The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 375 pages
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopian
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release date: July 10, 2012
Series: The Forsaken #1
Reviewed by: Lili
As 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—having your parents taken by the police will do that to a girl. But Alenna can’t help but stand out when she fails a test that all sixteen-year-olds have to take: The test says she has a high capacity for brutal violence, and so she is sent to The Wheel, an island where all would-be criminals end up.
The life expectancy of prisoners on The Wheel is just two years, but with dirty, violent, and chaotic conditions, the time seems a lot longer as Alenna is forced to deal with civil wars for land ownership and machines that snatch kids out of their makeshift homes. Desperate, she and the other prisoners concoct a potentially fatal plan to flee the island. Survival may seem impossible, but Alenna is determined to achieve it anyway.
THE FORSAKEN can easily be described as a cross between THE HUNGER GAMES, LORD OF THE FLIES, and the television show Lost. Before I began reading, I looked up some interviews and guest posts provided by Lisa M. Stasse. She openly admits that Lost was one of her inspirations for the novel, so it came as no surprise to me when I realized that the television show was very prevalent within the novel and its world-building. For a novel that is so similar to so many things, it still manages to stick within your mind as a unique entity aside from the novels and television shows that it seems to remind you of and draw inspiration from.
The dystopian world that Stasse creates is unique. It pulls you in from the very beginning and keeps you reading. This is a story of survival that primarily takes place on an island, but she always manages to throw a new plot twist your way every chapter. Whether it is a true identity being revealed, or an unexpected and nearly forgotten connection resurfacing from the past, Stasse manages to keep you turning the pages with her wild imagination. While this dystopian is the usual futuristic world ruled by an oppressive leader, the motives behind those in charge are not something I have come across yet. When the truth about things is revealed, you sit back on your heels as shocked as the characters are. You eat everything up just like them. Stasse sets up the surprise revelations very well.
While the world-building and overall plot kept me moving, I had an extremely hard time connecting with the characters. Not just Alenna, but pretty much everyone. While I understood the reasoning behind making some of the characters act the way they did, I wasn’t comfortable with their emotions because, at times, they changed unexpectedly. As a reader, I feel like it is infinitely important to connect with the characters. You experience the story through them and their emotions. Descriptive emotion is key. Perhaps this is the reason why I had trouble connecting with Alenna. She’s a very simple character that thinks in simple thoughts because of Stasse’s writing style. She explains her actions and roughly how she feels, but we’re lacking the elaboration on why she feels that way, or just how happy or how hurt she is. It’s very simply… “I feel…” “I thought…” “I freeze…” etc. Here’s an example directly from the story on page 153:
“I take a swig of water. Then I pass the flask back to Liam. We sit there in silence for a moment.”
It was a very organized to me. No thoughts in between, just event and small happening/emotion/thought right after the previous small happening/emotion/thought. When I completed the novel, I was struck at how well the world was described, but not the emotions of the characters.
What I admired about this novel is that it shows the importance of relationships to survival. While we are not fighting for our lives like the kids on the Wheel, we need friends to maintain our sanity. They may drive us up a wall and get on our nerves, but we can’t survive without them. That is the biggest moral that I walked away from this story with when reading the interactions between Alenna and her hot-headed best friend, Gadya.
Aside from a sub-plot romance that seemed entirely unnecessary to the story because it wasn’t really executed properly, I was able to get into the story once I was able to become comfortable with the unique writing style used. While I had trouble with emotions, the creativity with the world-building and the plot of the story overrode anything I found to be negative and kept me going because it had my full attention until the very end. The events in the last quarter of the book had me struggling to turn the pages fast enough and when I was done, I found myself being severely disappointed at the fact that the second novel in the series isn’t out yet. Stasse’s wild imagination was evident throughout the entire novel, and while I am anticipating the sequel, I am aware that this series will not be for everyone.