The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) $16.99
Dystopian novels often allow readers inside the scariest of ideas. They encourage readers to think about war and our darkest fears, both internal and external. These novels also help readers recognize their own strengths through difference and even outsider status. We read and realize that being an outsider can make us untouchable, outcast, and lost. But being outsiders also has advantages because they have a tendency to be creative, to go against the grain of group thinking and to take action. They also find hope in the individual, often counter thinking that makes them leaders. Lisa M. Stasse’s novel succeeds in creating a deeply disturbing dystopian world peopled with outsiders who prove to also be leaders. In this instance, our heroine is a quiet girl who, like Katniss in The Hunger Games, wants to go unnoticed, but unlike Katniss the hunter, thinks of herself as a quiet and artistic soul. Hers is a world in which teens are removed from U.N.A., which stands for the United Northern Alliance, to Alpha Island, a prison island divided by civil war. Here the teens fight one another to survive even as U.N.A. forces continue to prey upon and experiment on their strengths.
This thought-provoking novel begins with an obedient orphan of the U.N.A. (the super-country that was once Mexico, the U.S., and Canada). Alenna learned at an early age to blend in and be quiet when her parents were taken by the police because of their rebellious activities. Alenna stands out when she fails a test that all sixteen-year-olds have to take. The test determines who has a high capacity for brutal violence, and so she is sent to The Wheel.
The life expectancy of prisoners on The Wheel is about two years with few surviving beyond the age of 18. Living in dirty, violent, and chaotic conditions, Alenna becomes a warrior when she is forced to deal with civil wars for land ownership and machines that snatch kids out of their makeshift homes. A memory of her father telling the tale of Sisyphus, who rolled a boulder endlessly up a mountain only to have it crash down whenever he neared the top, and then repeating the task gives Alenna hope. She recalls her father explaining, “The key is to imagine Sisyphus happy. Maybe he finds a lot of meaning in rolling that boulder up the mountain, even if he seems doomed to us.” Alenna finds meaning in a desperate plan to flee the island. Survival may seem impossible, but Alenna is determined to achieve it anyway.
This is a first novel and the first in a trilogy of tales about Aleena’s struggle for Lisa M. Stasse. A graduate of Cornell University with a degree in Political Science and English literature, she currently works as a digital librarian at UCLA. Lisa loves watching science fiction movies, cooking Spanish food, and dancing around her house to 80′s music (when no one is watching). She lives in Santa Monica, California with her husband and their two-year-old daughter