"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
I was really surprised by how much I liked this book, since both my mom and my sister gave it somewhat lackluster reviews, and I tend to agree with them. Still, it felt very *different* to me than the current glut of dystopian teen literature, and that's a very good thing. (Maybe because it was published in 2010, when the market wasn't yet so overcrowded?)
I read this book for a book club, so I feel as if I already did most of my "processing" and that there isn't a ton left over for a review (sorry!). But, here are a few of the things that I really liked about this book:
1) The society reminded me of the one in "The Giver," except that, being for an older audience, it was able to explore things "The Giver" only hinted at, such as the real deal on love, marriage, and partnership.
2) Almost 100% of the book takes place within the confines of the city where Cassia has grown up. This makes the book feel claustrophobic at times, which gives a good sense of what living in a society such as Cassia's might be like. I found myself vicariously bored by the lack of "options," and yet, the society seems so "benign" that it's easy to see how many of its citizens would fall into complacency.
3) Let's stay on this point about the society being "benign." I think the best dystopias are those that tempt you to agree with the dictators, that have you *almost* saying, "Well, yes, it's for everyone's own good." There were times when this society felt so *pleasant* that I almost [ALMOST] envied those who lived there -- no stress over who they would marry, where they would work, what they would do with their time, or even what they would have for dinner (OK, I like my freedom, but having all my meals made for me according to my unique nutritional needs would be pretty nice.) Along those same lines, it was this very "benign" nature that made Oria so unsettling. There wasn't the big "atrocity reveal" that often surfaces in dystopias like this; instead, there was this haunting undercurrent of things not being quite right, which is, in some ways creepier.
4) At the same time, the Officials seemingly had an acute understanding of the inherent stress that comes from not having any control over your own life, and responded by making medication easily available for those times when stress or unease began to surface.
5) The dystopia is nuanced, and the people's feelings about it are complicated. Cassia looks forward to her Matching, is pleased with the results, and sees the "beauty" of the system in her own parents' authentically happy marriage. Her parents are obedient and loyal to the system, but they question it enough to ultimately support Cassia's break with it. The world in which this story takes place isn't absolutely black and white, and the book is better for it.
6) THE COVER ACTUALLY FITS THE STORY. I'm so tired of a recent trend of YA covers to be visually stunning, but have absolutely nothing to do with what's inside. I feel this way about the covers of the 2) I didn't get especially drawn into the romance/love triangle, although all the characters in it were interesting enough. Still, something remained that kept me feeling distant from them; the world felt incredibly vivid at times, but the characters didn't always feel that way.
3) There's always the big, "Why?" question in dystopias. WHY would these people want to control a society so tightly? I'm not sure there's a clear enough answer to the why in this book, although in some ways, that adds to its complexity.
Comparisons to the Delirium trilogy are inevitable, and I'm not going to say which one I prefer without finishing both series. Still, I think that I preferred this first book to the first book in the Delirium series, mostly because, by being less outwardly "dark," it felt fresher.
I shared some more personal thoughts on the book here.