Book Title: The Young World (Young World Trilogy, #01)
Author: Chris Weitz
Number of pages: 384
After a mysterious Sickness wipes out the rest of the population, the young survivors assemble into tightly run tribes. Jefferson, the reluctant leader of the Washington Square tribe, and Donna, the girl he’s secretly in love with, have carved out a precarious existence among the chaos. But when another tribe member discovers a clue that may hold the cure to the Sickness, five teens set out on a life-altering road trip to save humankind.
The tribe exchanges gunfire with enemy gangs, escapes cults and militias, braves the wilds of the subway and Central Park…and discovers truths they could never have imagined.
(re: Goodreads @ The Young World by Chris Weitz)
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:
– Diversity in character casting despite continual stereotyping (Asian, Caucasian, African-American, LGBTQ, nerds, martial-artists, homelessness, and many more) and discrimination (skin-colour privileges, gender and racial inequality)
– Alternating POV between male/female protagonist with a variance in written portrayal (one reads like a default first-person account and the other feels script-like)
– Overbearing pop-culture references that may or may not add value depending on the reader’s propensity to understanding them
– All-inclusive action sequences which incorporate harsh, graphical moments which may not be fit for the younger YA audience (cannibalism, animal harming, blood work, and death)
This is Weitz’ debut novel so take that information with a grain of salt. I feel like readers may be able to distinguish his film background through the writing but I wouldn’t necessarily pigeon-hole him into that category. It is indeed almost as if it was written to be translated onto screen; which in my opinion, would be better presented than on paper—but that’s just how I felt after this read. There is also the possibility that this whole novel could seriously be just a giant marketing ploy. More details on this under the cut.
But I was definitely too transfixed with finding pop-culture references than to earnestly read into some meaningful quotes/excerpts. So I have decided not to include any. And yes, this is a late ARC review soooooo oops.
Full disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of The Young World through Netgalley for an honest review. I extend thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me the opportunity to review this book.
Disclaimer: Potential spoilers inherent to this review from here onward.
I was basically bashing my face in with this first installment because I had such high hopes for this read mainly regarding the premise that sounded radically familiar to something I’ve seen elsewhere on television or movies or whatever (but that’s beside the point). The key issue that runs throughout this novel which irked me quite a bit is that the writing tried to convey a sense of cool, quirky, mainstream pop-culture that’s apparently so evident and so realistic about the tween lifestyle. Okay, I get it, the world has gone to shit, but why is every waking moment throwback Thursday? Pages are rife with ‘here’s something iconic from the early 2000’s’ which undeniably has the potential to turn off readers to understand the scope of what’s being said. In that sense, if readers aren’t indulgent in pop-culture to begin with then what’s the purpose of the reference? Confusion? Here, to uphold transparency, I have mentioned [just about] 75% of what I’m supposed to believe is thought-provoking in some capacity to the teenage mind.
Are you ready? I’m not.
Transvestites, Game of Thrones, Prada, Bacon, Call of Duty, Chanel, North Face, Beyonce, Katniss, Madonna, Porky [the] Pig, More bacon, McRib, Pocky, Social Media Platforms (Twitter, Facebook), iPhones, yakitori, Girl’s room (pictures of friends and Disneyworld), Boy’s room (porn), Target, Lord of the Flies, Jenny Jones, Jenny Craig, J-Lo, Star Wars IV: A New Hope, saying “teh internetz”, Google, YOLO (you only live once), virginity and STDs, drugs, Diablo, Garageband, Subway’s, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, NYU School of Law, weapons (AKs, Baretts, Rugers), Teriyaki beef jerky, Milky Way, My Little Pony, Harajuku fashion, Buddhism, Fellowship of the Ring, Nicki Minaj, Chinese food, Colombian coffee, Philippines mangoes, Brand name cars, speaking in text (LOL, ROFL, SFS (So fucking stupid..which nobody uses)), Sifu (Shaolin, Kung-Fu and Tai Chi), Netflix, Babies R Us, BCBG Max Azria (who really knows the full name anyways ), Ku Klux Klan, Resident Evil, Brothers Grimm, Hurricane Katrina, Chernobyl, Fukushima Daiichi, Deepwater Horizon, Hurricane Sandy, Hunger Games, Contagion, Black Widow, Twilight Samurai, Walmart, Macgyver, Wile E. Coyote, Roadrunner, Oysters as an aphrodisiac, Baseball games, YouTube, Coffee making, “I taught Christian Grey all that shit” T-shirt, Harold and Kumar, FOB (fresh off the boat), Gossip Girl, Goyte (Somebody that I Used To Know), “hipsters”, “douches”, Carle Rae Jepsen (Call Me Maybe), Justin Bieber, Black Eyed Peas, Jay-Z, Central Park, Catcher in the Rye, Stuart little, Paintings in museum (Death of Socrates, Brueghels Peasants, Vermeer), PowerPoint Presentations, Dungeons and Dragons.
I actually stopped taking notes on the references after a while because it detracted from my reading experience. I mean, who chirps out Powerpoint Presentations? Let’s be honest: that shit is a student’s bread and butter (unless we’ve all evolved into using Prezi). Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I can actually go into the depths of commentary per each category. Do note that this could just be an issue of my own accord and you may completely be enamored by all the pop-culture inclusions. If so, I hope you’ll enjoy the read then!
Two years after The Sickness (or What Happened) wiped the adults and children, teens remain struggling for survival among themselves and against bordering tribes. With resources dwindling and children aging and dying by the day, Jefferson becomes the newly appointed tribe leader of their sequestered abode when its previous one comes of age and passes away. With Donna by his side, Jefferson catches wind of information on the Sickness and its potential cure, and seeks to find answers and a reason for a future even if he isn’t the noble hero that his tribe and home sees him to be. The journey takes the band of misfits through a run-down New York City, chased by rival tribes, and sparring with dangerous uncertainty at every turn with only hope to guide them.
This story follows the unrelenting struggles of the Washington Square Tribe and its key players from their community: Jefferson, Donna, Brainbox, Peter, and SeeThrough. With a first-person alternating-POV between Jefferson and Donna, there’s an evident difference in writing style that follows each perspective (although I’m unsure if it was purposeful or not). Jefferson is written with the standard flair in first-person prose, whereas Donna’s account is written in a very script-like fashion; the dialogue being reflective of this. Moreover, Donna prides herself on being a reliable narrator and even goes into letting readers know that she’s going to be a trustworthy voice—this becomes the reader’s first impression of her. Yet as much of a benefit having dual-POV works for many novels to highlight two seemingly different character arcs, they never really diverge to look at a wider picture. Things are very narrow in scope and it might just be because they’re part of the same mission, only separating a few times with no noticeable impact on the plot aside from honoring the romantic development between the characters.
To tangent all of this to the downtrodden society, I have certain doubts on the extremity in urgency throughout the novel. There are moments where suspense should be in full swing and the characters just sit down amidst all the turmoil to rest and eat food. Now, I understand that self sustenance is key in a ravished world (especially if you’re on a journey) but seriously, there’s a time and place for everything and when you’re facing so many unknowns (especially the life-threatening kind), how is taking a break the best policy? It just doesn’t make sense to me (note: they weren’t that exhausted).
The narrative is quickly paced with action sequences a-plenty that often beg the question of how much of this read can be for the younger YA audience. Things can get bloody really fast in this story; and it’s evident to me that Weitz isn’t fearful of taking risks for his audience to elevate the dubious moral compass of humanity. By the same reigns, there are certain facets in writing that definitely fought against each other to move the story along into dangerous territories. Readers come to learn of their single, long-term goal but their instincts to keep hoping for humanity’s future is willy-nilly when they’re actually the harbinger of destruction wherever they go. Like, seriously, don’t you hate it when do-gooders have to fuck the shit up for everyone else who had okay-ish lives before the protagonists arrived? Whyyyyyy?! Weitz does punish his characters to spur growth but it does feel as though it was a cop-out for specific individuals who seem to be dealt a crummy hand. Furthermore, I found some elements regarding the biological pandemic, scarcity in resources, and the power (in terms of mental or physical strength) behind some characters to be lackluster in in development to support the realism of the situation. But it is the first novel, so perhaps I can allow it to slide and hope for explanations and growth in the sequel.
As a reader not from New York City, I feel like there’s an onus on me to search up pertinent location being referenced. While I agree that the world-building encourages the resilience and possibility of this story to ring true as a post-apocalyptic read set in a realistic setting, the overall understanding and visualization of each street, monument, or landmark is quite difficult to materialize. Events take place on the streets, in a library, on a boat, in the city—that much I can grasp, but the specificity it delves into is not easily translated in my mind as an outsider looking in. Sure, I’ve watched plenty of television and movies that feature The Big Apple but it’s immediately visual and everything just clicks. The only true location that was meticulously crafted and presented in a way that I could fully acknowledge is in the subway system. One can acknowledge that this limited detailing is at the fault of the narrators themselves because there’s no need to paint the image of the life they’ve grown to know. With this in mind, the evident disconnect between the city I think I know of and what was actually being played out for the protagonists creates a setting that’s believable but doesn’t own up to the potential and finesse required to depict a compelling, decaying, post-cataclysmic society. Also, I’m sure if you rearrange the structural names, this premise could have taken place in any city—allowing the unique spark of New York City to be easily extinguishable.
Things that I loved: the cultural diversification and microcosmic social commentary of a tiered society.
Things that I hated: the outward stereotyping of the above.
Weitz has created an impeccable cast that basically hits the full range of cultural and social backgrounds. They also hail from privileged backgrounds. Now, I’m not going to engage the possibility of whether or not readers are to acknowledge that kids from an above-average upbringing are normal like the regular teenager in terms of social and educational upbringing but the possibility is there. So you see, you have this diverse group of young-adults and as much realism there is in stereotyping any niche group in the present day, I would encourage the dialogue to be expanded out of a narrow mindset rather than to run with it. Let’s begin.
Jefferson is Eurasian and exudes the prototypical, self-righteous kindred soul who only wants the best for those around him. I understand the commentary that you shouldn’t sell yourself to selfishness but c’mon kid, you’re living in a dying world…some semblance of greed would be natural. The fact that he regurgitates the humble-pie he eats on the daily makes me question the realism given his age. He understands the complexities in the moral compass where sacrifices need to be made in order to move forward, but he’s apparently oblivious to how his peers act around him (mainly Donna). So, teen boys can have all the knowledge in the world but when it comes to girls…they’re as dumb as a rock. Gee, what a sample size.
Donna is your average American girl—assuming they throw around “like” and “um” as if they’re breathing (so this may become an insufferable aspect for readers). I found her akin to a valley girl (or the New York equivalent?) as she speaks her mind without question whenever she wants despite continual gender inequality suffering as society reinforces females as being strictly sexual icons. She puts the right foot forward in the impartiality department akin to a reliable narrator; but by the same measure, experiences growth that makes it seem like she’s blinded by love in how she carries out the remainder of the narrative. Derp.
Peter is the Christian, African-American homosexual. Don’t worry though, he’s just a semi-neat and persnickety individual hailing from musical theatre and interior design classes who’s wildly flamboyant with the sole purpose to provide a snarky and sassy attitude, make sexual commentary and advances on any moving male figure, and provide romantic advice for females. That’s basically his value in the story so far—no biggie.
SeeThrough is pegged as Chinese, small, and…wait for it…a martial-artist extraordinaire. When she assimilated into the American society, no one seemed to acknowledge her given Western name but recognized her as the daughter of a Sifu (meaning “teacher” in Chinese); her father being a teacher of kung-fu and tai-chi. It’s not implied, but I get the sense that she encouraged her peers to call her SeeThrough because it wasn’t some difficult Chinese-English that people would butcher to enunciate. Either way, the whole accommodation and assimilation aspect does bring up the melting pot versus mosaic debate.
Brainbox is the genius behind the whole operation and somehow always finds a way to resolve conflicts easily. He keeps to himself a lot of the time and truly only shows up at the right time. He’s essentially the fail-safe for the entire plot so far where convenience doesn’t have to be really questioned because Brainbox is a all-knowing nerd and full of surprises to get the team out of dire predicaments.
With all that said and done, there’s still a great deal of social profiling in this novel that speaks to the racism and discrimination of today. It’s a fair approach but all its doing is adding unnecessary fuel to the flame without actually opening the dialogue to grow as a society. The continual segregation of communities based on skin and race alone speaks to any society around the world. And it begs the question: how much can you put down a community before it fights back? It’s certainly a theme that will be explored in greater lengths in the next installments. There was also a part where the characters insinuated and had the audacity to comment on the Chinese government being behind the Sickness. Annnnnnd I was like ‘noooope, going to bite my tongue’ and not delve into that before it gets into a long rant about business and economic ethics of two separate nations. Seriously.
There is a big question mark on the romance because it seems unnecessary—both in writing and delivery that seemed so unrealistic that I was essentially gagging on the plausibility of it all. Exhibit A: the power of song convinces Donna that she likes Jefferson; which is so convenient when another girl comes into the picture (temporary live-triangle, say what?). Exhibit B: a scuffle during turmoil results to an insinuated moment of sex (or just lots of kissing—this happens twice). Exhibit C: the clichéd reveal of feelings followed by a ‘turning and leaving’ motion only to be pulled back into a kiss. Donna was a pillar of hardened resolve throughout the novel but she loses all of her heroine qualities, and becomes uselessly meek after the kiss. She also quotes that she says a lot of cutesy stuff when she’s in love but has mentioned that she’s a total newbie in that regard (i.e. first relationship)…so how would you know? There are so many questionable moments like these that just don’t add value to elevate the romance.
Another big concern is simply questioning the point of the read. There is absolutely no clarity in direction aside from that one thread of hopeful intent (to find the cure). You’re going to be blind as a bat reading this book because there is no true exposition or info-dumps to guide you along the way and quite frankly, that’s fine if you actually put themselves into their position. But see, this is where it becomes a real doozy. It’s the readers that need to make inferences as to what to take away from the story; life lessons and what have you—I’m sure that much we can agree upon—but being kept in the dark until basically the last 10 pages of the novel felt like a slap on the face because it ends abruptly and the only takeaway is that “gee, now I have to read the next installment.” I honestly got more out of the several pages leading up to the cliffhanger than reading the entirety and journey to that point. Not only that, I felt that the characters were pretty one-dimension (aside from the grossly stereotyped actions) and didn’t experience much growth. What you have in this novel is half chase-scene, a quarter downtime chilling, and a quarter actionable turmoil. And don’t forget the pop-culture laden throughout. So it could be understandable why growth is sidelined for action.
Is this a read I would continue? I’m not sure. It’s possible because of the cliffhanger….but I’m definitely not holding my breath for this one. Personally, I think Weitz has the workings here for a decent series but it was almost as if it was too-little-too-late for the enjoyment factor. Perhaps the satirical wit in the throwbacks that tried to tie into the plot were an homage to the past and its merit is to remind readers that materialistic superficiality isn’t the be-all-end-all (despite how much we may want to cling onto it). I said it before, if this was played out on screen (television or movie or what have you), I think it would have been better received. So maybe this can be a written gem that hasn’t explored it’s potential yet or maybe it’ll still continue to be a treasure trove for a 20th century sentimentalist. Either way, it’s the dubious exploitation of stereotyped characters which ultimately masks all the finer gruesome details of a should-be post-apocalyptic society run by near prepubescent teenagers (so, like, lord of the flies?).
I’m hoping everything sounds A-OK because I have exhausted all of my thoughts. Well, actually, there are more but I feel like they’re just groundless rants (more-so than anything above).
I LOST SO MUCH #BOUTOFBOOKS READING TIME TO WRITE THIS OH DEARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.