Lots of exciting stuff going on at YA Guy today. For starters, I’ve created a new website! It’s really, really new--as in “started building it this morning” new--so it’s not full of bells and whistles just yet. But never fear, I’ll be putting up new content on a regular basis. So check it out, post a comment, and let me know what you think!
Also today, for my recurring Wednesday review feature, I bring you the novel Taken, Erin Bowman’s YA sci-fi debut. And what a debut it is!
In the town of Claysoot, there are no adult males, because all boys disappear in a bright beam of light on their eighteenth birthday. This disappearance, which the townspeople call “The Heist,” is a complete mystery--because once you’re Heisted, you’re gone for good. The story begins as seventeen-year-old Gray Weathersby awaits the Heist of his older brother Blaine. Once Blaine is gone, further unexplained events lead Gray to climb the Wall surrounding Claysoot in search of answers. No one’s ever come back from climbing the Wall. But maybe Gray will be different....
Well, of course he’ll be different, or there’d be no story. I’m not going to give anything else away, but suffice it to say he makes it over the Wall and discovers a lot of really cool stuff.
Taken is impressive in a number of ways. The writing is crisp and clean, as in this description of a crow feasting on a deer’s carcass: “The bird is a filthy thing: slick black feathers, a beak of oiled bone.” The characters are well rendered, and the pacing is fast (maybe even a bit too fast; Gray’s impulsiveness sometimes seemed excessive). The imagined world is intriguing and suitably original. At first I feared it bore too close a resemblance to the Holy Grail of YA, The Hunger Games--the Heist seemed reminiscent of the Reaping, while the narrator, Gray, is a hot-headed hunter who favors the bow and whose relationship with a sibling is central to the plot--but Bowman takes the story in new and surprising directions. The revelation of the mystery behind the Heist wasn’t quite as awesome as I’d hoped it would be, but it was awesome enough. Especially for a debut, Taken is good stuff.
But I hear the purists in the audience crying: “Wait a minute, this is YA Guy. Bowman isn’t a guy! How could she possibly write a GUY book?” Let’s think this through.
First, Bowman is undeniably not a guy. Find her author photo online, and I think you’ll agree with me.
But that’s irrelevant, as I’ve said before. No sexual discrimination on this site, folks. I review books that I think guys (as well as non-guys) might like to read, and the gender of the author just doesn’t enter into the equation.
The narrator of Taken is a guy. In itself, that’s also irrelevant; guys can certainly read and enjoy books with female protagonists. But in the case of Taken, I was particularly impressed by Bowman’s ability to write from a male perspective. The voice of the teenage boy Gray felt very authentic to me--and having been a teenage boy, I’m something of an authority on the subject. Gray is strong-willed and temperamental, but he’s not some caricature of a guy, all full of raging hormones and sports clichés. He’s a regular guy, and I liked him (and Taken) for that.
And finally, Taken isn’t simply told by a guy; the major conflict of the novel revolves around guys. With boys being Heisted at the young age of eighteen, Claysoot society has had to force young males into an unnatural and abbreviated adulthood: they become fathers a year or two before they become non-persons. As a father myself, one thing that really resonated with me about this book was how irrelevant men are to Claysoot: they never really get to know their children, to raise them, to participate in the economic or political or religious life of the community. They’re breeders, essentially, whose job is done once they’ve helped perpetuate the species. Whether this was Bowman’s commentary on absentee fatherhood or a way to dramatize the twisted effects of sexual segregation, it rang true to me.
Some YA novels, like Gennifer Albin’s Crewel, imagine future worlds where women are reduced to irrelevance. Taken imagines a world where the same thing happens to men. And in both cases, it’s a nightmare.