Title: The Forsaken
Author: Lisa M. Stasse
Publication Date: July 10th, 2012
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Source: Received for review
As an obedient orphan of the U.N.A. (the super-country that was once Mexico, the U.S., and Canada), Alenna learned at an early age to blend in and be quiet—having your parents taken by the police will do that to a girl. But Alenna can’t help but stand out when she fails a test that all sixteen-year-olds have to take: The test says she has a high capacity for brutal violence, and so she is sent to The Wheel, an island where all would-be criminals end up.
The life expectancy of prisoners on The Wheel is just two years, but with dirty, violent, and chaotic conditions, the time seems a lot longer as Alenna is forced to deal with civil wars for land ownership and machines that snatch kids out of their makeshift homes. Desperate, she and the other prisoners concoct a potentially fatal plan to flee the island. Survival may seem impossible, but Alenna is determined to achieve it anyway.
"At first I think the hammering sound is the noise of waves crashing down on white sand. I'm dreaming I'm in Old Florida with my parents, before the government restricted all travel."
In a Sentence
Although I had a few minor issues, The Forsaken was an overall entertaining, fast-paced read that I'd recommend to any dystopian fan.
Call me morbid and paranoid, but for some reason, I've ALWAYS had a fascination with stories that examine what happens when a government begins to abuse its people. Maybe it's because all of these corrupt government stories are just a little too easy to imagine. After all, any history class will teach you that various governing bodies in the past have taken quite the ride on the crazy train when it comes to exercising control over its citizens. In spite of this (or maybe because of it...who knows), the dystopian genre has long been a favorite of mine. So when I was offered a chance to read and review the first book in a new dystopian trilogy from Simon and Schuster, I jumped at the chance.
One of the things I really liked about The Forsaken was that it didn't sugarcoat the whole stranded-on-an-island lifestyle. As much as I love dystopian stories, sometimes, I feel like they can get so caught up in what they're trying to say thematically that they gloss over the details. But sometimes, it's the details that really allow the reader to experience the atmosphere in which the characters are living. In The Forsaken, these details weren't forgotten, but nor were they excessive. I appreciated getting to know about the little things...like how the villagers managed to make backpacks, or soap, or how their self-made community worked together as a whole.
Towards the end of the book, there was quite a twist that...let's face it...I did NOT see coming at all. And for those of you who are frequent visitors, you know that that's quite the rarity for me. I can usually figure out the majority of plot twists thrown at me before they actually happen, but this one threw me for a loop. Still, the fact that the "surprise revelation" was actually...well...a surprise revelation for me made me enjoy the book even more. Have I mentioned how much I really like it when authors can fool me? Kudos, Staase. It doesn't happen often.
My favorite part of The Forsaken was one of the themes that spanned the length of the book. It actually has to do with the Greek mythological story of Sisyphus, which Alenna read about as a child. When telling her father that she thought Sisyphus's story was a horribly sad one, he replied:
"Ah, but the key is to imagine Sisyphus happy," he earnestly explained to my six year-old self. "If Sisyphus is happy, then the story isn't sad. Maybe he finds a lot of meaning in rolling that boulder up that mountain, even if he seems doomed to us. If Sisyphus ever lost his boulder - or succeeded in getting it over the top - he'd probably lose his entire purpose in life!" (57).
I have to admit...in the years that I've spent studying mythology and classical literature, I never once considered this perspective on the Sisyphus myth. And it wasn't only this quote that made me enjoy the mythological reference. This idea was expanded upon throughout the book, and by the time I'd reached the end, I realized that there was a lot more depth to it than I originally saw. The idea that your situation in life is based upon your own perspective, on how you see things, and that sometimes, the most valuable part of life isn't accomplishing your goals, but what you learn along the way. And I'm going to stop there on THAT topic, before I start sounding like an inspirational self-help book.
I did have one issue with The Forsaken, and that was the romantic connection between Alenna and Liam. Separately, I liked both of these characters as individuals (though I would have liked to learn a little more about Liam), but their romantic feelings towards each other felt like a stone's throw short of insta-love to me. Still, while there IS a romantic subplot in this book, it's not the main focus, which was a good thing, in my case. Even though I wasn't exactly thrilled by how fast Alenna and Liam seemed to fall for one another, I could (mostly) ignore it and focus on other things.
All in all, I was pretty happy with Stasse's debut novel. From what I've seen, there isn't a ton of information out there on the sequel yet, but I can tell you this: it definitely has a spot on my to-read list when it does come out!