Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Empty by Suzanne Weyn

I must confess: I am a bit obsessed with dystopian and post-apocalyptic YA fiction. For me, as with many people, it started with THE HUNGER GAMES, and grew from there. Soon after reading THE HUNGER GAMES, I found Carrie Ryan’s haunting, claustrophobic THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, and I was hooked. Though those two series are very different, they share a kind of raw desperation that I found compelling, and I’ve been searching for more of it ever since.

I started Suzanne Weyn’s EMPTY with high hopes. The cover is well-done, and the premise sounded timely. I think we’re all aware that our connected modern lives are powered by a non-renewable resource, and I was excited to find a YA book addressing what might happen once that resource starts running out.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I tried to like the book, but its flaws were numerous and glaring enough to keep me from getting absorbed in the story. The writing is stilted and amateurish, and the characters frequently spout awkward, paragraph-long info-dumps. So many anvils drop that I’m surprised I finished the book without a concussion. I love books in which the message is a organic part of the story; in EMPTY the message has been shoe-horned in as frequently and loudly as possible.

Then there were the flat, cliché characters. The worst offender was the cheerleader, whose “character growth” moment was deciding it was okay to wear glasses instead of contacts. (Not even because she had come to understand that appearance mattered little in a world gripped by crisis—more because she realized she still looked pretty in glasses.) A few of the second-tier characters had the potential to be interesting, but they got little attention.

To my total lack of surprise, the ending was incongruous, bordering on deus ex machina. Spoiler (highlight to reveal): The main female character finds a random abandoned house in the woods, complete with garden and self-sustaining energy source. Hallelujah, we’re saved!

I still think the premise of the book is interesting, but the execution leaves much to be desired. My advice: read Paolo Bacigalupi’s excellent SHIP BREAKER instead.