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 single 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.
Paperback format, 239 pages, copyright 1968, Timescape copy published by Pocket Science FIction in 1982