Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review: Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Title: Enclave
Author: Ann Aguirre
Genre: YA, Dystopia, Zombies, Post-Apocalyptic

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publishing Date: April 12th 2011
Hardcover: 259 pages

Stand Alone or series: Book one of the Razorland trilogy

In Deuce’s world, people earn the right to a name only if they survive their first fifteen years. By that point, each unnamed ‘brat’ has trained into one of three groups–Breeders, Builders, or Hunters, identifiable by the number of scars they bear on their arms. Deuce has wanted to be a Huntress for as long as she can remember.

As a Huntress, her purpose is clear—to brave the dangerous tunnels outside the enclave and bring back meat to feed the group while evading ferocious monsters known as Freaks. She’s worked toward this goal her whole life, and nothing’s going to stop her, not even a beautiful, brooding Hunter named Fade. When the mysterious boy becomes her partner, Deuce’s troubles are just beginning.

Down below, deviation from the rules is punished swiftly and harshly, and Fade doesn’t like following orders. At first she thinks he’s crazy, but as death stalks their sanctuary, and it becomes clear the elders don’t always know best, Deuce wonders if Fade might be telling the truth. Her partner confuses her; she’s never known a boy like him before, as prone to touching her gently as using his knives with feral grace.

As Deuce’s perception shifts, so does the balance in the constant battle for survival. The mindless Freaks, once considered a threat only due to their sheer numbers, show signs of cunning and strategy… but the elders refuse to heed any warnings. Despite imminent disaster, the enclave puts their faith in strictures and sacrifice instead. No matter how she tries, Deuce cannot stem the dark tide that carries her far from the only world she’s ever known.

Deuce has spent her whole life underground. Living with her enclave in the old subway tunnels, Deuce and her people fight every day just to survive. Separated into three professions, breeders, builders, and hunters, Deuce spent her whole life preparing to be a huntress. She dreamed of risking her life fighting "Freaks" (zombie like creatures) in order to provide for her clan and protect her people. When she gets her wish though, Deuce is about to learn that sometimes getting what you want is not all sunshine and roses (not that she would know what either of those things were of course). First she's given a strange partner Fade, then she's punished harshly for something she didn't do, and then she's forced to face her biggest challenge yet: going topside. Once there, Deuce is about to learn that not everything she was taught about the world is correct and that there are worse monsters than Freaks.

This review jumped the line because I needed to rant about it. This review may be triggering for sexual violence. While the book does not depict any non-consensual acts, it and this review talk about rape and children.

Even though this book had a lot of things going for it, at the end it felt incomplete. It just lacked...something. The first third of the book started off well and the characters were well fleshed out for the most part. Yeah the "bad" guys were completely one dimensional, but things were interesting. The reader gets to learn about Deuce and her strange world and the zombie like creatures that threaten everything. I never felt like Aguirre was info-dumping either which I enjoyed. As the story moved on though, I found myself less and less enthralled with the story.

I really noticed I was less inclined to want to finish the book when Deuce and Fade traveled topside. For one, I just couldn't buy into the gang clans Aguirre created. Not only is it hard for me to accept that women would be so completely subjected by a bunch of children, but I also have a hard time believing kids who die so young would be so obsessed with "breeders." Maybe I'm just being difficult, but it seemed like laziness on Aguirre's part. I'm really supposed to believe Deuce is the only girl capable of fighting the gangs? While this may be one of those weird "this is the way it seems but later I'll reveal it's all a LIE!" techniques, I just didn't buy this scenario. In response to the gangs there should have been...something to counteract their power. Maybe a crazy nunnery? Or some modern Amazons or something. I don't know. Maybe it's the humorless feminist in me, but I have a hard time accepting stories where women are so easily reduced to powerless children. Then there's the gang leader, Stalker, who kidnaps Deuce and Fade with the intention of raping and breeding one and hunting the other. Except instead of being treated with disgust and contempt, Deuce actually tells a child who was raped by Stalker's gang, repeatedly for two years with his permission, that she needs to get over it because he has to travel with them now. The girl, Tegan, is also repeatedly called weak throughout the story and it really rubbed me the wrong way. While Deuce does eventually have some pseudo-empathy near the end of the story, her apathy made me disconnect with her as a character and I wasn't able to really root for her anymore. As if that was enough of a slap in the face, Stalker then gets into some weird love triangle with Deuce and Fade.

Yes really.

Ann Aguirre, just in case you ever come across this I would like to speak to you directly for a moment if I could. This little Stalker-Deuce-Fade thing is not okay. Hopefully this situation will be laid to rest in the next book, but I'm tired of books that say it doesn't matter how bad he is because all people can be redeemed. I'm sorry, but no. Redemption does not come before healing and Tegan's treatment was horrendous. In fact, I'd love to know if you think all rape victims should put it behind them. Today's a new day right? The more I think about this in fact, the more it enrages me. I kind of want to just yell "SCREW YOU," but I'll try to show a little more restraint than that. Also, I'll let you in a little secret: we're all around you. With rape statistics as high as they are, there's a very good chance a lot of your readers will be sexual assault survivors. (If someone is assaulted every two minutes in America and 44% of those victims are under eighteen, there's a pretty damn good chance.) While the scene made some sense in relation to the story, did it never occur to you that it seemed callous of rape victims in general? I just can't get over this. Part of me feels like I'm overreacting, but the other part thinks this is another way rape victims are told to remain silent. Telling people to put things behind them and not get too upset when it makes things difficult for the people around them is another way of erasing their experiences. And it's wrong. Period.

Alright that's enough about that.

Basically, the book goes on with a lot of rambling and ends with a non-ending. Oh but I can't forget about the strange turn to the supernatural, the brief work of a rebel group, and the deus ex machina ending. At the end of the book I felt like this was a another trilogy that didn't need to be a trilogy. While Enclave is filled with lots of stuff, nothing really happens and the reader walks away without knowing any of the big questions a story like this creates.It felt like Aguirre never really extrapolated any of the themes in her book. The zombie like creatures getting smarter, the child gangs, the degradation of women, the insistence fighting is the only type of strength,  how sometimes people do the right thing for the wrong reasons, etc. There were so many missed opportunities in this book. There were also some inconsistencies that bothered me throughout the story (like Deuce not being able to read well but easily reading the beginning of a book). While I wish more authors would write about boys and girls who remain friends, rather than throwing a love story in every book, I did think Aguirre wrote Deuce and Fade's relationship pretty well. I just can't get over the Stalker thing. Seriously, it's insulting to the reader to assume we have the memory capacity of a gold fish or that we're incapable of feeling any empathy for rape victims. This book has been compared to The Hunger Games (shocking), but the only thing they really have in common is that both heroines have a serious lack of depth when it comes to emotions.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

The book did have a lot of lovely little passages. For example:
Doors blocked off tiny rooms, except for the one, where the metal hung askew, revealing a squat chair with a hole in it. Curiosity got the best of me, then overwhelming disgust.
A good huntress respected her partners instincts, even if he was socially ignorant.
And I mustn't forget Deuce's big epiphany:
There were different kinds of strength. I knew that now. It didn't always come from a knife or a willingness to fight. Sometimes it came from endurance, where the well ran deep and quiet. Sometimes it came from compassion and forgiveness.

First half was much stronger than the second. This was made worse by the fact the two characters the reader connects most with barely talk to one another in the second half. This book would have easily been a six based on the first half (and I still feel generous with a four rating). Too bad it ends with a fizzle and showed a serious lack of respect for the victims of sexual violence. Especially children.

Rating: 4. Bad, but for some reason I still needed to know what happens in the end

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