Article 5 - Kristen Simmons
Ahh, what would dystopias be without sexism, misogyny, and heteronormativity?

(3.5 stars)

Content warnings:
ableist language
violence against women

My opinion of this book keeps going back and forth from positive to negative. I just can't make up my mind . . .
On one hand, I hate that authors think dystopias and oppressing women/traditional gender roles go hand in hand. It's a mindset and a trend I want to kill with fire. On the other hand, Kristen Simmons really tries to turn a few annoying (and sexist) cliches around, which is refreshing.

The beginning of this book is pretty sickening. Ember and several other girls are shoved into a bus by all-male soldiers who laugh at their pain and take enjoyment from teasing and mocking them. I get that this is to milk the atmosphere here, but I wish it didn't have to be done by using male dominance over women. Because why would I want to read a book where all the women are treated so horribly? Ember's mother is subjected to slut-shaming because of her free spirit and was treated badly by many of her boyfriends for that same reason. Like, okay, I get the book's dark. But is it too much to ask for a book that doesn't also create an unsafe place for women?

Speaking of, I'm incredibly FURIOUS about what happened to Rosa's character. How dare she be used as a prop to show off the reform school's (and the soldiers') cruelty? With her being the only explicitly-described woman of color, it's even more awful. Her vibrant character was only written that way so it could be beaten down and defeated.

Despite that I really don't like the whole (very intentional) misogynistic tone of the story, I do appreciate some of the messages presented, such as when Rosa tried to escape at the beginning. The soldier hit her, and Ember was horrified. Another girl said, "She's crazy." And Ember said, "She's crazy? Did you just see that he just--"

I can't begin to explain how much I loved those two little lines, because in real life victim-blaming happens all the time. Having the main character acknowledge and call out this behavior is amazing. It made me want to cheer (also, how sad is it that it's so rare for this to happen that it needs celebration?).

The "Whole Family - 1 man, 1 woman, & children" thing really shouldn't have surprised me, as it's kind of a standard for dystopias, but I wish authors wouldn't just forget about queer people when they write. I guess LGBTQIA+ folk just don't exist in this book/version of the USA. I'm also wondering about people who can't conceive. The Whole Family includes children, after all. Are those people violators?

The book's strongest point, by far, is Ember. I loved her more and more as the story progressed. She is so incredibly brave and strong and proactive, but she also reacts to things in very realistic ways--so much so that there were times I needed to pause and get myself back together (such as when she dropped the baton in the truck after the two men attacked them). I was SO invested in Ember and her mother's story.

It was when Ember made the plan to leave Chase because he seemed dangerous and frightening that I fell in love with her. This woman is amazing. A female YA protagonist sticking up for herself and putting HER SAFETY before her love interest? I wanted to jump up and cheer for her. I know things didn't end up like she planned, but she made that choice herself. Also, my FAVORITE LINES (which may be more Kristen Simmons than Ember): Chase: "But while we're together, you don't have to be afraid of me. I won't hurt you. I promise I will never hurt you." And Ember thinks, there were plenty of ways to hurt someone without using your fists. Either way, it's one example of the way Kristen Simmons tries to fix some troublesome cliches that run rampant in so many YA books.

Chase is . . . more complicated (although, a leading MoC! I may have screamed). He's another rough love interest with a heart of gold that comes standard to YA fiction these days, and it wasn't long before I got really tired of the way he was written. Specifically, "his face darkened," "his eyes darkened," etc. I think they made up 80 percent of his facial descriptions. He was surrounded by a lot of vague descriptors in general (i.e., "Chase cradled my name as though it was an injured bird." ?).

I'm also FURIOUS that the whole plot ended up being about him. With such a great MC like Ember, this turn came like a physical blow. I'm trying to keep this from being too spoilery, but Chase keeps important information from Ember to "protect" her. What's revealed basically makes the plot's catalyst all about him and not about Ember or her mother. I'm furious. Screw women's pain being used to motivate men or punish men. Readers should feel for women and their stories without them needing to motivate a man's story. This is saying far too much already, so I'll stop here.

I'm being unfairly cranky, maybe.
I LOVE Ember. And I LOVE her mother.
And my very favorite moments were when Chase and Ember encountered people along their journey to the carrier--the way each person reacted to Ember and Chase, their situations, and the whole dystopian country in general. There was a lot of thought behind the way those different people reacted to the same events, and it was really wonderful to read.

There were just too many YA dystopian cliches (sexism, heteronormativity, child regulation, heavy romance, missing parent, and a resistance group called The Resistance thrown in the last 1/4 to top it all off), and too few original elements to spice these tropes up for me to enjoy it more.