Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Waking Dark

The city of Oleander, Kansas is just a sleepy, rural town with god-fearing Christians and high morals. Then the killing day happens. Five people murdered twelve people and then killed themselves, except one attempted suicide but survived. The survivor has no memory of having killed anyone and why she did it. About a year goes by and then a huge tornado hits the town after a lot of healing and grief. The government comes and sets up a perimeter, allowing none to pass due to a toxic leak nearby. There is no word on when they will be allowed to leave and no one comes in except to ship in food and supplies. The town slowly descends into madness, where the laws mean nothing and only their raw impulses matter. Five teens who are survivors of the killing day are the only force fighting for sanity in the town. The only alternative is death at this point, so they have to put aside their differences and work together.

The Waking Dark is an amazing horror novel. Robin Wasserman takes a concept that's been used before, one where a city is enclosed and all hell breaks loose, and makes it new with a vivid voice and a large cast of characters. There are 5 main characters: West (real name Jeremiah) the jock who is in denial about being gay, Jule whose family makes meth but she wants more out of life, Cass who killed a baby during the killing day and is in hiding from the town that wants to lynch her, Daniel whose father is the town drunk and wants more for his little brother, and Ellie who became devoutly Christian after the storm. These disparate characters are each followed throughout the text and the point of view changes many times within one chapter. It's easy to follow because each character is memorable and detailed. Before they encounter one another, their issues, their trauma (surviving the killing day), and their innermost thoughts are laid bare. Their names didn't even really need to be mentioned because Wasserman painted such vivid characters. I also liked that although their alignment is generally good, they still had the urge to do the opposite and weren't boring, perfect characters. The writing was descriptive and rich, kind of like eating chocolate cake. I wanted to read the book quickly to know what happens, but I also wanted to savor each sentence. The writing style is so vastly different than most YA novels and it worked in the novel's favor.

The novel tackles a lot of heavy issues: murder, rape, misogyny, homophobia, religious zealotry, drug use, abuse, and the list goes on. Wasserman doesn't gloss over anything and shows human darkness in all its horrific glory. Teens are already exposed to a lot of these things already and I appreciate having a teen book that delves into these subjects as I haven't seen before. One issue is do people act amorally because it's true human nature or because of some outside force? It isn't really answered because it's a personal philosophical question about whether humans are inherently good or evil. The acts in the novel are frightening and all too realistic. Order falls away quickly to reveal the majority that will impose their own rule on everyone else under the threat of death. I found the religious zealotry to be particularly horrifying because it has many disturbing and bigoted tenets whose effect we see in our society every day. If those issues are taken to the extreme, using a twisted interpretation of the scriptures, it would resemble Oleander.

The Waking Dark is an amazing novel that I read as fast as I possibly could. The book is rather long and takes a bit to really take off, but I appreciate a well done, slow build-up. Once it gets going, I was on the edge of my seat, desperate to see what happens. I will now go out and read everything Robin Wasserman has ever written because I was so impressed with this novel. I would recommend this to readers not afraid of disturbing subject matter or imperfect characters.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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