Author: Teri Hall
Genre: Dystopia, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publication Date: March 2010
Hardcover: 224 Pages
An invisible, uncrossable physical barrier encloses the Unified States. The Line is the part of the border that lopped off part of the country, dooming the inhabitants to an unknown fate when the enemy used a banned weapon. It’s said that bizarre creatures and superhumans live on the other side, in Away. Nobody except tough old Ms. Moore would ever live next to the Line.
Nobody but Rachel and her mother, who went to live there after Rachel’s dad died in the last war. It’s a safe, quiet life. Until Rachel finds a mysterious recorded message that can only have come from Away. The voice is asking for help.
Who sent the message? Why is her mother so protective? And to what lengths is Rachel willing to go in order to do what she thinks is right?
Stand alone or series: Book one of a planned series
How did I get this book: Bought (at The Strand in New York over BEA week!)
Why did I read this book: I have been looking forward to The Line ever since I first heard about it last year – seriously, it was one of my most highly anticipated debut novels of 2010 – and as a review copy remained elusive, when I saw it at The Strand I knew I had to buy it.
Well, you know that saying about not buying into the hype? I really should have kept that in mind when reading The Line – a book that went from one of my most highly anticipated reads of 2010…to the most disappointing read of the year.
Young Rachel lives on The Property with her mother, employed at the will of the home’s owner, Ms. Moore. During the day, Rachel completes chores in the greenhouse, and by night she studies under the watchful, shrewd eye of her mother. But Rachel is young and, as the young are wont to be, curious. While her mother teaches Rachel everything she needs to know about the Unified States, separated by an invisible, un-crossable Line from a wild terrifying realm known simply as “Away,” Rachel hungers to explore, especially since The Property lies right inside the mysterious Line itself. Ignoring the warnings and cautionary lessons from her mother, Rachel is fascinated by the Line, and when she finds a communication device and then meets a young man on the other side of the invisible barrier, she knows that there must be more to Away than she has been told.
Sounds good, right? So what, then, was so disappointing with The Line, you may be asking? I loved the concept of the book, as told in the blurb, but the story (and its execution) was…well, not good. I’ll be frank: the problem with The Line is fundamental. The book TELLS instead of SHOWS.
Allow me to elaborate: while The Line is (ostensibly) Rachel’s story, the book is weighed down by an incredible amount of exposition (in the unimaginative form of “history lessons” and lengthy discussions between mother, daughter and patron Ms. Moore) – and even worse, the most interesting parts of the story are those of mother and her employer Ms. Moore, related entirely in conversation to Rachel. The direction of the book is stilted; the worldbuilding revealed only through dry, uninspired, ridiculously contrived history lessons. That’s not a metaphor, by the way – every detail about the world in which The Line is set in is related literally in history lessons, from mother to daughter. You can imagine this becomes grating after a while. The most infuriating thing about the book, however, is how there are some truly awesome ideas and plot seeds in this book – the story of Rachel’s mother as a resistance member fighting against the Big Brother-like oppression of the government and the tragic love story of Ms. Moore and her lost love, come to mind. These ideas were so intriguing that I found myself wishing that instead of Rachel’s tepid story was her mothers or Ms. Moore’s instead. We learn about these other women, and I couldn’t help but wish we got to experience these stories firsthand, instead of having been told about them in long, uninspired (and, frankly, contrived) conversations. Even when Rachel’s adventure picks up a little steam, the book ends abruptly before any serious momentum is gained.
The characters are marginally better – but again, I wish the book followed the adventures of Rachel’s mother and Ms. Moore, living through them instead of being related to Rachel in long, boring monologues. This writing method didn’t allow anyone to truly gain dimension as a character, and even Rachel herself is a bit off – she’s supposed to be somewhere around 14 years old, but based on her reactions and mentality, it seems she seems more like someone in the 10-12 age group.
The writing is simplistic, and while the ideas in the book (the genesis of the Line, the concept of “Away” and the controlling nature of the government) sound great, they are never taken any further than that surface-grazing level.
There are a number of other failings with the book (the unimpressive, thinly veiled choice of replacement nouns – “Unified States” for the United States, “digims” for photographs, etc). And, well, I’m kind of out of things to say simply because I don’t really care. That’s it. Maybe this will work for readers looking for a brief, simplistic, exposition-laden dystopian novel. But given the sophisticated, exceptionally well-written YA dystopian books out there (The Hunger Games, Chaos Walking, etc, etc) – The Line is utterly insignificant and undeniably forgettable.
It seemed to Rachel that she had always lived on The Property, though this wasn’t true. Her mother, Vivian, said they moved there when she was three years old, but Rachel didn’t remember. To her, The Property was home. She felt as comfortable there as she did in her own skin. But she knew that for most people, The Property was too close to the section of the National Border Defense System known
as the Line.
The National Border Defense System enclosed the entire Unified States. The section called the Line was only a small part of it, but because of its history it was infamous, at least locally. Strange things were supposed to happen near the Line; dangerous things. Even though there hadn’t been a Crossing Storm in over forty years, people still thought of the Line as a bad place to be near. There were whispers about Away—the territory on the other side of the Line.
There were whispers about the Others.
To read the first chapter of The Line, go HERE.
Additional Thoughts: If you’re a newbie to the dystopian YA genre, seriously, please check out these novels first:
Verdict: If you’re looking for a story rife with exposition; if you’re looking for characters content to tell a story rather than experiencing one; if you’re looking for compelling plot seeds that never come anywhere close to fruition; if you’re looking for a simplistic, bland dystopian Young Adult novel, look no further. The Line is for you.
If you want depth, sophistication, or a book that provides a wholly and truly immersive reading experience…well, look elsewhere.
Rating: 4 – Bad, but not without some merit
Reading Next: Crossing Over by Anna Kendall