December 07, 2011

2011 Cybils: Awaken, by Katie Kacvinsky

Reader Gut Reaction: This novel seemed mistitled, at first, and the cover seemed to have nothing to do with the plot. Flowers in a jar? Awakening? The story of a quiet girl living a quiet life seemed not so much of an awakening, but a putting to sleep.

And then I realized that if you write a novel about awakening, you have to show how people have been asleep. Right.

Concerning Character: Maddie is a virtual prisoner - in more ways than one. Her father doesn't trust her anymore. She's committed a Great Sin, as far as he's concerned, and he goes so far as to track her movements with a tail on any vehicle she's in, with lie detector tests, and with a lot of heavy sighing and asking of obnoxious questions.

Maddie's a virtual prisoner in other ways - but then, so are most people. They live in front of their computers - shop for groceries, order books from the library, and even get exercise, all hooked up to a virtual universe. Artwork? Who needs messy charcoal, graphite, and paints when there are notepads and electronic brushes and screens? Music? There are thousands of voice samples, composition programs, and streaming music channels. You needn't expend the effort of going outside and interacting with people, when the whole world is brought to you via your screen...

Maddie's father is the inventor of the Digital School, and nobody does anything so gauche as go to high school in person anymore.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Saci Lloyd's Carbon Diaries series, Divergent, by Veronica Roth, and other near future dystopian books presenting a conflicted but eventually strong female protagonist who learns how to fight for her beliefs.

Themes & Things: The theme of the novel is at first contrasts - Maddie's life is thoughtful, ordered, circumscribed. She takes a gamble and meets Justin, whose life is much more colorful, chaotic, and risky than hers. For much of the novel their lives are simply contrasted, and the reader observes how vastly different their lives seem to be.

Next, the theme is sort of ecological - not as in "save the Earth," but a subtle push to save humanity - from itself. Readers may be divided about the reality presented in that message, but it provokes some interesting thoughts.

Cover Chatter: I did mention that the cover seemed very quiet - a pixelated photograph of flowers in a jar - and also somewhat nonsensical -- Um, flowers in a JAR?? But, I think the novel's central theme is depicted clearly in the cover - flowers don't grow and thrive their best in jars, even as human beings would not grow and thrive their best inside. Perhaps the message sounds a little heavy-handed, but it actually sneaks up on the reader with reasonably subtlety. (Or, maybe it was only me who's slow to catch on.)

You can find AWAKEN at an independent bookstore near you!

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