The New Order

While I can’t say I am a big M. Night Shyamalan fan overall, I did like his movie The Village for one strong reason, the idea that outside the village normal life was going on. It’s that idea that just outside a dystopian world or apocalyptic situation is a place where people are carrying on as normal that interests me. I mean, how many of us faced with either scenario just wish we could close our eyes and when we open them again everything would be alright, everything would be as it was?   That’s not to say our present world is perfect, far from it, but faced with darker alternatives we would take the bad with the good of our present times, right? If you can go from the horrific situation you are in back to some normalcy, what are the repercussions? Your innocence is gone after what you have endured, you view situations with more assessing and jaded eyes and how can you ever truly relax again when being on the defense is the way you survived when others didn’t.

If you haven’t read The New Order by Chris Weitz yet, you may want to visit this post after you have done so, otherwise you about to read a major spoiler.

The Young World left us with two quest members dead, See Through and Kath. Jefferson was nearly killed by the Old Man who injected him with the Sickness to see if the new Cure mixed up by him and Brainbox worked, which it did. So one would have expected that this next book would be the remaining team struggling their way back to Manhattan with the Cure and whether the teens of all tribes should be given it.

Instead, we are confronted with the reality that the Old Man was not the only adult left alive. Indeed, millions of adults and kids survived the sickness, they just happen to be living overseas. So why don’t the teens know any of this? Well the very people who can explain what’s happened to the world are the ones keeping the teens a secret from the rest of the world. Yes, there is a worry about the Sickness mutating, and yes, there has been a rebalance of the world order, but when it comes down to it those reasons are nothing in the face of the Lord of the Flies existence the kids have been living for years now. So when the Washington Square Park and Haarlem kids are put into isolation on a Navy ship and interrogated, they aren’t feeling like helping the adults much. In fact, when they are each contacted via a coded message from a rebel group within the adult military troops, all of them decide to side with the rebels, except Captain who at least keeps the secret. However, during the kids’ escape plan to head back to NYC, Donna is separated from the group and ends up in England instead.

That’s the part that fascinates me, how she goes from a hellhole of eating rats and trying not to get eaten by cannibals, to living in picturesque Cambridge as a university student. So while Jefferson and the gang have to go back into the violence knowing that there is another world out there, which is bad enough, I feel like Donna has the harder struggle. Yes, she is no longer fighting for her life, but she has to assimilate back into the world, keep the big secret and swallow the guilt she feels about living in the lap of luxury while god knows what is happening to the rest of them.

Yet that doesn’t excuse her behavior when it comes to so quickly replacing Jefferson when she is told that he was killed. It’s one thing to move on to another relationship, but to sleep with the other guy when she wouldn’t even sleep with Wash, let alone his little bro, just struck a weird note with me. Also, the fact that when she met Mr. Welsh, for all his civilized British ways, she knew he was just using her as much as the U.S. Navy had tried to. He was just doing it in a classier way, but yet she lets her guard down and that just didn’t make sense.

One thing I did prefer in this book was that instead of only alternating narrators between Donna and Jefferson, that the author let a few of the other characters have a turn. Peter’s turn made me chuckle with his “It’s like this. I’m not a sidekick, I just play one in life” line and his social commentary on being a gay black kid. I wish he had gotten more than two chapters as a narrator. The fact that Kath, yes, that Kath, the one who was supposed to be dead got a turn blew me away as I typically see a plot twist coming a mile off and I was blown off my feet by it. The most interesting narration though was Brainbox’s even though his were the shortest. Diving deep into the mind of a genius is a wild ride and I found the way he spoke in his head to be very James Joyce stream of consciousness. It was great, but also a little hard to follow, which may explain why his chapters were shorter than everyone else’s and how his thoughts moved and the detachment in them was a little spooky.   It was a little strange that Mr. Weitz didn’t make the switch to these other narrators until near the ending of this second book, if I had a chance to interview him that is something I would definitely ask about.

I did like that The New Order ended with three different sets of actions and perspectives converging….our uncertainty whether Brainbox will live and if he does will he help save the world or end it, Jefferson realizing that instead of guiding the teens to a new world that he may have to force them into it, and Donna swinging back into the action for a hell of a lot of vengeance and may prove to be just as much of a wild card as Brainbox. We shall see.

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The Novel Skylark Creates Its Own Genre

Skylark – A Book Review

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

Authoritarian figure or totalitarian government – 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.