A thought-provoking and exciting start to a riveting new dystopian trilogy.
As an obedient orphan of the U.N.A. (the super-country that was once Mexico, the U.S., and Canada), Alenna learned at an early age to blend in and be quiet—having your parents taken by the police will do that to a girl. But Alenna can’t help but stand out when she fails a test that all sixteen-year-olds have to take: The test says she has a high capacity for brutal violence, and so she is sent to The Wheel, an island where all would-be criminals end up.
The life expectancy of prisoners on The Wheel is just two years, but with dirty, violent, and chaotic conditions, the time seems a lot longer as Alenna is forced to deal with civil wars for land ownership and machines that snatch kids out of their makeshift homes. Desperate, she and the other prisoners concoct a potentially fatal plan to flee the island. Survival may seem impossible, but Alenna is determined to achieve it anyway.
I don’t often read Dystopocalyptic novels willingly but when Lisa approached me for a review and I read the synopsis, I found myself intrigued. I am glad I took a chance because as it turns out, The Forsaken is one of the best Dystopians I have read ever.
What makes The Forsaken so interesting (and riveting) to me are various things which I am going to discuss in the next few paragraphs. (A thesis statement of sorts? Hah.).
Superficially, The Forsaken does not differ in any major way from the rather formulaic dystopian novels that have flooded the genre after the phenomenal success of The Hunger Games trilogy. There is a totalitarian government, more like a dictatorship, that successfully rules over a country, a new manifestation of North America. There are strident rules holding the general population in place with horrific consequences should one deviate away from the expected. There is a girl who doesn’t fit into the mould cast for her and there is a boy. So see, the ingredients have all been assembled. The Forsaken separates itself from the rest of the genre in the way the novel is executed.
Imagine the setting as the arena in which The Hunger Games take place because that is how it reads. While I would have liked more details about how the world turned out the way it did, I felt that Stasse did a superb job world-building and developing life on the Wheel, the island where teens with rebellious genes are exiled. There is this grittiness (and I know this word has been used before but I think in this instance, it really is warranted) to this world that I appreciated. You know how you see heroines covered in muck and grease and soot from exploding buildings etc but still managing to look beautiful? Yeah, none of that here. It is quietly realistic with the edges tingling with relevant hysteria.
Alenna is an interesting character. At first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get along with her because all she seemed to want to do was fit in, be obedient and left alone to live her life. However, Stasse quite literally throws Alenna out of the environment she is familiar with and challenges her to survive that. Alenna is unprepared when she first opens her eyes on the island, not knowing why she has been sentenced to a place like this when she has not been entertaining any rebellious thoughts whatsoever. By the end of the novel, she is almost a different person with the lessons and losses she has learned and endured along her journey. What really surprised me was how boldly Stasse makes some really unconventional and brave decisions for her main character, foisting a role upon her that ensures Alenna has to act on her own, using her own mind with her own sense of right and wrong. Usually, there is a backup, someone to provide support or at least a warm back to lean on. Nothing like that here. And I liked that because this twist allowed Alenna to prove herself.
There is a mean girl trope in this one that intriguingly enough gets developed into an odd friendship giving a twist to the expectations of the reader. I really liked how the relationship between the two girls develops and I may have found it much more compelling than the primary romance narrative.
The novel was unpredictable with twists and turns at every juncture. There plot is refreshing and innovative and has the added element of being unpredictable. The novel is, I admit, more plot oriented than concerned with character development but I think in a genre like this, it is to be expected because anything else would slow the pace of the narrative and a slow pace can be fatal to a dystopian novel. While I wanted more from the ending than it gave me, I can accept it as a satisfactory end to the first installment in what promises to be a gripping and, as the synopsis promises, thought provoking trilogy.
Do I recommend it to you? You bet I do. As long as you aren’t expecting mushy love/romance oriented narratives and are ready for a candid and realistic look at the world if an apocalypse comes to pass, then you will enjoy this as much as I did.