December 16, 2011

Cybils 2011: What Happened to Serenity? by P.J. Sarah Collins

O, Canada! Occasionally you bring us the most interesting new authors...

Reader Gut Reaction: This novel is DYSTOPIAN.

(* Occasionally, I feel the need to refresh myself -- and other authors -- on the meaning of the word. A dystopian novel depicts a society with a heavily-involved State (aka "police state"), which feels it is doing its best for people, in a totalitarian and coercive way. The people feel that they are being done for in the best way possible, and keep any complaints on the down-low, or are forcibly chucked from said society, or made to accept that the society is the best, in some vaguely sinister way.

Dystopian novels are not always post-apocalyptic. They most often explore misuses of technology or the natural world.

Much like steampunk, just because someone says something is dystopian doesn't make it so. Please see 1984 by George Orwell for reference. Thank you. *)

::climbs down from soapbox, dusts off jeans::

So, yeah. A dystopia. Real dystopia. And a pleasant surprise...

Concerning Character: So, Katherine's life is pretty proscribed. There's the Father, and he's in charge of the welfare of the Community, which formed in the wake of the Ecological Revolution. There are the Aunts and Uncles, whose memory is respected and revered, for they are the ones who left the Community, and they died trying to find help. There are the families and the parents, and the red light that comes from the Community TV Remote. The light from the screen makes you feel calm and centered.

Technology is what plunged the world into ecological ruin, so the Community is strictly agrarian. Individual greed and selfishness is what plunged the world into chaos, so there are no questions in the Community. There is no color in the community: brown reminds us that we are part of the Earth, and when we seek to be merely a part of the Earth, we don't seek to distinguish ourselves in any other ways. We are only part of the Community...

World-building in dystopian novels is vital, and Collins does it well here. The Community is well thought-out and clearly visible to the reader. Katherine comes across as fairly typical - she's a teen girl who thinks of boys, wonders about her future, and also wonders about the Outside. Things away from the Community aren't meant to exist in their minds, but Katherine questions unavoidably, thus recreating the traditional tension: the suppressing state vs. the wondering individual. When Father can't suppress Katherine's thoughts, he seeks to subvert the direction of her thoughts.

When her best friend's baby sister, Serenity, disappears from their tiny, ordered world, Katherine expects a panicked search. Instead, she's expected to forget Serenity ever existed.

Katherine can't forget, and won't stop looking for answers.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Margaret Haddix Peterson's Running Out of Time -- this is an older YA version of the same novel, almost, except with some intriguing differences.

Cover Chatter: First, I love the irony of the title: "What happened to serenity?!" is as much a question about the peaceful and ordered world of the Community as it is a title. We don't have a clear identity for the character on the cover. Is she meant to be Serenity's sister? Is she meant to be Katherine? We don't know, but we do know by the wildness of her eyes, she is a member of the Community, and that all is not well. I don't usually like faces on covers, but this one is obligingly sepia-toned and evocative.

You can find WHAT HAPPENED TO SERENITY? at an independent bookstore near you!

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