Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky

Awaken (Awaken, #1)
Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether it’s to go to school or on a date, people don’t venture out of their home. There’s really no need. For the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life—until she meets Justin. Justin likes being with people. He enjoys the physical closeness of face-to-face interactions. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her.

Suddenly, Maddie feels something awakening inside her—a feeling that maybe there is a different, better way to live. But with society and her parents telling her otherwise, Maddie is going to have to learn to stand up for herself if she wants to change the path her life is taking.

In this not-so-brave new world, two young people struggle to carve out their own space.
Hardcover, 309 pages
Published May 23rd 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
(summary grabbed from GoodReads)
I originally started reading Awaken during the summer, but put it down to try and read later.  I thought that maybe I missed something while reading it the first time because the characters seemed inconsistent.  Then I realized, no -- the characters were simply that: inconsistent.  Here are a few more adjectives for them: unlikable, boring, and confusing.  This book had such great promise, which is the main reason I was going to try and read it again eventually.  I thought the book presented a logical possible future: one where people don't leave the house unless necessary and where they are attached to their computers not out of want, but requirement (at least that is what I got from the blurb).  It's not much of a stretch and I can see our world going in that direction.

One problem was that Maddie's world wasn't a stretch at all.  The world is supposedly 50 years in the future, but the technology hasn't really advanced.  The only innovation that is addressed is that there is online schooling, but it hasn't completely gotten rid of person-to-person instruction as there as group in-person study sessions.  I felt like it should have been more extreme; that people did not come into contact normally -- that would have been more interesting to me.  There also were not any new cool gizmos and gadgets of the future and instead, she describes an iPad.  I seriously hope we've advanced past the iPad at least a little in 50 years. 

But my real issue was the fact that Maddie was a hot mess of a character.  I was really intrigued by the idea that the main character was the daughter of a big shot.  In other dystopian novels like Delirium, Matched, and Uglies, our heroine is a mostly normal girl living her life in her society.  Maddie was connected to power, and that could have been really cool depending on how it was explored.  Maddie could have been the dutiful daughter, following the rules, trusting her parents judgment only to have the floor ripped out from under her when she discovers the awful truths of her world.  Or she could have been rebellious, trying to tear down the walls by destroying the school system her dad is the head of and ultimately unravel the society.  This Maddie would have to be a strong character to have the balls to try and pull off that kind of stunt.  But the Maddie we get is a bit of both the Maddie's I describe.  And if you're thinking, "How could that work?"  The answer is that it doesn't.

A lot of Awaken came off as wishy-washy, like the author did not really attempt to think of a new world.  It felt more like an extension of our own current one.  One of the big things of dystopian literature is that these societies are made of absolutes, but Awaken didn't seem to have any.  For example, kids go to school online at home, but they can still meet up and go to in person study sessions or be a sports team together.  Without any kind of absolute like that, it just didn't seem feasible that people would be that outraged about online schooling.  Granted, I did not get very far (maybe 100 pages) and maybe Maddie's split personality would make more sense or the schooling system would seem more sinister if I had kept reading.  I completely lost interest though, and a book should be able to hold my attention up until the twist (if a twist exists).

Final Thought: 1 out of 8 toadstools.

This review is also posted on GoodReads

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