All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Awaken – Katie Kacvinsky

on December 17, 2010

It’s the year 2060 and technology has moved forward so much that most people don’t need to or want to leave their houses. Everything can be done at home online, including now the one thing that almost everyone had to leave their home for daily: school and/or university. After the escalation of school shootings and violence, and bombings by an extremist group, software was developed so that children could study in the comfort of their own home, exposed to none of the violence and dangers posed by the outside world. It’s free for every child, which is a huge bonus to parents as their children are guaranteed a quality education, all from the privacy of their own homes. You can obtain anything you like without leaving your home and even do things like go for a stroll along the beach using simulation screens and treadmills. Everything, from dates to ordering coffee is done online. And in 2060, trees are almost extinct. There are a few real ones left in the world but most of the current generation has never seen one. All trees and grass now are synthetic – designed to be green all year around and never drop leaves. Paper no longer exists either, as there are no trees left to cut down anymore. All reading is electronic now.

Madeleine is 17 and she’s very happy with her virtual life. She makes hundreds of friends every day online and they all fulfill a different role. She’s a member of bookclubs, where they meet in virtual coffee shops, drinking virtual coffee, their wall screens and prgrams making out as if they really are all in the same room. She has people she studies with, people she meets randomly just for a chat. She hardly ever needs to venture outside until she meets Justin in a study group chat. Justin dares her to come to a face to face tutorial session and although she is reluctant, Maddie is intrigued enough to go. When she meets Justin, she is surprised that he is not like other people. He relishes face to face contact and social interaction. He longs for the days when people stepped outside their houses to experience nature, not just flicked up an image on a screen in their living room. He likes talking to people while he can see their faces and Maddie, although she finds this strange at first, because it’s not the norm, she starts to warm to Justin’s philosophy and ideas. Because Maddie hasn’t always been the good little virtual citizen she seems. Several years ago she hacked a computer, stole  some files to give to a protest group and nearly got someone she cares about sent to prison. Since then she’s been on probation – sort of house arrest. Her online activity and chats are monitored, many sites and avenues are blocked to her and she has to fight just to leave her house to go to soccer practice – her one face to face activity. Her dad is the creator of the Digital School software that is now mandatory for everyone across the country and the protests rising up against it mean he could lose his job. Maddie is torn between family loyalty and exploring freedom with Justin.

Dystopian fiction is very popular right now. For me I think the attraction is equally about the thrill/fear of what we could very easily become versus the enjoyment of having someone to cheer for in terms of freedom fighting. A hero/heroine in a dystopian fiction should for me, be strong, decisive or at least coming to a decision at some stage in the book, brave but not stupidly so and with a touch of vulnerability that makes them easy to like. The world has to be sufficiently depressing/oppressive enough for me to shudder every time I imagine myself living there and the government/controlling body should be evil with a side serving of super evil. That’s what I enjoy in my dystopian fiction. Usually.

Now Awaken pretty much has none of that. Firstly Maddie is a pretty ordinary stay at home sort of girl who did one bad thing a couple years ago, paid for it and now just wants to be a normal teenager in a virtual world. She’s nice enough but she’s sort of…blank. I didn’t really get much of a feel for her, nor did I really come to like her all that much. Justin, the sort of hero to Maddie’s sort of heroiness is an okay revolutionary and love interest sort. He’s a bit awkward around her and it’s nice that he’s not some sort of suave overconfident mysterious womaniser who has met his match. He’s genuinely never really had time for a relationship before, busy as he is running about the country organising uprisings and getting juvenile ‘offenders’ out of detention centres.  He’s quite sweet, even a little misguided in the way he deceives Maddie. You feel for her when she finds out but you also feel for him too, because I genuinely believe he didn’t intend for her to feel used.

The world itself that this book takes place in isn’t a particularly scary one in terms of physical threat. Crime rates are quoted as being down significantly since the introduction of the digital schooling system. Although there are monitors on your activity and youths who break the law face a sort of detention centre that probably brainwashes them into believing that the technology is absolutely necessary and beneficial. But given that guns were outlawed and even police officers shoot only tranquilising darts, there’s no real chance of being killed for breaking minor rules although there are some vague threats of execution of terrorists made, that’s never really elaborated on. What’s a bit eerie about this world is that you can kind of see it happening. We already rely on technology and the internet for so much – it is possible to exist these days without leaving your house if you choose. You can shop online, study online, work from a home in a lot of professions, pay your bills, purchase a house, etc. You can have just about every need met without ever stepping foot outside and I know that I can go for days without leaving the house sometimes. A lot more people are choosing to home school their children due to bullying issues that are escalating. How long before an online school education is offered as a choice to any student?

I’m not sure if there’s a sequel planned for this book – at the end I thought so, because a few things were left with potentially varying outcomes but that just may be my love of nice, neat endings coming out and wanting some assurance. I think even if there isn’t a sequel that the ending is satisfactory. I would like to see one though.

7/10

Book #116 of 2010

Note: Copy received from the publisher

This novel qualifies for (and ends my participation in) the YA Dystopian Challenge hosted by Darren over at Bart’s Bookshelf. I originally signed up to read 3-5 novels, then upgraded it to over 5. I completed 10 novels for the challenge and enjoyed taking part. Thanks for hosting Darren! If it’s on in 2011, I’ll be sure to sign up again.


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