A Couple of Good, But Not Great, Dystopias

If you’ve been following me at STACKED for any amount of time, you know how much I love dystopias. Even the ones that I know will be terrible, I gobble up. Even when they’re written in first person present tense and don’t appear to offer anything new, I will read them.
The two books I talk about briefly here are a far cry from terrible. I went into them thinking I would enjoy them a great deal, and I did, but they fell short of my (admittedly lofty) expectations. I’ll probably read the sequels, but they didn’t blow me away like I wanted them to. Sometimes when a book is within a genre I love, it’s more disappointing that it’s not spectacular than when it’s in a genre I don’t love, if that makes sense. Kelly has actually reviewed both of these books before, and I encourage you to hop on over and read her reviews if you haven’t already.

Bumped by Megan McCafferty
There are so many funny things about Bumped. I think people who outright dislike it take it much too seriously. In a way, I don’t blame them. Most dystopias are so grim they can make the reader depressed, and they’re generally short on laughs. So when that’s what you expect going in to a book, it can be hard to shake it. Luckily, Kelly told me beforehand it was a dystopian satire, although I like to think I would have figured it out on my own soon enough. It’s refreshing to be able to poke fun at a genre you enjoy while still appreciating the aspects that make that genre so alluring in the first place.
My main problem with Bumped was the ending. It suffers from series-itis: there’s no real resolution and it leaves the reader wanting more (and not in a good way). A lot of good dystopias leave big, important questions unanswered at the end of the first book, but they’re good because they still have some sort of climax, falling action, and resolution, however wimpy the resolution may be. With Bumped, I felt like McCafferty just took a pair of scissors and lopped off the book at a random section. It wasn’t satisfying, and I was disappointed after it brought me so many chuckles.
Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Blood Red Road has two primary strengths: voice and setting. It’s narrated by illiterate protagonist Saba, and therefore uses no quotation marks and only a smattering of other punctuation marks. (She does use periods. If she did not, I would have put it down after the first page. Or probably before that.) It’s heavy on dialect and slang. Saba’s very imperfect narration provides good insight into Saba’s very imperfect character. She’s tough but frequently heartless. This was actually what I enjoyed most about Saba. Saba’s younger sister is the main ancillary character, and Saba is pretty upfront with the reader about how she resents her and doesn’t love her like she does her twin brother. It seems harsh, but it also shoots to pieces all those comparisons with Katniss (and those comparisons are legion).
The other strength is the setting. Saba lives in the Dustlands, and the more you read about it, the more parched you feel. It’s a place full of sand and blood and sand and trash heaps and more sand. This is a pretty terrible place to live in, and there’s no magical place where it doesn’t suck.
So, we’ve got great voice and great setting. Where were my expectations not met? The action. Blood Red Road is fast-paced and intense, but it was pretty predictable. I knew Saba would be captured, I knew how her fights would go in the cage matches, I knew how she would…well, to say any more would be spoiling it, but if you’ve read any dystopias (or any action novels, really), it wouldn’t be much of a spoiler. It became kind of a game to see how many of my predictions came true (all of them). I need my books to surprise me, and this one didn’t do it much.
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  1. says

    You should try out BIRTHMARKED, a dystopian that I have a soft spot for. (Haha, I just checked out your GR and you're reading it now. Glad you're enjoying it so far!)

    I haven't read either BUMPED or BLOOD RED ROAD, though I'm really banking on reading the latter very soon. I just need to acquire a copy of it. 😛 Hmm…I can understand why the lack of surprise really dragged it down for you.

    Great post! By the way, have you noticed just how many dystopian releases there are next year? It's almost getting to the point where some of them are just blending in with each other… Maybe that's just me. Heck, I'm reading a dystopian now (LEGEND), which, by the way, is kickass.

  2. says

    These thoughtful "meh" reviews are great. It's so interesting (and helpful to me as an author) to see what didn't work for a careful, thoughtful reader. (I often look specifically at the two-star reviews in goodreads, even for books I adored, just to find diverse perspectives.)

  3. says

    I absolutely, completely fell for BUMPED. And I get what you're saying about chopping the book off (I hate that), but weirdly, I didn't mind in this case because the whole thing felt so fresh, so completely different than everything else I was reading. When I look back on this year of reading, I'd say BUMPED was my most memorable read. I'll definitely reread before starting THUMPED (and the last time I did a reread in a series was THE HUNGER GAMES).

  4. says

    Despite knowing everything that would happen in BRR, I didn't care. Saba was one of the best voices I'd read in a long time, and it was among the few that stood out to me in any books I've read this year, dystopian and otherwise. That won me over. I also loved that the entire story was contained in one volume, but I'm EAGER enough to get back into her world to read a second book.

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