Fan, a tiny teenage free diver who can hold her breath for several minutes at a time, leaves the safety of B-Mor in search of her boyfriend, Reg, who was scooped up by a Charter security team for medical study. “He was the sort of kindly, dreamy boy who is prevailed upon by whim and instinct, and if he sometimes found trouble, it was always the charming kind,” say the book’s narrators, the left-behind residents of B-Mor, for whom Reg and Fan become the stuff of legend.
Sweet, goofy Reg, however, was of interest to the directorate on a genetic level, since he tested free of the C-taint that ultimately kills everybody. (Lee never specifies, but the disease sounds quite a bit like cancer.) The B-Mors accept their fate stoically, since their health plans only cover six days in a hospital and they can’t afford additional treatments, but Charters throw all their considerable resources into putting off the inevitable.
As she travels, Fan meets the Counties residents, including Quig, a former Charter resident whose family was sent into exile and who now provides such medical care as is available, for a price. She also finds her way to Seneca, a Charter in upstate New York, where she meets wealthy Charters and girls who have been surgically altered to look like anime characters.
Lee writes in the first person plural as the rest of the B-Mors obsess about Fan’s adventures, which they follow via chat rooms and vid screens and their own collective imaginations.
“We can’t help but build upon what is known,” they say, elaborating on the way a story changes every time it’s told, “our elaborations not fantastical or untrue but at times vulnerable to our wishes for her, and for ourselves.”
People rarely leave B-Mor, except through death or suicide. Before Reg was kidnapped by the state, the only ones who got out were the occasional 12-year-old who scored in the Top 2 percent of the country on the national exams. The last one, about 20 years before, was Fan’s older brother.