Of the stories I read as a child, there are a few that I have never forgotten. It's not always clear why this is, but I recently started finding and r...moreOf the stories I read as a child, there are a few that I have never forgotten. It's not always clear why this is, but I recently started finding and re-reading those books, in an attempt to try to better remember them and understand why they stuck with me so long. Of the ones I have revisited so far (see shelf "book-rediscovery-project"), this is the first that fully lived up to its memory. It's clear I remembered this book for a reason -- it had a fundamental impact on the way I viewed the world.
I believe that most of the impact was because of my (lack of) worldly knowledge; as a relatively sheltered eleven or twelve-year-old, there were quite a few ideas in this story that I had not previously encountered. This was probably my first dystopian novel, and the ideas it played with -- most directly, terrorism -- were new to me. Sure, I had been alive for the Oklahoma City bombing, but I had been too young to really understand it. The kind of continuous fear and violence that the book described was unimaginable in my bubble of peace in the late 90s.
Then, 9/11 happened. Shortly after the terrorist attacks, I remembered the similar depictions of terrorism in this novel, and decided that it had foreshadowed the attacks. In my mind, Stephanie Tolan had accurately predicted a violent and grim future. As I got older and my exposure to the world grew, I often feared that we were descending deeper into the book's frightening reality. It could be hard to tell whether things were getting worse, or I was just more aware of terrible things. I didn't even remember much of the story, just the savage and brutal world it described; my memory of the book distorted it into an exact depiction of the horrors of the moment, so the book loomed, horribly foreboding, for a while.
From the perspective of many years later, the foreboding feeling is much diminished. Sadly, despite being nowhere near as violent as its fictional counterpart, I feel that our world has drifted a little closer to Tolan's ultra-violent society than when she wrote it in 1996. Not just terrorism, but mass shootings, civil wars, hate crimes and bigotry; increased security checkpoints, fear, and every-man-for-himself vigilantism. Maybe she was on to something, maybe it's just my increased awareness twisting things again.
When I finally found and re-read the book, there ended up being more to the story than just the terrorism that I had so vividly remembered. Issues are brought up that I couldn't have even imagined when I read it initially, such as the controversial use of drugs to deal with children with learning disorders or mental disabilities. The exploitation of children by parents for monetary reasons. Domestic abuse and its effect on children. The vast increase in the number of autism diagnoses. In fact, The book has so much weighty content in it, I'm amazed it could be considered suitable for the 10-12 age group. (Of course, I haven't read another book for that target audience in a long time, maybe it's not so unusual?) The book is incredibly dark and powerful, so I can't say I'm surprised that I never forgot its themes or environment.
Out of everything in the novel, the sci-fi elements are, honestly, its weakest points; in fact, I nearly had forgotten them completely! Their function is merely to serve as the vehicle that opens the novel to its more serious conversations. This is a book about violence: where does it come from, why does it happen, how can we stop it. It doesn't really answer those questions, but instead relates them all back to the central theme: Each of us can stop the violence in ourselves. It's a powerful message, one that develops and informs the main characters and leads to their destiny together. Yes, there's an agenda here as well, but it's certainly one I'm receptive to. I have a hard time accepting the arguments of those who think perpetuating violence is ever a good idea.
I was extremely impressed with this book. Not just because of how well it held up in my memory, but at its core competency and message, and how relevant they remain. The tone and style match the maturity of the content: it doesn't read like a children's book at all. In today's publishing culture, if it got published at all, I could see it on that "paranormal-YA" shelf that's really for adults anyway. That said, I can't recommend it to any adult on good faith, for I fear my opinion of the story is skewed based on its long life in my memory.
I'm not sure it makes sense on the merits of the book alone, yet... I can't help but give the book five stars. It was important enough to me that I remembered it, and I'm glad I did.(less)
This is one of my all-time favorite picture books. I spent a long time trying to figure out the connections between the four stories, and loving it wh...moreThis is one of my all-time favorite picture books. I spent a long time trying to figure out the connections between the four stories, and loving it when I was able to figure it out. Just a fantastic book.(less)