Review: The Crossing

Posted: May 3, 2013 by in Books We Don't Like (2/5 single_star) Meta: Mandy Hager, Dystopian SF, Young Adult

Many years ago monstrous sun flares changed everything, and humanity was thrust back into the Dark Ages. For the natives of an island in the South Pacific and passengers on a beached cruise ship, they are the last known survivors of the subsequent apocalypse.

THE CROSSING starts out on the idyllic island of Onewere, where the teenage Maryam has been living with other girls who were Chosen from among the native population to live with the Apostles when they reach womanhood. Her whole life she’s been taught the Rules, religious teachings that are supposed to protect the people of Onewere from suffering the same fate that destroyed the rest of the world.

Maryam goes to the Holy City anticipating a Blessed life with the Apostles. Instead she finds her older ‘sisters’ from the island pregnant and unmarried working as servants for the Apostles; most of the natives subdued with a mind-numbing drink called toddy; and the main Apsotle’s son using the girls for his own pleasure–willing or not. The horrors don’t end there and Maryam begins to fear for her life.

I can tell you with certainty that I’m not the target audience for this series. For the entirety of the book I was disturbed; this coming from a woman who immensely enjoyed I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU (EBR Review) and almost didn’t finish it. THE CROSSING (Amazon) is dark and deals with unpleasant themes–in fact I had a hard time seeing it as the YA book it’s billed as.

In a strange coincidence, during the week I was reading this book I met a witnesses for one of the Warren Jeffs trials. It was a fascinating conversation. She was open to discussing what it was like to live in a cult-like sect, where men use religion to control women for their own self-gratification. It’s disturbing stuff. Certainly being disturbing doesn’t mean it’s a topic that shouldn’t be addressed. From jail Jeffs still directs his minions to perpetuate his teachings, and women and girls continue to stuffer today–this makes the topic absolutely pertinent. So I get what Hager is trying to do and I can imagine that THE CROSSING must have been a hard story to write because of its themes. I just wish Hager could have presented the story with the finesse it deserves, instead of a contrived and clunky mess.

For starters Hager only vaguely explains how the whole thing started. I was able to suspend belief of the situation, but only until it was explained: the white people on the cruise ship set themselves up to the Onewere natives as teachers sent from God to bring the remainder of humanity back from the brink. Then I spent the rest of the book stewing on that, which pretty much ruined the story for me. I don’t understand how it could have happened. The natives have their own religion, why would they listen to foreigners on a stranded boat with no way to contact the outside world and prove their situation? Brainwashing doesn’t happen overnight.

There are other problems with the writing, in particular the prose itself, which is awkward and stiffly formal, which doesn’t make sense considering how it’s from the PoV of a sixteen-year-old girl.  The prose is slowed down by heavy-handed metaphors and adjectives–cleaning up those alone would have helped the flow considerably. While the imagery was nice, it went overboard and draws too much attention to the flowery prose and takes away from the story itself.

If you can't get enough of dystopian YA novels, THE CROSSING is for you (I'm not sure I'd recommend it for your kids, though).

The plot moves forward well enough (despite some stumbles and circular events) through Maryam’s eyes as she witnesses first-hand the hypocrisy of the Apostles and the other whites on the ship. The reality of her situation unfolds and we can feel her horror: how can Apostles who teach from the bible of the Lamb’s love and goodness condone such wicked behavior?

Via Maryam we become attached to other characters, such as the Apostle’s sick yet good-hearted nephew Joseph, the blind but wise Hushai, the faithful Mother Elizabeth. They are all familiar characters, archetypes really, and shallow in comparison to Maryam. But I admit, I was so stuck on the darkness of the story and the contrivances (i.e., Maryam feels her life is in danger but we never see a guard until the end of the book?) that it was impossible for me to become attached to the characters and the obvious horror of their plight.

THE CROSSING was first published in New Zealand in 2010 and even won awards and accolades. While it’s a relevant topic, for me Hager’s execution makes it hard to recommend.

  • Recommended Age: 16+ for themes and drug use
  • Language: None
  • Violence: Not much, mostly just a sense of peril
  • Sex: Teenage pregnancy; on-screen attempted rapes; details of nudity

If you can’t get enough of the recent influx of dystopian YA novels, this is for you (I’m not sure I’d recommend it for your kids, though).

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