NOTE: Upon writing this, I have decided to stop giving letter grades to my reviews. It’s become increasingly more difficult to decide on a grade that I feel equals my opinions and still remain consistent across the board. I fear with this one, I just ramble on.
YA / Dystopian
I never really had that many female friends growing up. Boys were more entertaining and didn’t want to talk all the time. Plus I usually had much more in common with the guys. I think that’s why I find it difficult to relate to female teen protagonists when the story is told in the first person and why Ember, our narrator in Article 5, drove me crazy. I didn’t understand her choices or thought processes and I found that she made a lot of dumb decisions until the last sixty pages. But first, the synopsis:
Article 5 takes place after some sort of war that left major cities blown to bits and a military force basically became government. The Bill of Rights is revoked and in its place some unidentified entity instituted the Moral Statutes, which was supposed to make everyone love each other and be good people or something. Ember is nearly 18 when her mother is taken into military custody for violating Article 5 – having a child out of wedlock – and she’s sent to a reformatory school to learn how to behave like a “proper” woman. In the background we learn about Chase, her former next door neighbor who she madly loved before he went off to join the military upon being drafted. Chase happens to be with the group of soldiers that arrest Ember’s mother. This causes a lot of mental anguish on the part of Ember, who has to face her issues with her past, her current situation, and Chase when she reunites with him later.
Mild spoilers follow involving actions taken in the first third of the book
I had three problems with this book, and unfortunately they are very large problems. One is with the very foundation on which the book is built, which prevented me from ever fully buying into this world. Perhaps I misunderstood the timeline, but my understanding is that the war happened sometime around the time Ember was 10 and the Moral Statutes were formed after the war ended a few years later. So basically Ember’s mother was arrested for something that happened over a decade before the Statutes were created at a time when it was perfectly legal to have children*. So all women who had children outside of marriage prior to the implementation of the Statutes could potentially be arrested and punished. Do you know how many people that would be?
I needed some sort of bridge between life pre-war and this new religion/moral-based society where some shady faceless figure (or group of figures) was making these laws and implementing them. It came off as fascism without a bad guy to pin it all on and I can’t buy into the formation of this society without further background. It would have been like The Hunger Games where President Snow didn’t exist and the vaguely described Capitol was the faceless bad guy that you couldn’t fight because no one really knew what it was. It felt like there wasn’t a lot of structure put into the details of the world building, so it was never a world I could get lost in.
My second problem with the book was its first person narration. I don’t think I would have found Ember as annoying if I hadn’t been subjected to her thought process. Instead actions that would have appeared as impulsiveness came across as naïve and idiotic because I was privy to the thought process behind them. When Chase saves her from a brutal punishment and attempts to whisk her away to safety, Ember has the brilliant idea to run away from him because he won’t spell out his plans and “he’s not the person she used to love”. So a guy is trying to get you to safety, he hasn’t done you any harm, he saved you from a brutal attack, and you think the best decision is to run away in the middle of the countryside, hoping that a nice person will help you out?
I just could not understand her thought process. It was a lot of wishy-washy “He’s not the guy I loved before” nonsense instead of “Hey, this guy is trying to protect me and save me from all the awful people who want to rape me/beat me/shoot me in the head.” I couldn’t believe that someone who grew up during a war and had lived years in a police state could be so naïve and trusting in the kindness of strangers. At 18, I knew better than to run away from safety with nothing more than a chocolate bar in my pocket, hoping to rely on the kindness of strangers and I’m not even living in a police state. You’re a wanted fugitive. Who is going to help you?!
Sorry. It just really frustrated me and it was the second of many decisions that Ember made that actively put her and Chase in harm’s way.
And my third large issue directly ties in to my dislike of Ember’s character. Her entire motivation for obtaining freedom was because she believed her mother would not be able to take care of herself. She painted her own mother as weak, incapable of living without her assistance, almost as an invalid. Tie that in with Ember’s own lack of judgment and I’m not entirely sure how the two of them survived this long. I would have much preferred Ember simply wanting to get to her mother in order to just be with her mother because they were family, not because her mother was incapable of living on her own.
With all that said, I really liked Chase (and why I started this review with the whole, “most of my friends were guys” thing). He was tortured, selfless, determined, honest, and I really wanted to pat him on the head and give him a cookie. Yes, he has a great big secret that he hides for the sake of Ember’s cooperation and I could buy Ember’s resulting meltdown once she discovered it (as well as the stupid actions she took afterward), but he gave no indication that he ever meant to harm Ember. His level of maturity was a complete 180 in comparison to Ember’s lack of any common sense.
And now the reason I couldn’t give Article 5 a letter grade: I didn’t hate it. Despite all those giant problems I had with it, I didn’t think it was a bad book. A frustrating book, absolutely, but not bad. It helps that the last 60-80 pages allowed for some growth in Ember that made her a character I could potentially like spending time with in the impending sequel. Not only does she grow a spine, she starts thinking like a survivor instead of an oblivious victim and when she takes chances, she’s doing them after thinking through potential repercussions. It was like a switch flipped and she became the type of girl I could believe grew up in the type of environment Kristen Simmons had created.
I liked the dystopia and the conflicts that she threw her protagonists into. Despite not being able to buy into the catalyst for the entire plot without knowing more about the world, I liked and could believe the state of the environment – the evacuation zones, the military bases, the reformatories, the budding uprising. I could believe the other survivors that Chase and Ember came across, the actions they took and their potential thought process. Everyone else was fighting for their own survival in a world where that should probably be your first priority. It’s a damaged and broken world that I can easily picture existing in our not-so-distant future; I just needed more to tie it all together.
And so that’s why I can’t give this a letter grade. Despite the huge things that frustrated me from beginning to end, I didn’t hate the book. Were there things I wish had been different? Absolutely, but it’s not a bad book and it ends with the potential for a fantastic sequel.
I received a finished copy of this book from Tor. I hope this review doesn't prevent them from considering me to review other titles in the future because I'm really fond of Tor's catalog. My opinions are mine alone.
* SPOILER ALERT: Yes, I realize that in the end, Ember and her mother were taken specifically to break Chase, but as that fact comes to light late in the book, I couldn’t get past not understanding how this new code of ethics and laws functioned. Even after knowing more about the reasoning of the decision, though, it still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me without a lot of hand waving and because-I-said-so.