Dressvergent, A YA Dystopian Novel Born From the Internet’s Obsession With Colors
Starring Strong Female Protagonist™ Catalina Midnight.
No one knows how the world was in the Before Times—the Leaders made sure to erase all the historical documents they could when they first rose to power—but what we do know is that our Society first truly began with the advent of the Picture. Sometimes I imagine what it must have been like, going through life without such a life-altering challenge looming over you, as it has my entire childhood. But after today, it won’t be looming any more. Today is my Picture Day.
Every winter as the snow begins to melt away, all citizens marking their sixteenth year in the Society must stand before the Council of Leaders and be presented with the Picture. Based on what answer you give them, you must go to live in one of two districts: Halcyon or Marine. I grew up with my family in Marine, which isn’t so bad if you don’t mind living in abject poverty. Halcyon’s foremost Leader, Chancellor Auric Bone, wins the council’s highest seat every year in the election and gives his district better access to our ambiguously limited supply of resources. It’s a cruel injustice, but that’s the way the world is, so we all have to live with it and not question anything—at least, that’s what my mother used to tell me before she died under mysterious circumstances.
There’s always the chance I could become a Halcyon after today, of course, but despite how much more comfortable and luxurious my life would be, I don’t even know if I’d want to. After all, what would my little sister Cornflower do without me here at home to take care of her and our cat, Prussian?
Behind me in line I can see my best friend, Jet, who’s been pretty popular with the other girls in Marine ever since he hit puberty. I suppose it makes sense given how tall and dashing and indeterminately ethnic he is, but to me he’s still the same crybaby who fell off the old industrial pipes we used to play on because we weren’t allowed in the fancy Halcyon playground. Ahead of me is Harpoon, that boy from Halcyon who I always catch looking at me in our mandatory education seminars. He notices my gaze and waves before ascending up the stairs to greet Bone, who ushers him into the Viewing chamber.
Minutes go by before he returns. “Harpoon Gildenstern,” Bone announces, “Is Halcyon!” A cheer erupts through half the crowd, but even though I don’t know Harpoon that well, something about his smile doesn’t seem all that genuine. Did he see something different and lie?
A few more citizens go in and out the viewing chamber—most of them remain with their districts, though one Marine girl makes the switch to Halcyon even though her father is Marine’s Council Leader, which causes a titter to go through the crowd.
Finally my name is called.”Catalina Midnight.” I slowly walk up the stairs to center stage, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. Maybe I’m too hesitant, because Bone puts his hand firmly on my back and eases me forward.”It will be all right, child,” he tells me in a low voice that sends a shiver down my spine. “Just be honest and tell me one thing, then you may go. What colors are these?”
I look at the Picture. It’s a dress. It’s, like, not even that pretty a dress. It’s got this lace shit on it and everybody knows that those kinds of stripes aren’t very flattering. Plus, what is up with the matching jacket? But the weirdest thing is after years of hearing about this Picture, I don’t actually know what to say.
“I…” I stammer to get out the words in an almost whisper. “I see… both.”
Bone’s brow furrows, and I could swear he grows a foot taller. “No, you don’t.”
“I do!” I say louder. “If I squint, the lace looks black, but sometimes it’s gold; but is the rest looks kind of like a cool-toned white but under poor lighting? Wait, is it lavender? Is this what our entire culture is based on?”
“It’s the natural order of things, Catalina,” he says sternly, looking even more imposing. “I am going to ask you one more time: what colors are these?”
“You told me to be honest,” I say defiantly.
Bone grabs my arm and throws me out of the chamber.”This one must be punished!” He yells. “She has not made a choice! She is… Dressvergent!”
A gasp erupts through all the onlookers. I can see Jet trying to fight his way through the guards to reach the stage, and somewhere I can hear the distinct sound of Cornflower crying.
“Wait!” a voice cries out. “She’s not the only one!” It’s Harpoon, stepping back from his family to address the hushed crowd. “It kinda looks blue when you focus on the white part in the corner. Also, I’m totally in love with Catalina so I’m going to do whatever she says.”
“I’m tired of the decades of oppression Marine has faced under Halcyon rule!” Jet also announces, punching a guard in the face. “And I am also in love with Cat and was going to try to convince her to run away with me on a pair of my family’s coal-mining llamas later tonight!”
I stand up. “My fellow citizens,” I declare. “For too long our fates have been dictated by a shitty smartphone-camera image of a dress probably none of us would want to wear in the first place. But stand with me, and we can change Society for the better! The time for freedom is now!”
And that is when everything changed forever.
[Editor’s Note: Want to know what the heck we’re talking about? You can check out our friend Cates Holderness’ post on Buzzfeed. Or just scroll through Twitter for 15 seconds. Also, credit to @WellLookAtZat for the Dressvergent pun. Look forward to reading more about Catalina Midnight’s adventures in Victoria’s next book, Dressurgent.]