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Who Run Bartertown

Wasteland is a perplexing, stark take on Dystopia.

Who Run Bartertown

BOOK REPORT for Wasteland by Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan

Cover Story: Dystopia Parking Lot
BFF Charm: Maybe?
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Drum Solo
Bonus Factors: Overlord, Dystopia
Relationship Status: Wrong Number

Cover Story: Dystopia Parking Lot

Eh, this cover isn't embarrassing, but that's about all I can give it. That, and at least the girl has the red hoody Esther was so fond of wearing. Since it was all she had.

The Deal:

15 and married, 17 and pregnant, 19 and dead. This is the life that awaits Esther. It's all the life anyone knows -- toil all day in the hot sun in trade for food and precious water from The Source, don't go out at night, and stay out of the rain. But Esther's never been very good following the rules, as is evidenced by her refusal to show up for her work detail, when she can play and have adventures instead with her best friend Skar. Of course, there's also the fact that her best friend is Skar. Because the kids in Prin aren't supposed to associate with Varients -- or Mutants, as some call them -- like Skar and her family.

When a mysterious outsider arrives in town just as a group of Varients launch seemingly random attacks on the people of Prin, well, all hell breaks loose.

BFF Charm: Maybe?

I gotta be honest, with the exception of Joseph and his cats, I didn't care much one way or the other about anybody for most of the book. Esther was kind of a brat in a time when being a brat should have meant she starved to death, because she let her big sister do all of the work. I mean, I get it, life in Prin sucked, but there were 5-year olds working harder than her. So it was hard to be too sympathetic. By the end though, enough shit happened to her that Esther recognized a fair amount of this on her own and grew up a bit. And that's when I realized that somewhere along the course of reading the book, I had gone from feeling "meh" about the characters to caring. Not enough to make me want to necessarily be best friends with them, but enough that I was invested in finding out what happened.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

It's obvious to the reader that Esther and Caleb will fall for each other, but you never know why, because the intensity of the circumstances around them are ripe for YA instalove. I guess we never did find out why Romeo and Juliet liked each other either. Anyway, while the romance is rushed, there is a kind of beautifully written sexytime.

Talky Talk: Drum Solo

I really liked how the authors just dropped us into their world in the middle of action, with no clue about anything. Unfortunately, by the end of the book, I was left with little more information than when I started, and while this sort of doling out of information in minuscule amounts may have worked with a series like Michael Grant's Gone, it didn't work for me here. In fact, this book left me… mostly conflicted. The writing style is stark, with sentences like short bursts of rapid fire action, yet it's also slow-moving, sometimes even dull. A lot of horrific things happen, but it lacks the pulse-pounding suspense needed to drive the reader to its conclusion. There are a lot of things I liked, but it also felt a little flat. Esther fights against the prejudice her fellow characters feel for the Varients, yet her friend Skar is portrayed as silly, fickle, easily distracted; but later it's all of the things Skar taught Esther while they were playing that repeat in her head like a mantra in the climactic scenes. As an adult reader, I didn't love it, but wonder if its target audience will feel differently.

Bonus Factor: Overlord

Who DOESN'T love a good Governor-type, amiright? The kids dependency on -- yet rightful distrust of -- Levi and The Source was one of the aspects I really enjoyed.

Bonus Factor: Dystopia

One thing I do know about the world in Wasteland, is that's it's an ugly, desolate, hopeless place to be. Acid rain, a whole group of people who've mutated into something other, and oh yeah, the whole part where everyone dies by the age of 19 -- if the rain or the starvation doesn't get them earlier. I found the world to be intriguing and a fresh take on dystopia -- even though I don't know why it is the way it is.

Casting Call:

Saoirse Ronan as Esther

Max Irons as Caleb

Relationship Status: Wrong Number

When I picked up the phone the other night, it took me a while to realize that I had no idea who was on the other line. I mean, it just launched into a story about its day, so I thought surely, I was supposed to know who was I was talking to. Still, once I let it know it had the wrong number, this book went on to explain some of the weird things it had told me before I had been able to get a word in. The whole thing was thoroughly perplexing, but not unenjoyable, so when I finally hung up, it was with a -- somewhat confused -- smile on my face.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Harper Teen.  I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Wasteland is available now.

Jenny Bird's photo About the Author: Jenny grew up on a steady diet of Piers Anthony, Isaac Asimov and Star Wars novels. She has now expanded her tastes to include television, movies, and YA fiction.
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