Sunday, June 5, 2011

Safety vs. Freedom: Which Would You Choose?

A dystopia leaves us faced with some big choices, but a fairly common decision is that of safety vs. freedom. Would you be willing to be subservient and blindly follow orders if it meant your community was safe? Even if it meant you had to deal with murder, sacrifice, and other impossible choices? Or would you rather take your chances in the ugly world if it meant your decisions were your own? Even if it meant survival was less than likely and surely not to last terribly long? These are the questions you will find yourself asking while reading the first book in the Razorland series, Enclave by Ann Aguirre.

All Deuce ever wanted was to make it to age 15 where she got her name and her new job: Huntress. Living in the subway tunnels underneath the city, the College Enclave has a very strict way of doing things, and this is what has kept them alive. Children die so often they remain unnamed until they are 15. Then they are named and given their job, Hunter, Breeder, or Builder. The Hunters are responsible for going out into the tunnels to gather food for the Enclave, as well as keeping the Freaks at bay.

The Freaks are weird monsters that are human/zombie type creatures. They are constantly looking for meat (fresh or rotten) to eat, have sharp teeth and hideous claws. They will even resort to eating each other, but they aren't particularly bright and don't work together, or so the Enclave thought. When Deuce and her new partner, Fade (not born in the Enclave) come across a blind boy from another Enclave, they are sent to on a suicide mission to see if the boy's Enclave really did fall to the Freaks. When they surprisingly make it back to their own Enclave with scary news of Freaks working together, the Elders refuse to believe it. Instead, they seem to be determined to live in ignorance of the inevitable threat that will destroy the Enclave and every person in it. They even go so far as to plant banned artifacts in people's rooms and sacrifice them as examples. When Deuce's best friend is accused of hoarding artifacts, Fade and Deuce take the blame and are exiled from the Enclave.

Deuce assumes going Topside (above ground) is a death sentence, but Fade tells her he used to live there and he thinks they can make it. He warns her about gangers- gangs of men who only use women as breeders and hunt other men for sport if they won't join their gang. Unfortunately, the warning isn't enough, and they are captured by a gang called the Wolves. Stalker, head Wolf, claims Deuce for his own. He has plans for her once he finishes hunting Fade (think "The Most Dangerous Game") and he sends her with another young woman name Tegan to get cleaned up. What he doesn't expect is that Deuce isn't about to go down without a fight, and she is taking Tegan with her. Together, they free Fade and manage to dismantle the Wolves' hunting party one by one.

Once they are free of the Wolves, they continue on their journey north, where Fade's father always told him life would be safer. Along the way, however, it becomes clear the Freaks aren't just in the tunnels anymore. They are Topside and they are hungry. When the Wolves find Fade, Deuce, and Tegan, the Freaks attack, leaving Stalker as the lone Wolf surviving. He decides to stick with them and head north, seeing the futility of returning to the city if these creatures are coming up to the surface. Can they find the land to the north where life continues as it did before the world came crashing down? Will Deuce lose Fade to more tragedy and loss than he can handle? Can Tegan, the weakest of the group, survive the journey, especially alongside her former captor who she wants to see dead and bloody?

Now, clearly you know by now I have a dystopic/post-apocalyptic "soft-side". I love 'em! Call me dark, weird, creepy, whatever, but I can't help it... I love reading about The End of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI). Some are good, some are bad, but occasionally you find the ones that are phenomenal. Welcome to Enclave. Simply addictive. My only complaint about this book? The next book is over a YEAR away! The world Aguirre weaves is so intricate and believable. The creepy Freaks gave me nightmares last night and were way too zombie-like not to make me barricade the door (but they aren't quite zombies). The characters are interesting and have layers you end up peeling back layer by layer. Finally, the journey is one you would be terrified to take, but can't resist tagging along on. This was an amazing story of epic proportions that will keep you angry at Aguirre for not pumping out the next book faster!

The language is very tame, and the content is typical for this genre, but not overly gory or bloody. There are life and death scenes of course, but they aren't terribly graphic. In light of the recent Wall Street Journal article knocking the current climate of YA lit (real, gritty, graphic, and true), I can't help but chuckle that this is the book I happened to be reading as this article dropped. This is the exact kind of book that is charged with "darkening" our the lives of our children. And you know what I have to say to that? Wall Street Journal, if you think YA lit, which delivers strong morals and survivor stories, are hurting our children, you clearly haven't been to high school lately. Sadly, our kids HAVE to be survivors to make it today, and I am not afraid to let them read books about other survivors. In those books, kids survive the apocalypse, oppressive governments, rape, torture, bullying, gay bashing, abuse, eating disorders, and so much more. Until you can keep our children from having to be survivors, you need to dismount from your ignorant moral high horse and accept the fact that survivor stories, of all kinds, are reality. You don't scare me, Wall Street Journal, but now we know we scare you!

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