Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Review: Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky


In 2060, most people don’t get out much.  They live their lives inside, turning to virtual reality for their entertainment, friendships and education.  17 year old Maddie, the daughter of one of the most powerful men in the US because he invented digital school (henceforth referred to as DS), lives a life of solitary luxury and has learned to accept it – that is until she meets anti-DS activist Justin who slowly awakens her to the real world.

There are many things to admire about AWAKEN, chief among them the message that we shouldn’t let our digital addictions stunt our connections to the physical world. There are some really well-done scenes that show how empty a virtual life is in comparison to a real life – for example when Maddie hears live music for the first time and dances in a crowded club juxtaposed with the sterile DS benefit she attends with her parents featuring canned music and virtual dancing.  I also enjoyed seeing normal things – like a sunset and a bonfire – through Maddie’s eyes as she experiences them for the first time.  It really makes you wonder how an entire culture would voluntarily sacrifice life’s pleasures and become hermits.

And that’s sort of my main problem with the novel – that I don’t really believe its premise.  It has a lot to do with the spotty and oftentimes contradictory futuristic worldbuilding.  Kacvinsky introduces a few neat gadgets here and there, tells us most real trees have been replaced with plastic ones, and writes of a mass of large-scale school shootings and bombings that ushered in an era of hyper-fear of social settings and the outdoors and mandatory distance education.  There is public transportation (almost no cars) but it’s practically empty whenever Maddie rides it.  How do people get to work? I know a lot of office-type jobs can be done virtually – but what about plumbers? Construction workers? Electricians? Etc?

Also, as a love interest for Maddie, Justin rubbed me the wrong way.  Sure, he brings chocolate cake into her life, but most of their conversations involve him preaching to her about the evils of computers.  It’s also clear that Justin is using Maddie for her connections to further his own aims, and the way he makes her depend on him against her better judgment is akin to brainwashing. All that makes him fascinating as a character, but because I disliked Justin so much in his role of romantic hero/ideal, I could never get into their building romance - a shame since it is a big focus of the novel.

AWAKEN is available now. A sequel, MIDDLE GROUND, is planned for Fall 2012.  Find out more about the series at the author’s website.

Zombie chickens say: A mixed bag, but most definitely ripe for discussion.

Song for the Ultimate Dystopian Playlist: Digital Ghost by Tori Amos. Sample lyrics: “Hands lay them on my keys, Let me play you again, I am not immune to your net, Find me there in it.”

15 comments:

Beth S. said...

I am always in such admiration of how thorough and fair your reviews are, even when you're being critical. Even with the problems you mention, I agree that this book would spark great discussion.

Jules said...

I'm still quite keen to read this book, but I suspect that I might have similar feelings about the points you've made.

Kailana said...

I keep seeing this around. I think it is the cover that keeps making me pause, but I haven't gone beyond that...

bermudaonion said...

I'm reading Ready Player One right now and it sounds like it has some similarities. It's written so I am buying the premise. I can hardly put it down.

Amanda said...

I agree with your comments about this one being mixed, but I thought the basic concepts and ideas here were very unique and interesting. At least it makes you think about the internet and how it's changed human interaction.

candice said...

I read this back in April. I really enjoyed it. The premise is what had me. The fact that no one interacted with each other. We are getting that way with texts and twitter.

I didn't have an issue with Justin, I actually liked him. I think the relationship started off just for Maddie's connections, but turned into something more.

The cover does not do this book justice.

Safari Poet said...

Thank you for the honest review. I've been on the fence with the book for a long time. I don't like the sounds of Justin at all, so I'll keep thinking about whether it's really for me.

Amy L. Campbell said...

Hm, sounds interesting anyway. I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

This sounds really interesting if not perfect. I've sort of been interested in this mostly due to the cover (I have to stop that). I'll probably read it at some point...

Lucy said...

I think I liked this one a bit more than you, but your review points are definitely fair and valid. Readers who like lighter dystopian books with a healthy dose of romance may enjoy Awaken. It does give you food for thought.

Smash Attack! said...

Wow. This review is quite good. You definitely picked up on things that I did not think of and raise good points. I feel a bit differently than you but I appreciate you bringing new questions for me to think about.

Robyn @ Robolobolyn's Universe said...

I haven't heard of Awaken before, so thanks for sharing this! Sounds like the message is one that a lot of people should be reading.

Awakwn will be going to the tippity top of my wishlist, that's for sure!

Zibilee said...

If the worldbuilding was not tight an left huge gaps like that, I also may have found some issues with this book. And the male lead sounds a little bit like a tool, which would have definitely annoyed me. I can't tell you how much I hate it when characters start preaching. It makes me instantly cold. Great review on this one. I very much appreciate your honesty.

theprettybooks said...

I was (and still am) apprehensive about this one as it doesn't seem *that* different from the present world. I'm still going to check it out for myself though!

Michelle said...

I'm bummed you didn't like this one as well as I did. We shall have to discuss it when you visit.