December 11, 2014

Thursday Review: WHEN WE WAKE and WHILE WE RUN by Karen Healey

Summary: When We Wake--and the companion/sequel While We Run--are the newest spec fic/sci-fi books by Karen Healey, whose books The Shattering (reviewed here) and Guardian of the Dead (reviewed here) I really enjoyed. If you're already a Karen Healey fan like me, you won't want to miss this fast-paced, frightening, all-too-believable sci-fi adventure.

We've all heard the half-joking references to cryonics—freezing someone's head or body and reviving them sometime in the future. In the world of these two books, cryonics isn't a joke. The beginning of the story takes place in 2027, the near- but still-recognizable future. Tegan is sixteen, lives in Australia, and she's pretty cutting edge: her hobbies are guitar-playing, parkour, urban exploration, and going to protests with her best friends Alex and Dalmar. Dalmar, who she hopes will soon be more than a friend.

…Until one day's protest changes everything, and Tegan wakes up a hundred years in the future.

Peaks: Without giving too much away (because the constant surprises and twists are what really make these two books so compulsively readable), I really thought this was a fantastic premise, and one that hasn't (yet) been done to death, at least not in this specific way. Who hasn't wondered what it would be like to just wake up sometime in the future, just catch a glimpse of what's in store? And yet, the author has created a world that is still recognizable, still our own in fundamental ways; the story's not set in space or on another world or anything like that. Humanity's not quite there yet. In fact, humanity's still pretty horrible in a lot of ways, and this is a story that doesn't pull any punches about the potential for stuff seriously going down the tubes.

Kudos on not whitewashing!
In the midst of all that, Tegan (in the first book) and Abdi (in the second book) make very relatable narrators. Tegan is the one whose story we hear first, and the one who was uprooted from her world and tossed into a new, scary environment where she's locked in a government hospital and nobody will tell her what's going on. Her already-mentioned skills at jumping around abandoned buildings make her attempted escape more realistic, but it doesn't take long for her to figure out she has to cooperate, at least for now. She has to learn what life is like in this unfamiliar new world before she can strike out on her own. IF they let her…

Valleys: I have to admit—I'm not generally speaking a fan of all these books featuring teens who do parkour and urban exploration and building scaling and whatnot as a hobby. How widespread is that, honestly? As a character trait, that always tends to feel more like a wish fulfillment fantasy than anything else. But beyond that, there really are no negatives as far as I'm concerned. The characterization in all other respects was fantastic: the good guys were relatable, the bad guys were truly scary and despicable, and there were plenty of people who fall into the in-between gray area, including an array of interesting side characters, allies and enemies alike.

Conclusion: I think I've succeeded in pushing this enough without giving too much away. Fans of lightly futuristic action/survival (like Carbon Diaries or Rot & Ruin or Mila 2.0) will really like this one. Though I wouldn't call this one dystopian per se, I'd also not be afraid to hand it to fans of The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, or Across the Universe.

I borrowed my copies of these books from my local library. You can find When We Wake and While We Run by Karen Healey at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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