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Friday, September 14, 2012

Gentle YA Dystopian A Little Too Tame

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Dystopian stories are—almost by definition—bleak, bloody and brutal.  Which is why Safekeeping (available September 18, 2012), a new YA novel by Karen Hesse, is such an oddity.  It is, without a doubt, the gentlest dystopian I've ever read.  Not that it's all bright and cheery.  It's not.  But it's not as tension-filled as other books of its type either.  Which is a good thing.  Except when it isn't.  

When the story opens, 17-year-old Radley Parker-Hughes is on a plane, coming home after volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti.  She knows the U.S. has changed in the time she's been gone, she just doesn't realize how much.  At the airport in Manchester, New Hampshire, she's greeted by armed soldiers, a crippled Internet/phone system, and a list of strict new laws, one of which prohibits her from crossing state lines without prior government approval.  Radley assumes her parents will arrive, clear up any problems and whisk her back to Vermont, rescuing her as they always have.  When Radley's parents fail to show, she realizes the scary truth—she's on her own in a world that's become not just unrecognizable, but increasingly dangerous.  

With no way to contact her family, no way to get home, Radley does the only thing she can: she starts walking.  As she treks across the changed land, she battles hunger, exhaustion, and the desperate actions of other travelers.  Even after spending weeks in the hardscrabble streets of Haiti, Radley finds herself woefully unprepared to deal with this grim, new reality.  Without her parents around to save the day, what will become of Radley Parker-Hughes?  If she has only her own wits to rely on, how will she ever survive?  

If you've read The Road (I haven't) or seen the movie (I have), then you know what kind of story I was expecting from Safekeeping, which has a similar premise.  What I got was something much different.  Sure, the books have common elements, but, like I said before, Safekeeping tells a gentle, almost sedate story.  In fact, it's too calm.  Only the fact that it's a short, spare novel kept it from being a total snooze fest.  For me, it just didn't offer enough conflict or depth to be as compelling as it could have been.  And then there are the photos.  The text is interspersed with black and white photos the author snapped herself, which is cool, although I don't think the pictures really enhanced my reading experience.  They were just too ordinary, you know?  Maybe that was the whole point and I missed their deeper meaning, but meh, the photos really didn't do much for me.  Overall, I found Safekeeping a fast read, just not a very exciting one.  I know I whine a lot about YA dystopians being too similar, but this one was a little too different for me.  What can I say?  I'm complicated.        

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Road by Cormac McCarthy and a little of Ashfall and Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin)

Grade:  C+

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs) and adult subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Safekeeping from the generous folks at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan).  Thank you!  Check out all the new YA books coming out from Macmillan at Fierce Reads.          


  1. I have a copy of this to read still. It sounds exactly as you described, ordinary even if it is very different from most others. Since it's a fast read I think I'll still give it a try.

  2. Well, the cover is lovely at least. ;)


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