Truthfully, I can only blame myself. With a well-known addiction to the apocalypse (but a choosy one), a kindle sale and a couple positive friend reviews, I had to give this a go. Sadly, the blurb is misleading, making it sound like a buddy-movie adventure in the apocalypse. It isn’t: it’s a coming-of-age thing.
In a post-something New York City, the populace at large has become allergic to sunlight through some virus. Twist and Dodger are two orphan teens have formed their own ‘gang,’ and have made their home with other misfits in the sewers and subway tunnels of the city. They’re on a run to steal some medical supplies from the “Tower brats.” Because all the wealthy people with resources are holed up in the skyscrapers and NYC is isolated from the rest of the world. They’ve infiltrated a tower by pretending to be rich brats themselves, but when they get to the stash, one of their old friends is already there. A daring escape from the Tower and they think they’re free, only to discover men in black (Tower security) chasing them through the streets and subway tunnels. The young men are forced to bargain with the men in back to retrieve the package their friend stole or they won’t get the Cure (and we don’t mean Robert Smith). It will mean navigating wild areas of New York they usually avoid.
The plotting should feel familiar to anyone who has had more than a passing genre glance, except that Stanton tries to fit them all in. Virus, warring Manhattan factions, rag-tag group of street people, children from Lord of the Flies, a drug commune, the uncharted ‘wild, wild, West,’ religious zealots, vague hints that the world outside of Manhattan may be more habitable. Except Brooklyn (naturally), because of the cannibals who sharpen their teeth and act an awful lot like zombies. Oh, and the don who runs an arena with war games (what is it with young adult and death arenas? Seriously?) Each of these would be deserving of a book in and of itself, but robbed of book-length attention, the quick stereotypical view stands in for world-building.
I’m not sure Stanton had a specific target, though, because under the McGuffin, it’s really about Twist growing up, falling in love and negotiating his changing relationship with Dodger. Now there’s a twist I would have liked to see–Twist falling in love with Dodger. Might have made for something more interesting instead of falling for a girl they ‘rescued.’ Instead we have a mediocre internal struggle about his dependency on Dodger, desire to stand on his own two feet and Dodger’s rampant sexualization of women (only relevant because one of the targets is a woman Twist is attracted to). It’s bad. It’s emotional and overwrought, and worse, it’s relayed to the reader by Twist explaining it to us. Or himself. Occasionally there will be active adjectives like “Twist yelled at Dodger” to help convey the strength of the feeling, but mostly the reader knows because of telling.
“Something in me snapped. I couldn’t tell you what or why, but that seemed to be the last straw. It wasn’t uncommon for him to make foolish remarks, but the jealousy of the previous night still ran hot through my mind. I needed little excuse to lash out. “Are you kidding me?’ I asked, more angrily than merited.”
Then the world-building ought to drive genre fans to distraction. I kept wondering how these Towers the rich people lived in had air conditioning, elevators and sewage flow. We are shown that there are two ‘classes’ of people, the rich drug-heads and the poor-street people, but I’m kind of puzzled because there doesn’t seem to be much of an infrastructure to keep this all going. Zepplins make supply deliveries but how are the Towers powered? Where are supplies coming from? And I still don’t understand why sunlight is so awful–has Stanton never met anyone who really can’t deal with sunlight? You wear clothes, use umbrellas, sunblock, but you can still go outside. No reason to become people of the night or sewer people. Then there’s our 16 year-olds’ nostalgia for time they’ve barely experienced–they’re referencing movies like Titanic in the year 2025 (although movie theaters don’t work). Sure; teenagers now reference movies I’ve never heard about, so I have no doubt future teens will care even less. And can I even mention how many times people were knocked out with a punch to the jaw? I’d give it at least four or five times. Certainly makes for dramatic movie footage but not so much on the realism front, particularly when it is teens doing the punching.
And then there’s the writing. Like the florescent pink cupcakes I saw at the grocery store yesterday, it’s florid and overwrought and makes no sense. What do I mean? Read on:
“He smiled, and, as always, his broken lips that encased missing teeth shook me back to the realization that he was in fact just a mere child, for all his intelligence, conniving nature, and resourcefulness.”
“I urged him on with an annoyed nod.”
“It all made me angry. ‘I’m not his shadow! We’re best friends. Why is it that I have to be his shadow? He’s more to be than a brother. Is that so wrong?’
‘Not at all, it’s just I see something in you that you aren’t letting out. You are content with contentment.’”
What the hell does that even mean??
Young adult often doesn’t work for me, but it was hard not to be disappointed given positive reviews. I expected more than this poorly executed teen angst. Wait, maybe it’s not me: Mockingjay had a revolutionary social commentary. Blood Red Road was an interesting dystopia with a gritty, determined heroine even if it did have an arena. Rot&Ruin did very interesting things with the young adult character development and world-building in an isolated settlement. Ship Breaker did great things with one small part of the dystopic world. This is Not a Test took a group of teens forced to rely on themselves post-apocalypse and wrenched my heart out. I believe this is my way of saying, it’s not me.
It’s this book.