Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book Review: The Woodlands by Lauren Nicolle Taylor

The fiercely defiant face of Rosa on the cover was what drew my initial curiosity about this book. Once I started reading, I was sucked into the The Woodlands, a dystopian thriller full of defiance, love, adaptation, and hope in the face of oppressive circumstances. 

The Woodlands

By Lauren Nicolle Taylor

(The ebook is free on Amazon right now, by the way.)

Goodreads Summary:
When being unique puts you in danger and speaking your mind can be punishable by death, you might find yourself fighting to survive. Sixteen-year-old Rosa lives in one of the eight enclosed cities of The Woodlands. Where the lone survivors of a devastating race war have settled in the Russian wilderness because it’s the only scrap of land left habitable on the planet. In these circular cities, everyone must abide by the law or face harsh punishment. Rosa's inability to conform and obey the rules brands her a leper and no one wants to be within two feet of her, until she meets Joseph. He's blonde, fair-skinned, green-eyed, and the laid-back complete opposite of Rosa. She's never met anyone quite like him, and she knows that spells danger.
But differences weren't always a bad thing. People used to think being unique was one of the most treasured of traits to have. Now, the Superiors, who ruthlessly control the concrete cities with an iron fist, are obsessed with creating a 'raceless' race. They are convinced this is the only way to avoid another war. Any anomalies must be destroyed.
The Superiors are unstoppable and can do anything they want. After all, they are considered superheroes by the general public. But not everyone sees them this way. When they continue to abuse their power by collecting young girls for use in their secret, high-tech breeding program, they have no idea that one of those girls has somehow managed to make friends even she didn't know she had. And one man will stop at nothing to save her.

Since this is a dystopian novel, let's talk about how this futuristic society works:
  • The Superiors want absolute loyalty, and in order to create that loyalty, it must dissolve all other competing loyalties that each person has: family, ethnicity, common history - things that bring people together against outside forces such as the oppressive government. 
  • Children are taken away from parents at the age of 18 (or sooner, if the parents have another kid - only one child per household) to learn a trade, and to leave their hometown forever. This destroys any loyalties a person may hold for their family or home community. 
  • Children are indoctrinated from a young age with pro-government lines and pledges. 
  • The government has a goal of creating a superior race: One race, created by the mixing of all the other races to create a race of people who look exactly the same. Their ideal look is that of light brown skin and blue eyes. It would be the perfect sort of nationalism - one in which the government is literally the creator and parent of each person. 
  • Marriage: people are matched with partners, usually from different hometowns and races, and they are expected to produce one child. The goal is that, given time, with enough racial mixing and ethnic erasing, the future generations will have no sense of ethnic identity. 

What I Liked:

  • I couldn't put the book down I love how Taylor sprinkles hints before shocking us with the revelation. The questions kept me going as I tried to piece together the hints. The story drops just enough hints for me to suspect there is something more than what's being shown, and even throw in a few guesses in the right direction before tying up the loose ends later on. 
  • Twists - They kept me on my toes. I kept reading to find out what was really going on. 
  • Rosa's smart and observant - She's good at seizing people up, but occasionally errs on the side of being too judgmental. We get to meet characters through her eyes, even when she turns out to be wrong. She is disgusted with weak-willed characters, partly because her mother failed to stand up to Rosa's cruel stepfather because she was too scared and meek. 
  • Most characters are more than they appear - There aren't really any two-dimensional characters here. The characters that surround Rosa may act a certain way (thus causing Rosa to form certain judgments), but they are hiding an inner complexity. There are no single-minded characters; everyone acts a certain way for a reason that isn't apparent at first. 
  • Rosa and Joseph don't hit it off right away - She's not going to be lovey-dovey right away. She has her own issues to deal with, especially considering her own personal history of being abandoned by her mother. Rosa struggles with her trust issues, but Joseph is patient and considerate. I would like to learn more about why Joseph is so devoted to Rosa, though. 
  • Clara isn't as naive as she sounds - As the perfect foil, Clara embodies the good and hope in the world to Rosa. "I know you don't understand it, Rosa, but I love this baby. I am her mother. That is a strong bond. My love is MY choice, don't ruin it. (111)" Where Rosa is mistrustful, Clara is trusting and optimistic. But that quote indicates that Clara is mindfully hopeful about motherhood - she's loving and hopeful because she chooses to be. Clara is a lot wiser than she shows with her light demeanor, and rises to protect Rosa in her motherly way. 
  • The concept of the maternal instinct is questioned - Rosa doesn't immediately feel the expected motherly love towards the fetus, which she refers to as "the leech." After having read through a lot of tropes about parental insta-love (which is pretty nice), finding this sort of ambiguity towards unplanned parenthood is refreshing and honest. 

What I Didn't Like:

  • There are certain coincidences that are rather convenient for the plot, especially concerning the placements, relocation, and matching of Rosa and Joseph. I can't talk too much about this without spoiling, so I'll leave it here.
Overall, I'm really glad I read The Woodlands. The writing here is amazing. Questions after questions led me throughout the book, and the answers, when given, packed an emotional punch. I didn't want to leave Rosa at the end of the book. I'm still dying to know what happens in the sequel, The Wall.

The society divided into circles (like districts), the oppressiveness of the governments and the weak mother coupled with the strong daughter are similarities that The Woodlands has with The Hunger Games. If you enjoyed The Hunger Games, then you'll probably enjoy this book too. 

To be honest, I liked The Woodlands more than The Hunger Games because the characterization is a lot more complex here, and the plot isn't limited to a survival, must-win game plot. 

My Rating:

Thanks for reading! Have you downloaded The Woodlands yet? It's a great book!

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