This week 5 Minutes for Books reviewer Elizabeth takes a look at 2 new books that are taking advantage of the dystopian craze in YA literature (equally enjoyed by adults) that Hunger Games did not originate, but certainly popularized.
My daughter, Ilsa, who’s 14, loves dystopian fiction, and is not averse to a little romance mixed in. For me, someone who grew up in the 70s and 80s worrying about communist invasions and gulags (I had a very vivid imagination), this mystifies me—at her age, I hated the thought of creepy Societies watching my every move, or a world without enough food or fresh water and with no opportunity for advancement.
Ilsa persuaded me to check out Scholastic’s Dystopian Romance pack** and then, ironically, had so much homework that she hasn’t had a chance to read them yet. This is unusual, as my daughter tends to devour books and has been longing to read Matched. I had to read them for her, and tell her how good they were while strictly informing her she’d better finish her homework and get good grades on her exams! So it’s been a fun week at our house as she waits for her opportunity.
If you, like me, are a little mystified by your daughter’s taste in worlds governed by faceless Big Brother-like societies, I would encourage you to check out these two books. Both feature strong heroines who decide things for themselves, who have to think and imagine worlds unlike what they’ve experienced – and yet are ready to meet a guy who’ll help them along the way. You just might finally get what your own daughter finds so attractive about this genre.
Cassia lives in a world governed by The Society, which decides where you’ll work, what you’ll wear, what and how much you’ll eat, who you’ll marry and when you’ll die. It does this under the guise of caring about people; they’ve worked out optimal caloric intake, for example, and the clothes are utilitarian which cuts down on people feeling envious of other’s fashion choices. Art and Literature are made easy—only the top 100 poems and paintings of all time have been preserved, and the rest destroyed. No one really creates any more, just manages things. And at 17, people are “matched” by personality, genes, and other criteria to their perfect mate; at 21 they marry, and they are allowed to have children until the age of 32, after which “optimal” child-rearing age is past.
The novel opens with Cassia on her way to her matching banquet on the night of her 17th birthday. She has been allowed to choose a dress to wear and later will receive a snippet of the fabric in a frame to keep as a memento. She is amazed when she is matched to her close friend Xander, whom she’s known since childhood—it’s rare to know to your match ahead of time.
However, when she puts her flashcard in later to read more about her match, another face and name flash on the screen. Oddly, it’s another person she knows in real life—Ky, who came originally from the Outer Provinces and was adopted by a family in the neighbourhood when they were all about 12. Cassia has never thought much about Ky before, but she’s intrigued—which boy is her true match? She begins to spend time with Ky, and to learn about him.
Her grandfather is also dying. That is, he is approaching his 80th birthday, at which point he will die, because The Society has determined that 80 is the optimal age to die—before health really deteriorates, while the mind is still sharp. Before he dies, he gives Cassia a present, not to mention an example, to not just blindly follow all that The Society says is good.
I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Cassia is a believable and likable heroine, and I enjoyed the development of her character from mindless obedience to something a bit braver. I am dying to read the next in the series, Crossed (recently reviewed by my colleague Jennifer at 5 Minutes for Books). I especially loved the use of the poem Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night to give Cassia the beginnings of the courage she needed to go against the flow.
The year is 2041, which means that we could all still be alive. Molly has grown up on a farm on a small island just off Vancouver Island in Canada. The world has changed—there’s no more oil, food is scarce, bridges are collapsing and organized crime has pretty much taken over from a weak government. Molly’s family, worried about her grandfather, send her to pick him up in Portland, Oregon, and persuade him to come home with her.
I live in Portland, so the setting of this novel was fun for me. Molly has to be smuggled across the border, since she’s only 16. She’s faced with one obstacle after another, from losing her shoes and having to hike barefoot, to being cheated out of her money by a con man and having to busk for spare change, but she uses her native wit and ingenuity to figure out solutions. When she reaches Portland, she’s helped by a handsome young man who calls himself “Spill.” He proves to have some interesting connections, ones that Molly doesn’t want to think about. Spill helps Molly, her grandparents, and their young neighbours to figure out how to navigate life in this brave new world. Molly’s running out of time to persuade her grandfather to return home with her. With the mob breathing down her back, and her mother desperately ill back in Canada, will she manage to make it home in time?
**The 5 Minutes for Books team are happy to a part of Scholastic’s Parent Circle. Each month, one of our reviewers will select a book from that month’s Scholastic Book Club flyers. Ilsa and I selected this Dystopian Romance pack from February’s TAB flyer.
We are happy to offer one of you (U.S. shipping only) both of these books, as featured in the Scholastic book club flyer. Leave a comment to enter. We’ll announce the winner in our book column on February 13.
- The winner of How to be a Best Friend Forever is #9 tennille.