Flow The Flow Series Book 1 by Clare Littlemore Genre: YA Dystopian Fiction
A flooded future. A relationship torn apart.
When 16-year old Quin's best friend Harper fails The Beck's assessment, will she ever see her again?
Regular appraisals are part of life in The Beck, a walled-in community constantly threatened by floodwaters. But when the shocking results of the most recent test are revealed, Quin knows her world is about to change forever.
Wrenched from Agric, where she has lived and worked for years, Quin finds herself thrown into the unfamiliar Patrol Sector. Yearning for her lost friend, struggling to adjust to her new surroundings, she begins to question the society she thought she knew.
And then she meets the mysterious Cam, who seems willing to break the rules for her. Determined to find Harper, Quin enlists his help. But when she discovers the horrifying truth, it might just destroy her.
If you devour fast-paced, addictive stories with compelling characters who inhabit intriguing futures, you’ll love The Flow Series.
When I woke it was well before dawn. I could hear the rain pattering on the pod tarps, a sound I had long ago learned to tune out. Usually in the dark I could hear the comforting sound of the other girls’ slow, sleepy breathing, but not today.
For a long time, I refused to open my eyes. Lying still, I tried to prolong the moment when I would have to admit that I was no longer asleep. Of course, the only day we were allowed to take a break from duties was the one time we could never stay asleep. All non-essential tasks would be suspended, for the morning at least.
Ours was an Agricultural pod. Growing the produce which fed the entire Beck was a vital task, and there were more than two hundred workers assigned to man the fields and greenhouses. Heavy flooding and regular storms meant our community fought a constant battle against rising floodwaters, so protecting the growing areas was paramount for our survival. But the fields and greenhouses could manage a short period without our labour force. The Supers would man any crucial stations for the earlier part of the day.
Usually our pod slept until the very last moment, and then became a frenzied chaos of activity before we all headed out to face the day. We grabbed our undershirts and pulled on dark green overalls and boots, the creaking of camp beds echoing throughout the near-silent pod. Every day we headed out the door as one just before 5.30am.
Not today though.
A dramatic sigh from the bed next to mine interrupted my thoughts. Reluctantly I opened my eyes to find a pair of alarmingly blue ones staring back at me, as I had known they would be. Cassidy. Her regulation cropped hair was white-blonde and stuck out in every direction. I tried to smile at her, knowing that the occasion and the early hour would turn the expression into a grimace even as I tried to seem optimistic.
Our voices were a whisper. Anything above that would earn the entire pod a reckoning. Nobody wanted that, especially today.
I shrugged, not knowing how to reply.
Now it was my turn to sigh. “No. Not really.”
I nodded and rolled quickly on to my back, staring at the tarp above my head. The pod was filled with muffled whispers now, and we were in danger of being overheard. Grady, our Super, was the only one still sleeping, but she wouldn’t be for much longer. We were better off not talking, not making any noise. I wondered as I justified it to myself whether it was simply an excuse not to discuss the subject any further. I had been awake for hours the previous night, dreading today. Not for myself: for Harper. But talking about it wouldn’t make any difference.
“Quin?” This time the voice came from my other side and was softer, less insistent.
I turned to see Harper staring at me. Her thin face was ghostly in the early morning light, and I sighed as I took in her sunken cheeks and the listless expression in her pale green eyes. Forcing a smile, I tried to sound confident.
“You know I’m not. Barely scraped through last time.”
“But we worked on it.”
“Not enough Quin.”
Harper’s eyes filled with tears but they did not fall. Fear lanced through my chest at the defeat in her tone.
As I turned away, I noticed that the whispering had stopped. Grady was awake and had climbed out of her bunk to begin dressing. Eager not to anger our Super unnecessarily, others followed suit. Today the rush to haul on overalls and boots was not chaotic. Instead our actions were slow and measured. We had time, and no-one was eager to embrace the day’s events. Despite this, within a few minutes our group had gathered at the mouth of the pod and lined up. Her usual grimace in place, Grady unzipped the tarp and a dim, grey light spilled through the entrance. I shuddered as we marched outside in silent unison and headed towards the canteen.
The rain had stopped but the sky was iron grey above us. This was not unusual, but the looming clouds seemed angrier today. As we passed the other Agric pods in silence, different units emerged, our numbers growing steadily until the area was filled with the sound of rhythmic marching that propelled each line, like automatons, towards the hilltop path.
Glancing left I could see down into the fields which stretched away before us into the distance, empty for now. The dark, protective fencing round the Hydro Plant, where The Beck got much of its power supply. Then the wall. Tall, strong, protective, manned by Patrol guards as always. Beyond the wall were the floodplains, their waters seemingly still from this distance, reflecting the steely sky and encircling the entire Lower Beck. Sometimes the level of water was barely visible. After a storm it increased and everyone got twitchy for a while, until a spell of better weather beat it into temporary retreat. But the huge body of water was always there, a silent threat that nobody in The Beck could ignore.
Moving beyond the Agric Compound, we skirted the edge of the LS pods, deserted at this time of day, and then passed by the Dev Compound, where the staff would not yet be awake. In the distance I caught a tantalising glimpse of the woods leading to the Upper Beck, and in the distance I could just see the pass between the hills that provided a fourth wall to our valley. Finally our line snaked sharply left towards the Lower Beck canteen. Steam rose softly from the rear of the building and the unmistakeable scent of baking bread filled the air. The Sustenance Crew would also not avoid their duties today. We all had to eat.
Marching a few steps ahead, I watched as Cassidy turned her head slightly towards me. Usually she did this when she wanted to direct a whispered remark at me, or snort with suppressed laughter at whatever she had found amusing. We had perfected the art of communicating in near-silence after years of practice. Only essential, work-related communication was permitted in The Beck. We had learned fast that the easiest way to survive was to exist unnoticed, under the radar. But today Cassidy’s speech seemed to die in her throat and she merely glanced strangely at me before spinning back to face her destination again as though she had thought better of it.
Our lines came to a halt at the flagpole just in front of the canteen. Usually we were eager for food and this was tangible, even in the silence. Now the lines were filled with grim expressions and no one seemed eager to hustle in and eat. A solitary voice, whichever Sustenance Super was on duty today, called out pod numbers from a clipboard. One by one, the lines trudged inside the tent.
I found myself willing the process to take longer to delay the inevitable, but too soon our line was filing in behind the others and queuing for the daily bowl of porridge and rough hunk of bread. Today’s portion was made with milk, a rare treat. The usual watery substance which lurked in our bowls was replaced by a creamy, filling warmth. It was only a pity that we couldn’t enjoy it.
Collecting my allotted bowl, I walked to the pod’s usual table and slid on to the bench. A moment later, a small, cold hand slid inside my own underneath the table. I couldn’t believe how small the hand inside mine felt, how feeble. I turned slightly to my right and managed a small smile for Harper, squeezing her hand in return before turning my attention to the meal.
I had little appetite, but the porridge was thick and creamy and I knew my body needed the strength it would provide. Forcing down spoonful after spoonful, I wished we could be afforded this kind of nourishment on a day when we could actually enjoy it. But it was tradition, to provide us all with a filling meal before the trials which awaited us.
The room was eerily quiet for a building which housed so many people. All female at the moment, the canteen contained row upon row of benches which housed a never-ending stream of hungry workers. A large, barn-like structure with whitewashed walls and stark, simple furniture, the canteen never stopped, and every pod was carefully assigned two meal-time slots each day. The portions we received were meagre and barely kept us going, so anyone missing a meal really suffered. In our world, there were very few justifications for missing out on food.
I watched as table after table of girls ate, heads bowed, our silence more severe than usual due to the tasks which awaited us. The table at the top of the room was elevated slightly and contained the Supers. Their portions were slightly larger than the rest, which was why Super positions were so sought after. Both Cassidy and I would be considered for Super positions today, and Cass was looking forward to the prospect of a slightly better diet, but I knew that being promoted also came with its down sides. Being separated from friends I had known from the moment I was assigned to the Agric Compound was one. The extra responsibility was another. I wondered again if I had the stomach for it. But what else was there?
I glanced at Cassidy sitting beside me, consuming her breakfast with a grim determination. She too was sneaking looks at the Supers between swallowing, as if making vital mental notes about them. After a few minutes she stared directly at me, her eyes burning fiercely.
“Three,” she hissed.
“Places up for grabs,” she raised an eyebrow, “I think three of them are going up.”
I thought about it. Of the twenty Supers currently at the top table, Cassidy believed that three of them would be promoted to positions in other fields today, leaving their places free for others to take. There were at least thirteen girls I knew of being considered for elevation. Competition was tough. Cassidy was desperate to become Super. I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic. My main reason for wanting promotion was Harper. If she could only get through today, and if Cassidy or I could make Super, we might protect her. Without that, we all knew she couldn’t go on for much longer.
A tap on my thigh brought my attention back to my friend sitting on the bench next to me. I realised I was being handed something else. Harper was determinedly pressing something into my hand: the hunk of bread she had been given by the Sustenance worker. I stared at her fiercely.
“Take it back.”
Harper shook her head.
“Take. It. Back!” I hissed.
The Super on duty was looking our way. I bowed my head rapidly, pushing the bread towards Harper, who was now staring in the other direction. I noticed that her porridge was barely touched.
“But you need it,” I pleaded, “more than I do.”
Finding sudden tears in my eyes, I had to bite my lip to keep them from falling. Harper was desperately skinny already, she had been for months now. She had struggled to collect her share of crops in the fields and Cassidy and I had been helping her out, collecting extra and slipping it her way when no one was watching. The additional work had almost killed us, but we had agreed it was worth it for Harper. It had also had the unexpected effect of strengthening us both, building real muscles on our wiry frames, and was one of the reasons that we were eligible for Super promotion today.
Harper, on the other hand, had only grown steadily weaker. I suspected that she was ill, but admitting that was far more dangerous than trying to hide her weakness. There was no option of medical treatment for her. We could only help her out where possible and hope time would help her to heal. Over and over again, I had offered her a share of my rations, hoping that the extra food would allow her to grow stronger, but more often than not she had refused to take it. Even when she did accept a small amount of food, she struggled to eat it. Whatever was the matter with her seemed to have killed off her appetite and her spirit, and she struggled even to consume The Beck’s paltry rations.
Watching Harper struggle to finish the tiny bowl of porridge, I remembered the way she used to be. I had known Cassidy and Harper for a long time, but three years ago, when we all passed out of Minors and were assigned to the same Agric pod, our friendship had really taken root. The three of us had quickly become inseparable. The Beck was a restrictive place: the work hard and the hours long once you moved into a Compound at the age of fourteen, but between the regulations and the hardships there was room for friendships to grow. The relationships we developed with our pod sisters were what kept us all going.
Where I was quite thoughtful and quiet, Cassidy was loud and boisterous, a character trait she was mostly forced to stifle. Cass regularly made fun of me for being uptight, which had led to several arguments between us in the past. But Harper was loving and gentle and funny, the perfect connection between us and she diffused our regular spats with an easy understanding of both our characters.
She was also by far the most suited to the Agriculture Compound. Even in the very early days she had shown herself to be extremely adept at planting, nurturing, and gathering the crops so essential to the continuation of life in The Beck. She was the one who understood exactly how to make things grow and thrive, and she was looked upon as an unofficial Supervisor well before the age of sixteen due to her capacity for understanding exactly what was required to ensure the healthiest harvest.
Realising that the rest of the table had finished eating, I thrust the bread at Cassidy underneath the table. I knew she would accept it, where I couldn’t swallow my friend’s quota of food without feeling a keen sense of betrayal. Moments later, we rose and began filing out of the large room, the Sustenance staff already sweeping in to clear the bowls from the tables and begin again with the next sitting. Leaving the canteen, our line turned out of the exit doors and wound its way back round the path which took us within sight of the entrance again. Now, a similar sized group of young men from the LS pods was hungrily awaiting their turn to eat, having already chalked up several hours of work with The Beck livestock.
Usually plenty of glances passed between the groups, even from this distance. The Lower Beck’s male and female citizens were separated from a very early age, when they were still Minors even, and most of the pod assignments at the age of fourteen were single gender. Only in certain Compounds were male and female citizens permitted to work together. That didn’t prevent curiosity though, in fact it probably made us even more inquisitive about the other group. The Agric girls always looked across at the boys, and were occasionally rewarded with a sly wink from one of the more confident among the group.
Few people were looking today though. The lines of girls marched forward resolutely. We knew what was awaiting us and no one was looking forward to it. Behind me, I heard Harper gasp as she tripped and I automatically shot out a hand to catch her before she hit the floor. She stumbled for a few paces before regaining her balance and I let go, knowing that Grady had not missed Harper’s near fall. She was so clumsy these days. I was certain this fact was known by all the Agric Supers.
Around a year ago, I had begun to notice the gradual change in Harper. Cass wouldn’t accept it at first, but I saw the early signs. She was quieter, less likely to chat, found it more difficult to complete the long hours required of an Agric worker. Where previously she had joined in the whispered chatter between us, and the stolen glances at the boys as we passed them, now her head remained permanently bowed and she didn’t so much as glance in their direction.
While Cassidy and I had grown stronger, Harper had only seemed more sluggish and depleted in energy by the day. Eventually we had to support her on her return from the fields each night, and tried to switch our greenhouse allocations with her as often as we possibly could, so she could work where it was warmer and duties were light.
Today was Assessment day. It happened every six months without fail, and its purpose was to test the ongoing durability of The Beck workforce. We kept the place running, and without all staff being in prime condition, The Beck risked a complete breakdown. The series of tests we underwent each time included a gruelling physical, a mental health test, and a written examination which tested our knowledge of life and work in The Beck. All three were graded and the results defined what happened to a citizen next.
Promotion to a higher position within your own pod was possible, and carried with it some benefits. Reassignment to an alternative Sector was also possible. Citizens were sometimes moved between the different areas if the Supers felt we were better suited to another role, or if we had gained the necessary experience and knowledge to work at a higher level. In an environment where floods had destroyed huge parts of the country and land was scarce, overpopulation was not an option. Those failing the tests risked demotion to a lower level Sector, or even assignment to Clearance. This was my biggest fear for Harper.
Clearance was the place where citizens ended up when they had outlived their usefulness. It was saved for the elderly, for people who were not able to maintain a useful position in Beck society, for those who were seriously ill and unlikely to get better.
Situated across Black Hill on the far side of The Beck, none of the ordinary citizens were ever permitted to visit Clearance. Only the Governor’s officials and Patrol members on duty were allowed over there. Whatever went on, it all took place over the other side of the hill, completely hidden from view. There was only one thing I knew for certain about Clearance.
No one ever came back.
The Flow Series Book 2
It’s been three months since Quin transferred to Patrol and discovered the terrifying truth about the community she lives in. Citizens of The Beck are disposable and those in charge are capable of terrible cruelty. Vowing to protect those around her, Quin has joined the Resistance. But she knows she is risking everything.
Rebellion of any kind must be secretive and clever. Gathering enough people to fight seems like an impossible task. When those closest to her are directly threatened, Quin knows she has to act. But time is running out. Governance will stop at nothing to protect the world it has worked to build. In the end, Quin must decide how far she is prepared to go to rescue the ones she loves.
Break is the second in the Flow series, which follows Quin as she struggles to carve out a future in the harsh regime she was born into.
Screams echoed upwards through the valley. I struggled to keep my head above the water, feeling the heavy weight of the harness pulling me under. Gasping for breath before I became completely submerged, I fought to keep control of my limbs, to swim, to break through the mirrored surface above me. It seemed smooth, like glass, though I knew that from above, the water was always moving: rippling gently or whipping back and forth, spray shooting out at angles, splashing over the shale on the narrow beach.
There were others around me, but I couldn’t feel their movements. I knew they were struggling just like me, striving to reach the surface, no matter how weak their wasted limbs became. I remembered being told during a climbing lesson once that legs are always stronger than arms, and I kicked with all the force I could muster. The top of my head broke the surface and for a second I could see above the water. The beach was lined with Shadow Patrol officers, a line of them staring out to sea, vacant expressions on their faces. I wondered for a second why they didn’t have their faces covered.
Tilting my head skywards, I gasped another desperate breath. The heavens were an inky blue, a few stars visible here and there, tiny pinpricks of light which were further away than I could possibly fathom. As my head sank into the depths again, I watched. They blurred, the sharp daggers of light becoming indistinct as the sheer volume of dim, shadowy water grew above my head. I was sinking. With no strength left to fight it, I could do nothing but fall gently down into the depths of the bay.
Drift The Flow Series Book 3
She wanted freedom. But freedom comes at a price.
Quin believed that a life away from The Beck would make her happy. But when a cruel twist of fate forces her to leave sooner than planned, she struggles to come to terms with her new reality. Haunted by memories of the people she left behind, she finds herself wishing she was back in Patrol, with Cam by her side.
Cut off from The Beck, the escapees carve out a new existence on a small island. Tentative bonds are formed, but as disputes surface and rebellion is threatened, Quin quickly realises that their new home isn’t the sanctuary she had imagined. And when one of her fellow citizens is willing to go to desperate measures to save those he loves, he puts the entire community in danger.
As they hatch a daring plan to save themselves, Quin is faced with a terrible choice: protect her friends or follow her heart.
Drift is the third in the Flow series, which follows Quin as she battles to forge a new life in unfamiliar territory without the man she has come to depend on.
It took me a while to get to sleep, and when I woke it was still not morning. I could hear voices at the far end of the dorm, whispers which conveyed a note of urgency. I stumbled out of bed and walked over to them. Tyler was standing in the doorway of Green’s room. She turned at my approach. I could see Green inside, hurling herself around the room, collecting various items and throwing them into a backpack.
“Something wrong?” I whispered.
“Rogers just radioed. He’s on his way back,” Tyler muttered.
Green paused in her quest for a moment and turned to face me. “Cam’s ok, you’ll be glad to hear. He answered the radio call. Said he thinks he can help us. We need to get to The Beck as soon as possible. That means setting off as soon as Rogers gets back.”
I ignored the jolting of my heart at the news, asking what I hoped was a practical question instead, “In the middle of the night?”
“Yes.” She resumed her search, pulling things out of drawers and shoving them into the bag. “Hughes got in contact. Offered us the loan of one of their motorboats. It will get us to The Beck faster and be less conspicuous than the Clearance boat.”
“What do they want in return?” I frowned, trying to clear the sleep from my head. “More ammo?”
“Apparently not. Hughes just asked that he and a couple of other Ridge citizens come along. Have the opportunity to look around.”
I felt my heart lurch for a second time. “So, they are interested in The Beck?”
“And Rogers agreed to this?” I couldn’t keep the frustration from my voice.
“Well it makes sense.” Green sounded defensive. “We get there much faster if we go with them. They came through on the deal with Barnes, didn’t they?”
“Well, yes, but that’s hardly concrete proof they can be trusted. What are the others going to say? I thought we made decisions as a group?”
Green shot me a look. “Not this one. There’s no time.”
The Flow Series Book 4
One battle. One chance to change the future.
Having survived the deadly virus that endangered her new community, Quin is devastated to learn that the same sickness threatens The Beck. With Adams and his Shadow Patrol in charge, Cam and her friends are in mortal danger.
The rebels know they’re not strong enough to take on The Beck’s government alone. The only way to succeed is to join forces with The Ridge. But their alliance is built on tenuous threads: one wrong move could destroy their hopes forever.
As Quin steels herself for the final battle, a shocking revelation leaves her wondering what she is willing to sacrifice in the name of freedom.
Quell is the fourth and final book in the Flow series, which follows Quin and her allies into the ultimate battle to save The Beck.
“Drop it.” The command was brief, but indisputable.
Very slowly, I bent down and placed the gun on the ground in front of me. Then, raising my hands in surrender, I stepped away from it.
“We need to go.” The command was aimed at Allen, who had not moved since Thomas began speaking. “Someone else could arrive at any moment.”
Allen moved through the door, easing the box out through the narrow space. As he passed, he shot me a look which seemed to convey some kind of apology. I seethed quietly as he continued down the hall in the opposite direction.
“What happens next?” I blurted out.
“What happens is Allen collects the other box from the kitchen, then we leave,” he paused, as though gauging my reaction, “taking your friend here with us.”
Clare Littlemore is a young adult dystopian and sci-fi author who thrives on fictionally destroying the world in as many ways as she possibly can.
She was born in Durham, in the UK. Her parents were both teachers, and she grew up in a world surrounded by books. She has worked for most of her life as a teacher of English at various high schools in England, where she has shared her passion for books with hundreds of teenagers. In 2013 she began writing her own fiction, got totally hooked, and hasn’t stopped since.
Clare lives in Warrington in the North West of England with her husband and two children.
What’s in a Name?
I love Young Adult literature, and I’m proud to admit it. That said, it’s a difficult category to define. Unlike horror, romance or thriller, a YA book can be on pretty much any topic you’d care to imagine. The only thing tying books of the genre together is their target audience: teenagers between the age of thirteen and eighteen. And the fact that, in reality, they are read by many people outside that age range, yet many adults won’t admit to reading them due to their ‘YA’ name.
Let’s consider that. I know a ten year old who is mature enough to manage some YA books. And I know a few fifteen year olds who are possibly not. As for me, well, I’m forty three. And I’m far more likely to turn to a YA novel than I am any other genre, because I think a good YA novel is written with honesty, and with the harshest critics in mind.
Teenagers are nothing if not honest. When I began writing the first in my dystopian YA series, Flow, I wasn’t actually aiming at teenagers. The book is set at an unspecified time in the future, where the world is hugely flooded and the citizens living in my society are struggling for survival. Flow has been read and enjoyed by readers of both gender between the ages of eleven and seventy. But of all the people who have read it, the teenagers were by far the most inquisitive, the most engaged, the most interested my world, taking it not at face value, but digging beneath the surface, questioning elements of the nightmarish dystopian future I had created and demanding answers.
I recently ran a couple of creative writing workshops where the young adults in attendance made me consider things about the world of my novel which I had honestly never contemplated. Afterwards, when I went home and continued writing the sequel, their questions were ringing in my head, and made me consider the books in a different light. As a high school teacher, I should have known that teenagers would be engaged with the minutiae of the book in a way that adults rarely have the time or energy to be. That’s why YA books are so enthralling: they have to be.
I have had many adults read Flow and state ‘It wouldn’t be my usual genre, but I really enjoyed it.’ It made me wonder why they wouldn’t have considered a YA book before, but I suppose there is a kind of stigma to admitting as a fully grown adult that you enjoy YA books. I have stated myself in the past ‘I love YA books!’ and then followed it up hastily with ‘because I’m such a child!’ Yet why should I have been embarrassed to admit I was enjoying what was a truly brilliant book?
Because the title of the genre is very misleading. I was discussing this with one of my readers the other day, and she said she felt the YA genre was capable of bridging the gap between parents and their teenage children, encompassing books which could be enjoyed by both generations. Not books which parents read to young children when helping them learning to read, but books that are entertaining and engaging to both child and adult. This type of book often forges a connection at a time when teenagers might find it difficult relate to their parents.
Book are powerful. I have always felt this. A good book can stay with you throughout your entire life. And the shared experience of a book can be magical. The ten-year-old I was referring to earlier is my daughter. She has just begun to read suitable YA books which I have enjoyed in the past, and in discussing their contents we have discovered a whole new side to our relationship as the shared experience brings us closer together. She questions parts of the books I never did, and in a way which only a young adult could, and that’s what I love about the age she is entering.
That’s why I’m proud to say that I read (and write) YA fiction. And I’m really looking forward to the day she recommends a YA book of her own for me to read.
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