Science Fiction

The Omen Girl

By

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A beautifully imagined story about the harmfulness of prejudice and the healing powers of compassion and friendship.

Synopsis

[WATTYS 2020 WINNER]

Sozo, an Omen girl reviled as a monster, has to hide the truth of who she is in order to fly in the Decade-Race of stars. Her prize, should she win, is a wish. Any wish. The penalty, should she be discovered, is death.

Through it all, she meets Naqi - a talented boy and fellow competitor, a boy full of sunshine and laughs. And in the days leading up to the fateful race, as Naqi teaches Sozo words and joys she was never allowed, she begins to question: How far is she willing to go for the sake of her wish? Who is she willing to hurt in order to win? For how long can she maintain her lies, especially with Naqi?

When Sozo is given an ultimatum, she has to choose: betray her Omen people, or betray the people who are slowly, surely, becoming like a family to her.

Sozo is an Omen, a girl whose sins have physically manifested on her body in the form of a black stain. Society condemns her and those like her. No one knows why some people are marred by the stain while others remain unblemished; as Sozo’s bitter mentor Esp says, “Ten people could commit the same crime, and only one of them would be stained.”


But Esp and her gang of outcast Omens are tired of being vilified and fed up with others’ hypocrisy. They are planning on getting their revenge by using Sozo as a pawn. She will enter and win the Decade-Races, a race in which a select number of young people use bonded stars to compete for the chance to win a wish. Desperate for acceptance and eager to please, Sozo agrees to the plan. But when her training introduces her to the meaning of true kindness and compassion, her resolve begins to crumble. Who will she side with – Esp, the person who understands her rage and what it is like to be hated; or Naqi, the boy who teaches her to laugh and to fly?


The Omen Girl is at once heartbreaking, uplifting, exciting, and inspiring. Sozo is a hardened protagonist, made spiteful and mistrusting through a lifetime of rejection and abuse. Nothing comes easy to her, because in her mind (and in the minds of nearly everyone around her) she is unworthy. Her painful journey to understanding her place in the world as well as learning the difference between genuine caring versus manipulation had me on edge for most of the book. I always enjoy complex heroines who are vulnerable but still have bite – Sozo definitely fits the bill.


Yang’s worldbuilding is remarkable. Her depictions of the city and its temple, the various ceremonies, and the ritual of star bonding makes me long for certain aspects of the world to be real. Yet along with the magical and whimsical aspects, the ugliness of human nature comes through, too. The prejudices faced by the Omens – individuals who are treated as nothing more than dangerous criminals – reflects the readiness with which some people will point the finger of blame so long as they aren’t the ones being persecuted.


Despite some small editing oversights, Yang’s incredible gift for storytelling shines through and completely transports the reader. The Omen Girl has quickly solidified itself as one of my favorite books; it teaches a number of important lessons for young and old alike without being oppressively preachy or cheesy. I would honestly recommend this book to everyone, but for the sake of specificity I’ll say fans of YA, science fiction, and fantasy genres in particular.

Reviewed by

Horror, thriller/suspense, and mystery are my areas of reviewing expertise, although like most dedicated readers I'll delve into (nearly) anything with a great plot. I love being a reviewer and having the chance to interact with talented writers as well as help their stories gain exposure.

Synopsis

[WATTYS 2020 WINNER]

Sozo, an Omen girl reviled as a monster, has to hide the truth of who she is in order to fly in the Decade-Race of stars. Her prize, should she win, is a wish. Any wish. The penalty, should she be discovered, is death.

Through it all, she meets Naqi - a talented boy and fellow competitor, a boy full of sunshine and laughs. And in the days leading up to the fateful race, as Naqi teaches Sozo words and joys she was never allowed, she begins to question: How far is she willing to go for the sake of her wish? Who is she willing to hurt in order to win? For how long can she maintain her lies, especially with Naqi?

When Sozo is given an ultimatum, she has to choose: betray her Omen people, or betray the people who are slowly, surely, becoming like a family to her.

PROLOGUE

Against the canvas of the night sky, people turn into stars. 

The city below is dim. Its citizens are hushed. Streaking above us and through the air are stars shaped like people, tearing past like fighters, hurling away like a scream. Their skin is living liquid light, and stardust trails in their wake. The dust settles gold over my skin, and itches.

Someone’s hand is on my ankle, and the hand is warm. I am sitting on their shoulders. I am small enough for it. 

Look, they say. Look, Sozo.

I look, but the people are gone. They’ve dipped away into the dense geometry of the cityscape, and all is dark again.

Sozo, they say again. The Decade-Races are the race of dreams. Fly fast enough, and strong enough, and better than everyone else, and you win a wish, any wish.

You win the right to anything you desire.

Do you understand, Sozo?

“Yes,” I lie, because I know saying no is the wrong answer. And why would I understand? I’m only four during this race, and though my memory is blurred, I know I’m perched on my father’s shoulders. I know the warmth of my mother’s hand on my back.

 Why would I understand races and wishes when I already have everything I need?


*


Against the canvas of a white white wall, I am told to take off my clothes.

I do. So do all the others lined up on either side of me. There are all sorts here, all of us homeless: flabby old men and women, quivering teens, other kids like me, maybe six or seven years old. Another girl about my age is standing next to me, and we look at each other. We are standing too far apart to hold hands, so all we can do is look at each other.

Clumped before us are men and women in blue police gear, and they go down our line one by one, to turn us and to check us, to look at us all over.

Listen up, they say. There’s been reports of an Omen girl here.

She’s charged with burglary, assault, vandalism, theft. She’s young. Seven or so. Black hair, black eyes, pale skin. There’s an omen stain somewhere on her body, most likely her back.

They are talking about me. I know. I have broken into many places. I have stolen many things. You have to when you’re my age, when no one in the world is looking out for you.

The police are standing before me. They look me all over. And then I do what I always do – I hide my omen stain.

Hiding it is not something the others can do. I don’t know why. All I know is that it is a simple thing, like holding my breath, where the black spill of my omen sinks back underneath my skin. But like holding my breath, I can’t hide it for long, just long enough to get away with things like this.

They turn me around and look over my skin, and I know they see nothing but the bumps of my spine, the bumps of my ribcage, the pinprick bumps over my white skin from the cold. They find no omen stain there, though it’s there.

It will always be there.

The police move on. I put on my clothes. They look over the girl next to me and find a stain on the bottom of her left foot, dark like a scab from heel to toes. They cuff her, and arrest her, even though her eyes are blue, not black.

I should tell them the truth, that it’s me, not her. You have the wrong girl. 

But I’m scared. I’m scared.

The girl rails. She pushes off the ground and kicks and kicks, and the more she does, the larger her stain spills. It thickens leathery like a hide. It crawls up her foot and leg and hip until her skin is no longer skin, but rough like earth, and just as dark. Her teeth are lengthening. Her nails are sharpening. She growls, and slobbers, and becomes something like a beast.

I’ve never seen anything like this before.

I did not know we could turn into monsters.

The police have bolt pistols in their hands. They take aim against the no-longer-girl’s head, and fire. There is no blood. The monster collapses against the ground, and does not move. It’s dead, I think. I don’t know. I’m trying not to hyperventilate. I’m trying to hold my expression smooth, like the wall behind me. 

It’s my fault she’s dead, but I can’t cry.

Crying never got me anything.

Before the police leave, they turn to us – us stupefied and petrified by the white white wall. They say, “Stay away from Omens.” They say, “At best they’re criminals. At worst, monsters.”

One of them looks at me and asks me if I understand, and I can only nod. My throat is too tight to speak. If I open my mouth, I might hurl. But I understand. I do not want to understand, but I do. 


*


Against a dead end in the night full of smoke, a woman named Esp finds me.

Three years have passed, but nothing has changed. I am huddled underneath a dripping red tarp, and a pipe beside me trembles with hot water, and hisses, and hisses. My reflection in the laundry-grey puddles is like the reflection of a stray – small, dark, dirty.

A shadow casts over me. I look up, and see Esp.

It’s like looking up at a vulture, a black vulture. Her jacket is puffy and dark, with fur fat around the collar to guard her against the nighttime chill. Her legs are slender, long, slick with the reflected reds of neon lights. She’s chewing gum, and blowing a bubble. Her hair is electric green.  

“You lost?” She asks.

“Are you?” I reply.

She pops her gum, and stares. I stare back. This is my dead end, and I got here first. She’ll have to use her fists to get me to leave.

I notice her omen stain then, her stain like a loud afterthought, curved like a sickle from the corner of her lip and over her cheek and ear, and up into her hairline. I don’t know how I missed it.

She snorts at my glare. “Put your gun away, kid. You got a name?”

“I’m not a kid.”

“No? You look like one, talk like one, act like one.”

I bare my teeth. “Zap off.”

“A kid,” she repeats. “But a kid I could use,” and it startles. It startles me into silence. I’ve never been of use to anybody.

She says, “I hear talk you’re special.”

My stain, and how I can hide it.

“You tired yet,” she asks, “of being lesser-than?”

We live on the streets. We’re barred from work. We can’t buy and sell and own things. Our bodies and shadows are only for spitting on.

“You got a wish, kid?”

I’m startled again, stunned. No one cares for the wishes of an Omen. I recall my memory of the races, and of stars, and of the things I felt then. Still, I say nothing. I say nothing because I don’t have a wish.

I have many.

I wish I didn’t have the stain. I wish I had a bed. I wish people didn’t toss salt on their thresholds when I passed by, and I wish mothers didn’t pull their children closer to them, to point and say look, look, that one there is evil. I wish I could go back to that warmth underneath the stardust, to the days when I didn’t need wishes. 

Maybe the woman sees something in my expression, because she nods. She says, “I have a wish. People like us all do. Omens, they say. Monsters, they say. We’re the unlucky byproduct of some genetic lottery. That’s all we are. Ten people could commit the same crime, and only one of them would be stained. A city and a world where the unlucky are punished. What a joke. What an absolute joke.”

It’s unjust, she says, and I agree. With a force like thruster fire, I agree.

It needs to be rectified, she says, and I tilt up at her, wait for her to tell me the answer. How will this be rectified? How will us monsters be given justice?

Instead she looks at me and asks, “Do you understand?”

I don’t. I told her I’m not a kid, but I am. Justice and wishes are beyond me, have always been beyond me. She turns from me then, and steps away. My heart drops – I’ve failed her, somehow. I’m no use after all.

So I say, lie, the way I’ve always done, “Yes.”

I tell her, “I understand.”

And she stops. She twists back at the mouth of the dead end. Her voice echoes off the edges of the alleyway when she says, “Good.”

She tells me to come, and to follow her, and so I do.

She does not need to know I have lied. And maybe one day, when I am grown, when I am stronger, I will no longer need to lie.

About the author

Evelyn Yang is a winner of the Wattys 2020 award for the Science Fiction category. She is forever obsessed with magical worlds and the beauty of stars, fascinated by the dark of monsters, and arrested by the romance of overcoming barriers. view profile

Published on December 04, 2020

70000 words

Genre: Science Fiction

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