Thursday, August 23, 2012

Joint Review Discussion: Dualed by Elsie Chapman

For the third month in a row, Michelle of Galleysmith and I are doing joint review discussions. These are more in-depth than my usual reviews and discuss plot points in a (mostly) non-spoilery way. We've posted about a different book every Thursday, and our last book this month is DUALED.

Publisher summary:

Would you live through the ultimate test of survival? 
The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life. 
Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her. 
Elsie Chapman’s suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better.

Michelle and I decided to discuss four topics: Genre classification, Unsympathetic main character, Romance, and Worldbuilding. The first two we discuss below, the second two we discuss over at Galleysmith.

Genre classification

The city of Kersh may be the last stronghold in a world broken down by the effects of a universal cold vaccine that caused irreversible sterility. Kersh’s board artificially creates two of every child (known as alts) and gives them to separate families. Sometime between 10-20 years of age, the alts are turned active - meaning they have 31 days to kill the other or self-destruct. It is survival of the fittest in its most brutal form. The kids killing kids angle is very reminiscent of THE HUNGER GAMES, though the purpose here is to raise of city of killers ready and willing to fight for Kersh should the unwashed masses dare to storm the gates.

But in this first installment at least, the focus is not really on the evils of this society but more on 15 year old West’s questioning her own worth. Is she the best version of herself? Is she the one who deserves to keep living? It’s a fascinating and thought provoking question.

Yea, it definitely fits into the dystopia/post-apocalyptic classification for me. More so than some of the other books we’ve read thus far. Like you, I definitely got THE HUNGER GAMES vibe as well. It didn’t really compare from the suspense/drama angle but the kids killing kids scenario was comparable. It did make me wonder if the book was inspired by Collins and if that was a purposeful relationship.

It’s definitely a “read-alike” in that I do think it will appeal to some of the same audience. And I think any writer writing a dystopia today admires THE HUNGER GAMES and what it has achieved. In addition to the basic kids killing kids scenario, there are some other big similarities (which we discuss later) but I think DUALED does enough differently to mark its own territory outside the HG box.

For sure, I don’t see the comparison as a negative just that it was pretty apparent. The execution was different enough for me and has much potential for more unique qualities in the following book.

Unsympathetic main character

Ok, so if the central question is if West deserves to keep living more than her alt does, then it does make sense that the reader should be asking themselves that very question. Let me do a quick comparison with THE HUNGER GAMES’ Katniss, because both West and Katniss are forced by their society to become killers lest they be killed - and they both have pretty abrasive personalities. But where Katniss immediately wins the reader’s sympathy with her nobility and passion, West can be downright unlikeable in comparison. She wallows in self-pity, pushes away all offers of help from a very patient (and hot) Chord and becomes a hired assassin on the black market for no apparent reason. (Note: much later on in the novel West explains her motivations for becoming a striker to Chord in a really heartbreaking scene) I felt utter revulsion for some of West’s actions (which I suspect is how the author wanted me to feel) and I know this could be a problem for readers who insist on sympathetic characters.

Hmmmm, I didn’t find her wholly unsympathetic as much as just pathetic. I would hazard to say that when comparing any number of female lead characters with Katniss the other would come up FAR short on the awesome scale. It’s almost like comparing apples to oranges really.
But, I’ll take a stab at my thoughts on the issues you raise. I agree the similarity in the girls circumstances (forced killing) is there. Unlike you, I did feel sympathy for West pretty early on. She’s lost all of her family and drifting a bit as a result. I viewed that wallowing in self-pity as realistic. Having said that, it got annoying because it went on too long. The pushing Chord away issue was overbearing. I didn’t need to be hit over the head with the idea that she wasn’t safe or good enough for so long.

Unlike you, I got why she became an assassin. I do think that this part of the story could have been structured differently to allow for better understanding and a smoother flow. It made sense from the preparedness angle as well as the self-loathing angle.

I’m curious to know which actions revolted you.


The preparedness angle works at first, but once she’s activated herself, why does she keep taking assassin jobs and avoiding her own alt? That could be where the self-loathing angle comes into play because the killing of other people’s alts is pretty despicable and she knows it. I hated how she killed her first assignment - an innocent girl who just happened to have the misfortune of having an alt who could afford to hire an assassin and who didn’t mind breaking the law (and the Kersh code of honor - however twisted the society is, it is still more honorable to face up to the task yourself than to get someone else to do your dirty work).

And in regard to Katniss, I’m only making the comparison because both West and Katniss kill children - which the vast majority of heroines do not have to do, even in this genre.

The argument could be made she kept the assassin job in order be better prepared but in the end all of the physical and tactical training she gained as a result of her assignments went to some waste as she avoided her own Alt. It felt somewhat contrived, a reason to keep she and Chord apart, and unnecessary given all the other elements of the story that could have been explored as an alternative. I do think in the end it helped West in achieving her goal versus her Alt. I’ll add I’m not sure why a teacher would encourage that route of preparedness.

I wonder if the teacher is playing a more sinister role here. We do get the sense that the striker system is a form of rebellion against the government of Kersh, and if the teacher is encouraging her participation … I think we’ll be seeing more of this play out as the series goes on.

Don't miss the rest of the discussion over at Galleysmith!


DUALED comes out in hardcover on February 26, 2013. Visit the author's website for more information.

See index of all dystopian reviews at Presenting Lenore

FTC disclosure: NetGalley


Kailana said...

This book sounds interesting. I am curious and might have to check it out.

Christina said...

Unsympathetic MC:
I agree with Michelle that I get why West became a Striker. It made perfect sense to me, although it really didn't help her all that much in the end. Still, trying to get practice so that she'll have the skills to survive her own test made a lot of sense to me. It's her way of trying to toughen up. Unfortunately, killing 'oneself' is much more difficult than taking out a stranger who doesn't expect you.

I guess I felt for her. She's so uncomfortable in her own skin, her own life. That's why the book started with her brother's death, I think. It's the last straw for her already questionable self-worth. She inadvertently plays a part in what happens, and now is left without any family. She's learned that anyone she gets close to will die, so she really doesn't want to burden anyone with herself, nor does she want to have to worry about them.

She's not the most likeable narrator, sure, but she feels real to me. Her discomfort and insecurities are so tangible.

Zibilee said...

I am intrigued by this book because I loved The Hunger Games, but I don't know if I would like a rehash. It sounds like this one has some similar elements, but also that there is a uniqueness about it. It might be fun to give it a try and see what becomes of the characters and plot elements.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Christina - Thanks for your thoughts! I agree that West's grief and insecurity are relatable -- but will that be enough for some readers to find her sympathetic enough to overcome her horrific actions as a striker? That's my question. I am personally all for a complex character - even if they do unsympathetic things. But not everyone is so open ;)

Christina said...

Lenore, that's somewhat hard to say. I tend to find myself reacting to characters differently than some. Given the world she's living in, her actions as a striker are not as shocking and awful as they would be in our world.

I do give Elsie major props for making her first strike as unsympathetic as she did. That was harsh and painful and awkward all around. BOLD MOVE.

What, to my way of thinking, will keep readers from judging her a jerk and unsympathetic will be 2 things:
1) Her obvious unhappiness at what she's doing. There is no question that she thinks there is anything at all admirable in what she's doing. She thinks she's a horrible person and that the people who hire strikers with their money are awful too. She's doing what she thinks she needs to in order to survive, and, in a strange way, to protect the guy she likes, much like Katniss did with her makeout sessions with Peeta even though she didn't like him like that in book one.
2) Because Chord loves her. Readers will no doubt be drawn to Chord, who's the kind of guy dreams are made of. I think his obvious affection for her, which is clearly built on a solid foundation, will make readers want to get to know the real West, the West outside of the fight with the Alternate and aside from the grief over her family. We've not yet gotten to see her being 'normal.'

That's what I think anyway. Am I right? *shrug*

Lenore Appelhans said...

Given her world, they are not unusual or particularly shocking, no. But unlike Katniss, she's not doing it for noble reasons either - which is, like I said, sort of the point since the central question is whether she is really the best version of herself.

And you're right. Chord obviously knows a lot we don't about West - and if HE thinks she's the best version, well then we'll just have to take his word for it won't we? :0

Christina said...

I won't argue that her aims are incredibly noble, but I think, at her very core, she is doing this for Chord. She doesn't want to leave him alone and she knows she's not strong enough. This is the only way she could think of to get practical training. I might just have gone animal hunting or something, but, hey, girl was under some stress. I think the abbreviated time table makes the whole thing more realistic.

As for why she continues striking even after she gets her own assignment, which was mentioned earlier, I think it was as a distraction. As long as she had those to take care of, she could stall without feeling like she was stalling. When she finally made up her mind to confront her alt for real, she refused another strike.

Right. Chord would not lie to us. :) Besides, questionable as West may be, her alt might be a psycopath. That look in her eyes scares me.