With her latest novel, Pawn, Aimeé Carter has wowed readers with her unique dystopian society in which people are divided into different social classes using a numbered ranking system. Today, Aimeé takes us inside the dystopian world and describes how she created this fascinating and dangerous society.
The dystopian society in Pawn, the first book in my new Young Adult series The Blackcoat Rebellion, is built on a ranking system that was scarily intuitive to create. Even though the book is set more than 70 years in the future, everything about this world and story was based on something that exists today. For the ranking system, nothing was more influential than a standard IQ test.
In Pawn, the ranks go from I to VII, with the majority of the population ranked as IV. The protagonist, Kitty Doe, takes an aptitude test on her seventeenth birthday to decide her rank — the same test every citizen takes. Based on the results, they’re ranked anywhere from a II to a VI and assigned a job suitable to their strengths. The Is are reserved for those considered “useless” by the government, and the VIIs for the ruling family, the Harts. These ranks are tattooed on the back of their necks and determine everything about their lives: where they live, how much food they’re given, how many children they can have — even how long they live. While Kitty’s clever, she can’t read and scores a III, which provides her with a job cleaning sewers.
As for what a III means and where it ranks in the general population, this is where the IQ test comes in. It gets a little math-y, but bear with me. If you’ve taken a statistics course, you’re probably familiar with the bell curve and the function of standard deviations.
The bell curve can be applied to many things, but in this instance is used to illustrate IQ score distribution. The average IQ is 100 points, and each standard deviation is 15 points. Which means if your IQ is 115, you’re one standard deviation above average. 68 percent of the population will have an IQ between 85 and 115.
This 68 percent makes up the rank of IV in Pawn, and each standard deviation represents either a rise or fall in rank. Score between a 115 and 130, like 14 percent of the population, and you’ll earn a V. Fall above a 130, and you’re a VI, the highest rank a citizen can obtain. Only 2.1 percent of the population earns this rank.
But if you fall below an 85, like Kitty, this is where things get not so great. 70-85 earns a III, like her. 55-70 earns a II, which condemns you to a short, ugly life of misery. Score below 55, and you’re sent Elsewhere, never to be heard from again.
To make this easier to visualize, I created a bell curve for Pawn. You can see how IVs are comfortable, but they lack certain privileges, such as being allowed two children. Vs and VIs are also given the more highly-skilled jobs, while IIs and IIIs are given jobs the government considers “undesirable”:
The occupations that fall into each category are a prime example of one of the biggest fallacies within Pawn’s society — a specific IQ doesn’t necessarily make you better suited for one job over the other. But this is a society that values one particular kind of intelligence above the rest, and in the end, this is what Kitty rebels against: the idea that one test fits all, something our own society struggles with in the face of standardized tests such as the SATs, ACTs and state-wide exams. When society is structured around these things, as Kitty witnesses firsthand, many fall through the cracks. She’s “lucky” enough to escape this when her rank is replaced with a VII and she’s forced to take the place of the prime minister’s assassinated niece, but to the Harts, she’ll never be more than a lowly III — and Kitty must choose whether to accept this or to fight to destroy the ranking system and the power her new family holds.
“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” — Albert Einstein, allegedly. And Kitty would agree wholeheartedly.
- Aimeé Carter
Reading Aimee describe the realities and logic behind her dystopian society is absolutely riveting and lends another layer of believability to the book. Pawn is available in stores and online now, so be sure to pick up a copy to dive into Kitty's harrowing world. And for more young adult insights, visit our Everything Young Adult Page!