Initially, this was a hard read, not for content reasons, but due to writing style. So, if you purchased this novel but then DNF (did not finish) it, I hope this article inspires you to give Borne a second chance.
Starting off, I went into this read knowing full well that it was going to be from the perspective of the main character, a young Black woman named Rachel. What I did not know was that the opening chapters were going to be written in a clunky, and at times, even brain staticing way. The book is supposed to be Rachel’s journal and she writes it in a way reminiscent of a squirrel with ADHD trying to convey to you where it has hidden all its nuts in the park. Oh, and did I mention that the squirrel is quite forgetful and a little bit glib? Yes, it’s that kind of a squirrel and the story starts off as that kind of a book. However, Rachel never borders on rambling, always having a point for her words, but sometimes stumbling over them. It’s as if they are all coming at her too fast and the only way to combat the overload caused by them, is to repeat the same word over and over for emphasis, or write her phrases slightly out of order.
But, once you break through the hull of the first few chapters, Rachel’s voice becomes that of a lucid adult, in control of her words. This got me to wondering what exactly was going on with this woman and why did she speak like this? Then, it hit me. Her symptoms are made evident by the way that she spoke and behaved. I am no psychologist or psychoanalyst, but Rachel seemed to have been suffering from some sort of mental illness. Whether or not she was born with it, or it was brought on by the world going to pot, coupled with the disappearance of her parents, we’ll never know. Also, the fact that most of Rachel’s city had been irradiated and flooded with mutagenic waste, probably didn’t help things either. What we do know however, is that she soldiered through the best she could, becoming one of the best scavengers in the city.
While raising the genome ambiguous creature that she names Borne, Rachel starts becoming more than a master scavenger; she becomes a mom. She still has her mental lapses, but Rachel never stops doing her best for Borne. As he grows, she encourages him, teaches him, protects him and, even in such a harsh world, loves him. This is big because she can’t even bring herself to tell her partner and boyfriend, Wick, that she loves him. The readers know clearly that she loves Wick from the way she writes about him, but her inability to tell Wick how she feels about him creates a wedge between them. When he proposes that she needs to choose between himself and Borne, she chooses, her son, Borne.
Rachel wasn’t perfect. She didn’t always know what to teach Borne, or how to do it, but she did it. Even when she was going through a bout of whatever it was she was facing, Borne always remained her priority. And her feeling were so real. Rachel ached when Borne wanted to move out on his own. She got scared when he went on his own crime fighting spree and became injured several times. When she was getting drunk on alcohol infused minnows, she was still keenly aware of Borne and his needs. I call this novel a love letter to mothers with mental illness, not because it is filled with love, but because it is filled with normalcy. When most decide to write about a character with a mental illness, they either demonize it, i.e. ‘she murdered the victim because the voice told her to do it.’ Romanticize it, i.e. ‘he created a whole world in his head just for him and me.’ Or humorize it, i.e. ‘he swears that the ducks he feeds in his head give him the wining lotto numbers everyday. He just plays them too late.’ This post-apocalyptic sci-fi did none of those things. Rachel’s episodic journalling was done with dignity and the character herself was written with respect, garnering the admiration of the reader.