Around the Year Reading Challenge Item #22: The First Book in a Series
This is pretty much standard fare as far as teen dystopia/post-apocalyptic books go. The world is not particularly groundbreaking: it consists of "dwellers" who live in protective "pods" where all their needs are provided for but boredom leads them to live out most of their lives within virtual worlds, and the "outsiders," tribal people who have managed to survive and evolve on the "outside" after some sort of environmental devastation and whom the dwellers see as "savages."
Of course, a dweller and an outsider encounter one another, and, of course, the experience alters both of them. And since this is a teen book, they're also both hot and find themselves attracted to each other.
Although this book probably never had much hope of being anything more than mediocre, without the nauseating/cheesy romance subplot it may have squeaked by with a four-star rating. Unfortunately, the romance plot becomes more prominent as the book goes on, including one section where I almost had to double check that I wasn't reading Twilight. The "savage" boy fulfills all the typical "wild man" fantasies you would expect -- there is something dangerous and irresistibly feral about him, he's the strong silent type, etc., whereas the girl is beautiful with a lovely voice, and she apparently smells like violets (and we are never allowed to forget that she smells like violets. The male lead has an acutely developed sense of smell, so he can smell people's individual scents as well as their "moods," and he's always noticing Arya's "violet" smell. The first time he notices it is also the first time she gets her period, and I was like, wtf? Why doesn't he smell BLOOD? I wish *I* smelled like violets when I was menstruating.)
The science in this book is also a little squishy, which would be less annoying if it didn't try to come across as so authoritative at times. There are a lot of convenient fixes because it's clear the author just wants to get back to the steamy scenes (lest this seem especially enticing, all the sex happens "off-screen.") Plot threads seemed to be picked up and then abandoned. Arya gets her first period, is unaware of what it is, and yet we never learn how she copes with it thereafter or when it ends; a period is a big enough deal the first time you get it when you DO know what it is, and it seemed to be disregarded a little too easily for a dweller girl who was menstruating for the first time on the outside and had no one to really talk to about what was happening, how long it would last, what she should do about it, etc. Perhaps other plot threads were not abandoned, but I daydreamed and just lost track of them.
Characters are fairly one-dimensional, more suited to the screen than the page. But despite all of that, this book did hold my interest well enough; it was an easy, light read; and it made some interesting commentary on humans' tendencies toward escapism and the potential danger therein. I wish it would have spent more time on that aspect of the story. I found the "realms" to be believable, and I wanted to know more about this world, such as what the aether actually WAS, and what had happened in "The Unity," which is presumably when the humans built the pods and the separate populations of dwellers and outsiders arose.
If you can't get enough teen dystopia, this book is readable enough -- it's rated fairly high on Goodreads, so others must have found more to like than I did. But if you're looking to read only the best in an overcrowded genre, this isn't it.