By Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan
This is a young-adult, post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel. It is the first book in a trilogy.
Although the catastrophe that befell the earth is never fully explained, we know that earthquakes decimated the landscape and that all rain that falls is poisonous and carries a plague-like sickness. The sun is dangerous and people cover every inch of exposed skin. Life is harsh and everyone is just trying to survive as best they can.
I have noticed that other reviewers have railed against this author for her lack of world-building. I do agree to some extent, but I have faith that since this book is the beginning of a trilogy that there will be more world-building in the next books.
There are two main groups of survivors in this book.
The “regular” survivors live in a town called Prin. at the age of fifteen, the town residents are expected to be partnered or married. At the age of seventeen they are expected to have children of their own. By the age of nineteen people succumb to a plague-like sickness, and as soon as symptoms appear they are banished to the wasteland to avoid infecting more people.
The town relies on supplies doled out from “The Source.” This is a warehouse-like structure that is strictly controlled by a teenager named Levi. I would have liked a bit more information as to exactly what ‘The Source’ was before the apocalypse. This part of the storyline did feel unrefined to me.
Levi doles out food and bottled water to the town’s residents based on jobs he has them perform. There are three main jobs available; Harvesting, Excavation and Gleaning. The townspeople are not told why these jobs are important, nor do they seem curious about Levi’s motives. The workers are so focused on where their next meal will come from that they do not question him. This is believable to an extent. People who are starving rarely have anything on their minds other than food, so I can accept that hole in the plot.
What I did not like about ‘The Source’ plot-line was that even though Levi had guards, the author implies that no one had ever tried to break in to steal food. I find this very hard to believe. Starving people are desperate people and it would have been more believable if Levi had somehow caught and punished at least a few would-be thieves and that fear of his retribution kept others from attempting the same thing.
The second group of survivors call themselves “Variants,” but the townspeople call them “mutants.” The variants are “…hermaphroditic, hairless and disfigured.” “The variants had always lived far from town, shunning the ways of Prin and it’s people. They dressed oddly, not bothering to shield themselves from the dangerous rays of the sun. Rather than work, they eked out a meager living from hunting with feral dogs… Their life expectancy was even shorter than that of the people in town.”
The residents of Prin see the Variants as enemies and tensions are rising between the two groups. The people of Prin believe the variants are not really human, most see them as animals.
Esther is fourteen and she doesn’t fit in with the rest of the town’s residents. Her best friend is a Variant named Skar. Esther believes the variants are human and thinks the prejudice against them is unwarranted. Esther wants more from life than what she sees in Prin, but she has no idea of how to achieve her goal. She hates the tensions between the townspeople and the variants, especially because of her friendship with Skar.
Things seem to be coming to a head. The townspeople are growing increasingly worried and desperate as the attacks by the variants increase in both frequency and intensity. Fear has the townspeople on edge and it seems that violence is likely to erupt.
When a stranger named Caleb arrives in Prin, and sees a boy being attacked by a group of five variants he attacks the attackers. He single-handedly runs the five variants out of town.
It seems that Caleb might provide the townspeople with hope. Will he be able to stop the violence? Or will he add to it? And, exactly who is Caleb?
As the book progresses, we learn more about Levi, Caleb, Esther and the rest of the townspeople and the variants. Motivations more sinister than just the need to survive are exposed and both the best and worst of human nature is revealed.
A romance blossoms quickly (a bit too quickly to be believable) between Caleb and Esther. This romance is definitely the worst part of the plot. I assume the writers did not want to spend too much time on this part of the plot because they wanted to focus on the main story. In my opinion, this was an error in judgement. The fact that they fall in love and are partnered after only a few casual meetings can possibly be explained by the fact that their life expectancy is so limited, but it would have been better if their romance was more believable.
I rate this book as 3.5 out of 5 stars.
What I Liked About ‘Wasteland’
I love the details the author has come up with to describe the variant’s appearance. When Skar is introduced in the first chapter of the book, the description is so vivid that it easy to picture exactly what she must look like.
“The creature was small, with dark, hairless arms and legs, and a bald skull. It appeared to be neither male nor female and wore a brief tunic that was little more than a sack, with a cloth pouch slung across. Its face and body were covered with a dense network of intricate designs, swirling patterns, dots and slashes, strange curls that snaked like vines across the skin in various shades of black, brown and pink. On close examination, you could see the designs were not painted on but were a complex network of crude tattoos and hundreds, maybe thousands, of scars. Some of the marks were so tiny, they seemed like mere threads against the skin; others were vivid, pink gouges of raised flesh. It had bulging lavender eyes and a flattened nose, which crinkled as it’s mouth, with its tiny, sharp teeth, twisted upward.”
This description not only gives the reader a detailed description of what the variants look like, but it also hints at the fact that their culture might be more sophisticated than it appears. The tattoos and scars must be significant. It instills a curiosity in the reader to want to learn more about these intriguing people.
The author also uses this book to examine many social issues. This includes the issue of prejudice and discrimination. When Esther learns the truth behind the variant’s origins she is shocked, but her discovery proves that the townspeople have more in common with the variants than she has been taught to believe. This information can be applied to today’s society just as easily as it does to the society in ‘Wasteland.’
People tend to fear what they do not understand. The townspeople fear the variants because they are different. But, does different always equate to evil?
There are life lessons in this book if anyone cares to see them.
Esther befriends Skar despite what the other residents of Prin think. This takes courage. She risks being shunned by all her peers, but she has the inner strength to do what she thinks is right. In this book (as in real life)it is always easier to follow the crowd then it is to follow your own path. Esther follows her own path by befriending Skar and she is rewarded by obtaining a devoted friend and also by learning all the stealth skills that the variants have that the townspeople do not.
This book also highlights a fact of life. Human beings are complicated creatures and each person can harbor both good and bad qualities. It is very rare that a person is either purely good or purely evil. The majority of people are made up of some good and some bad qualities. It is the choices we make that determine whether we will choose to let our dark side or our light side dominate.
I love the fact that while being an entertaining read and an interesting story, this book will also make you think.
Overall I think this may be the beginning of an interesting trilogy. I hope the authors will include more back-story in the next book.
To read more about this author or about the other books in this series, visit http://www.epicreads.com