The Path is a virtual reality based on one boy’s memories. Lona Sixteen Always is one of the children on The Path, living Julian’s life as if it were her own. Her only experiences as herself are the moments when she’s disconnected from the system for calisthenics. There, she talks to Finn, a boy who is a few years ahead of her on The Path, sharing their memories that are identical. But one day, Lona goes Off-Path and must learn to live in a world where anything can happen.

The concept behind Stray stems from what to do with foster children. It seems like Path came from a place of good intentions. Children who were orphaned or came from abusive backgrounds could live out a life deemed to be perfectly ordinary. There would be no more shuffling them from home to home, no one taking advantage of them or neglecting them. The lack of individuality or choice is the price to pay for a happy childhood.

When the children reach 18, they are reintroduced into the world, where they will have to find out who they really are at last. Can they cope without Julian? Lona is off schedule, younger than the eighteeners who are given extra time to adjust. But it soon becomes clear, that it’s not as simple as removing them from the virtual reality.

The lack of individuality is continued through with the children’s names. Lona and Finn aren’t real names, they are reference numbers which relate to their date of birth and location within the compound. They might have the love of Julian’s parents on Path, but in reality, they aren’t treated as children with their own hopes and fears. They are a number, to be processed through the system until they reach adulthood, which is often how foster children see themselves anyway.

Whilst Lona’s brain chemistry might have been a bit different, I never felt like she was the heroine about to swoop in and save the day. Her character is suitably naïve and she struggles with interactions. I loved the scene where she is eating real foods for the first time. She may have the memories of eating but they’re not the same as experiencing it.

It didn’t really go into gender identity though which is surprising. They are all growing up as a boy, wouldn’t that be strange to adjust to for the girls? Does the short time they are in calisthenics allow them to understand their own bodies? It’s hinted at that some of Julian’s memories are edited out, but it’s hard to edit out all the times he’s aware of his penis.

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Also reviewed @ Choose YA

Book Source: Purchased