Wasteland: Wasteland Trilogy
In the dusty and hot town of Prin, the inhabitants work daily to find the scraps of the past that will keep them alive. Everyone takes turns Harvesting, Gleaning and Excavating; looking for the resources, especially gasoline, that can be exchanged for food and water at the Source. Even taking care to avoid the dangers of the blazing sun and the poisoned rain, living past 19 years old is almost unheard of. Esther, a young outlier in Prin, ignores her duties, instead spending her time with her best friend, a "variant" named Skar. But when a stranger named Caleb comes to town, her immediate connection to him, her knowledge of the variants and her natural rebellion may get her killed...or save her life.
"[O]verall, the story is intriguing and the characters interesting enough to satisfy young readers looking for an apocalyptic adventure or a fun speculative story about a scary world world without grown-ups."
Esther is the heroine of WASTELAND, the new futuristic dystopian novel by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan. Drawing on common themes in both coming of age and apocalyptic novels, Kim and Klavan add some interesting touches in this book, the first in a trilogy. While readers don’t learn much about the past and the seeming destruction of civilization in WASTELAND, there are clues and Esther is a compelling guide through the devastated landscape of Prin and beyond.
Even before Caleb comes to town, seeking revenge for the death of his partner and the kidnapping of his son, tensions were rising in Prin. The variants, mutated humans who live in the mountains, having little to do with the townspeople, have begun a series of violent attacks against the people in town and resources are running out. But Caleb’s arrival signals the beginning of change in Prin and its relationship to the Source. The Source is the domain of Levi. Once a close friend of Esther’s older sister Sarah, Levi has spent the last few years isolated from the town, surrounded by armed guides and hoarding the water and food that have kept the people of Prin alive. They all work for Levi, harvesting gas, gleaning materials and working on a mysterious excavation project. Now Levi has reached out to Sarah, wooing her in hopes of getting the book he has been searching for. But Caleb, with Esther’s help, is capable of wrecking Levi’s plans for total control. While working together, Caleb and Esther fall in love and “partner” with each other in a commitment ceremony. It is one of the features of this future world that by the time they are about 15 years old, couples partner and begin their families. And the bonds of family are the strongest motivations for several of the characters here, though friendship, survival and morality factor in as well.
There is a lot of good adventure and drama (and of course romance) in WASTELAND. The arrival of Caleb forces Prin to assess its relationship to the variants and to Levi, which builds some interesting tension. The action is swift; Esther moves from a young girl shirking her responsibilities and playing with her friend, to a married woman in less than 300 pages, and the transition seems abrupt. But the world that the authors have created seems to justify that quick change. Still, it seems that all the secrets revealed and all the relationships transformed could’ve been teased out more slowly over the course of the series; by the end it is hard to envision what the next two books have in store. The writing is sometimes clumsy and the characters and setting are in need of some fleshing out (the backstory of Prin and how the society reached this horrific situation is left a mystery) but overall, the story is intriguing and the characters interesting enough to satisfy young readers looking for an apocalyptic adventure or a fun speculative story about a scary world world without grown-ups.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on April 3, 2013