Author: Katie Kacvinsky
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Released: 23rd May 2011
Rating: 3.5/4 out of 5
Awaken had been on my computer for quite some time up until this point. I'd started it two or three times but for one reason or another was never able to go beyond the first couple of paragraphs. I'm glad to say I finally sat down and read this properly. It was definitely worth it, although I'm still not sure what rating this truly deserves.
The year is 2060 and technology has taken over. Hardly anyone goes out anymore. Instead, they go to school, work, the beach, anywhere they want, all from the safety of their own homes. Why wouldn't they, when anything outside can be virtually replicated, able to be experienced without stepping a foot outside the front door? Madeline Freeman, however, wants more. And when online studymate Justin Solvi insists on them meeting face to face, she can hardly believe it. She is shocked when she discovers his motive for seeking her out...not to mention confused when he opens her eyes to the lie her life is, and to everything she's missed out on.
This isn't quite like other dystopias I've read. Generally you have a regimental government exercising total control over society, or a set societal hierarchy in which a particular group is considered an outcast, illegal, inferior. At least, that's what I've come across. In Awaken, Katie Kacvinsky provides a different take on dystopia, focusing more on how technology dominates. While there is a controlling government, it is not as high on the extreme scale. Having said that, dystopia also means a society in which a key problem is causing it to be dysfunctional, and there are certainly problems here. The world Kacvinsky has created is frighteningly possible. Today, each day brings with it a newer, faster, (supposedly) better piece of technology. And with these developments, we become lazier and dependent; we demand instant gratification, and that is exactly what this book points out. Here, people have lost the ability to actually live life. It always strikes me as ironic that, despite these societies being set in the future, they are far more backward in some way than we are today. The author has crafted this well, although I would have liked to see some more world-building: there were times when it felt very current.
I liked Maddie well enough. She was a little self-contradictory - she doesn't like her dad controlling her, yet when offered the chance to make a change, is more comfortable with following a determined path. But at the same time, she is strong. Strong enough to know what was wrong with her life at 15 and act on it; strong enough to step out of her comfort zone and meet Justin two years later. I also couldn't help but share in her sadness. Her dad, inventor of the digital school and consequent millionairre, is the very definition of controlling tyrant. While I understood the distrust he had for his daughter (someone's daughter stealing their secret files and giving them to the opposition is bound to do that to a person), what I couldn't understand was how potent, almost toxic, that distrust was two years on. What father, however unforgiving, bugs his daughter and has her followed? What father checks and triple checks every aspect of his daughter's life, all the way down to the number of people in her study group?
The relationship between Justin and Maddie was incredibly well-paced. I thought Maddie was too quick to let Justin get under her skin, but that was balanced by the distance he put between them. I liked that his character was consistent - it's obvious that he does actually care for Maddie, but he warns her it can't happen between them, and lives by his word. When he eventually gives in, the relationship between them is sweet. I loved how he was always taking the time to give Maddie new experiences. Her reactions to these I particularly enjoyed because it gave me a whole new appreciation for life. Everything we take for granted - from the colours around us, to fire, to to the grass beneath our feet - she appreciates and respects. Even a scratched, creaky wooden floor. As ridiculous as it sounds, what we see as flawed, something beneath our notice except to be annoyed about, she saw as a sign of history. I loved seeing things from a new, fresh perspective.
Overall, Awaken was an engaging read. Even though it perhaps wasn't what I was expecting, I still enjoyed it. There were sizable chunks where perhaps not much happened, yet Kacvinsky managed to pull it off and keep me reading nevertheless. I'm definitely looking forward to the second one.