The bare bones of the plot: a world where black people are the oppressing majority and white people are the oppressed minority. Obviously, the concept isn't new. It was done - and well done, at that - by Malorie Blackman in her Noughts and Crosses series. If you're interested in the premise, but you dislike blatant racist propaganda, give that one a try.
You could assume this reversal would serve to de-construct issues surrounding racism (as happened in Blackman's books). You'd be wrong. The way this goes about reads more like, "how can we make everyone care about the racism POC have to endure? I know! Let's get a pretty, blond, white girl to go through that!" It's a mockery, a dystopian what-if, with all its horrors, of what is a reality to POC to this very day.
Foyt doesn't just reverse social roles, as Blackman did, she comes up with a dystopian, post-apocalyptic future in which solar radiation ("The Great Meltdown") killed almost everyone - except most black people.
Even though UV radiation's effects on the immune system and eyes are independent of race, and it's never clearly explained how humanity managed to survive in a world where flora and fauna have been decimated - the ever present holograms, as far as I know, won't fill your belly or keep you from getting rickets. But moving on.
This book is so messed up that I honestly need to give you examples so people don't accuse me of making it up. So...
"Had Peach forgotten that Eden’s skin only had a dark coating? Maybe she was passing, after all. Wouldn’t that be nice?"
The book starts off with black face and I'm not even going to touch that one, because it's too obvious to anyone with a functional brain. In this book, the author goes so far as to have "a band of Coals" known as "The Lost Caucasians" performing in whiteface. I'm also not going to go off on how problematic the whole issue of passing is. Anyone with the bare minimum knowledge of history already knows it. The author addresses it only as problematic insofar as it is just another way the protagonist fails to see how beautiful she really is. I mean... I mean, really. I don't even know anymore.
"She was a lowly Pearl, worth nothing in a world ruled by dark-skinned Coals."
I'm sure that, if asked, Foyt would have a very witty justification for "Coals" - the way she chose to term the black majority in the book. Exposure to solar radiation will make you perish of "The Heat", and those who survive it are the "Coals" - hahaha, get it?
Too bad that when in context - in this case, comparing it to what other races are called - "Coals" is still insulting. Get this, the extinct albinos are "Cottons" (I swear I'm not making this up to better showcase how absurdly racist this is, Foyt really seems to have gone out of her way to be insulting), white people are "Pearls" - of course there are black pearls but let's ignore that and focus on the fact that pearls are precious gems and coals are... coals. So what happened is that, in a dystopia where black people are the ruling class, they chose a derogatory term for themselves? Am I getting this right? Because don't let yourself be fooled, the ruling majority is the one who decides who is who and what is what. So black people decided they would be Coals and white people would be Pearls? Was it a racist naming decision by the author or was it a racist implication that black people are so ignorant they don't even understand the value dissonance of their choice? It's really a choose your flavour of racism issue here.
Don't let this whole naming thing distract you, even though Pearls are the lowest of the low, the protagonist still finds time in her busy schedule of being oppressed to be racist:
"Ashina jumped up and grabbed Eden’s lab coat. “Are you calling me a liar?”
Eden flinched. One of them was touching her. White-hot light exploded in her head. Before she knew it, she blurted out an incendiary racial slur.
“Get your hands off of me, you damn Coal!”"
Can you imagine how this would work out in the real world - I don't even need to add, "back when...", I mean now.
"Because of [Eden's father] high intelligence scores, they had overlooked his race and given him the position of lead scientist at Resources for Environmental Adaptation, or REA. He even had secured Eden a plum researcher’s job at the lab. They were the only Pearls allowed to work there."
Never mind that brilliant POC find their paths barred when they try to make it in Academia today, not even worth mentioning how POC scientists were treated in the real world social period corresponding to this novel. The fact that her father is a "Pearl" but still the lead scientist is, by itself, unbelievable, not only that but he managed to get his 17 year old daughter a position in a top scientific facility. But let us set aside the absurd to explore the ever popular "white man saves the day" aspect of it, shall we? I mean, really, even in a world where they are at the bottom of the social ladder, and all but extinct, the white protagonists still manage to save the "ignorant" POC. Well done. And it gets worse:
"Eden might be powerless, but she smiled at the secret knowledge that she was one of only three people who understood how he was about to change the world, and possibly, even save it."
Not only do white people save the day, but the POC don't just lack the ability to save themselves, they lack the very capacity to even understand how it happens at all.
"If Eden wasn't mated in six months when she turned eighteen—the deadline for girls—she'd be cut off from Basic Resources, and left outside to die."
Why? Why provide this incentive for the reproduction of a race deemed inferior? Let's take a look at how that worked out in the real world. African slaves who their owners thought were no better than animals, were bred as such, to make strong slaves, thus serving a purpose to their exploiting oppressors. However, in this world, "Pearls" don't seem to fare too well. Their position would be even less regarded than Native populations back in the day, I mean, at least the Natives didn't just up and die if left on their own as Pearls do - and what happened to Natives under the colonizers? Genocide, that's what. They scattered them, took away their lands and resources, took the children away from their parents to effectively destroy their culture and, to this day they are extremely oppressed. There are no incentives given to rebuild their great nations, be it in the US, be it in Canada, be it in Australia, Native populations are always amongst the poorest.
But I guess the "Pearls" would have to "get mated" because how can you have a YA book without the heroine discovering that her reason to go on is finding and keeping a man? Unthinkable.
Bramford, her boss and potential romantic interest has skin "the color of storm clouds" so I don't know if Foyt was being poetic and saying he was dark, or being insulting and saying he was ashy to the nth degree, like, "That dude really needs some lotion, his skin... storms a brewing. You see that man and he only makes sense in a production of The Tempest, hovering overhead".
Jamal (of course, he'd be named Jamal, of course) "My Dark Prince" (Eden's words, not mine), her other love interest "Unlike most of his kind, he was colorblind" - I don't know how, in this day and age, an author - therefore a person who knows how to read - has not yet grasped the concept that being "colorblind" regarding race is, in fact, racist. You have to be in a position of privilege to have the option to ignore race, if you check your privilege you will not say ignorant things like, "I don't see race." Really, it's not a complicated concept.
Eden, as a character, is horrible. Whiny, racist, full of self hatred and always expecting her problems will be solved by her "Dark Prince" who always calls her "Little Bunny" and "pet" and despite this she can't wait to be mated to him and have his babies. I thought it unlikely he'd be interested in her, considering her personality alone all issues of race aside SPOILER! and of course he was only using her, but it's hard to feel bad for her because she was only using him as well./SPOILER
And if all this mess wasn't bad enough there was some bestiality sprinkled on top of the whole thing.
By the way, I think Foyt forgot something in her list of "thank yous":
Revealing Eden by Victoria Foyt
@ The Book Depository