(originally posted on my LiveJournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/21840.html)
I was at the library a couple of weeks ago looking for Remnant Population when I came across this book. It's a title that hasn't been very big in the blogosphere; I've only read one review of it over at the Book Smugglers (click link for their review) and they praised quite highly. I really liked the cover, and the premise sounded good, so I picked it up and decided to give it a go. Well, I ended up reading in two sitting, which is obviously good; this was an engrossing read, and probably one of the better novels I've read this year.
To be honest, despite having fairly high hopes for this book because of The Book Smuggler's great review, this book still caught my completely by surprise. What caught me most by surprise was how sad the story was. I mean, yeah, it's sad from the get-go, what with Rose waking up and knowing that everyone she ever knew is dead, but as we learn more about Rose's dysfunctional family, among other things, this story goes beyond sad and into tragic territory. This book also broke some of the most annoying tropes of YA fiction regarding romance, which also caught me by surprise, but in a different sense. :)
I guess I'll start with plot: the story is a fairly engaging one, and while it might seem like the kind of story that relies on world-building (this is a futuristic world, with a dash of dystopia), or on romance between the two protagonists, it's really not: it's more about the characters, specifically Rose, and her transformation from being a girl who constantly puts herself down, to someone who learns to love and value herself. Of course, we also watch her come to terms with the new reality she now finds herself in, which a very sad one: her mother and father are both dead, due to an accident, and her best friend and boyfriend Zander has probably died in The Dark Times that happened (in which there were epidemics that killed a lot of people off). So, she gets foster parents who obviously don't care about her taking her in, and has to go to school where she knows very little being taught, and knows absolutely no one. However, she DOES meet a boy named Bren, the one who woke her up with a kiss (which wasn't a romantic kiss by the way -- it was a resuscitation kind of lip-locking), and despite her attempts to suppress it, she begins to have feelings for him.
When the romantic element was introduced in this book, I was immediately wary and skeptical; most YAs tend to rely on romance to carry their stories, and it's a trope that I have grown weary and tired of. I didn't want this novel to fall into this category, so I hoped that Sheehan would do something different, and thankfully she did. Yes, Rose does like Bren a little... quickly, but she's woken up to a completely different world and he's, for awhile, is the only one who really talks to her and befriends her. So, it goes without saying why she feels an affinity to him when she's so ostracized. Also, she doesn't like Bren because he's ~dark~ and ~mysterious~ and an ~asshole~ to her, but because he's genuinely NICE to her. It's kind of sad that girls liking nice guys go against the grain in contemporary YA. AND, not only that, but guess what? He's not immediately attracted to her. He actually turns her down when she confesses her feelings to him, because guess what? Being the heroine doesn't immediately make you hot and desirable to every male you come across. Bren is never vilified for turning Rose down though -- the two manage to stay good friends for the rest of the story, and while there's an element that completely messes things up between them (which I'll get to in a second), they still manage to make their friendship work, which was an awesome thing to read about.
Another element regarding the characters that I really liked was Rose's blossoming friendship with Otto. Otto is an alien who can't communicate by talking; instead, he touches people and performs a sort of telepathy. Because of the craziness of Rose's mind, he isn't able to touch her without feeling extremely uncomfortable, but they start instant-messaging each other instead and form a very close bond. Otto is pretty much man-made, and therefor has limited rights and is marginalized, very similarly to Rose, who's seen as a bit of a freak. Reading the conversations between these two and watching their friendship grow was really nice. That's kind of a lame way to put it, but it's how I felt while reading them; a sense of peace and happiness that these two could confide in and find solace with each other.
I haven't even talked about Rose all that much yet, despite her being the very obvious focus of the novel. Rose was an incredibly layered and complex character, and watching a lot of the details of her family life being slowly revealed over the course of the novel was the perfect way to present it to us, the readers. At first, Rose comes off as kind of immature, but as we slowly learn more and more about Rose's parents, we learn WHY Rose behaves the way she does, and why she perceives herself in the way that she does (which is quite low -- she's believes she's stupid and doesn't put a lot of inherent worth in herself as a person). This slow reveal of Rose's past was so incredibly heart-breaking, and as I mentioned above, it caught me by surprise. Rose lost so much of her life because her parents couldn't be bothered to deal with her, and what made it even more sad is that Rose initially has all these fond memories of them, when they were actually pretty bad people. Rose comes to realize how manipulative they were, but at that point, it was too little too late.
Of course, I also have to mention Rose's past concerning Xavier. Watching their relationship was kind of strange, because Rose is already seven when Xavier is born, but because of Rose constantly going in stasis, they end up being about the same age when they start dating (though Rose is *technically* some 32 years old). Watching Rose's controlling parents influence even that part of Rose's life was heart-breaking, as was the reveal that Bren's grandfather is actually Xavier (which made me go '!!!!???'). It was so fricking SAD though!! Ugh, my heart broke when I came to that part, because it again emphasizes how Rose's realization at what her parents were doing to her all came too late, in regards to her earlier life. She tries to make a new life for herself though, and thankfully there's hope in that.
Final Verdict: This book caught my quite by surprise by how sad and tragic it was, but that isn't to say it's a bad book by any means. Despite being a science fiction/dystopian kind of novel, it's extremely character-centric and develops its character (main and secondary) very, very well. Rose, who comes off as a bit immature at first, is an extremely layered character, and these layers are peeled bit by bit as the story progresses to reveal a really tragic story. Rose's relationship with the secondary characters (Bren, Otto and Xavier) are equally well-developed. I also feel the need to point out that this book never delves in the typical romantic YA tropes, which was such a RELIEF. This book is probably going to end up on the list of one of my favorite reads of 2011 and is a title I wholeheartedly recommend to check out.