Rummanah Aasi
How much time do you spend online? One hour? Two? Possibly, all day if you're considering work? Personally, I spend about an hour to two hours online: checking email, visiting various social networking websites, and writing blog posts but once I finished checking marking those off of my to do list, I log out and get on with my life. I do, however, notice that some people live online. You know those who seem to update their Facebook status every five minutes or those who seem to text message instead of bothering to make a phone call. I can't help but wonder if all the latest technologies and "instant access" is making us worse or better, which is why I was intrigued by Katie Kacvinsky's debut novel, Awaken, because it tackles the same issue: the technological addiction. I received an advanced reader's copy of Awaken from Netgalley and the publisher for an honest review. Awaken will be available on 5/23/11.

Description: The year is 2060. Every aspect of our lives has become digitalized. People hardly venture out of their homes after tragic incidents in the past has made them unsafe and scared. Many live their lives on the computer by socializing only in online communities and by gaining an education online. Madeline is one of them, yet different. Since a rebellion and betrayal against her father, the founder of digital school, Maddie has been kept under constant supervision and put on probation. She is no longer that rebellious girl, but is now focused on her future. Her set goals are questioned when she meets Justin who challenges her views and introduces her to a completely new and different way of life. Maddie is torn: Should she follow Justin and betray her father again for what she believes in? Or should she uphold her duties as a daughter?

Review: Awaken has a timely and important premise. I was looking forward to reading it, however, I felt the book was somewhat lacking and didn't enjoy it as much as I expected to. There are certain things I liked about the book and thought were well done, while there are parts that I felt were lacking. What I liked about the book was Kacvinsky’s writing, she had a great flow and some wonderful descriptions. There are quite a few car chase scenes that were written really well and I felt like I was in the car with the characters.
  I liked our heroine, Madeline, a lot at first. She is intelligent, not afraid of taking matters in her own hands, and questions her status quo. I also appreciated how she took in charge of her relationship and didn't wait for her love interest, Justin, to make the first move. As the book progressed, however, Madeline became a love sick puppy after Justin, who quickly became the absolute center of her world. Everything he did made sense to her and he was never at fault. Madeline was starting to act as if she was a pawn in someone's game. 
   The book centers around Madeline's first act of rebellion which caused her to be on constant vigilance from her father and on probation by the police. The act is suppose to be the catalyst in the book and slowly start a rebellion against digitalization, however, it falls flat mainly because we don't know why Madeline took action: Was it purely an impulsive act to get back at her father? Did she believe in altering her current lifestyle? We are unsure, which is why Justin and Madeline's mission to "bringing people back to living" was never convincing for me. 
  I thought Kacvinsky's concept for her world to be fascinating, but inconsistent. I can really imagine that a world like this might be our near future, but the details and explanations were unclear, especially on the technical level. For instance, Madeline attends a face to face banquet celebrating the success of Digital Schools, yet there is a scene where the attendees dance with a computer at the banquet (a ballroom version of DDR). At times I felt that the author was flipping back and forth in her viewpoints of technology, but what I think she is trying to say is that we should have everything in balance. This message doesn't really come out too clearly. I also felt that the view of the future seemed almost too optimistic for me in some ways and not really dystopian. After reading many dystopians and feeling unsettled because of the bleak outlook on life, I didn't feel threatened in Madeline's world. For example, all nuclear weapons have been put down, weapons with bullets are illegal and the police only use tranquilizers. We are told of times where there were bombings of schools and a high crime rate, however, we are again not given any explanations of why these events happened.
  I could have over looked these short comings if I liked the characters, but I really disliked Justin. I felt that he was too preachy, judgmental, and patronizing towards our heroine. I couldn't help but roll my eyes whenever he started with the 'don't come close to me because I'm dangerous and my life is a mess, but I can't help but be attracted to you' nonsense. His discussion of the dangers of technology yet easily brushing off technology's benefits quickly became tedious. I didn't see what Madeline saw in Justin and I didn't care for their romance, which became the main focus of the book. I would have loved to see more development in Maddie’s relationship with her family, particularly of her love/hate relationship with her father, but that aspect was almost completely abandoned after the first half of the book. I would also have welcomed a more discussion or exploration of Madeline's first act of rebellion. Awaken has a lot of things going for it, but it doesn't meet my expectations of a dystopian novel.    

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and a few scenes of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Little Brother by Corey Doctorow 

4 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    I had a lot of the same issues with Justin as you did Rummanah! He was just a little too preachy for me, I wanted to smack him in the face if he pushed her away one more time under the pretense of it being what was best for her. Please. That's a cop out. Overall, I did like the world since I think it could so clearly happen with our dependency on digital everything, but I'm hoping if there's a sequel Justin will grow up a bit.

  2. There were many times when I wanted to smack him too, Jenny. I couldn't help but think he liked her because of her reputation and recruited her than like her. He treated her as a child and that really ticked me off.

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