One Safe Place

I really wanted to like One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth, I really did. It’s not that I actively disliked the book, but the concept that would have been unique was spoiled for me by the fact that I had already read Starters and Enders, so I guessed what was happening early on in the story. Just like those books I did like the juxtaposition that part of the population after apocalyptic conditions are dirty, poor and starving like characters in a Charles Dickens novel, but that a small part of the population is not only healthy, but still wealthy and still in possession of modern technology and conveniences. It’s a startling picture, but maybe that’s how such a future would go down here where you have the 1% and the 99%, the former are so wealthy these days that even an apocalypse may not make much of a dent in their lifestyle.

I also liked that instead of one megastorm, viral attack or war, that the apocalypse isn’t one event, but just a decline of environmental conditions happening over an extended period until things are in bad shape. Again, that seems realistic to me given the current state of fracking, carbon pollution, and industrial pollution. It’s not just one deadly thing or event that can destabilize the planet, but a set of issues that together and over time can put us in decline.

However, Devin doesn’t know about all that, he’s just a young boy not even in his teens and has never known the world any other way, though his Grandpa did. Unfortunately, Gramps isn’t around anymore to tell him stories of the old days, so Devin decides to venture out of his idyllic valley and go to the city that Gramps has told him stories about. That’s where his life takes a Dickensian turn, he is robbed by a bunch of young ruffians and hungry and alone on the streets until he meets a fellow urchin named Kit who tries to teach the naïve kid some streets smarts such as stealing.

A good deed puts Devin in the position of an offer to live in the Gabriel H. Penn Home for Childhood, where children and well fed and apparently unicorns prance and wishes come true. Even the streetwise Kit doesn’t want to believe the sinister hints that all is not what it seems in this paradise that now changes from Dickensian England to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

I think the mystery of what happens in the children’s home should have been drawn out much longer to build up a Gaslight type of suspense instead of quickly turning into The Great Escape. I also could have done without Devin having a special ability, it’s not an ability that helps except for in one scene, yet a lot of pages are devoted to it. I suspect it’s a personal interest of the author that she wanted to find a way to include in the story, but it’s not naturally woven into the pages, it feels forced and distracts from the core story. I think with the changes I suggest this could have been a pretty interesting story but it just fell short for me.


The One

Can you be strong, independent, not compromise and be in love? I would like to think so, but the final book in Kiera Cass’s The Selection Series, The One, casts some doubts.

I liked the character of America in the first two books, her dogged determination to be herself and not play the game that is the Selection. After all, what would be the appeal of a pony show like the Selection for an intelligent musical prodigy with a sense of justice? Just the fact that she would transfer her affections from strong and deserving Aspen to shelter rich kid Maxon in the second book already annoyed me, and that streak ran in deeper in The One. After all, what’s so great about Maxon? He certainly seems good at standing by while his father both verbally and physically abuses her. What would someone like America possibly see in that weakling compared to Aspen who was born a Level 8 caste, but took on the responsibility of supporting his family even while he starved? Aspen who was strong enough to break up with America prodding her into taking part in the Selection so that she could raise her caste and have a better life is by far the better man in general and the best ‘selection’ for America. I haven’t experienced this kind of mismatch since Laurie married Jo’s spoiled sister Amy in Little Women!

Maxon exhibits the worst traits of shows like The Bachelor, the guy who strings all the ladies along because he can. We find out in this book which of the ladies, and there are many, he has been kissing and ‘dating.’ America deserves better than this playboy. Yes, Kiera Cass tries to make him out to be the poor little rich boy by reminding us that his father has beaten him and that he has lived a sheltered life, blah, blah, blah. So what? Aspen has endured far worse and remained strong and true to America until she dumped him in favor of Maxon.

America is guilty of the foolish myth that women have that their love will change a man for the better, so of course Kiera Cass weaves in that idea in the form that until America came along, Maxon didn’t realize how wrong the caste system was and that now that America has opened his eyes he will take action. Yeah, only once Daddy dearest is dead and there is no opposition, real hero. Ms. Cass even includes some love letters from Maxon to America in this story which are a prime example of why the word drivel was invented.

Do I sound angry? One of the things I have been loving about dystopian and apocalyptic novels these days is the plethora of really strong female characters, and my recent post touched on that. So this dystopian novel feels like a slap in the face and sets a bad example for young girls who might be influenced by this book. I thought we were finally growing away from the idea that the ultimate was to be a princess rescued by a prince who would make sure we lived happily ever after and toward the notion that instead we have the power to save the kingdom and create our own destiny.

After the End

This blog is about apocalyptic and dystopian novels, so I struggled with the idea of reviewing After the End by Amy Plum as it’s about an apocalypse that never actually happened! However, the concept is novel enough that I wanted to write about it, and after all the main character Juneau was raised thinking that an apocalypse and WWIII had happened.

Juneau, like the other children in her clan, was told by her elders that they are the survivors of the apocalypse. There may be other remnants of survivors, but if there are, they might be contaminated by radiation and be hostile to the clan which has carved out a healthy and peaceful life in the wilds of Alaska. Therefore, Juneau, like the rest of the younger members has never crossed the borders set by the elders. After all, she is nothing if not responsible as she will become the clan’s next Sage as she is the best at Reading and Conjuring. This is where I felt a bit let down, when the potential emphasis of the psychological effects of finding out your whole life has been a lie was underplayed in favor of a fantasy/supernatural element.

I also did not like that due to the book’s descriptions on seller websites and the book jacket itself that I went into the story knowing that there hadn’t been a WWIII and that Juneau had been lied to. I would have much preferred not to know that going into it as then it could have been a great M. Night Shyamalan effect similar to The Village. I wanted to feel what Juneau felt, to believe that while the world outside was gone, my people had been strong and survived. Then to experience along with her the shock of finding out the modern world was right outside my doorstep and that all my beliefs were now open to question. Unfortunately, I was not given this gift by the bookseller websites or jacket. Yet I once read a similar story in which the secret of a boy who had spent the last eight years in a bunker was not revealed prior to reading the story, so it can be done, therefore I don’t know why the publishers went this direction. Maybe because as I mentioned the book was more focuses on this woo woo stuff then what I think is far more complex and interesting.

There were some good observations of the downfalls of the modern world by Juneau, though there could have been many more of those, that would have strengthened the conceit that although WWIII didn’t actually happen, it still could. Instead, there was the typical road trip with car chases mysterious government and conspiracy types and an unlikely romance. Really, the author doesn’t show any respect for her main character to think that this fearsome warrior girl would have any interest in a boy she describes as not being able to survive in the wilderness for 15 minutes. It’s not just that Miles doesn’t have her skills, he is a spoiled and weak rich kid who has made bad choices with the advantages he has been given, really, what’s to like? How can we as readers respect Juneau as a female leader and the potential savior of her clan when she is distracted by such a flirtation? Is it a given that every piece of YA apocalyptic fiction has include a romantic relationship? Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is one of the most powerful books of this genre I have read and it didn’t include a teen romance. In fact, I would argue that it cut deeper because the fairytale of romance didn’t intrude on the harsh reality of Miranda’s life as her focus is on helping her family survive.