Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review: Partials by Dan Wells

Dystopian fiction for teens has become so popular, it seems like everything now that doesn't have vampires or werewolves in it is set in a dystopian future. Dystopia is defined here as:

 DYSTOPIA (dystopic)An imagined universe (usually the future of our own world) in which a worst-case scenario is explored; the opposite of utopia. Dystopic stories have been especially influential on postmodernism, as writers and film-makers imagine the effects of various aspects of our current postmodern condition, for example, the world's take-over by machines (The Matrix); the social effects of the hyperreal (Neuromancer); a society completely run by media commercialism (The Running Man); the triumph of late capitalism (Blade Runner); bureaucratic control run amok (Brazil, 1984); and so on. 

Obvious examples include Suzanne Collins' wildly popular "Hunger Games" and the first dystopian series I remember reading, "The Shadow Children" by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Set in a future world where people are only allowed to have two children, the books are the story of secret third children. Other notable titles are "House of the Scorpion" by Nancy Farmer (a superb book, I don't want to tell you about it-- it's one you should just discover as you go. and "The Giver" by Lois Lowry, a disturbing story of a future where people are given community assignments and one young boy is assigned to apprentice with the community's Giver, who alone feels all the pain and joy of life. I'm sure there are many more.
Tonight I finished first in a new dystopian series cryptically titled "Partials"by Dan Wells. Wells is a genius at taking something popular and putting his unique stamp on it, twisting familiar themes (murder, mystery, etc.) into something completely unique. I'm a huge fan of his John Cleaver books, "I am Not a Serial Killer", "I Don't Want to Kill You" and "Mr. Monster", which are about a 14-year old boy who assists his mother in her morgue and is obsessed with serial killers. Recognizing his own sociopathic personality traits, he creates a rigid set of rules for himself to avoid ever actually becoming a killer. When people in town start dying, naturally he can't stop himself from investigating. There's mystery, science fiction and genuine characterization in these books that drew me in immediately. I like them better every time I go back and read them again. They have been compared to the "Dexter" series, but are so much better executed and unique that they stand out on their own.

Not sure what to expect from a Dan Wells YA title, though the cover is compelling and the title gives away very little (like a good movie trailer), I picked up "Partials" and started out. I admit, I was a little nervous. I don't like to read a lot of what's trendy, and since dystopian fiction is everywhere, I hesitated with this one. Also, I haven't read a lot of crossover authors and enjoyed both their adult and YA books. I really wanted to like it, and I was afraid I might not. Silly librarian. 

I haven't been doing as much reading lately as I used to (a serious repercussion of working at a library-- go figure) so I took a little time getting into the story, but once it gets going it is compelling and exciting and the characters are each unique and likeable. I don't want to spoil anything here, so I don't dare say too much. There was one twist-type-thing that I guessed right away (surprisingly-- usually I'm way off), and I was glad to see that Dan isn't afraid to kill off characters (that's not a spoiler, is it?); the death of characters (like my beloved Agent Colson in The Avengers- boo hoo!! Oh... if you haven't seen that movie, sorry for the spoiler AND what-- are you living in a cave? Get out more, people!!) can lend a feeling of authenticity to a story, where everyone always surviving becomes increasingly unrealistic as a story progresses. The  book is also intelligent-- methinks Dan's a smarty-pants. Sometimes I had to go back and skim over a previously read paragraph to make sure I was getting all the medical and sciency stuff. 

I did like the book, I will read the next in the series when it comes out, but I have to say it's not as good as the John Cleaver stuff. Though it really isn't fair to compare them, one being blood-and-guts-for-grownups and one being dystopian-future-for-teens. 

On a related note, I am heartbroken that I won't be going to Dan's big huzzah-huzzah book signing tomorrow night at Sam Weller's books in SLC for the release of his new novel, "The Hollow City", which sounds like a psychological thrill ride, and I can't wait to get my hands on it. I will be working. Yep. The evening before the 4th of July, I will be at my post at the library, a mere 25 minutes away, probably bored out of my mind and frustrated that I won't get to met Dan (and maybe Brandon Sanderson, be still my WOT-fan heart) and get my books signed (or as Dan cleverly puts it, "defaced"). 

If I can finagle it, I will go down to Orem for the signing at Barnes & Noble on July 23rd, but it isn't looking good. For one thing, crowds make me nervous; new experiences make me nervous (and I've never been to a book signing. As my sister eloquently put it-- "will it be full of weirdos?" And what about the book? Do I pre-order it? Do I buy one and bring it with me? Will he think I'm a crazy fan-middle-aged-girl if I bring my sack of already purchased Dan Wells books? Will there be a massive line?? Should I go early?); driving to Utah County makes me nervous (I've lived in Tooele County for 15 years-- I'm spoiled on roads that don't feel like I'm playing the live-action version of Burnout With Road Construction); parking in crowded places makes me nervous; but I digress. 

If you're already a fan of dystopian fiction at all, and even if you're not, you will probably like "Partials". The story is compelling and the end is very satisfying, while leaving the reader intrigued about where the characters will go next. Check it out!


Steph said...

UPDATE: My amazing boss told me I can leave at 6:30-- two hours early-- to go to the signing tonight. Hooray! I can't wait to get my hands on the new book, and though I'm nervous about the logistics of the whole thing, I'm so excited! I have a great boss, I must say.

Steph said...

Another UPDATE: I just realized I didn't write anything even resembling a synopsis of "Partials". I ought to do that... I guess you could just read the one on, though. :)