The Registry by Shannon Stoker had some good ideas, but between the poor execution and one-dimensional characters, this dystopian novel didn’t deliver.
In our world, especially in places like China, boy babies are more valued than girls. In Ms. Stoker’s world set in the not too far future, it’s girls who are highly valued. If a couple has a baby boy, he is abandoned to an orphanage because not only is he worth less money than a girl, but being left to fend for himself since early childhood will make him tough and all boys have to serve in the American Army. Girls on the other hand are raised by their parents and once they are the right age, they are entered into the Registry. Basically, a catalog for eligible girls similar to current day websites for foreign brides where women are basically bought. Mia’s family is fortunate to have all daughters, even one prettier than the last, especially the youngest Mia who will fetch a high bride price unlike her best friend who while pretty receives a very low rank in the Registry…is that because of her intelligence? After all, men in this near future don’t want a wife who is educated or naturally intelligent. A woman’s role is to serve and support her husband.
As a feminist I was infuriated by the little clip at the top of each chapter taken from the ‘girl’s guide’ a sort of handbook for how women are to behave. My fury stemmed from the fact that while this is a fiction book, some of these attitudes are alive and well in the present, not this possible future where a high percentage of the U.S. population was wiped out and led to this supposed ‘change’ in male and female roles.
Also, while Mia is the main character and supposed heroine, she is vapid and happy to go along with being sold by her parents like cattle until her much more worthy older sister escapes from her husband and comes home to warn clueless Mia what being married of is really like. Even then, while Mia no longer looks forward to being a bride, she still doesn’t do anything substantive to win her freedom, instead relying on her best friend to help plan her escape. Then Mia selfishly pulls in one of the working boys to her plan, never considering what the consequences will be for him for helping her.
She is incapable of putting together a decent disguise, packing a runaway bag with useful items, teaching herself to drive or anything of use. Yes, in the book she, like other women, are very sheltered, but even once she learns some horrible truths she still doesn’t do much to save herself instead relying on other people’s sacrifices. Some have compared this book to a junior version of The Handmaid’s Tale, but in that book Offred kept fighting the twisted society and government, she figured things out, she didn’t sacrifice her friends, etc. The only thing Mia is good at is being annoying. The other difference between the two books is everyone, even the villains in The Handmaid’s Tale, are fully fleshed characters whereas in The Registry the characters are so cartoonish, from the evil fiancee who does everything but twirl his handlebar mustache, to the stereotype gay couple, and the lightweight Caleb who serves as a piece of the almost required love triangle.
The ideas in the story would have made for a chilling and realistic story in the hands of a master such as Margaret Atwood, alas Ms. Stoker gets and A for story idea and an F for execution.