March 03, 2016

Thursday Review: MARTians by Blythe Woolston

It's hard to see, but that's a pattern of
little shopping carts in the background...
Synopsis: So far, everything I've read by Blythe Woolston—that being The Freak Observer (reviewed here) and Catch and Release (reviewed here)—has been a tiny nugget of intensity like a knot in the gut. That's also how I would describe her latest book MARTians, which, though it's more dystopian than the other two, still packs that same emotional wallop. Oddly enough, though, it's the lack of emotion in this story that catches and holds you—because it is all too familiar and believable.

The world of the narrator, Zoe, is very much like ours, only everything has been consumerized. Big-box stores are everywhere, and they are everyTHING. Everything you could ever need or want or even think to want. And now, the last of the public schools have been privatized by the government, so Zoe's been graduated early and shuffled right on into the workforce. Unfortunately, her mom chooses this as the time she must leave the newly-minted adult Zoe and go look for work elsewhere.

Zoe may be home alone, but at AllMart, she's set on a path to productive citizenship. The problem is, this isn't how she wanted her life to be. The other problem is, she isn't even sure what she SHOULD want: Her AnnaMom? The perks that come with being a model worker? Then, when fellow employee Timmer comes into her life, his unexpected care and friendship throw her for a loop, and make her realize that maybe, just maybe, AllMart can't actually offer her absolutely everything

Observations: This story is unique and quirky and yet terrifyingly recognizable in many ways—the details made me want to laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. There are these fun/scary little asides, like news reports that provide a backdrop of current events (such as the turning of Zoe's old high school into a production facility for Bats of Happiness Guano Fertilizer), and the "Better Know a Product" feature (giving you all you need to know about said Bats of Happiness). These interrupted asides influence the feel, the structure of the story, with the interesting effect of immersing us even more in Zoe's world, punctuated by television bulletins and in-store announcements and advertising on her phone.

In a world where consumer culture is telling everyone what to think, how to feel, and what to buy to make that happen, Zoe is this little but shining bright light, a candle flame to be carefully nurtured. Her small individual journey is in fact incredibly important—in a way, it's a struggle for her soul, her very self.

Though I had a few questions—things I didn't quite understand about the way the society worked or why AnnaMom left—they ultimately didn't stand in the way of the book's effectiveness. It feels allegorical, this story, in a way similar to stories like Feed by MT Anderson, the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, or, especially, Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and the rest of the MaddAddam trilogy.

Conclusion: This is the type of dystopia where it isn't so much the trappings of our civilization that are disintegrating but our own morals. In a way that is much scarier, because it's far easier to believe—but we can hope that stories like these can keep us thinking and feeling and being human. For more from Blythe Woolston, you can visit her blog.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the Stanislaus County Library. You can find MARTians by Blythe Woolston at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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