Friday, March 28, 2014

[Review] Hope's Rebellion by Jade Varden

Rating: 3 Stars
Genre: YA dystopia
Synopsis: In a world that favors light hair and discriminates dark as a means a social status, three girls growing up in three different circumstances form a friendship.

First and foremost, I am a bit torn between softening down a review for the sake of a struggling writer or just plowing through like I would for any book, popular and well-known or not. However, for the sake of the writer and the readers, I will do my best to be as honest as possible.

Let me say that this is my first time reviewing a self-published book (and one that was requested) I can say with some certainty that this book has not been professionally edited. If it has, Jade Varden you're not getting your money's worth because there are some very obvious grammar/spelling issues. There are also some transition issues. It's hard to tell how much time has passed between each scene until ages are talked about, and the scene switch itself seems to change abruptly and without notice. There definitely needs to be some indication of time passage at the beginning of each skip.

Overall, I think it that the prose itself flows pretty well, much better than some of the other YA of the same vein that I have read. I really have no complaints in that department. Also, I like that there is a focus on female friendships, which you really don't see very often for some reason. It's too bad that it feels like they're friends because of circumstance and not because they have any genuine interest in one another. They hang out, but I feel like none of them actually really knows one another until the end.

The genre is dystopia, though one wouldn't know it with soldiers walking around with breastplates and helmets. Usually dystopias are placed in the future (it took some time for me to ascertain that this story was indeed taking place in the future and not some alternate universe) and explore how the pressing issues of modern day social problems will play out if they are to continue (a.k.a global warming, materialism, genetic manipulation, government thought control etc). Somehow I don't see hair color discrimination factoring into the future since it obviously doesn't factor into the present. Personally if I was going to write about shade discrimination I would've gone for the elephant in the room, skin color, but I guess that's not some faraway future, that's reality. I mean, I guess hair color is supposed to an allegory for color discrimination, but still... something about it rubs me the wrong way.

As far as this new society goes, nothing is ever really explained. How we get from the present to that sort of future is hazy at best. It lacks cohesion and makes little sense. For example, what happened to all the technology? Why is everyone suddenly all medieval for? I get that it must be in the far far far future where civilization has completely collapsed and has reinvented itself, but if it's so far as to seem irrelevant to present day, it's not really doing it's job as a dystopia.

So the social issues are:

1. Eugenics. Relevant? Sure. It's still present in a subtle institutionalized way. But maybe if this was written before WW2 and the rise of Nazism, it would've been more mind blowing.

2. Forced breeding/Breeding ideal traits: Yes, but it's not that relevant except in terms of the advances in technology today that can manipulate genes or map out which ones are favorable and which ones aren't.

3. Environmental issues: Standard dystopian theme, but there's not much focus on it.

4. Government decides what job you do based on a random lottery. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson anyone? Anyway, not so relevant. Dystopians are surprisingly outdated sometimes. The whole point of this heavy government control stems from the fear of Communism/Totalitarianism. Yes it was eerily on mark when 1984 and Brave New World came out (both of which were around the time of WW2, though 1984 focuses more on the Cold War), but it is a bit of an outdated concept for today.

So I'm afraid there isn't much in the way of innovation in Hope's Rebellion. I mean, to be fair, a lot of YA dystopias don't really do their jobs as dystopias in warning today's masses of the future that might happen if they remain ignorant. Sometimes YA tends to just use dystopia as some plot device so the heroine can kick down oppression in a quasi allegory on kids coming to age in a society that doesn't allow for individuality. I mean, sure why the hell not, we can't all be The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer talking about cloning and the rise of drug cartels, but I sort of despise the mainstream YA dystopias for their effect on aspiring writers. Like, it's fine to enjoy the books and all (I'll be the first to admit I loved the Hunger Games, as problematic as it was), but why can't things be enjoyable and still be well-researched and thought out? Is it really that impossible to entertain the masses and teach them at the same time? I think not. The message was lost to me in this book. I'm not even sure what Jade Varden is trying to warn people about when it comes to the future.

Like I said before, the author really could've benefited from professional editing. Some scenes needed to be elaborated, while others weren't necessary. Parts of it felt rushed and glazed over. Instead of being shown how something happens, usually you just get someone reporting all the exciting parts that you miss out on, which doesn't make much sense since the narration is third person omniscient.

Now let's head over to the actual plot details. Drexi saves some random guy and then suddenly she is lifted from labor camp right on the spot and taken to live a better life somewhere else. Hmm... that seems... a little unbelievable, especially when Drexi's mother was practically dragged from her nice home and demoted to the lowest of the low just for having a dark haired baby. I can't tell if this society is actually serious about its laws or not. (I don't get why her mother is punished when the Most Esteemed Mother that trains Rinna also had a dark hair child but wasn't punished. Was it because it was her second child? That doesn't make any sense. If her mother has blonde hair, they could've just made her try again and again while discarding the dark haired babies). After all, if having dark hair was such a serious offense, why are there so many dark-haired girls at the school? Ah well, maybe I just wasn't reading close enough. I've been pretty tired lately working.

Anyway, if it comes to characterization, I liked Rinna the best. Yes, she is privileged and her golden hair blinds people into submission, but she's bold and I like that. She is also, in my opinion, the most fleshed out character. And the best irony of all is that Rinna, the privileged girl with the superior hair coloring is the one who feels the most oppressed. Ironic.

I think the funniest part is how angry she gets with Drexi and Wren's relationship. I don't know what that was about. *cough* I think Rinna is secretly in love with Drexi. I mean... it make sense. Drexi is super kick-ass and apparently gorgeous and Rinna is always fawning over her.

So let's talk about Drexi.
"Despite the comfortable surroundings and the variety of plentiful food, Drexi found that life wasn't so different from when she was a dinwa. Lessons were really work. She'd washed clothes and dyed them, spun cloth and woven it. She'd sewed and stomped, and dug rocks out of the ground. Lessons were labor."
Why is Drexi saying that her new comfortable life isn't any different from a labor camp? What? How about not being shouted at every morning or being publicly punished every time she decides to open her mouth? What about the fact that it is different because in one setting, she is forced to work because she is a slave, and in another setting, she's doing it because she's practicing and learning as a student? And yes FOOD does make all the difference. She gets buffets everyday whereas before she ate soggy vegetables and protein paste. For the love of God she had to squirrel away peanuts under her bed in order to keep from starving. C'mon! What about the whole "being talked to like an equal" thing? Don't tell me Drexi has become that spoiled only after a few years of not being a slave.

Okay. So I don't like Drexi. Funnily enough it is Rinna who is thinking about the children starving in the labor camps during a failing crop season while Drexi is equating her classroom lessons to labor camp. Drexi probably does think about the labor camp and her friends, but since it's never shown, how are we to judge that she still actually cares? Readers just can't assume these things.

So Drexi is kind of an asshole, but she sort of redeems herself in the end. Prelly... there's not much to say about Prelly except that I feel bad for her.

So it isn't until halfway through the book that I could actually get into it. Things start to pick up and get interesting. There's one thing I can say about this book, it's not completely predictable. It makes you want to know what happens to everyone and how they overcome their challenges.

The ending is crazy. For awhile I thought I might've been wasting my time reading this book, but then the ending made up for it. I HAD TO TAKE A MOMENT, put my kindle down and like... just stop and process. WHAT WAS THAT?

All in all I think the book is worth taking a look at (if for nothing other than the fact that there are three awesome female protagonists). Even though the book is definitely longer than it shows on goodreads, it could probably stand to be a little longer to fill in the details and gaps.

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