Goodreads summary: New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., have been abandoned.
The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes.
There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior—instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested usually don’t come back.
Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren’t always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it’s hard for her to forget that people weren’t always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. It’s hard to forget that life in the United States used to be different.
Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the military. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow.
That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings—the only boy Ember has ever loved.
I understand that YA dystopian romances are hot sellers right now, so if you’re a publisher and someone comes along with a relatively good one you’ll most likely give it the go-ahead. But that means there’s a glut of them, and no one is separating the wheat from the chaff, and we need Goodreads now more than ever. I thought about buying this one on Kobo because it seemed like my kind of book, based on the description and preview. Fortunately I consulted my personal GR gurus first and went with the library option, which saved me a lot of rending of garments and yelling, “I paid $7.15 for THIS??”
So now Aunt Linda and I are here to pay it forward! You ready, Linda?
1. How did this happen???
A common plot device to explain a dystopian world is War. A5 is no different: There was a war a few years ago, and NYC, LA, and DC are all gone. End of story. I don’t recall ever being told anything pertaining to who fought the war, what it was over, or how and why this moral majority was able to completely take over America, abolish the Constitution, and start systematically killing off rule violators. Was it over resources? Was it a civil war or did it involve other countries? At no point was I able to go, “Yes, this could happen!” because there was never any background given and I didn’t know what happened.
2. The characters—and their “romance”—were short on depth but long on angst.
Ah, the old “star-crossed lovers who have so many feeeeelings but won’t talk about them so there’s a series of misunderstandings and near-death experiences before they actually discuss anything, and it takes so long to happen that by then I have lost all ability to care” plot device!
There is a dizzying amount of “I love you—I hate you! I need you—leave me alone! You’re still the same—oh how you’ve changed!” in this book. I got whiplash trying to keep up with Ember’s and Chase’s mood swings. Half the problems they had could have easily been resolved by sitting down and having a sensible conversation. I get that teenagers as a group aren’t good at the sensible conversations, but these two were trying to survive in a totalitarian wasteland. Sometimes it’s necessary to sit down to discuss the issues at hand and do some problem-solving, and I feel like when you’re on the run for your life from the Moral Militia is a really good time to start. On the whole, the romance felt artificial and awkward, just there so the dustjacket can proclaim that there is a romance.
While I didn’t care much for the Chase/Ember pairing (Chember?) and I wrote Ember off as a lost cause pretty early on (more on that in #3), I did feel like Chase had potential. The author is a social worker and mental health advocate, and the Chase elements of the novel hint at PTSD, brainwashing, etc. Since A5 is the first in a series I’m hoping this is delved into more deeply as the story goes on, because Chase just comes off as unstable for most of this book, with brief moments of being a sympathetic portrait of the harsh realities of mental health disorders and physical and psychological abuse.
3. Darwinism isn’t working.
Being the delicate flower that I am it’s not very often I can read a dystopian novel and honestly say I would do a better job at surviving than the protagonist. I mean, I definitely don’t have the skillz to make it through the Hunger Games. But the USA of Article 5? I would be amazing there. Unlike Ember, who had to use her smarts to keep herself and her mother alive for the nearly-eighteen years before the novel begins, but never shows any evidence of those alleged smarts in the course of the book.
For example, when you are wrongfully incarcerated you don’t make scenes and brand yourself as a rebel, thus drawing attention and damning anyone who tries to help you; you play the game and keep your head down while working to escape. When you are being tracked by ruthless killers you don’t run away from the only person who can keep your dumb butt alive. And if someone is trying to rape and/or kill you, you do not let them go so they can either rat you out to the FBR or come back later for another attempt at gutting you like a trout. These are pretty basic concepts and it annoyed the crap out of me that Ember never grasped them.
Yes, there is a moral element to this story that shouldn’t go entirely unexplored, a question of “if we kill to save ourselves from The Man, won’t they have won?” But self-defense isn’t a sign of weakness or a lack of mercy or that you are turning into the people you fear. Yes, taking a human life—even to save your own—is unsavory, to say the least, but the world of Article 5 is kill or be killed and you need to act accordingly. If you aren’t willing to defend yourself, you aren’t going to live very long—perhaps deservedly so.
4. So many conflicted messages about gender roles.
On the one hand, Ember is appalled that the FBR is promoting traditional gender roles. She and her mother are strong, independent women—a walking Destiny’s Child song! They are freebirds and these birds cannot be tamed! Laaawwwwd knows they cannot change!
On the other hand, so. freaking. much. of this novel consists of Ember getting pissy at Chase and doing something boneheaded and then him coming along to save her. To paraphrase what Steph said in her review, it’s like watching Bella Swan tripping her way through a dystopian world, with Edward swooping in to defend her at every turn. Except instead of swooning like Bella would, Ember internalizes her anger at Chase for using physical means to defend the two of them and gets pissy again, thus continuing the cycle.
So which is it? Are females helpless damsels who think they can survive on their own but actually can’t, and who use their womanly wiles to lure the big strong men to their deaths? Or are they strong, smart survivors? I can tell Ember believes she is the latter, but everything she does indicates otherwise.
Article 5 does have its good points, and for what it is—a YA dystomance—it isn’t terrible. I’m from the DC area and have traveled to most of the places they went to, so it was definitely creepy for me to read about things like Baltimore as a ghost town and places I’ve been having gone back to the land. And the concept itself—that one day you wake up in violation of your country’s moral statutes and are no longer a citizen—is interesting. But the complete lack of world-building and the unsympathetic and highly unlikeable MC made this book more of a chore to get through than an enjoyable read; all the potential the story itself had was lost in Ember’s stupidity and woe. Overall, Aunt Linda and I give it a “whaaat?” However, being an optimist/completist I got Breaking Point from the library today. My fingers are crossed for better characterization and some kind of backstory for the nation in the next installment.