Ok, I have had some encounters with picking up books that I thought were YA dystopian fiction, but then finding that they were something a bit outside of my definition of dystopian. That certainly applies to The Sky Within by Clare Dunkle. It’s a little bit dystopian, a little bit sci fi and it borrows some elements from movies such as The Running Man, and Willy Wonka. It really defies categorization and it’s very strangeness kept me reading something I otherwise would have set aside.
The dystopian part of the book stems from the fact that Martin lives in a suburb that is enclosed by a steel dome. We readers are not told much about the disaster that led to its creation, just some vague references to hunger and violence and only some lucky people among the population who came to live there. Whatever the disaster was, life seems pretty easy, at least on the surface, during the time this story takes place. People have plenty to eat with stoves like slot machines that come up with the winning meal. Children go to school, families watch TV, many of which are game shows, and people live in subdivisions. For the most part people don’t have to work as they can buy bots to do it for them and still collect their paychecks, hence the sci fi aspects of the story.
Martin’s family consists of his father, mother and Cassie who is a ‘Wonder Baby.’ People no longer have children the old fashioned way, the process has become a bit like ordering from a catalog always wanting the best and newest model. Cassie is from the latest generation of children who have been so ‘improved’ that they have exceptionally high IQ’s and are so precocious that they annoy many of the adults and children from earlier periods. Martin’s dad chooses to work and is in charge of the mysterious packets coming into the dome which are like rail cars and contain any number of things. It’s while visiting his father at work one day that Martin makes some unsettling discoveries about his world and begins to investigate aided by his modified bot dog Chip. When his idyllic suburban existence is threatened by the number of secrets he has uncovered, he decides to take action.
I think there are some problems with this book. I do give it props for its creativity, but I feel that the author has tried to cram too many different elements into one story with the result being a mish-mash of different genres, and as mentioned earlier even some plot devices and characters that feel like they were lifted from movies and TV. Also, the ending is abrupt. I am guessing there is a sequel, but even books that are written with the intention of continuing to another book in the series don’t have the unfinished quality that this does. Also, it is written at the level of a young reader and the emotions and characterizations seem stilted in comparison to the material. When I invest the time to read a book, if it’s part of a series I tend to continue because of that, but I don’t plan to continue with this one. If I had children it might be something I would read with my son, but since I don’t, it’s one I will let go.