Bad Reputation Book Club: Save the Pearls

Bad Reputation Book Club is a monthly book review series where Autumn James Haworth looks at books that have been critically panned and discusses whether or not these reputations are deserved. This month, he’s taking a look at Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden, a controversial dystopian YA novel.

Autumn James Haworth is a bi and trans author from the north of England. He likes to write short stories and poetry all about mental health, growing up and falling in love.

Welcome back to Bad Reputation Book Club, where this week we’ll be looking at dystopian YA novel Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden by Victoria Foyt. This reputation was earned on the back of alleged racism, so let’s see just how rough this ride can get.

Content Warnings:

  • Racism
  • Blackface
  • Sexual assault

Context: I found a version of this online, hesitant to give money to an author who could be producing racist material. Therefore, I won’t be commenting on formatting or spelling issues; I can’t guarantee that was in the original.

Further context: I am not a POC, therefore there will be things that I don’t see. I hope what’s here is enough for you to understand this book.

The book opens with Eden, our protagonist, snapping out of a daydream, and a lab assistant questioning why she hadn’t put her test subject monitoring on the report. We also see the first reference to Eden’s ‘dark coating’. I thought we’d maybe build up to the blackface, but no we’ve got that right off the bat. Eden says she did send the report, but the superior wasn’t around to confirm.

‘[…] at age seventeen, she was already middle-aged’. I know she means that people don’t usually live beyond their forties, but it feels like an excuse for a middle-aged writer to have a free pass if her teenage character sounds older.

We learn that there is severe radiation during the day. The fairer one’s skin, the less able they are to survive in the light. ‘All Pearls, the racist term for whites, feared the light.’ So, calling all black people ‘Coals’ is fine, but the words for white people are racist? Sure.

Ashina, the superior, still hasn’t showed up, meaning Eden can’t take her break. We learn about her father, the lead scientist. The two of them are the only Pearls who are allowed to work in the lab. Everyone knowing they’re white leaves me confused as to why they do blackface. Apparently, it’s because showing her skin would ‘risk antagonising the coals’. So, all the black people are aggressive are they Ms. Foyt?

Ashina comes back and is described as having ‘raisin-coloured skin’. Later there are descriptions of dark skin including: ‘skin the colour of storm clouds’, and ‘a blue-black giant’. Please just meet some black people, it’ll improve your writing tenfold.

Eden comments about how she feels that Ashina must have a wide choice of ‘mate’ options. I wish I didn’t read about mating when it comes to a teenager.

Ashina accuses Eden of not sending the report, though Eden says she did. An argument ensues that ends with Eden calling her superior a racial slur and getting slapped for it. An angry mob of lab workers yell names at her and she fears they’ll kill her. If there were such thing as racist stereotype bingo, I think I just got house.

She’s running away and slams into Ronson Bramford, owner of the lab. He sends everyone else back to work, keeping Eden and Ashina behind to get to the bottom of what happened.

They’re joined by Bramford’s bodyguard, Shen, who is mixed race Asian. We learn that there are racist terms for everyone, whether you’re black, white, Asian, or Hispanic. Hey! Even those with albinism get a term. At least Foyt is consistent.

He calls for his head of security, Jamal, who Eden has a romantic connection with. There’s a weird mix of fetishization of black people and villainizing them. Sometimes they’re called ‘My Dark Prince’, sometimes they’re easily provoked rage machines.

After discussing what happened, Eden is put on probation until further notice. Jamal says he’ll see her after work, calling her his ‘little bunny’ which is repulsive every single time he does so.

Once in her room, Eden is confronted by an Ethics Officer, who reminds her that it’s her ‘half birthday’. If she hasn’t found a mate by her eighteenth, then her vital supplies are going to be cut. I hope it’s supposed to be weird, but it doesn’t feel like Foyt cares about that.

Once the officer has left, she’s looking through a kind of dating site. She thinks she isn’t beautiful enough because she’s a pearl. This book is just: what if race relations were reversed? So, when Eden feels ugly due to the colour of her skin, there’s a sour taste from the implications.

After some exercise and dolling herself up, Jamal arrives to Eden’s room. While there, he asks her to the Moon Dance. This offer makes Eden feel sure that Jamal wants to be her mate.

The next night, she’s got to sneak into the dance. Jamal said he’s cleared her to be there (as he’s head of security) but feels like Bramford won’t approve.

On her way there, she’s sure she’s being followed by two men, but puts this fear down to anxiety. However, once inside, they make themselves clear as a threat. The larger of the two makes sexual advances towards Eden. I read this hoping I’d avoid another assault scene, but YA authors hate me. While she isn’t assaulted, the unwanted advances and implications of what he wants is enough for me to want to throttle whoever decided that lazy writers use sexual assault as a means to build tension.

At the dance, this universe’s version of a minstrel show is performing the music. It’s black people doing a caricature of white people. The ignorance emanating from Foyt when she writes things like this is palpable. Minstrel shows still have an affect on the perception of black people and Foyt is doing nothing to help.

While the two men are trying to attack Eden, she knees one of them in the groin and makes a run for it, but it stopped by the larger man. However, they’re stopped by Bramford who asks her to dance. It’s as much a way to get her away from her attackers as anything else.

After a short while, Bramford rushes Eden out of the hall, into a large aircraft. Eden tries to refuse but is made to board. They need to get back to the lab as a fire has broken out.

When they get back, they find that the test subjects aren’t where they should be. There isn’t much time, so Bramford offers himself up. It’s using different types of animal DNA to help with protection from the radiation. I’m not mad about vague science. Sometimes what isn’t said is better than over explanation.

Eden is escorted to the lab alongside her father. Jamal is said to be questioning staff about the missing staff, but it turns out that he’s part of the reason they’re gone – he’s part of a rebel group. It seems to be a purity thing to exterminate light-skinned people. The twist works, and it’s used well in Bramford’s later character development. I wish it were in a different book.

Jamal and his group create a fire meaning everyone needs to act fast. They need to upgrade Bramford and terminate all other traces of the experiment. A fight ensues, and amongst the chaos Bramford as the beast is unleashed. Once again, Foyt is just playing on stereotypes where people of colour are savage beasts.

Eden, her injured father, and Bramford flee the lab by heading to a jet. It’s full speed ahead to get to safety.

Eden spends much of the flight looking at the animalistic Bramford. She’s as fascinated by him as she is into him. She doesn’t sleep with him, but the implication that they would is repulsive.

There are accusations that Eden knew what Jamal was planning. A fight starts with Eden and Bramford, and he rips out her Life-Band. ‘She felt more violated than if she’d been raped’. Any other comparisons you could have used?

While on the plane, Eden meets an attendant. She’s not an important character but gives Eden a backpack which is useful later.

When they land, they’re greeted by an indigenous Amazonian tribe. They see Bramford and worship him like that bit in Return of the Jedi. It feels so patronising for Foyt to be all ‘look at this primitive tribe worship the beast man’.

They drive to a small encampment. It’s a rest-stop so Eden’s father can get some medical attention and so they can all eat. There are a couple of characters introduced that are more plot devices than people.

She steals a moment to herself so she can look through the backpack, which she’s sure contains a life band. Before she can check, a monkey steals it. During the chase, Bramford catches up to her, and the backpack is thrown over a cliff, getting hooked on a bush.

She carefully climbs down to retrieve it, but one misstep sends her to the water below. The tension here is okay, but there’s a similar scene later which is much better. It’s too early in the story to do life threatening plot with a protagonist. It was nicely set up with her saying that she can’t swim earlier on though. Moments later, Bramford is in the water with her, getting her to safety.

She’s confused yet grateful for her saviour and is more than happy to be snuggled up to him for warmth. I can’t explain to you just how many times while reading this I went ‘please don’t sleep with the jaguar man’ on repeat in my head.

They make their way through the forest at incredible speeds. All I could think of was the way the high-speed scenes look in the Twilight films. As he’s running, he comments that Eden could one day be a ‘she-cat’, but says that, for now, maybe she’s just a ‘she-kitten’ and I was sick in my mouth.

When they get to the camp, they’re greeted by Maria and her daughters. The little girls call Eden ‘Rebecca’ which confuses her, but links to a revelation later. She asks Bramford about it, which sends him into a rage. She gets locked up in a kind of prison cell.

She’s greeted by Lorenzo who brings her food and takes her to her father. He’s managed to set up a lab; it’s nothing compared to the old one, but it’s an impressive feat all the same.

We discover that Bramford’s animal nature is irreversible. His options are:

1. Remain as he is.

2. Go full animal.

3. Try to reverse the process (which has a high risk of dying).

Bramford decides that going all animal is his best bet, so he’ll venture into the jungle to get whatever the lab needs.

Rather than being taken back to the jail, Maria insists that Eden is taken to the main hut. There, she sees a painting of someone who looks just like her with ‘R.B’ as the signature. She finds out the painting is of ‘Rebecca’ who the girls were referring to earlier. She discusses with her father whether Bramford can be trusted, and the conversation turns to her feelings towards him. It was at this point in my reading I found it merciful that this book is short because I had hit a level of fatigue that washes over me with every bad book in this series.

They argue about Rebecca. Eden insists that Bramford has either imprisoned her or worse, and her father tries but fails to convince her to leave it.

That evening, she heads to the prison to see if Rebecca is there. Before she makes it, she sees Lorenzo and Charlie leaving their hut in ‘city clothes’. If they’re leaving, she’s sure she can too.

Before they leave, they see a dead harpy eagle on the forest floor: one part of the DNA that the lab needs for Bramford.

Eden waits as the two men take the creature to the lab and come back, so she can follow them as they leave. The tension building is great while she’s following them. Once again, I wish I was reading that scene in a different book.

While trying to remain safe from forest creatures and unseen by Lorenzo and Charlie, she loses her ‘guides’. She scrambles about calling for help, stumbling over and ends up in an anaconda’s snare. Luckily, Bramford arrives just in time to save her.

Once they’re somewhat recovered, Bramford lays Eden in a makeshift hammock saying that he’ll be back in a day or two. She isn’t to move from where he’s left her.

When he returns, he tells her that he has to drink a medicine that will leave him rather intoxicated, so she has to look out for him. At first, I was so apathetic to his intoxicated love confession, but when it’s revealed that he thinks Eden is Rebecca, I was very much invested. I don’t know if it was supposed to be funny, but I was laughing.

We learn that Rebecca was Bramford’s mate, but betrayed him by conspiring with the rebel group that Jamal was working with. We also learn that they had a son together called Logan. Rebecca didn’t make it, but Logan did.

At some point during this exchange, they kiss. It’s infuriatingly fleeting given how important Foyt tries to make it out to be later.

The next morning, we find out that Logan is in one of the cells that Eden was put in on her first night.

When they return, Eden’s father is worried about her, but is assured of her safety. He and Bramford discuss that one of the final parts to his ‘evolution’ is for him to get a jaguar.

Back in her room, Eden asks Maria to cut her hair. For some reason she’s able to trade the cut off hair for the backpack that one of the Maria’s daughters has hold of. She’s able to confirm that there is a life band in there. Before she’s able to do anything with this information, she’s called away by her father.

They discuss that Eden is considering becoming like Bramford. Her father isn’t so sure about it. He called her there but the conversation they have is one Eden initiated; that’s left unexplained. A little proofreading goes a long way.

She goes back to her room so she can connect to her life band. It’s overwhelming at first but settles into the familiar sensations. She links with Bramford’s old bodyguard because she’s still set on getting back home. There’s a quick response saying he’ll be there soon.

During the night she’s awoken by clattering. She takes a chance by calling for Logan. It’s clearly him, but he runs before she can catch up. As she goes to leave, she sees he’s left behind a portrait of her. She accepts this gift for now and makes her way back to her room to sleep.

The next morning, Eden is woken by Maria and her daughters. Maria is there to tell Eden that she needs to find Bramford so they can find some kind of root. It’s a medicine which will be especially useful for her father’s injuries.

Before she leaves, she goes to Logan to leave him a little gift. In the light, she get’s the chance to look at him properly, she discovers that he has albinism. This is why Bramford has been keeping him secret. People with those genetics have been culled as they are incredibly susceptible to the sun’s radiation. She goes to her father to tell him the news, as she has realised that both Rebecca and Bramford must have the albinism gene. Her father already knows this though, as he’s had to mess with Bramford’s DNA. It becomes clear to Eden that the reason Bramford was so keen to alter his DNA is because of his albinism genes. He wants to hide them as best he can.

A scream from the camp alerts Eden and her father to the fact that Bramford has brought back the final piece needed for his evolution: a jaguar (dead, of course).

Eden calls after him, and after a while Bramford comes to her. They bicker a little before Eden tells him about the root that Maria mentioned to her before. It’s a dangerous journey to get to Heaven’s Gate, where the root is located. It’s a treacherous climb with dangerous leaps, but in the end, they make it intact. There’s also a fair bit of flirtation on the way there.

Foyt shows great writing skills during the trip to Heaven’s Gate. I wish she’d focus on this sort of writing instead of wilfully ignorant nonsense. I’m not here to say you can’t be political, but when you’re being actively harmful in a book aimed at young readers then maybe be a bit more careful. I liked the way she wrote the scene with the waterfall, and that’s the kind of writing she should focus on.

When they get to their destination, they see why it’s got heaven in its namesake. It’s a stunning place that takes their breath away. It seems like the serenity of the place mixed with overcoming danger, and finding the medicinal root is the perfect concoction to bring these two together once and for all. It’s got the ‘how do you not know how beautiful you are?’ trope, and it’s vomit inducing.

There’s discussion of Eden perhaps changing to be like Bramford, but that idea is put on the shelf, as when they get back, they find that Jamal and his team are there. They were the ones that received the signal for Shen. It feels like a kind of pointless scene as it’s handled remarkably quickly.

In the end, everyone agrees that Eden and Logan are to go through the changes that Bramford has, and they’ll accelerate at a later date if that’s what everyone wants.

I don’t know how or why this was published. It’s gained a bad reputation quite rightly, and I don’t wish it on anybody. I’m going for something a little lighter next time because this kept giving me tension headaches.

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