Divergent, by Veronica Roth

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Author’s blog
Publication date – May 3, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Beatrice “Tris” Prior has reached the fateful age of sixteen, the stage at which teenagers in Veronica Roth’s dystopian Chicago must select which of five factions to join for life. Each faction represents a virtue: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite. To the surprise of herself and her selfless Abnegation family, she chooses Dauntless, the path of courage. Her choice exposes her to the demanding, violent initiation rites of this group, but it also threatens to expose a personal secret that could place her in mortal danger. Veronica Roth’s young adult Divergent trilogy launches with a captivating adventure about love and loyalty playing out under most extreme circumstances.

Thoughts: I felt like I’d been waiting just shy of forever to read this book, when when I finally got myself a copy, I was more than happy to sit down and read through the whole thing as quickly as possible. I’m glad to be able to say that it lives up to my expectations, which were, I confess, flagging in the wake of so many lackluster dystopian novels that seem to be cluttering the shelves these days.

Divergent starts with a concept that’s fairly familiar to readers of dystopian fiction, especially YA dystopian fiction: deperating people into basic categories. In this case, the categories are personality traits. Whether you’re more selfless, or brave, or other such traits will determine your faction in Roth’s future, the section of society in which you will live out the rest of your life past the age of 16. Of course, the main character has a classic case of not quite fitting in, having multiple dominant traits in her personality. This is referred to as Divergence, and must be kept a secret at all costs.

I admit that when I got that explanation, I had a knee-jerk reaction of rolling my eyes and assuming that the only reason that Divergence would be so bad in such a society is because it flies in the face of whatever philosophy declares that people can be reduced to a single personality trait. Reading on, however, reveals that although that is part of it, it only skims the surface of why Divergence is so dangerous to the current regime, and is both more and less than such a simple explanation.

Roth does a wonderful job of showcasing the way that humanity takes things to extremes. Where the Dauntless faction are supposed to embody bravery as a primary trait, this has, over time, come to manifest in a daredevil lifestyle in which peircings, tattoos, and violence are the order of the day. The selflessness of the Abnegation faction has gone beyond charity and modesty and instead teaches that the self is less important than the other, and that not setting yourself aside for everybody else is just selfish and bad. Good in theory, but human nature being what it is, over time people will always take things to the next level and the ritual becomes more important than the meaning.

In much the same way that I praised Mike Mullin’s Ashfall for not shying away from the darker side of life, I must give that same praise to Roth here. There is death in this book, bloody and violent and senseless. There is suicide. There is war, and cruelty, and frank discussions that highlight the way that morals and ethics are a millions shades of grey instead of black-and-white. Roth manages to do all this without being heavy handed about it all, and that works all the more effectively to get her point across. Other writers of YA-oriented novels could do worse than to follow in Roth’s footsteps.

There are a dozen things I could praise this book for, and I can think of only one thing that I really disliked about it. And that is this: it came as no surprise that Tris’s dominant traits were selflessness, bravely, and intelligence. Just about every heroine in every novel, especially ones intended for teenagers, have their main traits be these. It’s getting overdone. Yes, Tris’s personality is rich and layered enough to make her more than just these basic traits, so it’s not a huge flaw, but really, in three words Roth just described the generic heroine, and so it was hard not to wince a little bit there.

But when that’s my biggest complaint, and even I can find counters to my own arguments in the way that Tris was developed, that’s not much of a flaw in the novel as a whole. Really, Divergent is a realistic and exciting ride through a future that’s all too believable, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the books in the planned trilogy. I can’t wait to see what Roth will do next.

Eve, by Anna Carey

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Author’s website
Publication date – October 4, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The year is 2032, sixteen years after a deadly virus—and the vaccine intended to protect against it—wiped out most of the earth’s population. The night before eighteen-year-old Eve’s graduation from her all-girls school she discovers what really happens to new graduates, and the horrifying fate that awaits her.

Fleeing the only home she’s ever known, Eve sets off on a long, treacherous journey, searching for a place she can survive. Along the way she encounters Caleb, a rough, rebellious boy living in the wild. Separated from men her whole life, Eve has been taught to fear them, but Caleb slowly wins her trust…and her heart. He promises to protect her, but when soldiers begin hunting them, Eve must choose between true love and her life.

Thoughts: Being a sucker for dystopian novels, I had to give this one a try. I regret that I was actually pretty disappointed in it. The story had some potential, but there were far too many plot holes to make me comfortable with rating this book any higher than 2 out of 5.

The setting of the novel is a world in which 98% of the human population has been wiped out in a plague. America is now called the New America, is ruled by a King whose throne city is in the middle of a desert, and males and females are kept pretty much segregated. The man character, Eve, is in an all-female school, on the edge of graduation, after which she will cross the school’s lake into another building and spend four years learning her trade.

Or so she thinks, until one random girl whom nobody likes tells her that the real secret to that building is that girls are kept them and impregnated against their will. Despite having no reason to believe this, Eve decides to check it out anyway (swimming across a lake after admitting that she doesn’t know how to swim), and finds out that this is all true.

Waitasec, hold it. Completely ignoring the fact that she learns to swim after about 15 seconds in deep water, I want to take the chance to ask the following question: if girls are being prepped to basically be broodmares after they graduate from school, what the heck is the point? Why school them that long? Why waste time and resources and concoct an elaborate lie that makes them believe they’re going to have careers, and then just strap them to a bed and introduce them to a doctor with a turkey baster? It’s a waste of time and resources. If the real goal is to boost the population, then it would make better sense to make sure that the girls are fertile and then take them elsewhere as soon as possible, not continue to teach them how to dance and how to interpret 19th century novels.

I may also add that this all takes place about 10-15 years after the plague has ended. Too soon. 50 years, I can see. But in such a short time after the crisis is over, a lot of the changes don’t make much sense. Lawlessness running rampant because “people didn’t read the Constitution”? A politician setting himself up as King and nobody opposing him because they were all scared and sick? Complete segregation of the sexes, and the female teachers (who all were old enough to have survive the plague in adulthood, I might add) intentionally teaching girls that all males are heartless and cruel and will use girls and then spit them out? This book doesn’t take place hundreds of years in the future, when society can have radically changed in its views and perceptions. It takes place 20 years from now! Changes that massive don’t happen so quickly, and when they do, the resistance is more than scattered pockets of stubborn people.

So Eve leaves the school and decides to search for a rebel compound that she heard of, hoping that they’ll offer her protection and freedom from a life of birthin’ babies. On the way she runs into Arden, the girl who told her about the pregnancy program in the first place, and Caleb, a boy who escaped the all-male labour camps and is now living in an all-male society of hunter-gatherers. Naturally, Eve and Caleb fall in love.

Really, who didn’t see it coming a mile away?

Another gigantic plot hole occurred during an incident that proves beyond a doubt that the author doesn’t know much about biology and medicine. While investigating an abandoned house, Arden collapses and is coughing up blood all over her hands. My first thought is, “Ooh, is this a resurgence of the plague?” That would have been interesting. But no, it doesn’t seem so. Eve tells Caleb that Arden was outside in the pouring rain the previous night and that must be why she got sick. Three weeks of bedrest later, and she’s fine.

I’m sorry, but if there’s a condition that within 24 hours can chew up your lungs to the point where you cough and your palms are covered with blood, you’re not going to get better by just sleeping it off. You’re very likely to be dead in the next couple of days. Especially seeing as how the descriptions of the plague made it sound like a hemorrhagic fever, the author had a perfect chance to take the novel in a different direction and make it very hard-hitting, but she just let it go, and in so doing made a plot hole I could drop a piano through.

The novel ends with Eve and Caleb finding the rebel compound and Eve discovering that it’s a women-only deal, so Caleb can’t come with her. Having fallen in love, to the point of risking their lives on more than one occasion, she vows to find him again. And there the book ends, with the first part of the trilogy complete.

This feels, more than anything else, like an attempt to hop on the dystopia bandwagon before the journey is complete. The only way in which Eve stood out to me was in the mistakes it made. It could have been a novel by anyone, written at any time, with little in the way of a creative and original storyline. The author does have some talent, especially with introspective turns of phrase and artistic description, but the overall story was so lacking that it felt more like a “me too” than an “I have a great idea for a book.”

I can’t say I recommend this one. I know a lot of people who read my most recent “In My Mailbox” post seemed excited about it, but really, unless they want a bland and unoriginal romance in a post-apocalyptic world, they’re not likely to enjoy reading this novel.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

XVI, by Julia Karr

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Author’s website
Publication date – January 6, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Nina Oberon’s life is pretty normal: she hangs out with her best friend, Sandy, and their crew, goes to school, plays with her little sister, Dee. But Nina is 15. And like all girls she’ll receive a Governing Council-ordered tattoo on her 16th birthday. XVI. Those three letters will be branded on her wrist, announcing to all the world-even the most predatory of men-that she is ready for sex. Considered easy prey by some, portrayed by the Media as sluts who ask for attacks, becoming a “sex-teen” is Nina’s worst fear. That is, until right before her birthday, when Nina’s mom is brutally attacked. With her dying breaths, she reveals to Nina a shocking truth about her past-one that destroys everything Nina thought she knew. Now, alone but for her sister, Nina must try to discover who she really is, all the while staying one step ahead of her mother’s killer.

Thoughts: I was really looking forward to getting the chance to read this books. From early descriptions that I read, it seemed like it would be a really interesting dystopian world with an interesting debate on sexual ethics.

And while this book wasn’t bad, I did close it wishing that I’d borrowed instead of bought. It didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had in mind. The negative side of hype, I suppose.

The story revolves around Nina, a girl terrified of turning 16 and receiving the government-mandated “XVI” tattoo on her wrist that identifies her as being legal to have sex. After her mother’s brutal murder, she and her sister go to live with their grandparents, transferring schools, and entering into a conspiracy that threatens not only Nina’s life but the life of all those around her. And for such an exciting-sounding premise, I can think of only one or two scenes that were actually as exciting as that description sounded.

Reading this book so soon after Bumped made it very hard not to compare the two. Both are futuristic settings where the plot has an emphasis on sexuality. However, where Bumped actually felt like a different time period due to differing slang and cultural thoughts and stereotypes, XVI felt like it was today, if today had hovercars and people flipped their calendars forward by about a century. The problem is that XVI took place much further down the road than Bumped did. But hovercars aside, you really wouldn’t know it. People talked the same, they thought the same, they acted the same way they do today, for the most part. While this may have been something done to increase the chances of readers relating to the characters, it had the negative effect of making the future, with all its bad changes, feel not so futuristic after all. Maybe this kind of story could have been better presented as an alternate earth, in which the Puritans and Big Brother gained a much greater hold in public mindset. 99% of the key plot elements would not suffer at all for this change.

Very little in this book came as a surprise. From finding out who Nina’s mother’s killer was to the true purposes behind the FeLS program (when the girls chosen for this are required to be virgins and pretty, it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on), I mostly wondered how it had taken people so long to figure this stuff out in the first place. The writing style itself was good, fluid and easy to read and constant, but that also proved to be a detriment when the the dull periods felt just the same as the exciting periods.

On a personal level, I dislike the way teenager sex was dealt with her. Now, I can rant for hours about how sexuality in the media bugs me because it assumes that everybody wants to do it (ignoring those of us who have better things to do with our time, thank you very much), but particularly what bothered me here was the subject of rape. As in, “it doesn’t exist.” The XVI tattoo was the proof that girls could legally have sex, but this was interpreted as an entire society thinking that all girls with that tattoo must want to have sex, a lot, to the point where there can’t possibly be any rape no matter what the girl says happened. That made me grind my teeth. But when you get to a news story about how a girl was raped and murdered and all that happens is that people pay lip service to how dangerous teenage hypersexuality can be, I want to beat people over the head for ignoring the murder! That part felt incredibly sloppy. Yes, it’s established that people don’t always care about low-tier people getting killed, but to turn the entire incident into an expression of sexuality is just painful. The society views in Nina’s world may be different than our own, but murder is still murder, and people are going to be angered over it.

Julia Karr definitely has promise as an author, I think, but if her other books continue to feel as this one did, I suspect I won’t be reading any of them. Too much left undone or unsaid or underdeveloped for me to want to read the sequel to this book, at least. I think, in a way, that’s the crux of why I didn’t like this as much as I thought. It was too full of promise, and too short on anything else.

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

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Author’s website
Publication date – August 24, 2010

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Young Katniss Everdeen has survived the dreaded Hunger Games not once, but twice, but even now she can find no relief. In fact, the dangers seem to be escalating: President Snow has declared an all-out war on Katniss, her family, her friends, and all the oppressed people of District 12. The thrill-packed final installment of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy will keep young hearts pounding.

Thoughts: I’ve now followed Katniss’s tale from beginning to end, and I can safely say that I understand what all the fuss has been about all this time.

Katniss returns to her role as the semi-willing catalyst for revolution, only this time it’s far more direct, having been rescued by those in the secret District 13. Katniss is turned into the face of rebellion, central to the propaganda used to incite others to join the fight against the Capitol, and unsurprisingly, feels like she’s being used for entertainment just as much as she ever was while participating in the Hunger Games to begin with. But she’s not the type to take things sitting down, and her refusal to stay away from the front lines of battle make her loved by those who can help her, and hated by those who are in power… on both sides of the line.

Katniss spends a good chunk of this book either suffering from PTSD or recovering from injury, and while that’s definitely high on the realism scale, it doesn’t always make for the most interesting read. I had started to play a little game with myself, predicting how certain situations would go. Katniss would demand to go help somebody, make a speech, get injured, spend time in the hospital, then go hide in a closet for a while. It’s clear that Collins did some heavy research into how untreated post-traumatic stress disorder can affect people, and I have to give her serious commendations for that, but when you can turn Katniss’s reactions into a slight running gag because the same routine plays out at least three times, maybe it’s time to cut back on those scenes a little.

Collins also managed to sum up the entirety of war within this book, quite skillfully. Lots of propaganda, and long periods of boredom followed by bursts of mind-numbing terror.

One very interesting point about this book is that it stays very true to the notion of casualties of war. In many stories, you know that the people surrounding the main character are all going to live, with the possible exception of one or two of them, who will die in such a way as to spur the main character on to more decisive action. Not so here. In addition to a very literal “rocks fall, everyone dies” situation, Collins makes it clear that no named character is really safe. Characters you’ve come to know and love end up dying, sometimes in a way that can spur Katniss on, but most of the time they die in the background, providing a distraction so that Katniss can get away. If there are any characters you really like, be prepared for the chance that they won’t make it to the end of the series.

Katniss also gets the chance to really evaluate whose side she’s on, and comes to the conclusion that she’s really only on her own side. Flanked by the Capitol, who wants her dead, and the leader of District 13, who wants to use her and then kill her when she’s outlived her usefulness, Katniss ends up using District 13 as much as they’re using her. They provide her with training and access to get her revenge on President Snow, but she makes no secret of her dislike for President Coin or her methods. It’s an interesting situation from the reader’s standpoint, and underscores the fact that in war, “good” is often subjective, and therein brings the debate of whether the end really does justify the means.

I know some people reading this are waiting for my take on Katniss’s romantic situation, and here it is: I want to smack Gale. Not because I think that Katniss should end up with Peeta, but because of his reaction to realizing that he wouldn’t be the one she chose. He basically takes the standpoint of, “There’s nothing here for me, so goodbye.” He tosses aside their years of friendship because he isn’t going to be the one Katniss falls in love with. Yes, he had a point when he said that Katniss may never be able to stop wondering whether it was his plan that killed a bunch of children, including Katniss’s sister, but the way he doesn’t associate with her again really puts forward the impression that his romantic feelings for Katniss were actually more important to him than her safety, happiness, or their history together. Peeta tried to kill Katniss with his bare hands. More than once. And she still forgave him and managed to live with him. Gale’s reaction seemed ultimately selfish and shallow, and given the character development he had over the course of the series, I really didn’t think he had that in him.

While I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the rest of the series, it was still a fantastic novel, and a spectacular conclusion to the trilogy that ignited the fires of justice in many young hearts. If you haven’t read this series yet, I highly recommend that you do.

(Book borrowed from Lendle.)

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

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Author’s website
Publication date – September 1, 2009

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark won the annual competition described in Hunger Games, but the aftermath leaves these victors with no sense of triumph. Instead, they have become the poster boys for a rebellion that they never planned to lead. That new, unwanted status puts them in the bull’s-eye for merciless revenge by The Capitol.

Thoughts: This amazing follow-up to The Hunger Games did many things, but leaving me disappointed was certainly not one of them. Catching Fire continues the story of Katniss, winner of the last Hunger Games. But the ordeal she suffered in the arena is far from behind her. Even discounting the nightmares of killing and seeing others killed, a twist of fate that may not be so accidental lands her back in the Games for a second year running. And this time, it’s not only the people in the arena who might want her dead. President Snow is outraged that Katniss’s defiance of Game protocol has started to incite rebellion in the Districts, and he wants to see her dead as an example to others, that even the strongest can be defeated and that there is no hope of anything beyond Capitol opression.

The themes in this novel run strong and deep, and are in no way dumbed down for a young adult audience. Death, deceit, trust issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s all right here, along with a healthy dose of lying to those you love in order to try to save them, and not knowing who your allies really are. You couldn’t pay me enough to go through what Katniss does!

Katniss is an interesting sort of reluctant hero, in many ways being little more than a catalyst for larger things, a pawn in somebody else’s game. She’s manipulated in all sorts of ways while at the same time being a figurehead for resistance and independence. People are making her into what they want her to be, while she’s trying to do the exact opposite and go along with what they’re all doing.

This is also the point where I think most people split off into “teams” according to who they thing Katniss should hook up with. Peeta or Gale. Personally, I don’t have an opinion on that one, since I’d rather find out how it all turns out than spend time debating with others about how it “should” turn out. But Katniss’s interest in Gale often seems to overshadowed by Peeta’s interest in Katniss that it’s very easy to see how the pairing wars get started, or at least have major fuel added to each fire.

Katniss’s second trip into the arena ends up far more eventful than her first, in spite of spending much less time there. Where The Hunger Games was really mostly survivalist fiction, Catching Fire explores more of the political and personal elements of the situation, saving the Games for near the end of the book. A fascinating and disturbing look at a potential future, executed brilliantly by Suzanne Collins to leave both hope and a chill in your heart. Long live the Mockingjay!

(Book borrowed via Lendle.)

Epic, by Conor Kostick

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Author’s blog
Publication date – May 20, 2008

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Welcome to a society governed through computer games!

On New Earth, society is governed and conflicts are resolved in the arena of a fantasy computer game, Epic. If you win, you have the chance to fulfill your dreams; if you lose, your life both in and out of the game is worth nothing. When teenage Erik dares to subvert the rules of Epic, he and his friends must face the Committee. If Erik and his friends win, they may have the key to destroying the Committee’s tyranny. But if they lose…

Thoughts: Combine .hack with a dystopia and you have what Kostick is setting up here. Violence is outlawed and punishable by exile, and everything is settled through interactions in an MMORPG, including legal disputes, appeals for more equipment for farms, lifesaving surgeries. Which means that those who have more time to play the game and gather more money and equipment get preferential treatment, and those who actually have to labour in the real world get shafted.

So when Erik gets sick of the system and starts over with a new character, he does things differently. He puts all his starting points into appearance and none into battle skills, and starts interacting with NPCs and engaging in randon quests instead of participating in the endless grind of fighting for pennies. And what comes of it is a quest that could change the world, unmake the fantasy world of Epic, and bring down the foundation upon which Erik’s entire society is built.

But the game doesn’t plan to go down so easily. Epic is a world that hasn’t even been fully explored, let alone understood, and over the years it has evolved a consciousness, and will to live, and an eventual understanding that player characters are not like the NPC denizens that inhabit it.

The real shades of .hack start coming to play when the game, or at least the part of it that wants to live and is being expressed, ironically, through a powerful vampire NPC, learns that it can kill the player by killing the character. The conscious game, the living entity within the code, the idea that a game can kill from within, none of these ideas are new, but it put me in the mind of .hack mostly, I think, because of the fantasy setting of the world of Epic itself. Everything combined to create a setting that felt familiar and comfortable to me because I saw in it something I’d seen and enjoyed elsewhere.

On a whole, Epic was not a perfect novel, but it was very enjoyable and made me want to throw the world aside and spend a few hours in a MMORPG again. It brought back a bit of the old gamer in me that hasn’t been seen for a little while, and for that, I can thank it and the author for that bit of inspiration.

Epic is the first book in a trilogy, and I think, all things considered, that I’m going to have to track down the sequels. The book ended at a point that makes me incredibly curious as to how things continue, and I can’t let this one lie.

Recommended to gamers and fans of gamer fiction. And maybe I’ll see you around Ragnarok or playing SMT:Online someday!

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

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Author’s website
Publication date – October 1, 2008

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Thoughts: As a fan of dystopias, I was sure I’d like this book, especially after hearing nonstop good reviews for it. I’m very happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed once while reading this one.

Well, that’s a lie. I was. Once. When I had to stop reading it because I had work to do. But that’s not the book’s fault, and I won’t hold that against it.

This is definitely a book you feel uncomfortale going into, because you know that if you root for anyone other than Katniss, you’re entirely likely to be disappointed. Bitterly. In a Battle Royale situation, where only one can win, pinning your hopes on anyone who isn’t the main character is just foolish.

Which is the book’s main flaw, really. The actions scenes were wonderfully tense, and Katniss didn’t escape without injury, but when you’re reading about a kill-or-be-killed situation from the first-person point of view, you know in advance how it’s going to end. You know that Katniss will live. It can take away from the tension at moments, because even though you can recognize the danger she’s in, you also know, in the back of your mind, that she’ll find a way to survive. It’s less about faith in a character and more about predestination.

That being said, I think this story would have suffered had it not been from Katniss’s point of view, so this is definitely a moment of “your mileage may vary.”

There were, happily, some twists and turns thrown in to keep the reader interested. The development of alliances, the rule changes, and the omnipresent disgust you have to feel at the people who are watching teenagers beat each others’ brains out on live TV. I felt a definitely sense of satisfaction at Katniss and Peeta’s final “screw you” to the Capitol, which wasn’t at all overshadowed by the fact that I knew they’d make it out alive.

I closed this book wanting to open the next one immediately. Sadly, I don’t have a copy yet, so I’m going to have to wait to continue these adventures. I’ve got to say though, that they’re definitely adventures well worth continuing. I can see clearly what all the hype has been about!

Invitation to the Game, by Monica Hughes

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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) It’s the future, and most jobs are done by machines. Now that school is over, Lisse and her friends are consigned to a bleak neighborhood for the permanently unemployed. Then they receive an invitation to the Game, which transports them to a paradise. Is it a dream or a computer simulation? Each time they play the Game, the new world seems more and more real…

Thoughts: Whenever I read this book, I am reminded of the fact that short summaries, even the back of the book itself, simply do not do this story justice. It’s one of the few books that I would recommend without hesitation to be on a school’s reading curriculum, since not only does it tell an engaging story about unemployed life in a dystopian future, but it also has the thread of hope running through it that tells people that no matter what, they have useful skills, even if they don’t yet know what use those skills are.

The story is told from the perspective of Lisse, who has just graduated from school and found herself with no employment prospects. This is far from unusual, as she came from one of the top schools in the country, which had a 10% job placement rate in a world essentially run by robots. Along with her friends from school, Lisse starts out her new life as an unemployed.

The world Hughes set up is an interesting one. Unemployed people are taken care of, in a basic sense, by the government, given shelter and enough credits to buy food and cleaning supplies. Anything else they want they must get by scrounging materials from garbage cans, anything throw away or to be recycled. They may not work, except at “indie” things like selling art to the employed who have money to spare. They may not travel, and they are limited to their Designated Area. Gangs essentially rule the streets, the goverment’s first line of defense is the thought police, and overcrowding is a major problem.

Then when the tables turn and they find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, they are forced to exercise every one of their individual talents to the utmost in order to survive as a society. That, in a nutshell, is what this book is about. Society, whether it be overcrowded and terrible or tiny and held together by only the bonds of friendship and necessity. What makes a society, and what makes a good or bad society? Monica Hughes is not afraid of asking the big questions, nor of posing them to young people who most of us would deem incapable of truly understanding such broad concepts. Most adults couldn’t properly answer what makes a good or bad society, after all, and I enjoy coming across good YA novels that don’t dumb the issues down for children, but instead present the questions in an entertaining and provocative way.

And like Michael Grant’s Gone, this book doesn’t flinch away from the fact that life involves death, killing, and other unpleasant things, especially when one is in exceptional circumstances.

I could read this book a hundred times over and never get bored of it. I highly recommend it to, well, just about anybody, really, be they young or old. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to think, that makes you want to be productive, and makes you examine yourself and your place in the world.

I know I, for one, feel pretty confident that if I were in the same situation as Lisse, all my friends would have plenty of clothes to wear. Most people would consider skills like making a drop spindle, spinning yarn, and knitting to be quaint hobbies at best in this modern world, but when I read this novel, it’s easy to remind myself that there are plenty of situations in which my “quaint hobbies” could be the difference between barely surviving the cold and being comfortable and warm.

Read this book for yourself and then take an inventory of your skills. You’ll be surprised at what you don’t even know you know.