Other than zombies, the new cool thing in fiction is dystopian settings. Nowhere is this more evident than in the young adult genre, fueled by the success of The Hunger Games. With so much out there to choose from, I’ve gotten kind of picky as to what really works for me in such a book. Article 5 is a serviceable dystopian novel, but doesn’t rise above the crowd.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., have been abandoned.
The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes.
There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior—instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested usually don’t come back.
Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren’t always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it’s hard for her to forget that people weren’t always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. It’s hard to forget that life in the United States used to be different.
Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the military. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow.
That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings…the only boy Ember has ever loved.”
One of the most important parts of a dystopian novel is the setting. It’s the world around the characters that really defines the story and gives it the momentum that it needs to hold its own. This book had some interesting idea, such as the morality clauses and the re-education facilities. Unfortunately, the author makes no attempt to give readers any information about how this world came to be. I recognize that this is the first of a trilogy and answers will likely be forthcoming, but it’s frustrating to get almost no information in this first novel, which should be building the framework for what is to come.
Related to this, I feel that dystopian novels work better if the main characters spend a good amount of time within the society and exploring it before moving beyond (or outside of) it. In Article 5, Ember is yanked out of mainstream life within the first few pages and never gets back. By keeping her on the inside for a while, the author could have established her society strongly and made a real impression. As it is, readers only get little snippets of information. Again, I find this frustrating. Balancing that, however, is the fact that what Ember finds “on the outside”—the re-education facilities, the squatters outside of the cities—is painted vividly and does make an impression.
Ember herself is yet another contradiction. On the one hand, she’s pretty strong. She stands up for herself and survives in some pretty intense situations. On the other hand, she comes across as lacking in good sense. She continually gets into situations that she can’t handle, and she gets there through actions that are, frankly, stupid. It’s like the author has written Ember as so singularly focused on finding her mother that she literally can’t process anything else. This may also explain her antagonistic relationship with Chase, who shoulders the brunt of her emotions and bails her out of more than a few dangerous situations.
I had a lot of conflicting opinions about this novel, which explains my lackluster response to it. I wanted more out of it than I got, and so I would characterize this book as one of missed opportunities. I’ll probably see if I can read the next novel, since the premise does have promise, but I do hope that the author gives readers something meatier next time around. Article 5 is passable, but it needs to reach higher to distinguish itself in the throng of dystopian novels surrounding it.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on May 11, 2012.