Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Burning of Cherry Hill / A.K. Butler

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Dystopian Sci-fi

Approximate word count: 85,000- 90,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store


Amber Butler was born and raised in Texas. She graduated with a degree in Psychology from Texas A&M University in College Station. After her second child was born, she returned to college, this time to the University of Texas at Dallas, to fulfill science requirements for medical school. The Burning of Cherry Hill is her first novel.


When their parents are captured in a raid by establishment militia who burn their island home killing all 1372 inhabitants, teenager, Zay, and his younger sister, Lina are taken away on a helicopter and integrated within society as orphans. The story follows their journey to find and rescue their parents


This story was tough sledding for me. Not for the first time, I was misled by a strong Amazon Sample, which dealt with Block Island. The idea of a secret island which operated as a self-sufficient commune outside of a tightly controlled mainland society was attractive. When the government forces arrived, their brutality contrasted well with the peaceful life on the island. Certain secrets were left with the children. The parents didn’t die, they ‘vanished’, which was another interesting hook.

But once the novel moved to the dystopian world, I couldn’t achieve the necessary suspension of disbelief. For one thing, the island was only eighteen miles from the mainland. With such superior technology, how could it have been a secret hideaway?

The technology and the way of life within the dystopian society, simply didn’t work. For example, each individual had every meal delivered in a separate paper bag with their name on it, which dropped through a chute in the ceiling onto a kitchen table. Really? When a pregnant mother requested extra food (through her embedded chip), it was approved and deliver in fifteen seconds. Every aspect of societal life was controlled, yet video trials were held wherein citizens voted guilty or not. The fact that the authorities fixed the result seemed to be a shocking revelation. My thought was, why bother if they controlled everyone so completely. I never did find out what the ‘free citizens’ in the cities did, or why.

Outside of the city, millions of citizens were kept in slave camps at Cherry Hill (hence the title). The camps purportedly encompassed the whole of the American Mid-west. This was a wholly unbelievable place also. Over four hours away from the city, and yet, apparently, producing all the food and materials needed for instantaneous delivery. People were crammed into large, black multi-story buildings. Surely maintaining this infrastructure would be a nightmare. I doubt if the slaves (who were kept in a permanently starved conditions and often beaten) could deliver enough food to warrant the structure.

No one could escape Cherry Hill because they had a chip implanted which would Taser them if they passed a boundary point. Yet, when our heroes cracked the computer code and turned off the chips, they announced to the millions (somehow) that they could escape, but they only had fifteen minutes in which to do so before the chips were turned back on—huh?

Within this unbelievable society, the two children stumbled from one danger to the next. Each time they found themselves faced with imminent danger, along came a new minor character with some flimsy excuse and a way out. As I never connected with Zay or Lina, it was difficult for me to care whether they succeeded in their plan to save their parents, although with such a ready supply of invented escape routes, I had little doubt they would.

To cap it all, the citizens and slaves were subjected to cruel and unusual punishments, which I found distasteful. In particular, the authority’s militia, who seemed to be all male, defaulted to using rape to subjugate captive women or to leverage their male partners. Slave females were raped by the militia to produce more slaves. Zay’s mother was raped. Lina was threatened with rape. I think you get the picture. Frankly, I didn’t find any of the characters or scenarios sufficiently developed to make this seem anything but gratuitous.

The genesis of the dystopia is explained through narrative (a long letter) and a large slab of dialogue near the end of the story. By which time, I could have cared less.

Format/Typo Issues:

Paragraphing seemed to be oddly random. I read the Kindle version, so it may have been a formatting issue for that device.

Rating: ** Two stars

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