In a future United States that is on such profound cultural lockdown that it has become a version of North Korea, only a psychic government bureaucrat can fight back. Laura Bynum's Veracity tackles the rise and fall of totalitarian America.
Though reviewers have compared the book to 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale, really Bynum's action-packed story is more like dystopian chick lit. It simply doesn't have the strong, critical edge of those other novels. Instead of leaving us shaken by a strong social critique of trends in our own world, we're given a strawman bad guy to tear down and replace with what amounts to our own current system. Bynum uses her dark vision to urge a return to liberal heartland America, where good Christian values include tolerance and free thought.
Like many chick lit protagonists, our hero Harper is a woman whose main problems are her taxing job and raising her daughter Veracity as a single mom. It just so happens that her taxing job is working for the government as a psychic spy, keeping an eye on people who may be breaking the rules. The main rule-breaking she investigates has to do with people who speak "red list words" that are changed on a weekly basis. And unfortunately the word "veracity" has turned up on the red list. Which puts considerable strain on her relationship with her daughter.
Recruited at a young age into her job, Harper has always been dissatisfied but never questioned her role in the government program called BodySpeak. For at least 30 years, the government has been putting computerized devices into everyone's throats that monitor what they say - and shock or kill them if it's a red list word. In a vague, hand-wavy backstory, we learn the government has done this by manufacturing an "epidemic" which supposedly killed everyone in the world and most of the US (in reality, the world is still there, and the government killed its own citizens). Now the totalitarian regime wants to consolidate its power further by keeping tabs on people who are merely thinking of disobeying instead of talking about it. So they create special schools for people like Harper, who can read auras and do astral projection and all kinds of other cool psychic stuff.
When Veracity's name is redlisted, it's the last straw. Harpers's ready to rebel. A mysterious recruiter for the underground resistance (which is literally located underground) leaves her a note, and she decides to trade in her life of bureaucratic safety and power, throwing her lot in with a group of professors and young warriors who remember "the time before" when people in America could speak freely. And when Jesus was represented as a man bleeding on the cross, instead of as a man in a business suit.
Though the politics and worldbuilding in Veracity are uneven at best, Harper makes for a great action story protagonist. She has righteousness on her side, and her psychic powers are just plain cool. As a dystopian novel, the book isn't much of a success. It's hard to believe the entire US could be transformed into North Korea over a period of 30 years, and we're never given any realistic reasons why the current government was able to seize power so absolutely. And some of the moralizing about religion and sex is just embarrassingly silly. But if you focus on the chick lit aspects of the story - Harper's discovery of her own power, and her slow-burning romance with a dangerous "blue coat" shock trooper - you'll find that it's a surprisingly fun, escapist read.
Veracity via Simon and Schuster