Monday, September 20, 2010

"Those That Wake" by Jesse Karp

Summary: Mal is not one to turn down a fight, and he doesn't think much about his new foster parents.  But when he gets an unexpected phone call from his estranged brother late one night, he sets out to find him.  Instead, he discovers a strange building, empty except for floors fulled of unmarked doors.

Laura has been raised by doting and supportive parents, and she's surprised when, the morning of an interview, her parents keep out of touch while on vacation.  When she finally does discover them, her parents don't recognize her any more.  In fact, no one Laura knew remembers her.

Mal and Laura find themselves thrust together with two others--Remak, an agent for a research organization, and Mike, a jaded high school teacher--as they try to discover what is happening to the country and why they are being singled out.

Musings: Those That Wake is an unexpectedly engrossing dystopia that, while not earth-shattering in its secrets and world-building, is fast-paced and different enough to entertain even over-loaded dystopian readers.  The protagonists, Mal and Laura, are sympathetic characters, despite their opposite upbringings.  They're reminiscent of the good girl/"bad" guy pairing of Connor and Risa in Unwind, though Mal's "fighter" persona is more fully realized in this novel.

Mal and Laura are a little older than typical young adult protagonists (both are 17), and because they are more mature, the book reads somewhat different than others of the genre.  Mal's troubled upbringing and the callousness of his mother seems real, as do the gritty details of his various physical fights throughout the novel.  Laura, in being both over-protected and well-prepared by her parents, also seems like a real suburban teenager.  Perhaps the least likely aspect of their characters is the ease at which they grow to like each other, but there's no overt romance to shadow the story.

The mystery of what has brought these people together forms the central focus of the novel, as it should be.  It's clear there is a connection among various forces, specifically in New York City, which is causing problems not just for the main characters but for the entire world.  It felt a lot like the idea of "the Pattern" in Fringe, and I particularly liked that aspect of the novel.

Like in many mysteries, dystopias and horror movies, the truth behind the weirdness of what is happening in Those That Wake is somewhat less exciting than the weirdness itself.  Much of the science-fiction explanations in the novel are based off the concept of groupthink (to use a 1984 term), and, although well-explained, I first thought the ideas a bit far-fetched.  But then I remembered an article I had read in the New York Times in which a social scientist, Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, reported that “Your happiness depends not just on your choices and actions, but also on the choices and actions of people you don’t even know who are one, two and three degrees removed from you...There’s kind of an emotional quiet riot that occurs and takes on a life of its own, that people themselves may be unaware of. Emotions have a collective existence — they are not just an individual phenomenon” ("Strangers May Cheer You Up, Study Says" by Pam Belluck, 12/4/2008). Like the researchers discussed in the newspaper article, Those That Wake explores the ways in which we, as humans, are subconsciously affected by those around us.  The connection between the science fiction and real science made the novel even more interesting.

The main enemy in the novel, "big corporations," was a bit vague for me.  However, I enjoyed the pacing and characterization of the novel and would recommend it to others.

Those That Wake will be published in March 2011.

E-galley received by the publisher through Net Galley for my honest review.

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