Thursday, May 1, 2008


by Julie Bertagna
Walker & Company
Reviewed by Melissa

This book has a brilliant concept: it's 2100, the ice caps at the top of the world have melted, and on the island of Wing, they're scraping for survival. Until 15-year-old Mara convinces them it's time to leave and head toward New Mungo, a city built above the water when the Earth first started flooding. The islanders get there, only to find out that the city is closed to all refugees and there's nowhere else to go. After the death of her best friend, Mara gets desperate, and finds a way beyond the walls, only to find a society of people living in the Netherworld under the sky city. It's up to her to find a way to rescue her friends and find a home for everyone where they can start again and live a better life than the half-existence they have now.

It's an excellent dystopian fiction premise, using global warming (instead of a nuclear holocaust or disease) as the catalyst for a new society. And Bertagna has some great dystopian elements: the overbearing, controlling society; the half-animal beings that have perpetuated under the sky city; the society that has formed, complete with a savior mythos; the desperate heroine, intent upon saving the world, which always comes with a cost. There's action, there's despair. There's dank, smelly, toxic waters. There's the secret police.

So, why am I not completely thrilled by this book?

Primarily, I think it was the tense that the book was written in. For some reason, present tense always bugs me. For example (completely random sentence): "Mara stops because all she really wanted was to see her friends before the island barricades itself indoors again." That drives me nuts. I think I want my action to have happened (it's not currently happening while I'm reading it; it happened previously, before the book was written) when I read a book. It took me about half the book before I stopped being distracted by the verb tense. Not a good omen.

Additionally, I felt the characters were a bit wooden (though I admit this might have a bit to do with my tense hang-up). There was a love story that I completely missed (They were in love? When did that happen?). The action fell flat. The underworld society wasn't compelling enough. The character that could have been sinister and life-threatening didn't seem sinister, but more like an annoying bully. The foundation was there for everything to soar, and it just never quite took off.

All that said, the idea is a brilliant one. And since global warming is here to stay, perhaps someone else can write a better global warming dystopian novel than this one.


Eva said...

I hate books written in present tense too! I remember trying to read Killer Angels in high school, and so many people had recommended it to me, but I had to give up after about twenty pages, because the tense bothered me so much. :)

Anonymous said...

That is really strange to me. Verb tense doesn't bother me at all. In some cases I like it better, because the past tense adds an element of story-telling that doesn't always need to be there.