Author: Lisa M. Stasse
Genre: Dystopia, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: July 2012
Hardcover: 375 Pages
A thought-provoking and exciting start to a riveting new dystopian trilogy.
As an obedient orphan of the U.N.A. (the super-country that was once Mexico, the U.S., and Canada), Alenna learned at an early age to blend in and be quiet—having your parents taken by the police will do that to a girl. But Alenna can’t help but stand out when she fails a test that all sixteen-year-olds have to take: The test says she has a high capacity for brutal violence, and so she is sent to The Wheel, an island where all would-be criminals end up.
The life expectancy of prisoners on The Wheel is just two years, but with dirty, violent, and chaotic conditions, the time seems a lot longer as Alenna is forced to deal with civil wars for land ownership and machines that snatch kids out of their makeshift homes. Desperate, she and the other prisoners concoct a potentially fatal plan to flee the island. Survival may seem impossible, but Alenna is determined to achieve it anyway.
Stand alone or series: Book one in a series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: The very first thing that caught my attention with this book was the gorgeous, amazing cover. I LOVE THIS COVER SO MUCH. Plus, I’ve been in the mood for a good dystopian YA novel – and when the author contacted us and the publisher offered a review copy, The Forsaken sounded like the perfect fit.
It is the future, and the world is a very different place. Because of the crumbling economy and political tensions, the United States, Mexico, and Canada have combined to form the United Northern Alliance (the U.N.A.), under the not-so-benevolent leadership of Prime Minister Roland Haka – a four-star general who came to power and created the UNA following the civil unrest due to economic unrest and food shortages. In the new supernation, travel is banned, people are forced to take mind-controlling medications daily (so as to be dull and pliant), and anyone that dares disobey finds themselves…disappeared.
Such is the case of Alenna Shawcross. At the age of ten, her rebel parents were taken by the UNA and never to be heard from again, while Alenna was snatched and placed into the UNA orphanage system to be reeducated and integrated into society. Six years later, Alenna is a good little UNA citizen – she keeps her head down, she gets good grades, and she eagerly looks to the future. Only one hurdle stands in her way: the Government Personality Profile Test (GPPT) that will determine whether or not she has any proclivity towards crime or violence. Those that pass the test get to live out their lives in the UNA; those that do not are sent to an island prison colony, where the average life expectancy is an additional 2 years. On the day of Alenna’s test, she is sedated and awakens, inexplicably, on an island – she has failed the GPPT, and now must figure out how to stay alive on an island with the most violent and deranged teens have been sent. Convinced it is all an accident, Alenna tries to find a way home – in the process, she discovers new friends and uncovers the secrets behind the UNA, the GPPT, and even her own family heritage and past. Oh, yeah, there’s a dreamy boy involved too (naturally).
Coming off the disappointing and problematic Monument 14, I was hoping for some redemption to my reading this week with The Forsaken. Unfortunately, The Forsaken did not deliver on the promise of its gorgeous cover and compelling blurb – this novel was pretty bad from start to finish. Basically, The Forsaken is a hodgepodge of some very familiar novels – part Lord of the Flies (kids running wild on an island in two different camps), part Hunger Games (kids killing each other on said island, with the same overtones as the Capitol controlling everything), part Maze Runner (big bad corporation/government behind a big Experiment), part The Giver (testing for “aptitude” at a given age), and any other number of familiar dystopias both old and new. Unfortunately, The Forsaken is not even a fraction as compelling as any of these influential works.
The two major problems, for me, were: 1. the plausibility gap, and 2. the characterizations (particularly the main character and her new best friend). Regarding plausibility issues, The Forsaken suffers from one of the most common ailments in the new wave of YA dystopian fiction – I could not buy into the “dystopia”. This is a world where people have “earpieces” (implants, I’m assuming, though it’s never explained) that blast calming classical music (although how calming, really, is the forceful nationalist music of Wagner?! That’s just poor research.), in which people are under MIND CONTROL by the government…by pills that are taken each day. Now, maybe this is just me, but if the Government started making people take pills that noticeably dulled one’s thinking – as the UNA does – wouldn’t more people simply NOT take the pills? There’s also the mystery of how Alenna knows so much given the environment in which she’s been raised. How would Alenna know about the things she’s missing – she mentions old films and travel and music, but if she’s been in this dystopian society for so long where such things have been outlawed?
Once we get to the island itself – “The Wheel” to the locals – we are introduced to a whole slew of ridiculous nomenclature. The Wheel has been separated into two main factions – the Villagers, and the MONK and his DRONES. There’s also a mysterious sickness, but they don’t call it sickness:
I feel light-headed. “They all look so sick.”
Gadya flinches. “Don’t use that word.”
“Yeah. Veidman doesn’t like it. Says it causes panic. That’s why we call them the Ones Who Suffer.”
Yes. Because THAT is much better.
The ultimate rationale behind the wheel, the machines that snatch up wheel inhabitants (in my head, I started to call the inhabitants wheelies) is…well…stupid. I won’t spoil it here, but just try to conjure up the most melodramatic “twists” given the framework of this story and you get The Forsaken.
Then of course there are the characters. Alenna is a bland, utterly forgettable heroine. She goes to the wheel with absolutely no skill – other than her ability to play the guitar, I guess (because this dystopia allows for creative expression through music) – but is basically defined by her novelty to the Wheel and her prettiness. Of course, she IMMEDIATELY feels a connection to a super hot dude – which then causes some headdeskingly RIDICULOUS drama with her new bestie on the island, Gadya, who is portrayed as a jealous, petty shrew. I’ll just throw in some of my favorite quotes:
“You can’t just flounce in here with your wavy hair and your pale skin and try to go after all the guys, y’know? It doesn’t work that way.”
“I’m not doing anything but trying to stay alive!” I sputter. “Liam talked to me. I didn’t talk to him.”
Gadya isn’t appeased. “Let’s just see how you look after a year on the wheel. After a bad diet, and all the stress, and all the battles. You’ll look liek a ghost of yourself. A wretched, skinny, beat-up ghost!”
“Is this about Liam?”
“It’s got nothing to do with him,” I tell her honestly, wanting to clear the air. “Obviously, he’s cute. I won’t deny that. But I listened to what you said.”
“Good, because if you fall for him, not only will I kick your ass, but he’ll end up breaking your heart. Girls come second to hunting for him. I can promise you that.”
Yes, I love a good “dystopia” in which girls are more concerned about catching the eye of the hot guy – threatening each other with violence (and actually delivering on that later in the book) – instead of, you know, trying to survive the constant, very real threat of death.
On the diversity level, I was glad to see that there are characters included from different ethnicities (as one would expect in a new supercountry built of Canada, the US and Mexico) – in fact, Alenna’s love interest, Liam, is half hispanic (albeit described as having piercing blue eyes). One would expect more integration of former Canadians and Mexicans in this society, but instead there is a weird semi-developed sort of nationalism against Canadians (i.e. at one point characters remark on the weird Canadian-ness of other characters), and there are no Mexicans in sight on the Wheel (other than Liam). There’s also one point where we meet an Asian American character who has renamed himself “Assassin Elite” – on his name, Gadya explains:
“What’s his real name, anyway?”
“Sinxen Ro,” Gadya says, spellign his first name out for me. “He’s really touchy about it, probably because it’s so freaking weird. Everyone calls him Sinxen anyway, instead of Assassin Elite.”
This is all exacerbated by a level of writing that is, unfortunately, very reflective of a debut author. As Ana would say, there are many “shortcuts”; lots of telling instead of showing, and often comical thoughts and dialogue, such as:
I yank my arm out of Veidman’s grasp, horrified. “Electro-shock! But that was banned years ago!” Tears spring into my eyes. The government tried to fry my mind?
I could keep going, but I think I’ll just leave it at that. The Forsaken, unfortunately, was not for me.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
AS OUR BUS APPROACHES the Harka Museum of Re-education, I peer out the window at the soldiers standing out front in the sculpture gardens. The sculptures are just broken remnants, long ago smashed under combat boots. The flagpole flies our nation’s flag, an eye hovering over a globe branded with the letters UNA, the abbreviation used by everyone for the United Northern Alliance.
The driver parks on a circular driveway in front of the museum’s entrance, and I look up. Marble columns sweep fifty feet toward a pediment that still bears old scars from rebel mortar attacks.
There’s only one day left until I’m forced to take the Government Personality Profile Test—GPPT for short—which is why our class is on this field trip. The trip is meant to show us what happens to kids who fail the test.
A heavyset woman in a gray uniform stands up near the front of the bus as the door opens. It’s Ms. Baines, our Social Reconstruction teacher. She ushers our class out of the vehicle and into the hot sun. We stand on the asphalt, a diverse throng of kids. Everyone, rich or poor, orphan or not, goes through the same public school system in the UNA.
“This way, class,” Ms. Baines orders. We follow her up a wide stone staircase, toward the massive front door of the museum that beckons like a hungry mouth. Inside, it’s dark and cool.
The Harka Museum once held some of our state’s greatest works of art. Now, like most museums, it’s a shrine to our government and its leader, Minister Roland Harka. Instead of paintings, the walls display digital maps of the United Northern Alliance’s global conquests. Armies are rendered as colorful dots, and battles as pixelated cubes.
Being in this museum makes me think about our nation’s complicated history. At sixteen, I’m too young to remember what a real museum was even like. I only remember reading about them, before most books and digital media were withdrawn from circulation. That happened when I was eight, two years before my parents got taken, and just three years after the formation of the United Northern Alliance—a merger of Canada, the United States, and Mexico into one vast, chaotic nation.
From what my mom and dad told me, the citizens of those countries weren’t in favor of the alliance. But food was scarce after a global economic meltdown, and people were turning to violent crime. So the government leaders made the radical decision to create the UNA.
When angry citizens rebelled, military police used lethal force to stop the demonstrations. The demonstrations turned into riots, and then into total anarchy as people turned against their own government.
Every week our building would shake as a car bomb detonated somewhere, and I’d often fall asleep at night listening to the crack of gunfire. That was when Roland Harka, a charismatic four-star general, took office by force and appointed himself prime minster of the UNA. For life.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 3 – Bad News
Reading Next: Advent by James Treadwell
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