The tribe exchanges gunfire with enemy gangs, escapes cults and militias, braves the wilds of the subway and Central Park…and discovers truths they could never have imagined.
The dystopian setting is something that I have come to loath in young adult fiction ever since the exploding success of The Hunger Games, which has triggered clone after clone that never could quite find the same spark that Collins’ fiction had. (I’m looking at you, Divergent) – I’ve always preferred the broader and not-always doom and gloom space opera, where you’ll find gems like Guardians of the Galaxy (Not exactly a young adult book, but you get my point). It’s a genre that doesn’t receive as much love in YA as it should, but that’s beside the point. Because actually, there is one sub-sub-genre of dystopian fiction that I can enjoy, and that’s stuff like The Young World – in part due to my love of Michael Grant’s Gone series (more on the similarities later). And whilst this novel doesn’t always find the right marks, it sure knows how to deliver an entertaining read.
And that is in large part due to Chris Weitz’s history as a movie director. Whilst he may be responsible for butchering Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass/Northern Lights and ending it just before it actually could reach the finale, Weitz actually manages to sort-of redeem himself here with a book that’s ready in line for a movie adaption. I wouldn’t be too surprised if we saw a Weitz-helmed adaption on the screen within the next few years given the recent dystopian movie trend (To my knowledge, there’s three adaptions of YA dystopian novels, the already-released Divergent and The Giver, and the upcoming Maze Runner) because this book actually reads like a film. It’s fast paced, action packed, and contains several elements such as love-triangles (that thankfully, do not take up as large part of the book as they could have done) and cliffhangers that will have you looking forward to the next volume.
The plot is fairly well paced and the book reads pretty quickly. A virus has eliminated all the adults and only the kids remain, having divided into tribes. It’s on a much larger scale to Lord of the Flies (which was just an island) and even Michael Grant’s Gone (which was just a town), displaying a vision of a post apocalyptic New York. It’s a refreshing take to see a novel with the kids ruling the world subplot use a real-life city after Gone, especially one on such a big scale. That’s one of the few things that helps make it stand out, and whilst there are definitely similarities between the two, you’ll see less supernatural/alien stuff here and more plain simple survival. There’s also the cliffhanger at the end of the novel, and the ending – which makes it seem like book two will take a very different direction indeed. So if you’re going to go in expecting a Gone clone – or even a clone from a similar book that you’ve read, expect surprises. On the surface it may sound familiar, but pull back the layers and you’ll find a different beast..
The characters are, unfortunately hit and miss with The Young World. Jefferson and Donna, are the two leads and both share first-person POVs. Both narrative styles are different and it’s clear that Weitz is trying to make the characters distinctive. However, the effort doesn’t quite work as well as it should – whilst Jefferson is largely solid, he’s also quickly forgettable, being the dull, boring white male lead that’s hampered plenty of projects in the past (Aiden Pearce’s Watch Dogs is perhaps the most recent example I can think of, even if it’s a video game) and the secondary figures are far more interesting. I enjoyed reading from Donna’s perspective (for most of the book, anyway), because her character was a lot more appealing, kick-ass and pure fun, with plenty of wisecracks. If Donna’s character had not regressed in development at the ending when she became involved as one (of two) of Jefferson’s love interests in this book, she could well end being one my favourite characters of 2014, which is a massive shame, and also means that by the end of the book there are no real characters that will have any lasting impact, because you are ultimately left with a sea of stereotypes that fill the secondary cast.
The stereotypes don’t improve over the course of the book, and they’re rarely flushed out. In fact, their adopted names pretty much define their respective personalities. The male, Brainbox is a nerd, and SeeThrough, is of Asian descent with ninja training. There are others, but they’re so bland I’ve forgotten about them. So whilst you can give Weitz credit for his fast paced approach and having a reasonable attempt at making this book standout from Gone, its characters are something that drags it down a lot, preventing it from being great. Because of this, Its merely OK. Be it the enjoyable kind of OK and a fun way to pass the time – but still, it never reaches the height of greatness.
And the problems don’t stop there. Depending on your tolerance for pop culture references, you may find this a bigger issue than others, but they just keep on coming in this book, with everything from Game of Thrones to Justin Bieber being covered. Characters describe fighting like moves from ‘Movie X’, which can be frustrating if you’ve never seen the movie in question. Again, this could be argued that teenagers make a lot of pop culture references, but it sometimes doesn’t always work as well as it should, and hopefully this is a lesson that Weitz learns in the next book.
However, if you can put the problems aside, The Young World manages to be an enjoyable read. It’s very much a brain-switched off adventure, with Michael Bay’s Transformers movies or the World War Z movie being comparable in terms of scale. They’re entertaining, but not too serious. Depending on your attitude towards these sort of things, this just may be your type of book. If not, stay clear.