In early 2009 I made a mistake.
I made a slight attempt to trim my sail — a bit — to the popular winds. Against my better judgment, I decided to read some YA. This book was being offered for review.
I don’t generally like books with young protagonists. Didn’t like them even when I matched their age.
I will not repeat this mistake.
No more YA unless it’s by an author whose adult books I like.
A retro review from January 10, 2009.
Review: The Roar, Emma Clayton, 2009.
Clayton has the good sense to start her novel about the point where others would end it: Ellie Smith climbing into a Pod Fighter to escape the wonderfully named Mal Gorman. She doesn’t make it; doesn’t get back to her family beyond the Wall that surrounds the moldy, industrial enclaves man huddles in after the Animal Plague; she doesn’t get to share the Secret it will take us the rest of the book to learn. After the first three chapters, most of the story shifts to her twin brother Mika who just knows that Ellie didn’t drown as the government says, knows that she’s still alive. And, to find her, he’ll have to choke down the supplements and drugs the Youth Development Foundation (YDF) is handing out at school, horrible gym classes – also courtesy of the YDF, compete in a tournament that starts out as a mere arcade game but then sinisterly transforms into something else, deal with a bully who also happens to be tough opponent in those games, and juggle the complexities of unfortunate friends, loving but clueless parents, and something like young love.
The story moves quickly. Clayton’s style is mostly smooth except for the very occasional metaphor that jars a bit in the context of the story and some odd shifts in viewpoint. Certainly the ending sets up the story for future sequels and leaves many plot elements unexplained, but it also raises some nice dilemmas after the Secret is revealed.
The characters are all stock. In addition to the clueless parents and bully, we get an eccentric, grandmotherly old woman who seems to know the Secret. The villain not only has villainous designs. He just can’t seem to relate to children on the simplest levels. Most significant, this story is in the long tradition of science fiction stories about mutant children who are misunderstood and persecuted – and probably the ultimate saviors of humanity. The charitable interpretation of this sort of story is that youngsters often feel misunderstood and persecuted. The more uncharitable truth is it’s a story element that often seeks to bond with a narcissistic, vain element in the reader.
Adults will almost certainly guess what the YDF is up to – though they will also find it all too plausible in its combination of government hectoring, marketing campaign, and outright coercion. The details of the Secret may surprise. Adults will not find any attempt to teach about the world of real science and technology as the juveniles of Robert Heinlein often did. Some of the book’s mystical elements are unexplained and a bit hackneyed.
But young readers will see an exciting story about a brother who misses his sister, a world of school and games which is not what it seems.