Getting inked may not be that cool

The Barcode Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
Publisher: Scholastic
Number of pages: 256
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Individuality vs. Conformity

Identity vs. Access

Freedom vs. Control

The bar code tattoo. Everybody’s getting it. It will make your life easier, they say. It will hook you in. It will become your identity.

But what if you say no? What if you don’t want to become a code? For Kayla, this one choice changes everything. She becomes an outcast in her high school. Dangerous things happen to her family. There’s no option but to run…for her life.

* * *

I really meant to review this book after I got it, then I planned to review it for Pinoy Pop, but I never got around to it because there were other more interesting books that came in. I wasn’t really planning to review this book anymore and make this as one of those books that I never bothered to review this year but after I read Unwind by Neal Shusterman, I felt the need to revisit this book (or at least, my notes of this book) and write a proper review before writing one for Unwind.

I found The Barcode Tattoo during one of my Amazon Kindle sample days, and I remember being sorely disappointed that this book had no Kindle edition. I wasn’t sure if the cover or the premise attracted me to this — perhaps it was both. The idea of a sinister requirement tattoo is kind of creepy, and the cover was equally as creepy as that idea. I found a lone copy in Fully Booked a few weeks after I added this to my wish list, and I was immediately off to the cashier to purchase the book.

The Barcode Tattoo reminds me of those sci-fi TV shows that I used to be very interested in but never found the time to watch. I think the first time I saw a barcode tattoo on screen was in Dark Angel, where I think each of the clones had a barcode tattoo at their nape to identify them. I can’t remember the details anymore, but I was pretty sure they had that. :P In this book, the tattoos serve as a symbol for “coming of age”, and where everything can be done using your very own tattoo. This spells convenience for everyone as there was no more need to carry an ID or money around since everything can be done with the barcode (including buy compression stockings online).  But as expected, people in power can easily manipulate it. This is where we found Kayla Reed, who’s about to turn 17, but is wary of getting her tattoo. She turned out to be even more wary when her dad starts acting suspiciously, and pretty soon, her avoidance in getting the tattoo turned her life upside down and she starts running for her life.

The concept is good, and it makes for a very good dystopian fiction. However, I think that was the only thing that made this book good. I knew from the get-go that the tattoos were evil, but it was never really explained in the story why it was evil. Sure, the tattoo meant control for those in power, but it was never really expounded on. Like Kayla, I only got the faintest idea on what made the tattoos bad but she never really found out about the exact details of it.

It may be because the book was written in 2004, so the setting (which was 21 years later) showed a world where everyone was wearing a modified space suit and moving sidewalks are common. It took me a while to get into the setting probably because I felt it was a bit too unbelievable even if it’s in 2025. My friend Jana coined it as the “flying cars” setting, where people think of the future as a time where flying cars are the norm. Personally, the setting reminded me a bit too much of those Zenon movies from Disney. I couldn’t imagine myself inside the world the characters are living in, so I remained a mere spectator for Kayla’s adventures.

Furthermore, I felt that there was no defined villain in the story — sure, there was Global 1, the mastermind behind the tattoo, and there were the kids that chased Kayla around…but who was her real villain? Was it the tattoo? It is their destruction of privacy because the tattoo contains all information about them? I’m not quite sure. Sure, Kayla had some personal stake over the matter because of her family, but if that was taken away, would Kayla still have resisted? Where is the Truly Evil Government that dystopian fiction is known for?

I also felt a bit cheated with the ending. I’m not really a sci-fi reader and I’ve only started to appreciate fantasy, but I know there’s a way to make the two mesh well without sounding forced. Kayla’s situation felt truly hopeless as she ran away from those who want her inked (or in some cases, dead), and I truly felt that she had no more allies…but when she finally found her allies, I found that the solution to the problem felt a bit too over the top. Deus ex machina, if you may. The resolution never really sat well with me, leaving me a bit unsatisfied at the end of the end of the book.

It’s not really a bad book, but I didn’t really find it spectacular, either. It’s an in-between book, really, and it’s not one I’d lose sleep or mull over for the next few days thinking about the story or the consequences or the characters even. The story had a lot of potential that wasn’t explored, unfortunately. Interestingly, there is a sequel to the book: The Barcode Rebellion. Will I read it? Probably. Will I buy it? I’m not sure. Maybe someone can lend me a copy instead?

Oh, and one last question: how the heck do you pronounce Mfumbe?!

Rating: [rating=3]

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