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Elci North
The Auction
Elci North, author
In a society where babies have become a source of government income, laws designed to push up the birth rate are enacted that strip women of the most basic of human rights: The right to choose when to have a child, the right to choose who to marry, and the right to raise her biological child. Logical computer programmer Jane overindulges at a graduation party, winds up pregnant, and is forced to marry a near-stranger. Drama queen Angelica bets a gay guy in a bar that he couldn’t “do it with a woman.” Pregnant Angelica loses her job and the love of her life. And after 13 years of trying, Millie finally conceives, but sitting vigil at her severely injured husband’s bedside takes priority. Fifteen-year-old Wendy loves school and art, but an ex-convict cuts the glass from her window and rapes her. Their paths cross when they are sentenced to the same pregnancy prison. But as lawmakers know, putting women together can lead to ideas. Ideas that could end the Baby Auction and bring down the government.
North’s stinging dystopia debut depicts a future America where women are subjugated by the government Office of Reproductive Oversight, which controls every aspect of a pregnant woman’s life, forbidding abortion, restricting women from working, and forcing them to marry the biological father of their babies. Women give up their babies to the Auction, where the wealthy bid on the healthiest babies and the poor take out predatory government loans to afford the sickest. “Every family gives a baby to The Auction and takes home one that is perfect for them,” is the government line.

Disobedient women in Pittsburgh are sent to the McKee Place, Home for Pregnant Women, a prison where North shows us four women bonding: computer programmer Jane was caught working, blind Millie is forbidden to live alone while her husband recuperates in the hospital, party girl Angelica’s gay father of her baby won’t marry her, and 15-year-old Wendy refuses to return to her sadistic rapist husband. North humanizes these protagonists in an inhuman society that infantilizes women, touts bogus “research” from unscrupulous universities, and bombards the population with propaganda lies, such as claims about women’s responsibility for being raped.

Eventually, the cast of this well-paced, engagingly horrific story learns the true purpose of the Auction—and that women in other countries are free to work and keep their own babies. After tragedy strikes, the four women use their skills, along with the help of sympathetic men, to hatch a plan to set things right. Readers will toggle between rage and hope as they immerse themselves in North’s meticulous worldbuilding that exposes the hypocrisy and illogic of brutal government policies, stifling bureaucracy, and government censorship. North crafts a memorable and emotional thrill ride through an unnerving society with intelligent and inspirational characters who strive to create their own destiny.

Takeaway: This unsettling yet encouraging story of a woman-subjugating dystopia will appeal to fans of resonant cautionary tales.

Great for fans of: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Naomi Alderman’s The Power.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Reader's Favorite

The Auction by Elci North is a speculative fiction novel set in a moderately near future where the laws surrounding reproductive rights have drastically changed. Rape is a myth. Women are at their best in the home. Their husbands are the best caretakers. Babies are the government's golden geese and are sold to the highest bidders. North develops the stories of four pregnant women and narrates them from their own point of view. Each has a unique backstory and all are radically different. Jane, Angelica, Wendy, and Millie are all victims of the system, and all as different from each other as any four women could possibly be. But they share one fate in the lead-up to their babies being born and auctioned: The Home for Pregnant Women, aka pregnancy prison.

Elci North creates a fantastically creative new government order under a utilitarian rule in The Auction. I love how just enough aspects of American society remain unchanged to keep the general population subdued by way of “it could be much worse” gaslighting. The writing is exceptional. I loved the way each woman's predicament paved their path of misery to the prison, and how none had even the tiniest shred of agency to prevent what happened to them. The auction itself is unique in that it is the women and the husbands they conceived their babies with, like it or not, who are the bidders. Everyone there has had their biological child put into the auction listing, and each will leave with a baby; one that is unlikely to be theirs and that comes with a price tag they can afford. The way the women come together is organic, as is the dialogue and the believability of their backstory. I went into this book out of curiosity and came out the other side as an Elci North fan. Very, very highly recommended.