I find this to be a very difficult book to rate and review. You see, it starts wonderfully, stays strong, and then... and then the characters start doing tstl things, or behaving against everything that's been established about them so far, and it's so jarring that I don't even know what to say.
It could be argued: this is a dystopia, people will not behave as they usually do. But we are generally given plausible reasons when that happens! And while some characters could, with some of suspension of disbelief from the reader, do the things they did, others - such as Katie, the main character, - could not.
The plot: Katie is a nice Amish girl who dreams of going on her Rumspringa with Elijah, her best friend and most likely eventual husband. She can't wait! She and Elijah hoard clippings of films, watch the road so they can see the English travellers with music blasting from their cars, and make up stories as to who they are and what they're doing - what it is to live Outside.
Elijah could have gone on his Rumspringa sooner, but he's waiting for Katie to be allowed to go, so they can do all the things they spent their whole life planning to do together.
It was a sweet friendship, it felt real.
They have some small rebellions: Wonder Woman comics, coca cola - but those are childish things meant to be left behind.
Katie is responsible for the dogs: she breeds golden retrievers and Mrs. Parsall (Ginger) is an English woman (read: american) who buys them from her and finds owners for them.
While Mrs. Parsnall is visiting, a helicopter crashes and Katie sees something... weird within it. Some creature with bright red eyes, attacking the other occupants before the helicopter goes up in flames.
On Ginger's car radio they are made aware of a curfew: anyone caught outside will be arrested. This is how the end of the world Outside begins.
Some kind of biological weapon was unleashed, almost everyone is dead and those who aren't are turned into those same creatures Katie spied on the helicopter.
Until this point everything is perfect: characterization, pacing, plot.
Then we start getting inklings of what's to come.
In other dystopias there are characters who have a hard time realising that the world they inhabited before is over. That it's useless to long for something that no longer exists. These characters are usually not the main one, who generally shows remarkable foresight and survival instincts. Which is why it's so weird that Katie - an Amish girl who was raised to be pragmatic above all things, starts rambling and being upset at everyone because she's not allowed to go on her Rumspringa. This is compounded by the fact that every time this comes up she mentions she realises how selfish and absurd she is being. Well... then stop! Girl, the world is over, people are dying, your best friend's brothers are probably dead, Mrs. Parsnall's children are probably dead, those creatures are roaming outside - it's a contagion, there is no more Outside! It's the end of the world you (barely) knew! Priorities!
The community Elders decide to close their gates - it's a contagion. Regrettable that some of their own (Elijah's brothers) are caught out of their gates, but it would be illogical to bring in anyone probably infected and destroy the whole community.
So this is when Alex appears. Alex is a Canadian student who was trapped in a US college when what he calls "vampires" attacked. Somehow he made it out and reached the gates of Katie's community. The Elders forbid his entrance - who knows what infection he may carry?
So Katie goes and sneaks him into her barn.
Yes, that was my reaction. We even get some snippets of Katie's rudimentary knowledge of how to treat infection, etc., so we know she's not ignorant to disease patterns. Why is she bringing in a complete stranger, possibly infected with something that will turn him inhuman and slaughter her entire community, into her family's house? Yes, I don't get it either.
Meanwhile Elijah is struggling to accept his brothers' deaths and decides to be baptised, he finds comfort in his faith. And he hopes Katie will do the same. After all, what's left?
Mrs. Parsnall's call to her husband even informed Katie that the only communities left were religious ones (regardless of religion).
But no, Katie clings to her idea of life before, she wants her Rumspringa, she wants... she doesn't know what she wants and this is a failing in the book. Add to that some girl hate towards a former friend who becomes interest in Elijah, and jealousy when she makes it more and more clear she doesn't want Elijah in a romantic way - but no one else can want him, apparently...
While this is happening Amish families within their community are being slaughtered. you'd expect this to be at the forefront of Katie's mind: she brought an outsider in! But no! It's, "that girl is after my man who isn't my man because whenever he shows interest I make it clear there will never be anything between us. I hope she dies!" Listen, there are few things I dislike more than girl on girl hate - and if this stuff happens while the characters have more important things to worry about (which is just about ANYTHING, but most certainly the end of the world would rank high), then I have a huge problem with it.
Things at this point, are taking a turn for the worse: Elijah is behaving out of character, Katie [HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILERS] out of the blue decides to have sex with Alex, even though she had showed nothing but disgust for the act and very little attraction to Alex in the first place. Plus there's the whole thing about her entire upbringing forbidding it - yes, people go against their upbringing, but with a reason, and at the very least, some kind of moral crisis? Not here, she just decides one night to go and have sex with Alex.[END SPOILERS]
So obviously the end is predictable, when all of Katie's transgressions come to light there is only one thing that can happen for the sake of keeping the community whole.
You see my dilemma? This is the perfect YA dystopia for about one third of the book, it turns into a passable dystopia for the second third and devolves into "WHAT" for the last third.
All reviews point out that the second in the series keeps very much in the same vein: Katie doing things that deem her too stupid to live while spouting hypocritical things about her religion this, her religion that. I don't have time nor respect for this kind of thing, so I most certainly will not be reading the next one.
But this one... For the potential alone and the writing skill showed, is worth 3 stars.
Pity it all went downhill...
Do you want to read an awesome Ya book with Amish characters? Try Karen Ann Hopkin's Temptation, instead!
Want an awesome dystopia? The Hunger Games, obviously but everyone's read that, why not try Demitria Lunetta's In the After?
Laura Bickle's official page
Buy The Hallowed Ones
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