So two award-winning journalists decide to try their hand at the current craze of YA dystopian/post-apocalypse novels. But WASTELAND, by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan, is what happens when non-fiction writers think that writing a coherent, engaging, and imaginative YA novel is not so hard. Throw in a controversial situation, maybe some race-themed antagonism, a couple of clever adjectives for spice, and voila. Easy peasy, right?
They should keep their day jobs.
Esther is our main protagonist. She’s fifteen, the prime age for partnering and having a child of her own. But she avoids it, instead ignoring the boys’ attentions and skipping out on the mandatory work assignments so she can run off and play with her mutant friend, Skar. In the meantime, the other kids of the town of Prin are barely surviving on the water and meager supplies provided by Levi in trade for their work.
Then one day Caleb arrives in town and everything changes.
Told in an awkward omniscient PoV narrative, our main character Esther must find a way to live in a world that doesn’t seem to fit her sensibilities. She easily befriends the outcasts, but runs the risk of becoming outcast herself. Caleb’s motivations are more straightforward. Levi, as the villain, is a more complicated creature and it takes time to understand him. Then there’s Esther’s sister Sarah, her variant friend Skar, her autistic friend Joseph. None of them felt like very deep characters, that the authors were going through the motions of characterization and it felt awkward and forced. Even the romance between the main characters was clumsily written (there’s more to say but it would mean spoilers).
We never learn what happened and why everything is all post-apocalyptical–they hint at global warming, but that doesn’t explain the mass devastation, since they still search through abandoned areas for supplies, so it must have been recent. Their foraging lifestyle does not make for long-term survival. Also, why does everyone die by the time they’re nineteen? Seems like a pretty specific age, but we never learn why. The most important thing we never learn is where the Variants (mutants) come from–they aren’t human, so why are they there other than a contrived plot device?
Despite the prose being easy on the eyes, the pace was slow and dull, mostly as a result of a distant omniscient narrative that makes it impossible to really get into the characters’ heads. And if you’ve read enough dystopian YA novels then this book’s plot feels predictable, clear to the end.
I have so many questions and no answers. There just wasn’t enough meat to this story for me, but then again I’m not the target audience. Nevertheless I’m not going to be passing this book along to my fifteen-year-old daughter. Instead, she’ll be reading the PARTIALS series by Dan Wells (EBR review).
Recommended Age: The publicity says 14+ but I would say 17+ because of the sex scene and themes
Violence: Torture, teens fighting, some blood, death by fighting and disease
Sex: One brief graphic scene; teenagers must “partner” in order to perpetuate the human race
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