The Cage

The Cage by Megan Shepherd is a technically a dystopian story, although in this case the repressive regime is made up of aliens.

Cora wasn’t exactly a typical teenage girl even before the alien abduction. She is the daughter of a Senator and an actress and has recently been released for a long term stint in juvie for manslaughter. After waking up in an alien environment where different landscapes and climates all jut up next to each other, she finds she is not alone. There are other teens, Rolf a Norwegian genius, Nok a Thai model, Leon a Maori from a criminal family, and finally Lucky an American boy who may have a connection to Cora. Actually, there was one more teen who woke up but something terrible has happened to her. That will be a problem as now there is an uneven number of teens and yet each teen is supposed to be mated with one of the others by a 21 day deadline.

Their alien abductors watch from behind one way glass scattered throughout the environments, similar to the one-way glass in police stations, except in this case the aliens are more like scientists or anthropologists observing their behaviors. The aliens have put different types of puzzles into each locale and if they solve a puzzle they receive tokens which can be redeemed for different items, similar to gaming places now.

Supposedly the aliens have abducted them for their own good as humans are destroying the Earth , unlike the aliens that are higher beings with telepathic and other abilities despite looking very similar to humans.   Their caretaker alien is named Cassian and he has a particular affinity to Cora. Cora who the others get angry with as when she solves a puzzle she is given many more tokens than the others. Other incidents like this cause a rift in the group.

Rolf and Nok have reasons based on their pasts that make them believe that despite their captivity their extended cage is not so bad. Leon is too haunted by a memory from their first day to care about anything else. Lucky is consumed with guilt over an action he took back on Earth and which is revealed later in the story. Cora simply wants to go home, home even with all the problems of divorcing parents, her peers who can’t relate to her after her time in juvie, and all the pressures of being a Senator’s daughter. Plus, there is Cassian and her mixed feelings about him.

It’s the latter which hurts this story as Cassian becomes part of a love triangle that also includes Lucky. I personally am not sure I would feel anything but hatred for my abductor, but maybe she has Stockholm’s Syndrome? I kind of think it sense the wrong message to young girls everywhere that there could be anything attractive about a character like Cassian who has control over you, am I wrong? Its that sick dominance thing combined with the stilted triangle that made me no fan of this book. Even the ending wasn’t great and it was confusing to boot as to whether this was a one-off story or whether it had the inevitable sequel…turns out it does. That kind of stinks for me because after what an economist would term a sunk cost, I wrongly feel that I must continue with the next.

 

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Alice in Zombieland

I wasn’t expecting to like Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter very much, I mean not all mashups are successful and sometimes it seems like they have outlived their novelty.  However, I came away with more positive feelings than negative.  Maybe part of it was there really wasn’t much reference to Alice a la Alice in Wonderland other than her appearance…pale blond hair, blue eyes and tall.

This Alice is a teen girl living in the UK, not Wonderland.  She has parents and a cute little sister, Lily, but there is some strangeness to her home life.  Her father refuses to let anyone in the family be out after dark, you see he believes in ‘monsters.’  Now that Alice is a teen it’s particularly frustrating and she doesn’t believe dear old Dad because Dad happens to drink heavily, so she thinks he is just crazy and can’t understand why her Mom hasn’t left him.  However Alice’s Mom fiercely loves her hubby even though she admits to Alice that she has never seen these monsters herself.

So this is the status quo for the family until one day her little sister begs her to talk her Mom into letting everyone attend her dance recital which is in the evening.  Somehow the Mom convinces the Dad to let them go, but on the ride home something terrible happens which then places Alice into a situation where she goes to live with relatives and attends a new school. At the school she meets Cole and his seemingly delinquent friends, but Cole is the most frightening of the group and when she looks at him she experience intense visions.  Are these visions of the future?  And why do Cole and gang often show up at school looking so beaten up?  Also, what is Alice glimpsing out in the yard at night?   While the answers to the mysteries were pretty obvious early on, what I liked about the book were characters like Alice and her best new friend Kat and their snappy remarks.  Basically, the book had some of the elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I love me some Buffy.   This is the first book in several sequels known as the White Rabbit Chronicles.  One of thing I am curious about is if there will be more references between the character Alice Bell and the Alice from Alice in Wonderland…

Wasteland

Wasteland by Susan Kim turned out to be a giant waste of my time.  It really is the worst post-apocalyptic YA book I have read to date.  Maybe that’s a terrible thing to say and some might say something like, “Hey, I don’t see you publishing a book.”  That’s true, but I don’t think it’s necessary for me to publish a book to make such a statement.  I have spent the last few years reading and reviewing 2-4 books of this genre per month, so I feel that gives me some credibility to take such a strong stand.  I am not trying to hurt the author’s feeling, but I am sure that could be the result; however what I hope is that this honesty spurs her to do better.  This is such an exciting genre that I look forward to reading these types of books and have generally been impressed by the quality of writing…I mean some writers might be tempted to rely on the world building and other action plot devices instead of the quality of the writing, so that’s why I am usually pleasantly surprised whenever I read something like this.

The plot consists of a town of kids and teens many years after an apocalyptic event.  There aren’t any adults as when people turn eighteen they die of a horrible sickness and are expelled from the community.  As there is such a short life span the milestones of adulthood are speeded up.  Children are organized into work crews to scavenge for supplies and food and the teens ‘marry’ and bear children.  The problem for the town in this story is there isn’t any left to scavenge in the area and food and water are running low.  The latter is an especially big problem as once bottled water runs out you cannot drink from streams or lakes as all water is contaminated/poisoned.  In addition to the kids who live in the town, there are beings that live on the outskirts.  I say beings because they are not quite human, they look different than the kids and they are born hermaphrodites and then choose what sex they want to be when they turn a certain age.  Due to their differences, they are shunned by the town kids who are prejudiced against them, though the main character in the story, Esther, is best friends with one of these variants, though they both hide it from their people.  Add to these characters a young dictator who controls food and water supplies and a mysterious stranger who comes to town and you have a lot of characters, too many really, and none of them are written in a way where they appeared ‘real’ or made me care about them, they were all pretty cartoonish.

Some of my criticisms of the book include squeezing too many divergent plot points into the story, having superfluous characters, not enough development of the main characters and their motivations, multiple ‘surprises’ that can be guessed at from a mile away, and a truly gag inducing romance.  I would say to the author, simplify, simplify, simplify.  Have one main plot and at most one subplot.  Develop the characters enough to make us actually be interested in then or care what happens to them.  Axe the immature romance, you don’t always have to put a romance into this genre, can’t survivors just have strong bonds of friendships?  I mean, I don’t think in the struggle to survive I would be thinking too hard about whether a boy ‘likes me’, do you agree?   I could see sex in these books as a way to repopulate the earth after the apocalyptic event, but can you really have a lot of romance when every minute is a struggle to survive and due to lack of food and hygiene no one is really looking so hot?

I mean I really think writers of this genre start with an advantage over other authors as they have a lot of creative license when building worlds, and dramatic license based on the drama involved with an apocalyptic or dystopian environment.  So with those in built strengths, focus on the writing itself, otherwise the books will come off as very one-dimensional, like the typical Hollywood action film.