Awaken, by Katie Kacvinsky


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Publication date – May 18, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether it’s to go to school or on a date, people don’t venture out of their home. There’s really no need. For the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life—until she meets Justin. Justin likes being with people. He enjoys the physical closeness of face-to-face interactions. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her.

Suddenly, Maddie feels something awakening inside her—a feeling that maybe there is a different, better way to live. But with society and her parents telling her otherwise, Maddie is going to have to learn to stand up for herself if she wants to change the path her life is taking.

In this not-so-brave new world, two young people struggle to carve out their own space.

Thoughts: Katie Kacvinsky wove an interesting vision of the future that reads like a highly entertaining cautionary tale of relying too much on technology and online communication, with more than a hint of rebellion against the concept of “we know what’s best for you,” and a hefty dose of trying to find a balance. This appealed to me in particular since I myself walk a rather fine line between making use of online communication and striving to find a greater connection with the physical world around me. It isn’t an easy line to walk, as Maddie discovers over the course of this novel.

The world in Awakened is compelling and interesting, and the bulk of the novel involves a fight against Digital School, which, in essence, is homeschooling 2.0. Students take classes from the comfort of their own homes, connected to other students via their computers, sending their work for evaluation to teachers whom they never actually meet. It’s effective in protecting children from the dangers of the outside world, violence and misery and accidents, but also effective in cutting everyone off from human contact, limiting them in myriad ways. There’s a sinister undercurrent to this: the creator of Digital School, also Maddie’s father, seeks to quell the rebellion against his creation, and how better to do that than to make sure people are kept apart, their interactions kept solely online where Big Brother can monitor.

It isn’t scary in the way that a horror novel would define the word. It’s scary in its subtleties, the way that sort of thinking permeates life, the way we can see the seeds of that future growing in our own society. You, reading this right now, have likely only ever interacted with me by typing words to me, never spoken to me, never seen me, and how easy is it to think that that’s exactly how it should be?

Slippery slope arguments are often invalidated, but so fascinating to consider the consequences of.

Kacvinsky does a great job of building characters as real as the world around them, giving them layers, quirks, foibles, difficulties to overcome that aren’t always handled neatly and concisely. The romance between Maddie and Justin, for example, is the sort of “on again off again” relationship that frustrates me to no end when I see it in books, but as a counter to that, it’s frustrating to the characters, too. The defenses they put up are logical, their arguments not always logical, their feelings often illogical.

Just the way real life works.

The author hasn’t just stepped onto the YA stage here, she’s fairly danced gracefully onto it. I eagerly look forward to what she’s going to write in the future, and I hope it’ll be as interesting as what she’s done here. This book comes highly recommended to those who enjoy a good dystopian YA novel.

(This book was received for review from the publisher via NetGalley)

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