The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy

Color of RainThe cover of The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy describes it as “non-stop, no-holds-barred,” and they’re really not kidding.

Rain White lives in Earth City, a crumbling, future factory town with no prospects and very little hope.  Rain is desperate to escape on a spaceship traveling to the Edge.  There, she might be able to find a cure for her little brother, one of the Touched–a terrifying disease that strikes without known cause and steals a person’s memory and sanity.  Rain will do anything to save him, including turning to prostitution (not unlike Fantine, in fact).  Johnny, a dashing spaceship captain, seems like the perfect answer.  Despite some ominous indications, Rain agrees to be “his girl” in exchange for passage for herself and her brother.

Once in space, however, Rain learns that Johnny has many girls–he’s a pimp and a slaver, and runs his business ruthlessly and without morals.  Now Rain’s survival (and her brother’s) depends on doing anything necessary.

This is marketed as YA, but as should be clear just from the plot, it’s a very upper, very dark YA.  Don’t be fooled into imagining that it will pull any punches.  Frankly, the only thing that makes it YA, I think, is that Rain is seventeen.  From the movie rating system, I’d call it an R, for sex, language and violence.  It would have been possible to be more graphic–but I wouldn’t describe this as discreet either.

I think it’s worth comparing this to what it’s not.  In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books, the worst is frequently threatened–but never actually happens.  Here, the worst happens…again and again, because every time I thought we’d seen the worst, the specter of something even worse loomed up.  A few of those specters don’t materialize–but most do.

This is a much darker book than I usually read, and it goes place I’d rather not go.  However, I do acknowledge that for this story, it’s not gratuitous.  I’m reminded of something my writing group’s resident horror writer has said–that he writes about horrific things in order to write about how people overcome them.  And that is ultimately  what this book is about, about holding onto that last piece of humanity and identity when it seems as though everything has been stripped away.

Part of that uplifting strand is inside Rain herself.  She’s stubborn and tough, and while she may at times be beaten, she’s never defeated.  After every worst happens, she finds a way to keep going.

The other bright spark in the otherwise almost unrelenting darkness is Ben, Johnny’s assistant and slave.  Ben is a Mec, genetically and mechanically enhanced, but still the most human person on Johnny’s ship.  Ben still believes in morals and the value of human life, and his treatment of Rain is in marked contrast to pretty much everyone else she meets.  It’s a slight spoiler to say that there’s an eventual romantic relationship, but that becomes obvious very quickly.  In fact, if I have one real critique of the book, it’s that Ben and Rain connect a little too deeply too quickly; there are a few points very early on when she clearly feels this connection, and there doesn’t seem to be a basis for it.  However, there is more grounding as the book progresses, and the relationship evolves into something really lovely.

The book is obviously sci fi, although I feel like that takes a very backseat compared to the human drama.  It’s an aspect of the book, but not that much a focus, and there isn’t a lot of worldbuilding.  For the most part we’re thrown in without explanations, and for the most part that works…though there were a few explanations I would have liked and never ended up getting.

Final assessment…excellent written, this book was too dark for my taste, and I think many (most?) readers would find it challenging at times.  But for what it is, it’s gripping, compelling, suspenseful, non-stop and no-holds-barred.  If you like dark thrillers, you may want to consider reading this in one sitting!

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review.

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
Finding Wonderland
The Compulsive Reader
Wild About Words
Books Without Any Pictures
Anyone else?

Buy it here: The Color of Rain

4 thoughts on “The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy

  1. I loved the way you described the plot in terms of overcoming obstacles and not being defeated. I can understand that message being good for older high school students, because at that age every bit of drama seems like the end of the world. This puts things in a bit more perspective and shows that even after the worst happens, life goes on.

    1. Absolutely–as dark as the book was, I definitely appreciated the message that life (and people) CAN go on, even after the “worst” happens. Rain isn’t ruined forever by what happens to her, and while there will be a lot to deal with, I feel like the implication in the end is that she’ll go on to a happier life.

  2. I think you are right about the world building–there’s enough there for a solid framework, but not much more–and I think this adds to the clausterphobic horror of Rain’s shipboard world.

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