Book Review – Losing Nuka by Kayla Howarth

If there’s one thing we can safely assume about humanity, it’s that fear of the other is deeply ingrained into our consciousnesses. Much as we hate to admit it, we’re a clique-y group of primates who will put up with a lot from those are like us and tolerate absolutely nothing from everyone else. We all love to give lip-service to the notion of diversity, but when faced with “the other” a lot of that bravado disappears.

At least until we get to know “the other” and the nervousness disappears because we realize that most people really aren’t all that different.

There you go, the unspoken fact for the day: people aren’t that different from one another.

Back in around 2013 or so, Kayla Howarth set out to write a series detailing the after-effects of a devastating war and the impact it had on society. Consider it post-dystopian, if you will. Dyspostian, I guess. By the way, I just came up with that word, you owe me a nickle every time you use it.

Anyway, Howarth’s first books (The Institute Series) showed humanity’s enduring love affair with the other. After the devastation, a new group of people rose up from the ashes to live side by side with the rest of the survivors. They looked like humans and acted like humans – heck, they were even born to human parents – but they were far from human. This new group had manifested powers. Some of the powers were amazing – people could fly, they were powerful psychics, and all manner of strange and powerful people started popping up.

Naturally, the pure humans flipped their wigs and set about finding new and exciting way of jailing and exploiting these strange new humans. True to form, we set about punishing people for being different.

The Institute series gave way to the Litmus series, a collection of books about the aftermath of the aftermath. The first book, Losing Nuka, follows the misadventures of a young woman with purple eyes as she tries to – and does – find her birth mother. The problem is, her mother is somewhat less than motherly.

Long story short, Nuka winds up in an underground fighting ring where she uses her powers of heating things up rapidly against other enhanced fighters. It’s a brutal, terrifying world, but one Nuka sticks to even as it becomes more and more obvious how twisted that world is.

That’s another thing you can safely assume about people: If we ever did have mutants, we’d make them fight each other for our entertainment. That doesn’t say much for us a species.

The fighting Nuka engages in is brutal and detailed and Howarth handles it with an eye for accuracy. It’s not gory or excessively violent, but this is basically MMA for people with limited superpowers, so be forewarned. I’ve personally written the same kinds of things, so it didn’t bug me, but I understand there are people who prefer to avoid the nastiness. For those people, read the book anyway. You can always skip to the end of the fight.

Whereas the predominant theme of The Institute was one of tolerance in the face of “the other”, the Litmus series is more attuned to the gritty realization that there are some seriously messed up people out there and even as Nuka’s world had been healing itself, it is still very much in turmoil.

For all the gritty backdrop, this is a coming of age story. It just happens to be a coming of age story with underground superhuman fighting in a damaged, but healing world. Nuka leaves her past behind to find out more about her true self. What she finds is shocking even to her.

Losing Nuka is book one of a three book series and, not gonna lie here, it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Fortunately, the remaining books in the series are available now (Howarth must type like the wind), so you won’t get stuck waiting for the next book to read.

As an added bonus, Losing Nuka appears to be on sale right now. If my math is right (and it sometimes is), you should be able to pick up Losing Nuka for only 99 cents until Feb 11, 2017.

Act now, supplies are limited.


Raised by adoptive parents since the age of six, Nuka James starts questioning her past. Unable to get the answers she seeks, she goes in search of the one person who can tell her the truth– her birth mother.When searching lands her in the belly of Litmus, Nuka wants to prove she’s worthy. Litmus is an underground club where Defectives use their supernatural abilities to fight it out for money, fame, and glory. Litmus is where you find out what you’re made of.Winning her mother’s approval without losing herself won’t be easy, though.***Litmus is a spin-off of The Institute Series. While it is set in the same world, and characters from The Institute make appearances, it can be read as a separate, stand-alone series.Losing Nuka is a YA/NA crossover, suitable for people fifteen years and older.

In case you’re interested, my review of The Institute can be found here.


Note: purple eyes.

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Book Review – The Institute by Kayla Howarth

The Institute is the second YA novel I’ve read and reviewed and, true to the best elements of the genre, enjoyed.  YA is an nebulous sub-genre of lots of different genres.  From what I’m seeing the writing is on the same level as what is commonly referred to as “adult fiction”, the plots are just as well developed, and the characters are as complicated as the works that are targeted at adults (whatever adult actually means).  The only real difference between YA fiction and everything else seems to be the ages of the characters.

Enter Kayla Howarth and The Institute, a fast-paced and contemplative work about the value and cost of being different in a world that really doesn’t appreciate differences.  Imagine, if you will, a world where people with special powers are encouraged to report to the titualar Institute to be treated and cured.  True to government form, the Institute is positioned as a place where people with these powers – Defectives as they’re called in the book – can be treated.  Of course, everyone knows the Institute isn’t there to help anyone, it’s little more than a prison where the treatment largely consists of locking Defectives away.


This cover is awesome sauce.


Allira Daniels will do anything to keep her family safe from the Institute. They claim to protect the Defectives, but really the Defectives are trapped and segregated.

Allira’s brother Shilah is not dangerous like everyone assumes all Defectives are. He just sees things before they happen, and Allira knows that if anyone finds out, they will turn on the entire Daniels family. So they live by one simple rule: be invisible. They try to blend in at school, try not to draw unnecessary attention to themselves. But when Allira witnesses a car accident that critically injures two of her classmates, her family’s rule and her dad’s warnings are tossed aside.

Allira is quick to discover that saving Drew’s life could just be the best and worst thing she’s ever done.”

The concept of the Defectives is what sets off the story.  In Howarth’s dystopian world individuals with some kind of special powers pop up from time to time, much to the chagrin of a government that sees them as dangerous.  A Defective’s powers may be something simple, like the ability to see a short time into the future or to read someone else’s mind.  They may also be quite a bit more; the novel references a Defective that basically nuked a city.  With my luck I’d wind up being able to talk to corn but still get locked up for it.  Allira has a most interesting power of her own.

There are plenty of twists and turns in The Institute; the story is engaging and keeps you pondering the large questions about exactly what you would do if you were dropped into a situation where you had to work with the people you hated or suffer the dire consequences.  If you were abducted by government forces, dropped in a jail, tortured, and told your family would suffer if you failed to work with your abductors, what would you do?  Would you grudgingly work with the people who imprisoned and tortured you or would you stick to your guns and accept punishment?  To add a nice little twist to the tale, if you grudgingly work with the people who imprisoned you, your job will be to hunt down and imprison other people like you.

And that, right there, is the important part of the story.  It’s about what it means to be different and how people come to grips that.  It’s also a story about how we rationalize our decisions even when we’re not 100% certain the path we’ve chosen is a good one.

Aside from being a good story, it’s a well-written tale with a protagonist you can’t help but root for even as she questions whether or not what she’s doing is the right thing.  Moral abiguity and relativistic morality are always difficult to pull off well but Howarth nails it.  Highly recommended, The Institute is not only a cracking good read, it’s one of those immersive books where you find yourself wondering what you would do if you were in that same situation.

The Institute left me wanting to know more.  Fortunately, there’s already a sequel out.

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