Available May 23rd
Received for review as part of the Cornucopia of Dystopia Blog Tour
Maddie lives in a world of online schooling and chat rooms, only leaving her house to play soccer before coming home again. Everything is computer-based now, and people have no need for personal contact, especially Maddie who is under the very careful watch of her father for betraying his trust two years before.
Though Maddie doesn't always agree with her father and his involvement in the creation of Digital School, a program that encourages online learning and greatly discourages face to face interactions, she loves her family and wishes to regain what she's lost. Keeping Maddie strictly online doesn't keep her from meeting Justin however, and he encourages her to meet with him at a local study group.
Justin introduces Maddie to a world long forgotten, one where people seek out other people for support and companionship, and one where they are fighting against the digital monster taking over everything they value. She quickly realizes they view her as a vital part of their fight, but aiding them in their cause will change everything Maddie knows and fully disconnect her from her previous way of life.
Awaken is a story fully befitting its title, forcing us to open our eyes and see just how easily this future could come to pass and how simple it would be to limit social interaction to strictly digital communications. Maddie's world is fascinating in its realism, its focus on electronic profiles and online chat rooms as substitutes for human to human contact incredibly apropos for this day and age, and we can't help but wonder how many years we have left before Awaken is no longer representative of our future but of our present. Who would we be if people only knew the characteristics and personality traits we wanted them to know, and only saw us through uploaded virtual representations and screen names? We could be anything and anyone we wanted to be at the touch of a finger, but as this story so beautifully points out, what a lonely existence that would be. No one would know the real person behind all the pixelated representations–the quirks and oddities that make us individuals would all be wiped out in a wave of digital illusion and perfection, and we then would cease to be people, instead only existing through a compilation of information we've deemed relevant.
Maddie is a thoroughly enjoyable heroine, a girl who is undoubtedly embedded in the comforts of the digital world but who is open minded enough to consider its detriments as well was its credits with regard to its effects on society as a whole. She is willful and confident, standing her ground when Justin and company ask her to betray her family in offering them her assistance to their cause despite her agreement with their views. When it comes to her attraction to Justin, Maddie exhibits an admirable persistence, refusing to allow him to keep his distance through pretty excuses and noble sentiments about it being what's best for her. She is smart, determined, loyal, and a girl we can only hope we meet again in a future installment.
While Maddie is a girl who earns our instant affection, Justin is a young man whose efforts to start a revolution we absolutely respect, but whose strict adherence to the rules he's set for himself frustrates us to no end. For an individual who dedicates his entire being and existence to affecting change, he is remarkably stubborn in welcoming it into his own life. He preaches the merits of human companionship and personal interaction but yet tries repeatedly to avoid those very things with Maddie. When eventually Maddie breaks through the massive shield he's erected around himself, he gloriously submits to the emotional and physical sensations for which he fights so resolutely, but then quickly thrusts his barriers back into place when he feels the moment has passed and proceeds to repeat this process several times over to our ever-increasing irritation.
Overall, Awaken is an intriguing debut from Ms. Kacvinsky despite Justin's somewhat hypocritical nature, one that has a premise that haunts us due to its undeniable applicability to our own lives, and one that has a main character about whom its a pleasure to read. The ending is left wide open, but not frustratingly incomplete, and we read the last page hoping this will not be our last foray into this world, but is merely the beginning of our experience.
Rating: 3.5 /5