Dutton Juvenile (2010)
Dystopian / Young Adult
This is what communism much look like in a post-apocalyptic world. Or at least, I think it's post-apocalyptic. It's hinted at. Everyone is the same. They wear the same clothes, live in identical homes with the same plants in the yard, have the same small list of extracurriculars they can participate in during their "free" time. Everyone even dies the same. Statistics rule - they rule your food intake, your job, who you will marry, your family. Luck doesn't exist, only probability.
This is all good and well with the potential to be interesting, but what really got me was the concept of the 100 lists. Only 100 songs have been preserved, 100 poems, 100 pieces of art, 100 history lessons (wouldn't that have made high school AP history easier?). Everything else was destroyed long before and nothing new is ever created. No one knows how to write, no one draws, everything remains the same, so everything remains perfect. These were the little details that separated this novel from the other YA dystopias I've read lately.
It's like "Brave New World" got crossed with "The Giver". There's a teenage love triangle that buries the far more interesting plotline of a burgeoning fight for freedom, choice, of an actual life. It gives everything a sinister undertone even before the surface ever shows cracks in its perfection.
Cassia is a 17-year-old perfect citizen of the Society (because that's the creative name they came up with). She's slated to get a good job due to her stellar sorting abilities; she's recently been "matched" for marriage with her best friend Xander, conveniently the most attractive boy in her borough. Her family is picture perfect - upstanding citizens, prestigious jobs, everything is great.
Then the Society makes a mistake that screws it all up. Except it couldn't be the Society that made a mistake since the Society doesn't make mistakes. And yet somehow the datacard Cassia is sent home with after her matching banquet shows a different boy - Ky, the dark mysterious sort of stranger she's been casual acquaintances with since he first appeared when they were both 10. This "mistake" piques her curiosity and the more of Ky's story she learns, the more she desires him and to hear more of his story, and the more she begins to question exactly how perfect the Society really is.
The more distance I get from this book, the more I come to like it. It started out flat, boring. I would skim over chapters, glancing at a couple of lines per page and then go back and re-read the entire chapter word-for-word and not get anything more from the second reading. It was very surface level storytelling and predictable.
Then Ky shows up and I wanted to follow him around instead. He made everything and everyone else interesting. We learn about the rules within the Society through how Ky is different, what he knows that he shouldn't, how he acts to imitate those around him (though it does make him a bit robotic at first), how he breaks the rules in front of everyone's eyes simply by existing. I want books about Ky secretly being awesome in a world full of pretty, shiny, evil perfection. I suppose Cassia does begin to show some backbone towards the end, so there is some hope for the next book to be better all around.
Writing-wise Allie Condie has a bad habit of repeating words and phrases for emphasis, a quality that increases the further along in the book to the point of annoyance by the end. Her female characters are teenage females, spending more time worrying and whining than doing something, though that begins to decrease towards the last third of the novel.
I'm left with a lot of questions, mostly background and about all the things that are only hinted at with passing comments. I want to know more about the global situation. I want more world building. I want more Ky being awesome.
Considering how much I've been thinking about this book since I finished, I suppose I'll be looking out for the sequel.
really interesting world building but needs more, stereotypical characters that show promise for growth in future installments