Thursday, June 09, 2011

Awaken by Kate Kacvinsky

Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether it’s to go to school or on a date, people don’t venture out of their home. There’s really no need. For the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life—until she meets Justin. Justin likes being with people. He enjoys the physical closeness of face-to-face interactions. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her.
Suddenly, Maddie feels something awakening inside her—a feeling that maybe there is a different, better way to live. But with society and her parents telling her otherwise, Maddie is going to have to learn to stand up for herself if she wants to change the path her life is taking.

In this not-so-brave new world, two young people struggle to carve out their own space.

I really liked some of the concepts in this story. With technology so prevalent in our society, and with so much interaction going on via texting, email, and social media, this story has addressed some very real problems.

For me, though, it was hard to get through, for many reasons. My computer science and programming background kept finding holes with how the technology was used. In some cases, the technology was improperly defined. I would have preferred if the author had invented all new forms of technology and then defined them for us. Then I wouldn’t have had this problem.

Also, it's yet another story where the sun rises and sets on the main character’s love interest, which is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. I would have preferred more emphasis on the storyline and less on Justin, because it gave the impression that Maddie made all these life-altering decisions based on whether or not she’d be with him—not whether she thought it was the right thing to do. That’s very disconcerting for me, because it sends the wrong message to teen girls.

But the biggest issue I had was the world building. It didn't really make sense. Maddie’s dad created digital school, but he’s also a school principal, a lawyer, and as skilled with firearms as a police officer. On top of all that, he managed to invent and implement digital school in only a few short years, then take it nationwide (when Maddie was still in kindergarten, making him on the young side for all this). That’s a tough pill to swallow, but I guess it could be possible. There are incredibly driven individuals out there who can accomplish many things that would be impossible for the rest of us.

But this is what didn’t make any sense, and was never explained: somehow digital school was interwoven with the government, and it gave the impression that face-to-face interaction was borderline illegal (even though it isn’t). A connection like this is too huge not to explore fully. It left too many unanswered questions, and made the arrests and oppression a bit too convenient for the story. It also conflicted with other aspects, like Maddie’s soccer team.

If the government connection had been clear (as well as the connection to pre-packaged foods and general lack of cooking), then I think I would have enjoyed this story more. But the lack of connections made it sound heavy-handed and preachy.


Kelly Hashway said...

It's interesting that your background affected how you read the story. That's something most writers probably don't consider when they are writing a story. It's actually something I do think about though. I worry about using things like technology since I'm not an expert in that field. I'm afraid of saying something that isn't completely factual. I'm glad you brought this up.

cleemckenzie said...

The issue of holes re: technology is interesting. There was a discussion about research over at YALitChat earlier this week and some came down on the side overdoing it. Me included. I may not use all that I find, but I don't want someone with a background in what my story's about pointing out inaccuracies.

Great point, Tabitha.

Anonymous said...

A new follower to this site. Also a proud member of SheWrites.

It is important for writers to research thoroughly the field they attempt to cover or allude to.

Tabitha said...

Kelly - I think a lot of people don't think about the amount of research that needs to go into fiction. I mean, it's fiction, so it's all made up, right? :) It's not that simple. :)

Lee - I will have to go check out that conversation! Thanks for letting me know about it. I totally agree about coming down on the side of too much research. I'd rather have more than I need than be scrambling to figure out what to do about the things I don't have. :)

Jennifer - welcome! And so, so true about research. In order to build a believable world, LOTS of research needs to go into it.

Logan E. Turner said...

I definitely agree re: the government aspect. I was confused about how much control Digital School/her dad had over society, and about what the laws really were. I think the novel would have been stronger if it was clear cut that it is illegal for people to meet face-to-face.

Krispy said...

Great review. I haven't read the book, but the apparent themes/concepts it addresses do sound interesting. Unfortunately, the issues with world-building you mentioned would definitely bother me. I'm not sure if I would notice the tech stuff, but what you mentioned about the dad's accomplishments and the unexplored connections makes me skeptical.

Thanks for being even-handed and candid with this! :)

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

This is another example of a book that you made me want to read, despite the fact that you weren't too chuffed about the book yourself. How do you DO that? Never mind. I put it on my TBR list anyway. ;-)

Tabitha said...

Logan - yeah, I wanted to know exactly what the laws were. Much of the conflict didn't make sense because I didn't know what people were not allowed to do vs. What they were discouraged from doing. That's a big difference, and I wish it had been clarified.

Krispy - I thought the concepts were fascinating. I just wish the execution had been a bit stronger. But, by all means, give it a read and see if you agree with me!

Jenn - I have no idea, but I'm glad to hear it! Even more, I'd love to hear your thoughts after you've read it. :)