For Teen Dystopia Week and the YA Dystopian Reading Challenge, I’ve been doing a lot of dystopia in a little time. And here’s the downside: I wouldn’t recommend it as a reading program to anyone. For the generally happy (yes, that means YOU), I say space out these reads – they’re heavy emotional fare, and more than a little mood-altering. If I hadn’t made a commitment to get a certain number done during the week, you can bet your right hand (or whatever body part you like to bet…maybe your left eyelid, for instance?) that I’d be interspersing them with lots of romance and high fantasy.
It’s not that they’re not awesome. Because for the most part they are. It’s just that I find equilibrium in my real life AND my reading life when I go by that old proverb ‘everything in moderation.’ Actually, I’m pretty sure humanity could avoid the apocalypse and a dystopian future if they stuck to that rule. Not to get all philosophical or, you know, serious.
So back to the topic at hand: Robin Wasserman’s novel Skinned. I have to get this off my chest. I’ve been spoiled for life. Spoiled by The Hunger Games, 1984, The Giver, The Knife of Never Letting Go, and even Unwind and Uglies in their own way. All of these are examples of truly magnificent (or at least entertaining and heart-stopping) dystopian literature. Books to make you agonize, and think, and question the rules of the world, and at the end sit back and acknowledge that the author has brought characters to life, made you care about them, made you feel their pain, and made you INVEST in the horrible reality of their worlds.
With Skinned I couldn’t quite take the leap. I was impressed by the premise – when I read the description I could imagine many disturbing, wonderful ways to take the story. What I ended up feeling was incomprehension and disconnection.
Lia Kahn was perfect: rich, beautiful, popular -- until the accident that nearly killed her. Now she has been downloaded into a new body that only looks human. Lia will never feel pain again, she will never age, and she can't ever truly die. But she is also rejected by her friends, betrayed by her boyfriend, and alienated from her old life.
Forced to the fringes of society, Lia joins others like her. But they are looked at as freaks. They are hated...and feared. They are everything but human, and according to most people, this is the ultimate crime -- for which they must pay the ultimate price.
Part of the problem is that the description seems misleading. If I had to try the reading experience over, I’d go in completely blind, without expecting anything – and certainly not a dystopian tale or a society turns against the machines story like the blurb suggests. Because this is a character-driven novel, lived mostly inside one girl’s head. Naturally, it’s rather self-absorbed (ha ha). And partly because I expect what I’m offered in a book jacket description, I had a dissatisfying reading experience.
I could probably write another couple thousand words on why I’m not happy and why I want my time back. But I’m not going to. First of all, those words belong to NaNoWriMo (come find me – I’m ‘celialarsen’). And second of all, I gather that this is the first in the series. You know what? Skinned’s description probably (hopefully) fits the overall story arc to a T. And third of all, different strokes for different folks. I know that somewhere out there, this is someone’s favorite book of all time. It fell flat for me, but it might change someone else’s world. I can respect that.
NOTE: For an in-depth look at the issues in Skinned, with emphasis on series potential, check out The Book Smugglers' review.
If you’ve read Skinned (and especially if you had a strong reaction to it – love or hate), please hit me up in the comments. I’d love to know your thoughts!