Reading this book moved me to contemplate what it is that makes YA work for young people, but not as well for the grown-ups. It’s not just me, and I also know that a lot of adults enjoy the current wave of YA dystopian speculative fiction. So what is it?
I think, as I was reading this YA novel by Chris Baker, that its all about perspective. You see, as a mother, I see and think of angles a child simply cannot. Escape From the Village was offered to me in return for a review, and I was strongly reminded as I read it of the Hunger Games and the Uglies by Scott Westerfield. This is a book about a profoundly damaged society, and even more damaged children. As a mother, reading it was almost painful, the same way I felt about the Hunger Games series.
My daughter, 13 at the time, avidly read and re-read those books. All I could think as I read one was how they would take my child to death games over my dead body. And it would be a pile of dead bodies… In Chris Baker’s story, the idea that any society, far less a global one, would allow children to be so isolated and abused simply boggles the mind. As an exercise in speculation, perhaps it works. In reality, I cannot see it happening. But to a child’s eye?
I had a conversation with a classmate in college, a young woman of perhaps nineteen. She loves the Hunger Games and dystopian novels, and thought the sysnopsis of Escape from the Village sounded like fun. But then, when I brought up the mother’s willingness to passively allow her children to be taken… not just the main character, but the tiny and very young Rue, for goodness sakes! My classmate tilted her head to one side and said “oh, I hadn’t thought about that.”
The young people who have not yet experienced the joy and terror of parenting, and the knowledge that one is responsible for this tiny being, to raise them up right, to keep them alive until they in turn can become a parent… they can read the dystopias and be amazed and amused at the exploits of the heroes, who revolt against authority and win through… they aren’t looking behind the scenes, at the fear of every parent.
More than that, they have not yet read enough books to learn to truly appreciate storytelling. Subtlety is lost on the young, and message fiction works for them still, but when I read a message wrapped in a paper-thin plot, I see through it. Fiction can have a message, sure. But it needs to be so subtle and so subservient to the story that you aren’t even aware of it until much later, as you ponder what you read and can’t get the world out of your head. A ‘story’ that tells you what to think and see in it is too heavy-handed to enjoy.
So, in the end, I suspect my girls would probably enjoy Chris Baker’s book. I couldn’t, and although I read it through, I felt a bit like Toto in Oz. I can see behind the screen, and it’s not working for me.