Title: The Young World
Author: Chris Weitz
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Publication Date: July 29th, 2014
Synopsis from Goodreads:
After a mysterious Sickness wipes out the rest of the population, the young survivors assemble into tightly run tribes. Jefferson, the reluctant leader of the Washington Square tribe, and Donna, the girl he’s secretly in love with, have carved out a precarious existence among the chaos. But when another tribe member discovers a clue that may hold the cure to the Sickness, five teens set out on a life-altering road trip to save humankind.
The tribe exchanges gunfire with enemy gangs, escapes cults and militias, braves the wilds of the subway and Central Park…and discovers truths they could never have imagined.
I really wanted to like this book, but I really couldn’t bring myself to move past its faults, because its faults. I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic literature and I like to see something new and different, something that’s unique and stands out from the crowd. I hate to give a bad review, but I’m not going to pretend to like something that didn’t live up to the expectations I had for it. I’ll start with the positives though, because Weitz’s story does have many positive elements.
Weitz’s story is still a solid post-apocalyptic story. Adults and young children wiped out by a mysterious sickness. The world left to the surviving teens who create violent and desperate societies seeking out a way to survive. It’s not bad. Jefferson is a very interesting character. He has a strong bond with his brother and he genuinely cares for the well being of the people of his tribe. He’s not a natural born leader, but he rises to the occasion. The reader can easily empathize with him and understand his struggle and he is able to redeem his faults through his character development. I looked forward to his chapters and it was in his story that I found my only real connection with this novel.
There is a great element of intrigue within the story surrounding the character of the “old man.” We don’t know who he is, and he’s really portrayed as this great mythic being, so much so that I was surprised when we actually come into contact with him at the end of the book. The “old man” adds a sense of hope in an otherwise hopeless world. He’s a great lead in to the next book in the series and his presences gives Weitz’s characters something to work towards.
Donna, on the other hand, is rash, crass, abrasive, nonchalant, unintelligent, and more. If I had to describe her in one sentence, she’d be valley girl meets I am Legend or some other similarly violence and action driven post-apocalyptic movie. Her sentences are riddled with “like” and “um.” If you’re a stickler for grammar and complete sentences, you’ll hate Donna. I get it, she’s in high school, but if I took everything that I dislike about many (yes, I know not all) of today’s high schoolers (sass, flippancy, aggressive, invincibility complex, short sightedness, and I could go on), you get Donna. Just because she’s a teenager, does not mean that she needs to fit the stereotype of badass female teen who’s inarticulate and will shoot first, question later. I would have appreciated an attempt to make her sound somewhat thoughtful and intelligent. I didn’t believe her as a young female character.
I have to delve further into this idea of stereotyped characters. Each character in The Young World seems like a stock character, filling the stereotype of his/her race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Women are either weak and dominated, forced into the sex trade, or they are over-the-top violent. They aren’t believable as real young women. The white young men are all intelligent, strong and capable. Most of them came from wealthy backgrounds and know exactly how to other those who are different, immediately reestablishing constructs of sexism and racism that existed pre-apocalypse. They control the societies and dominate most of the pages in the story. There is one main African American teen who is consequently the only gay character and speaks only in cliches and random comments such as, “Jesus is my homeboy.” His role is to check out any other male who comes across their path and to provide romantic advice, preceding each comment with the lovely address of “Bitch” (i.e. “Bitch, you need to think this through.”). Weitz tries to establish conflict between races and genders, but falls short. I can see it only as an attempt, not a success because I can see that he’s trying too hard. The conflict is there, but it feels forced.
Overall, it was a very disappointing read. I wish you the best of luck if you do decide to crack this one open, and I hope you enjoy it a little more than I did.