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.


The Young World

What, you think that just because the world ended there’s no longer racism, slut shaming, or even fashion? Well, welcome to the Sassy Apocalypse! This irreverent view of a post-apocalyptic world was what has been missing from this genre. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed the earnest self-sacrificing young heroes and heroines in books such as Divergent and The Ashes trilogy, but as a superfan of Veronica Mars and Buffy, this book showed me you can survive the apocalypse with a wicked sense of humor intact. Turns out that may be more of an advantage than any weapons or survivalist training when it comes to how one manages the life you are handed when the world falls apart.

Of course it helps that the author, Mr. Weitz, has a home court advantage over other authors with his background as a writer and director of films such as Antz, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, and About a Boy. I mean the guy kind of already knows his way around building a narrative and sequencing action to maximum effect or his movies wouldn’t sell so many tickets. It strikes me as wonderfully subversive that the guy is reverse-engineering the current trend of writing a YA apocalyptic or dystopian novel and then selling it to Hollywood to be made into a film. The guy makes films, but chose to tell this story in book form — well at least for now. What I would not have expected from a ‘Hollywood guy’ is the skewering social commentary provided by the two main characters, Jefferson and Donna. In addition to racism and slut shaming, there is also ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­class warfare and religion as expressed mostly through Jefferson’s observations who is a co-narrator of the book along with Donna.   Donna is more responsible for the wealth of pop culture references liberally sprinkled in every chapter. By telling the same story through two very different character’s points of view it creates many layers of perspective.

The story takes place in New York City, one of the best locations for an end-of-the-world story with skyscrapers layered over the teen Lord of the Flies dynamic instead of a remote island. All the adults in the world have died of some kind of sickness leaving teens on their own in a kind of messed up Charlie Brown reality. While the pair of narrators have very different views they team up with some other members of their local tribe to save the world and in the process give us a bit of heroic Lord of the Rings type quest mixed with touches of The Breakfast Club in which each member of the mission represents a different teen archetype.

I believe that Jefferson is the alter ego of Chris Weitz who has a degree from Cambridge. There are several scenes where Jefferson visits his old favorite haunts such as the New Library, Museum and Zoo and appreciating how they have endured amid the backdrop of violence. He is the thinking man’s hero rather than a man of action leaving that in Donna’s feminist hands. He actually sees what has happened as an opportunity to rebuild a better world than the one which was destroyed, “Typical Jefferson. While he’s working on restoring civilization, everybody else is figuring out new ways to cook rat.”

Donna mourns the world of Before even though she knows it contained a lot of silly fluff, but hey we all have our own guilty pleasures when you think about it. She still reads People magazine and takes note of post-apocalyptic fashion, “I walk past the kids in the firing line. And I notice that even when the world has gone to hell, people still have a sense of fashion. The looting opportunities in our particular neck of the woods have made for some pretty electic looks. Prada overcoats with military insignias, peasant dresses cinched with ammo belts.” I am sure some will complain about the attention to pop culture she brings to the story with references to Kindles, Resident Evil, YouTube, Walmart, texting, Harajuku and Game of Thrones just to name a few, but I loved it.  It IS the world we live in, and as silly as some of it is, it’s what results when you don’t have to spend every minute you have just staying alive.

I don’t know about you, but if the apocalypse were to happen I want to hang with those who either inspire me, like Jefferson, or someone like Donna who can still make me snort with laughter even in the worst of times.