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Friday, April 10, 2015

Minor League Dystopian YA novels that might be worth a read

Weyn, Suzanne (2006) The Bar Code Rebellion.  New York:  Scholastic.

Opening line:  "Kayla Reed spoke directly into the camera as it closed in on her earnest face."

It didn't take much to start the avalanche of dystopian novels.  After the success of the Hunger Games and Insurgent books, dystopian science fiction books with plucky heroines started coming out of the woodwork.  When I read Suzanne Weyn's Bar Code Rebellion I was initially not particularly impressed.  The book seemed filled with concepts that needed more explanation.  This particular world of the future is one where a corporation, with the support of the US Federal government, has begun requiring all citizens to get a bar code tattooed on their arm.  The bar code contains all their genetic information (must be quite a bar code).  The protagonist, Kayla, is part of a group who are rebelling against the bar coding.  She is also moderately telepathic (we find out later in the book that this is because her DNA has been spliced with bird DNA (though why bird DNA should make one telepathic is never explained.) 

When I was more than halfway through the book, I realized that it was not the first book in this series.  Thee are apparently two books that come before it.  There is nowhere, however, on the cover or inside my copy of the book, that explains this.  It looks like a stand alone book.  And so I read the book thinking that. 

Anyway, I suspect if you rad the other two books, it would be quite an engaging story, but as I read it, it seemed to be equal parts predictable and lacking internal consistency.  It is unclear, for example, why the Global-1 Corporation wants to institute a nefarious underground program at huge expense (and no apparent basis for profit) to be able to quell future rebellions.  But I suspect that the earlier two books might set up some relationships and rivalries that would make the revelations and revealing of this book quite gripping.

Bottom line:  There is nothing offensive in this book, and nothing particularly interesting from a thematic perspective either.  It would be a good book to give to a student who likes dystopian novels to keep him or her interested for a few hours, but it isn't about to win any awards or end up in anyone's favorite book lists.

Schusterman, Neal (2007) Unwind.  New York:  Simon and Schuster.

Opening line:  "There are places you can go," Ariana tells him, "and a guy as smart as you has a decent chance of surviving to eighteen."

You will enjoy this book if you can get past the basic premise.  So in the future, after a civil war between Pro-life and Pro-choice armies, the Bill of Life establishes that life begins at conception and as such no human life may be harmed ... until a child reaches the age of thirteen.  From 13 to 18, parents get to decide whether they want to keep the child or have it "unwound", which essentially means that they take the child apart and their parts are used for transplants -- a kind of retroactive abortion.  The book gives very little justification for this odd turn of events  --making it hard to imagine a society that would every agree to such a bizarre set of rules.  In comparison,  the Hunger Games seem utterly believable.

The story itself, though, is pretty good.  Connor is sixteen.  His parents have decided to let him be unwound.  Connor decides to go on the run.  While trying to escape from the authorities, he causes a pile-up on the highway and meets Lev, whose parents are tithing him -- having him unwound for religious reasons.  They soon stumble into a kind of underground railroad for such people and eventually make it all the way the a hidden desert base where lots of fugitives from winding are hiding out.  Then things really get interesting. 

It is a really good book if you can get past the initial premise.  The story moves along well, the characters are interesting, and it raises some important ideas and themes.  I don't think it is a strong enough story to stand up to study in class, but it would be a great book for your classroom library.

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