both made me believe that my future wasn’t set in the same stone used to build the giant walls that separated New North from the outside world. Mother believed that somehow they would find a way to return to some of the freedoms of the past and make a better future for all women. She never got the chance to do that. She died and Dad grew afraid.
“Ah, perfect as always. Now, to do my duty.” Dad put his mug down and brought my attention back to the thick card, or the envelope of doom, as I thought of it. The government seal—the Eye of the Lord—gleamed with a hint of gold ink as it caught the light from the sun shining through the window. It sent a shiver down my spine, as if the eye was really watching me.
Dad once told me the story of how the Eye of the Lord became the symbol of New North. More than 25 years ago, New North had been part of a much larger nation that suffered the delusion that it was the greatest nation on earth. For complicated reasons that I never fully understood, the country tore itself apart as men clamored for more power and control over women, money, and resources. Finally, civil war broke out and the country split into smaller nations led by the men who had the most money and could control the most media. Rom Sandovar, who would become the Supreme Prime Minister of New North, not only had money but also something even more powerful—the power of persuasion. He convinced people that he had a direct connection with the Lord. He claimed to have a dream where the Lord spoke to him while looking down from the heavens through flaming eyes. According to him, the Lord gave him guidance on a daily basis. People began to call Sandovar the Lord’s Eye on Earth. Sandovar commissioned artists to design images of that Eye to be hung throughout the newly formed nation of New North as a constant reminder that the new order was under the ever-present watch of the Lord. It flies over every meeting and can be seen in every building important to the government.
Rumors from the few people allowed to travel beyond New North’s borders claim the Eye of the Lord is even carved onto the outside of the wall that separates New North from the other Nations that surround us. I wouldn’t know because women are never allowed to leave. Actually, few men travel either. Since we have to rely mostly on renewable sources of energy, most of it is reserved for the basic necessities of life. Only the elite who can afford to own and pay for electrical vehicles or those who control commerce ever leave the safety of the walls.
I looked at the seal glinting wickedly over the announcement that my world was about to become even more confined. While I love art in all forms, thanks to Mother and her talents and love of beauty, I find the images of the Eye of the Lord an odd mixture of beauty and terror. I know so many girls who say they feel safe and protected under the watchful Eye and his representatives on earth. I’ve never understood how my peers could believe these things so completely. They practically worship the Supreme Prime Minister. I don’t.
My parents told me that things may not be as they seem, especially when it comes to faith. Of course, in public they put on the façade of true believers. After all, with Dad serving as Head Scrivener, our entire lives would be destroyed if anyone at the Ministry suspected he wasn’t a believer. That’s why, whenever we were in the lower levels of the house, Dad wanted me to be obedient. He worried that someone might be outside, listening, trying to catch him doing something wrong. Even though I was capable of reading the letter myself, it was forbidden. Dad had his duty to perform. He opened the envelope and read.
“To Joseph Scrivener and his daughter Andra, we wish to send many happy returns on this momentous day, the day when Andra turns seventeen and achieves the full status of woman.”
“Ugh!” I said
Dad gave me one of his strict looks. “I have to read this to you, please try to contain yourself. I know you’re not happy.”
“Sorry, Dad. Keep reading.”
He winked at me so I knew he wasn’t really angry. Then he cleared his throat and continued. “As you know, this is an important year for Andra. We hope that we will soon be able to celebrate her again in the coming year as she enters the sacred and important role of wife to one worthy of fathering a son to follow in the Scrivener’s illustrious footsteps. Of course, according to the laws of New North, if she should not be blessed by such an event, on her next birthday she will be welcomed into one of our prestigious Women’s Training Programs (WTP) where she will further develop her skills in proper feminine behavior and responsibilities. Again, many happy returns on this important day. We look forward to welcoming Andra into her womanly roles. Supreme Prime Minister, Rom Sandovar”
Dad folded the card. “Andra, are you going to eat that muffin or just destroy it?”
I looked down and saw the mess I had made of my cinnamon muffin without even knowing I did it. Crumbs stuck to my fingers and mounded on the table, evidence of my inner turmoil. I hate losing control in such an obvious way. It’s too dangerous. Dad has enough to worry about without me revealing my inner thoughts through unconscious messes. I tried to brush all the sticky crumbs back onto the plate.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just that I wish I wasn’t celebrating this birthday. Why celebrate the last year of life as I know it?” I pushed the plate away.
Dad reached across the table and grabbed my hand in his calm grasp. Callouses on his fingers, hardened by his years of writing with pen and ink, rubbed against my palms. Before the revolution he could have done work on something called a computer. He’d told me all about them but I’ve never seen one. Sandovar declared them tools of corruption, so people like my father had to perfect the art of writing things by hand.
My hand felt small in his. For a moment I became a young, scared child seeking strength from his touch. He’d always protected me. After Mother died, the government suggested I be sent away because his work was more important than his duties as a father to a girl. He stood up to the Ministry then and said, “I will raise my daughter. I’ve just lost my wife, nobody is taking my daughter.” I remember clinging to him when he said it. I was so afraid they would take me from him, and that he would be punished for opposing the Supreme Prime Minister. But Dad stood, rock solid, eyes looking from face to face, not backing down. The Supreme Prime Minister relented, and I went home with my father.
That day I believed he could win every battle. The only problem is—over the years he stopped trying to fight for reasons he won’t explain to me.
“We’ll think of something, Andra,” Dad said.
“What? You’ve been saying that for years and nothing has changed; it’s the law. By the end of this year I’ll have to leave you, give up my freedom, give up written words and become a slave to some man I don’t even love. Or I can join a training program and be turned into a mindless drone.”
“We don’t know that happens, Andra.”
“You weren’t there the last time I saw Lauren. She didn’t know who I was.” I tried to shake away the memories of my older friend when I last saw her in a tiny room at the nearest, and largest, Women’s Training Center. Gone was the idol of my youth, and in her place was a frail being—lost, alone, hopeless, and so terrified she could barely speak.
“Why does the world have to be like this, Dad? Why can’t I stay with you and make my own choices?”
“I don’t know. It wasn’t always this way. I remember when . . . You know I would fix it if I could.” He walked over to look out the window with his back toward me. “You also know the risks if I do anything.”
I was tired of his vague answers and my frustration bubbled up inside. I had to get away from him. The chair fell as I jumped up to leave while throwing words at him intended to sting. “So you do nothing and support the injustice.”
“Andra!” The agony in Dad’s voice stopped me before I left the room. “I can’t let you get hurt or disappear. I can’t lose you too . . . We’ll find an answer. You have to be patient.” His face filled with sadness and a hint of fear. I couldn’t bring him any more pain. [. . .]