THE FORSAKEN (Forsaken #1)
Lisa M. Stasse
Simon & Schuster
Received from author for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
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 is one of those stories that causes us to become increasingly introspective as events unfold, forcing us to take a good long look at ourselves as individuals as we wonder if the things we value about who we are would stand a fighting chance of survival were we to be dropped into the middle of a largely lawless society. The line between the drones with their messiah-like leader and the villagers that quickly take Alenna under their wing seems so clearly drawn, our confidence that we would obviously be on the side of sanity and rationality slowly deteriorating the more time we spend with Alenna on the island, and we read on feeling the full weight of our own conscience as we can’t help but ask ourselves difficult questions about what we might be willing do or believe if it meant staying alive.
The terrifying world into which Alenna is so brutally thrust when she’s sentenced to a life destined to be horrifically truncated is a captivating one, the inherent distrust and island politics as intriguing to us as the myriad of mysteries the island itself harbors. Our minds churn frantically from the moment Alenna awakens disoriented in the same place she saw the day before through the safety of a video feed, constantly theorizing as to who is responsible for Alenna’s predicament and what the ultimate purpose is for isolating certain individuals. Ms. Stasse adeptly places breadcrumb after breadcrumb before us, giving us a solid path to follow without ever being completely obvious, ensuring we feel as though we’ve accomplished something when one question is answered even as numerous new questions spring forth from the latest revelations.
While the world of the wheel and the “what would I do” questions it raises keep us invested in the story, the character relationships leave just a touch to be desired. Attachments seem to form rather quickly despite the rampant trust issues each resident of the blue sector suffers from, and though we more than understand Alenna’s desperate need to believe in those around her so she can find some small sliver of comfort amidst the suffocating darkness of the unknown, the lightening-fast relationships formed between her and Liam as well as her and Gadya have us raising our brows slightly in question. Gadya seems to run through a full gamut of emotions on a daily basis, friendly one moment and then threatening the next, making it difficult for us to draw on the strength of their friendship when danger and death find them. Alenna’s romance with Liam is much the same, the love between them bursting forth suddenly and seemingly without warning before it’s ripped away and we’re left slightly confused and hollow.
Despite our reservations as to the authenticity and genuineness of the characters’ affections both romantically and platonically, The Forsaken is a strong dystopian read that leaves us craving more – more answers, more time with the characters, and more breadcrumbs to lead us on the right path to solving another mystery. Ms. Stasse has created a world we are profoundly happy we can escape at any moment unlike Alenna and company, but even as we walk away when the real world calls, we find our minds lingering back on the wheel and all its disturbing complexities.