From USA Today, Washington Post and Amazon Charts Bestselling author comes an exhilarating new YA series.
The world’s landscape was drastically altered when the Atomic War devastated humanity. A new order created six zones, all controlled by a tyrannical and repressive government.
Abandoned at eleven with no memory of her family, Alexia yearns to learn her true identity. Under the new government’s regime, sixteen-year-olds are evaluated for their desire to harm others. Throughout the test, Alexia struggles to conceal her secret. Failing in her mission, Alexia is taken and must fight to prove herself to her captors.
Desperate to escape, Alexia embarks on a dangerous quest for the truth of her past. In the resulting battle between life and death, Alexia learns that sacrifice and the gift she fought to keep hidden may be her only chance for survival.
A secret unearthed, a shocking betrayal, and a moment when lives hang in the balance leaves Alexia with only one choice. Will the decision determine her destiny or end her life?
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I pound the pavement, feet in perfect rhythm. With every step, I yearn to outrun the hazy memories, but they hug my heels. Sweat glues my half-ripped shirt to my body. After searching for a belt, I have settled for a string to wrap around my waist in the hope of keeping the oversized shorts from falling. I remember one of the boys wearing the shorts years ago. He must have left them behind when he departed the orphanage at eighteen. With a quick flick of my fingers, I push chocolate-brown wisps of hair off my face and back over my ponytail.
As I run, my eyes automatically examine the face of every woman I pass. Searching and hoping are my ritual. At night, after everyone in the orphanage is asleep, I lie atop the mattress on the floor and daydream of finding my mother. Discovering her will mean that I will finally learn who I am.
A woman catches my stare. Her hair is the same color as mine, and her height matches mine. Excitement starts in my belly as my eyes widen and my pace automatically slows. The silver ring on my second toe suddenly feels heavier. I moved it there years ago after my fingers outgrew its size.
"Do you know me?" I whisper, glancing cautiously at the safety patrol officer nearby.
She continues to stare at me, her face shifting into awareness. I reach out to touch her bare hand with mine. With one touch, I am sure I will have my answer. She glances at my approaching hand then steps back.
"You need to leave this area," she murmurs. "Now."
"What?" I stop moving toward her, sure I have misheard.
"Get out of here," she orders me quietly. "It's not safe for you." She glances furtively at an approaching safety patrol officer. "Excuse me." She hurries away before I can make contact. I stare after her, anxious and wondering.
"What happened?" The safety patrol officer silently slides his hand over his gun as he watches the woman scurry away.
"Nothing," I murmur quickly, trying and failing to make sense of our interaction. My mother would know me, not run away. "I thought I recognized her."
His gaze searches mine. I stand completely still, ordering myself to breathe. Seeming to come to a conclusion, he jerks his head. "Keep moving. Curfew in an hour."
I run past him. Unsure of the woman's order, I nonetheless turn into the old downtown of the city. I quicken my pace past an abandoned building. Deserted, it stands next to a heap of burnt rubble. Where a rooftop once was is now a gaping hole. The door, hanging off its hinges, creaks with the gust of wind. A half-starved rat scurries across the empty shelves.
Pushing my legs to move faster, I take the first turn and enter what looks like a completely different city. The buildings, built after the war, glisten with bombproof material. I maneuver through small parked cars laden with dust. With limited fuel available, it is rare to see cars on the road.
I pass a balding man walking his dog. Like everyone else's, his glance strays to my green patch. His expression hardens but I refuse to react.
My green patch arrived the day after my sixteenth birthday. It was hand delivered by a messenger who waited for me to open the package and then finger swipe a tablet that assured the powers that be that I had received mine. Along with the patch was the date of my test.
Four times a year, the government sets up centers in each town to test newly minted sixteen year olds for their disposition to harm others. With the results, the government decides whether you live or die. Tomorrow I learn my fate. Until then, I am guilty until proven innocent.
I pass a bakery where the smell of fresh bread wafts through the door. On cue, my mouth waters and my stomach growls from incessant hunger. I slow down, unable to stop staring at the baskets of fresh bread on the white linen tablecloths.
Only when I spot another safety patrol officer do I move faster. They patrol twenty-four hours a day. I have seen even small infractions lead to an arrest or public berating. I drop my head as I move past him. I take the first turn into an alley. Only when I am sure he is no longer in my vicinity do I release my held breath.
Bright lights greet me. Sitting atop the metal posts, they glare at me in the darkened alley. Nestled inside the bulbs are hidden cameras that watch my movements like a wandering eye.
I flinch against the glare as I maneuver between stacks of water-stained crates littering the narrow passage. A stray Siamese cat halts its search of torn garbage bags to eye me warily. Barely sparing the animal a glance, I head toward the broken chain-link fence swaying in the wind.
"You want some?"
Surprised, I nearly trip over myself. Halting, I stare at a young man crouched beneath the awning. His dirty-blond hair spills over his chiseled face. His shoes are more expensive than any pair I have ever seen. A green patch flutters against his expensive clothes.
"What?" I ask.
He lifts a rolled leaf to his pressed lips and inhales. "Help ease the pain of tomorrow."
"No, thanks." Afraid of being caught, I take two steps back. I steal a quick glance around to make sure there are no witnesses.
He inhales again before running his eyes over me. His gaze lingers over the tear in my clothes, but he barely blinks at the green patch.
"You live in the orphanage?" he asks.
Unsure who he is, I stay quiet.
He shrugs, seemingly unbothered by my silence. He drops the leaf and stomps it out. From his backpack he pulls out a bag of dark chocolates and tears it open to pop one in his mouth. "You ready for tomorrow?"
Famished, I stare at the bag. Though it has been years since I have had a piece, I can still taste the chocolate as it melted on my tongue. With barely enough money to afford food, luxuries like chocolate are unheard of in the orphanage.
"Here." Noticing my stare, he pulls out another full bag and tosses it to me. I catch it with one hand.
"Why?" I grip the bag, fighting the urge to rip into it. Wary of the unexpected gift, I stare at him.
He smiles as if I have told the best joke. "Have a drawer full at home." He glances at the smashed leaf. "Chances are I may not be around anyway."
"You sure you're going to fail?" I ask, wondering how he knows.
"Are you sure you're not?"
The question settles over me like a blanket of death. Tomorrow the government may learn my secret. If they do, they will kill me. My chest suddenly heavy, I fight for the breath I was holding only moments before. If I die, it will be without ever having found my mother. I will never have learned her true identity, or mine. From the day they found me on the beach years ago, I have been searching. But with no memory of who I am or where I came from, I have remained lost.
"Right." My mouth dry, I hold up the chocolate bag. "Thank you for this."
I slip the bag into my pocket for safekeeping. Without a goodbye I resume my run. Curious, I glance back once. He's staring at me. Unsure what to say, I turn away and start to disappear into the night when a loud blast shakes the ground.
The boy jumps up and we both run to the edge of the alley. The bakery I just ran by is on fire, obliterated by an explosion. Everyone runs screaming from the blast. I scan the area, searching, but the woman who warned me to leave is nowhere in sight.
"The Resistance," the boy says, disgusted. "It has to be them."
"How do you know?" They are the government's worst enemy — a large network of people who evade capture at every turn.
He shakes his head in disgust. "Because they want to kill everyone."
Then why did a woman I have never met before just save my life?CHAPTER 2
The brown-brick orphanage looms large in the distance. The converted schoolhouse is the only home I can remember. After the Atomic War, it housed hundreds of kids who had lost their parents. Sometimes, at night, when the building is quiet, I can hear the ghosts of the lost children crying. Now there are only forty of us. My roommate, Jenna, and I are the two oldest.
The explosion pushes me to get home faster. En route I pass fallen homes mixed with ones in perfect condition. The Atomic War began with one nuclear weapon dropped on an unsuspecting population. The world then erupted into battles that killed hundreds of millions. History books teach us that it all came down to chance. Only the lucky ones missed a bomb strike or survived the chemical and germ warfare.
After the war, the world was divided into six zones, with elected governments ruling each one. They all answer to an elected president, a man who promises every week on the screen to guide us into peace. So far peace seems elusive, a hope constantly out of reach.
Outside the orphanage, I scan my palm and wait for the lock to disengage. The pristine white walls of the school's foyer and the antiseptic smell of cleanser welcome me in. Our caretaker, Agatha, insists we keep the school in perfect condition. Every Saturday, Jenna and I join the other children in cleaning until Agatha gives her approval. Only then are the younger ones allowed into the grounds to play.
The scanner in the foyer reads the tracker embedded in my arm as I pass. The government surgically implanted it after they found me alone and scared on the beach. Required for every individual, it allows the government to track its citizens. After the surgery, I was dropped off to the orphanage, where I will be allowed to remain until eighteen. If I pass the test.
"Alexia Edmonds." The computer announces the name the government gave me. In the empty foyer, I am the computer's only audience. "You are twenty-five seconds late." The voice is rigid and unforgiving. "It ... it ... it is the ... third ..." The voice falters after repeating itself.
Sighing, I grab my toolset from a closet. Inside the control panel, I spot the loose wire. As soon as I start to rewrap it, a small surge of electricity zaps me. Swallowing my pain, I finish the job and slam the door shut.
"It is the third time this month." The computer comes back to life.
"You're welcome," I say, walking away.
I stride down the hallway toward the classrooms converted into bedrooms. Inside the younger kids' rooms, stuffed animals line the shelves. Curtains Jenna and I sewed cover the windows. Desks are stacked in the corners to make room for the mattresses lining the floor.
I slow down as I near my communal room. On the threshold, I stare at the two mattresses that lie at opposite ends of the room. Pictures of Jenna's lost parents fill her side of the room. Flowers she picks from the orphanage's garden are inside a small water glass. Though nearly bare, this room and the orphanage are the only home I have known. And Jenna is the only semblance of family I have.
"Are you ready for the test tomorrow?" Jenna comes around the corner from the kitchen. The sound of children follows her.
Jenna arrived at the orphanage a few weeks before me. Her parents were on the train to work when the Resistance released a virus hidden in a backpack. All one hundred occupants died within hours.
"Sure." I step back so my bare arms don't touch her. I quickly search our room but fail to find a sweatshirt to protect myself from touch. "It'll be easy," I lie.
"Yeah." Jenna doesn't sound convinced. She glances over her shoulder, then lowers her voice. We are trained at hiding, even though she has nothing to keep secret. "People who don't pass ..." Jenna pauses, then stops.
"What?" I ask, though I already know. Everyone knows. The muscles in my neck tighten. Fear dances down my spine even as I beg her to repeat the words.
"They're taken away."
Her terror is a whirlpool, threatening to drown us both in its vortex. Six months younger than me, she will receive her patch soon. Once, when I found her shaking with fear, I tried to tell her not to be afraid, but she couldn't listen.
We have grown up together and shared the burden of living under Agatha's roof. Yet I have never told Jenna my secret. Maybe it is to protect her, or maybe it is because I can hear the whispers in my sleep. Keep your secret. Like a mantra, it has become my lifeline to safety.
Before I can respond, the younger kids rush around the corner. With only so many clothes available, they are layered in donated scraps. Tears line their faces. They rush past us toward their rooms.
"Dinner?" I ask Jenna, already knowing the answer.
Every week, we receive cardboard boxes of processed grains packed with added vitamins. After adding water, we are left with a bowl of mushy goop. Pictures of healthy, happy kids on the box promise that we, too, can look like that if we eat the food. Having eaten it for every meal for five years, I know they are lying. But real meat is a luxury that only those with money can afford.
Once a year, during the holidays, the government treats the orphanage to a live chicken. As the oldest, Jenna and I are ordered to break its neck and defeather it. Jenna always cries when the time comes to kill it, so I snap its neck. For me, the choice between saving it and having real meat is simple.
"Not enough food." Jenna's shoulder bones protrude from her paper-thin skin. "They're still hungry."
At least a few times a week, we fail to get enough boxes. Suddenly the chocolate feels heavy in my pocket. I slip my hand in and feel the lining of the bag. Through the plastic, I trace the individual pieces.
"Hey!" I stop one of the older kids running past. I glance down the hall to confirm Agatha is still out of sight. Then I toss the bag to him. "Make sure everyone gets a piece."
The boy, only a few years younger than me, widens his eyes. He clutches the bag with a joy they have lost since the war took their parents. He opens it carefully. The other kids gather around him and clamor for a piece. He takes two pieces and holds them out to me. "You should get more."
All the children stop and stare, their hungry faces waiting for me to take my pieces. I only take one. "I had some earlier," I lie. I feel Jenna's gaze on me but walk past her without a word. In search of Agatha, I glance through the empty rooms before heading toward the kitchen.
Long lunch tables from when the building was still a school fill the cafeteria. Books are stacked on each one. The government shut down all schools, so now everyone learns from computers until they are assigned an apprenticeship at thirteen. The government decides your career based on need and one interview. The orphanage can't afford computers, so the government lends us books that get changed out every month. Anxious to stay busy, I spend my days reading through them.
"There you are." Agatha comes out from the kitchen. Strands of her thinning gray hair fall from her barrette. It is the same one she has used since I arrived at the orphanage years ago. Wrinkles spread from her eyes and mouth like a spider's web. "Were you late again from your run? It would serve you right if security punished you for being out after curfew."
"Do you have my time?" I learned early on to never say more than necessary to the woman. If Agatha ever noticed, she did not seem to care. "For the test."
Agatha would have received the time slot. The government tells us our test dates when we receive the patch but waits until the night before to report the time. I watch as she carefully pulls out a folded piece of paper from her pocket. As if to emphasize her own importance in the matter, she reads it, then slowly folds it back with perfect creases and slips it back in.
"You are scheduled for the morning." She says it without pity. To Agatha, the government is omnipotent and can do no wrong. She is their faithful servant. "Second group."
"Excellent. Thanks." If she notes my sarcasm, she does not let on. Ready to be out of her company, I start to walk away.
"If you pass, you will return here and finish your apprenticeship," Agatha says to my retreating back.
"And if I don't?" I stand still, waiting for her response.
"Then I wish you the best."CHAPTER 3
The early morning light streams over my face, forcing me awake. All night I tossed in bed, scared. Slowly slipping out of bed, I dress quietly so as not to wake Jenna. A jacket over my top, then pants and long socks. A scarf tied tight around my throat, then a pair of thin gloves. Every piece is meant to protect me as much as possible.
I pass Jenna's bed without stopping. If I do, if I wake her to say goodbye, then it means I am never coming back. And I must come back.
The quiet halls of the school offer me the solitude I seek. Colorful stick drawings hang off the walls. I linger on one that shows a little girl with Jenna and me on either side. The girl who drew it insisted we were her protectors. Little did she know that I am not capable of protecting anyone. Suppressing the sadness that creeps up, I head toward the door, where the computer bids me goodbye as it marks my time of departure.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Circle Taken"
Copyright © 2019 Sejal Badani.
Excerpted by permission of SBSK Entertainment.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite The Circle: Taken by Sage Sask is an exciting dystopian adventure about survival. Alexia was found on the beach when she was just eleven years old with no memory of anything that came before. She's spent her life since then living under a name given to her by the government and doing what she can to help care for the younger kids at the orphanage. Upon turning sixteen, she goes to get evaluated the way everyone else her age does and that's when everything goes south. She's quickly carted off to train among other teens like herself and gets the opportunity to have a place among them. That is if she can survive their test. And she'll only be able to do that if she can keep her ability to read people's pasts and futures with a single touch from being revealed. The more she trains under the Circle's guidance, the more about her past is revealed but she doesn't know how much is true or who she can trust. Soon her loyalty is tested when she has the chance to have everything she's ever wanted, but only if she's willing to betray those who trust her. The story is full of action and challenges with training and tests that are about endurance and survival. The mystery is an important aspect of the plot as the enigma of her lost memories and the Circle is what drives Alexia forward. The Circle has its secrets and the more she digs, the more uncertainty she has if she can trust anyone there. Her life before is a blank which her time with the Circle begins to fill in for her but she has to learn if she can trust the ties she's forming or a life she's been told she had. This explores an intriguing mystery that's bigger than Alexia's past and opens up other aspects of a conspiracy that runs deep between two sides. She doesn't get to be a normal teenager, spending every second apprehensive or just surviving, but Sask incorporates a few gentler moments such as dancing. These moments give calmness to Alexia and allow for her to build connections with the others and with agents while also letting you see the characters as teenagers and allowing you to bond with them. The Circle: Taken is a brilliant read with an addictive plot, well-rounded characters, a gritty world, and a journey of survival.
Most of the time, I either like a main character with few or no reservations or I close the book early because I can’t make a connection with the protagonist. Alexia evoked altogether different feelings because of her complexity and because the author allowed her to have faults, very natural faults at that. Alexia appealed to me because she’s not the near-perfect being who rarely makes a misstep. In essence, she is in search of herself while she learns some very valuable life lessons. Taken is in some ways a study of good versus evil and how difficult it can be to know the difference, who can be trusted. I especially enjoyed this arc of the story because it’s such an essential part of a person’s growth and watching Alexia learn these things made her seem quite real. The Circle itself is full of contradictions, a quagmire of choices and decisions she has to face…much like what we’re all faced with in growing up. Most of all, I was intrigued by Alexia’s search for her past and for a path to connect with those around her. She’s a girl I hope to see more of in the future.