Disparate dystopian adventures: Wither and America Pacifica

Dystopia is hot, especially in young adult fiction where The Hunger Games is probably the leader of the pack. I’ve read two new additions to the field recently, and these two debut novels could hardly be more different.

I don’t normally bother to post negative reviews. I don’t think they do anyone much service, either the book nor the reviewer. After all, most stories will find an audience, and it makes more sense to me to promote good reading rather than deride less satisfactory experiences. Which leads me to Wither, by Lauren DeStefano, with which I’ve made an exception.

wither by lauren destefano

My review is somewhat withering, and I thought long and hard about posting it (in hindsight, I should’ve not used the word bullshit; I do regret any snarkiness). But at the end of the day, the book annoyed me so much, I felt opening the discussion was worth it.

I have three core beefs with the book. The first is in the world building: a shambolic thing, coming across as shallow and ill-conceived and paying little attention to what could have been, and should have been, an examination of a society in which people barely live past their teens. What does this do the economy, to social cohesion, to the very psychology of those living with built-in expirations?

The second source of disgruntlement was in the heroine, a passive creature, admittedly caught in a rough spot but not being proactive enough in trying to extricate herself.

And the third, the thing that really stuck in my craw and induced me to write that dually damning review, was the fact that I just could not get past the fact that this book is built on a foundation of sexual slavery. Not arranged marriage, not some kind of celebrity matchmaking, but slavery; slavery with the apparent purpose of genetic experimentation through procreation. What a dire situation — one existing today — this could’ve been. And as I say in the review, the real pity of it all is that DeStefano can write, and her characters are beautifully drawn and the romantic elements are deftly handled.

america pacifica by anna north

By contrast, America Pacifica by Anna North is a dark, gritty visualisation of a world gone down the gurgler. I had a few qualms with the world building here, also — the story is set on a Pacific island where refugees from a new ice age struggle to retain the vestiges of the civilisation they have lost — but found the heroine engaging and gutsy — there was no romance in the sacrifices she had to make to uncover the truth of her mother’s disappearance — and, most satisfactorily, enjoyed the social examination that North brought to the story. It doesn’t hurt that the final scene is to die for. The full review is here.