Rite of Passage by Alexi Panshin

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Cannonball Read IV: Rite of Passage by Alexi Panshin

By DragonDreamsJen | Book Reviews | September 26, 2012 | Comments ()


There are books that change your life when you read them. Books that somehow alter your perspective on the world for the better and make you feel more prepared to face the challenges in your own life, even if that novel is a work of fiction.

Rite of Passage was first published in 1968 and won the Nebula award that same year. Written by American SF critic and author Alexi Panshin, Rite of Passage is a semi-dystopian novel about the Universe in 2198. The Earth no longer exists, destroyed amid desperate wars and overcrowding. Civilization is preserved aboard 7 giant ships that travel amid the hundred colony worlds that still hold the human civilization.

Mia Havero has grown up on one of these ships in a safe and secure environment, but as she approaches her fourteenth year, she must prepare for "the Trial", a month long exile amid the wilderness on a colony world. Those who survive this "Rite of Passage" return to the ship and are considered adults. This tradition ensures that the ships do not become overpopulated as well as weeding out those who cannot survive by their own skills or cunning. The only problem is that the planet they are being sent to turns out to hold a lot more challenges and dangers than usual, including one threat that may change Ship society forever.

Rite of Passage is a first person narrative with a strong, young female voice, which makes the fact that it was written by a man in his late twenties as a first novel all the more remarkable. It is not only an amazing story, but the way in which Mia wrestles with personal challenges, moral dilemmas and her emerging identity as an individual instead of a child make this an incredibly powerful coming of age story. I first read the novel in my teens, bought my own copy in my early 20s and have reread the book at least a dozen times since then. One of the advantages to being a speed-reader and devourer of books is that you read so many stories, you forget small details until you read a book again... then you savour it all over like a favourite meal, warm bath or childhood tale.

Amid the current slew of YA dystopian and coming of age novels, Rite of Passage not only holds its own, it rises above many "modern" books due to the excellence of writing, the believability of the characters, the power of the narrative and the universality of the experience we all face called Growing Up. This novel proves that a good story, especially classic Sci-Fi, is truly timeless. There are very few books that I would rate at the full 5 stars... but Rite of Passage had to be among them.

For more of DragonDreamsJen's reviews, check out her blog, The Book Hoarding Dragon.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • emmelemm

    Thank you thank you thank you for bringing up this book.

    My fifth grade teacher read this book to us in class a [redacted] long time ago. I haven't read Hunger Games, but when I heard about it, I was like, eh, I could just reread Rite of Passage.

    It is a really good story.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I read this so long ago that I had forgotten all about it. Thanks for the flashback.

  • BierceAmbrose

    Another one for the list.

    And another one down,
    and another one down,
    and another one on the list.

    OOOOOOO, I'm gonna read this too,
    another one for the list.

    ... as performed by that epic cover band Godtopus & the Cannonballers.(*) Available for download, or just dial it up in your head. I know one of their raucous concerts will be playing in my brain all day, now.

    (*) Nik and the Nice Guys, a party / cover band from upstate NY, peaked with a series of appearances at Super Bowl parties. Started in college, NatNG continued after the members got day jobs and mortgages, playing a steady schedule for years. With a horn line & pool of personnel they covered pop / top-40 from any time or style with rotating singers & line ups depending on the tune. "Nik" never appeared in person.

    I think GandCB are kind of like that, but better.

  • "Strong, young female voice" in a dystopian novel? Adding this to my must-read list! Great review.

  • Snath

    I've never heard of this, but it sounds very interesting. Great review, as usual.

    I will admit to being a little turned off by the art, though...it's like Space Nancy Drew and the Case of the Buck Rogers Set Design.

  • emmelemm

    I have a copy with different cover art (but it's still kinda retro and goofy).

  • Stephen Nein

    I'm pretty sure that's ironically retro new cover art. I had that 9V Lazer pistol in 1984, we saw that F-16 (with it's wings) on magazines, pants went up that high and everyone wore sport shirts.

  • The Other Agent Johnson

    Yeah, but it's right in line with the other sci-fi art of that era. All rayguns and goofy hair and whatnot.

  • Maguita NYC

    Fantastic review! I admit to at times being turned off, unfairly, by too-long paragraphs and/or reviews, but the way you lead us through the story and how personally you connected with said book was just smooth, well written, and quite simply grabbed the attention right down to the last note.

    That being said, it always fascinates me when a male writer tries speaking to you with a female mind/voice. Some have failed miserably (hello James Patterson's Women's Murder Club), but I am very much willing to give Rite of Passage a try.

    And second @399319257cf029383a8bc3219d7b97b5:disqus on how right you were in regards to the joys of re-reading old favorites.


  • armangelus

    His other books are equally excellent.

  • TK

    Yeah, I'm all over this one. Righteous.

  • SLW

    Fantastic, I'll look this up. As you say, one of the joys of reading too much is that you can re-read books you once read twenty years ago and they're like new again. There's an early onset Alzheimers joke in there somewhere too.

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