I have read so many YA dystopia books now that I thought I knew the formula.
Some disaster that greatly changed the world – check
Rebel hero – check
Beloved family member – check
Heroic character under some constraint or control – check
Hardships such as poverty, hunger or the loss of a loved one – check
Artifacts or references to the world that was before – check
An element of horror … whether horrific tests/games, zombies, violent survivors- check
The novel Skylark by Meagan Spooner did have all the items on the checklist, but then it went and surprised me through some additional elements that I hadn’t seen before in this genre. The story begins with teenage girl Lark sneaking into her school to peek at the Harvest Day list to see if her name is on it. During her journey to the school there are references to something called the Resource and pixies, which unlike their name are quite malevolent. It is these references that initially had me confused not only to what these two things were, but doubting whether this was a dystopian novel and maybe a sci fi book instead. Then there is a description of a moment shared between Lark and her brother Basil that contained the word magic, which now made me wonder if this was going to be something along the lines of Harry Potter. This confusion about what was going on in this book and what genre it really was is what kept me reading further. Lark and the remaining members of her family live behind the Wall in a city that is apparently fueled by the energy of the Resource and when children are called up for their Harvest Day, the forbiddingly named Institute harvests their energy or magic to help power the city. When Lark is sent for harvesting she discovers a horrifying secret that sends her beyond the Wall accompanied by one of the pixies, a type of machine or robot that now had me thinking this was a steam punk novel, until she encountered the shadow people, which are somewhat reminiscent of zombies in other books, but with a magical element that adds a unique twist. If you like not being able to guess where a story is going next, this is a book you might want to try. The book reminds of something called, ‘kitchen soup’ that Grandma used to make. It’s basically a soup made of any ingredients in the cupboard and leftovers in the fridge. There isn’t a set recipe and each time it’s made it contains different elements combined together, which somehow end up tasting good together.
It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I surprised myself by reading it straight through because it was refreshing to read something unique with each page adding a new distraction. This novel even has an M. Night Shyamalan twist within the story that blew my mind. I also liked that it threw in a reference to a time before the apocalyptic wars about bees dying out being a sign of bad things to come which echoes our own current problem with the decimation of honeybees.
In the end I decided that this is a book you can’t put a label on, which as a writer it’s rare for me to be at a loss for words, however that was the strange beauty of it. I will be interested in what direction the rest of this trilogy takes.