Review: Wasteland

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: WastelandWasteland by Laurence Klavan, Susan Kim
Series: Wasteland #1
Published by HarperTeen on March 26, 2013
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Romance
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central

Welcome to the Wasteland. Where all the adults are long gone, and now no one lives past the age of nineteen. Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan’s post-apocalyptic debut is the first of a trilogy in which everyone is forced to live under the looming threat of rampant disease and brutal attacks by the Variants —- hermaphroditic outcasts that live on the outskirts of Prin. Esther thinks there’s more to life than toiling at harvesting, gleaning, and excavating, day after day under the relentless sun, just hoping to make it to the next day. But then Caleb, a mysterious stranger, arrives in town, and Esther begins to question who she can trust. As shady pasts unravel into the present and new romances develop, Caleb and Esther realize that they must team together to fight for their lives and for the freedom of Prin.

First Sentence: “Esther ran across the broken asphalt.”

I like to begin my reviews with the good stuff about a book in most cases, before transitioning into my criticisms. Well, here’s what I can offer about Wasteland: it’s an easy read. The fairly simple sentences are quick to plow through. Also, it’s mostly boring, which actually ended up being a sort of good thing, since, when it isn’t boring, unfortunate things are generally happening. Be warned that there will be spoilers toward the end of this review.

The World Building
The foundation of this post-apocalyptic world is shaky at best. Having finished, I have little to no idea what happened to the world or how long ago. There are a couple of vague references to some sort of climactic changes, violent earthquakes and so forth, but that’s not really enough. I want to know why the rain makes people sick and how the Variants came to be. The sun shines hotter and more damaging, presumably a result of a further decreased ozone layer. While I understand that the characters might not know much, authors generally can find a way to give the readers a bit more than that.

What made me so determined to really know what had happened was a desire to figure out how things had gotten this way, because everything seemed inconsistent. The events can’t have been THAT long ago or I doubt the kids would still be surviving off of supplies from the industrial age. There’s even one building still using gas for power. If it hasn’t been that long, then why is every single adult dead? It sounds like people die young because of how hard life is or because of how easy it is to stumble into infected water and become diseased, but a few adults should still be around, right? Yet, it seems that no one can live past the age of nineteen. WHY? You can’t just set a specific age like that and not explain it!

About the supplies, Wasteland differs from every other post-apocalyptic novel I’ve read in that regard. See, usually, humans, at least in the years following the disaster, survive largely off of canned goods while figuring out how to subsistence farm. Here, though, the kids don’t try to learn farming or hunting of animals (survivalists, they are not) and live ONLY off of supplies left from before the whatever-the-fuck smashed society. Plus, apparently all of the canned goods have spoiled and only the dry goods are edible. I was puzzled by this reversal of what I’d read before, so I went to look in my pantry. The canned goods definitely have letter expiration dates and are less vulnerable to bugs and other animals. Everything about this was just weird to me.

So these kids, right? They live in this town of rotted buildings they call Prin. The oldest ones are around 18. At the age of five, they start work. They have three jobs: Gleaning (???), Harvesting (searching far and wide for more stuff in houses and cars), and Excavation (digging). This does not make for survival, people. Even once you learn the bad guy’s plans, it’s only a short term solution. This whole “society” is TSTL. Any time after twelve, they start partnering off, which is basically getting married. Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that they’re all settling down into monogamous relationships. It’s weird if you don’t, and I don’t feel like that’s not the most natural pattern for a bunch of teenagers to fall into, even if they would supposedly be more mature do to the brief lifespan and early age at which they begin “work.”

Moving on, we’re to the point where I have to talk about the last big element of the world building: the Variants. So, for no reason that is apparent, there are these Variants, insultingly known as “mutants” who are hermaphroditic, and get to choose their own gender when they come of age. They’re wild and sort of live off the land, at least more than the “norms” do. I was concerned about this as soon as I read the blurb, but I really try to give authors the benefit of the doubt. I mean, WHY would you put that in for no reason? Well, I don’t know, but that sure seems to be the case.

So, the Variants, for one thing, are almost NEVER actually referred to by that term, instead called “mutants” pretty much always. They’re portrayed as feral and wild and lesser, but, hey, that’s from the perspective of the people of Prin and they might learn something, right? Plus, Esther is friends with a variant named Skar, so surely their friendship will be the bond that helps them come to terms! Not so much. Instead, the Variants cease being peaceful and begin attacking Prin all at the behest of the bad guy (which is sort of a spoiler, but it’s so damn obvious that I really don’t care). When this is finally figured out by a townsperson, this happens:

For the first time, Caleb thought of the ugly word, one he had used a thousand times without thinking, and he winced, for they, the variants, were nothing but pawns, poor and pathetic.”
– Page 193 of the ARC; note that quotes could change in the finished copy

For one bright, shining second there, it seems as though the light is dawning and someone has learned how horrific they’ve been this whole time. Then it all comes crashing down. Great, the hermaphrodites aren’t evil monsters after all; they’re just “poor and pathetic.” That’s so much better. Actually, no. Needless though this should be to say, I’ll say it clearly: I find this egregiously offensive.

On the other hand, I will say that the Variants do seem much more suited to life in this world and that they have a much more intelligent speech pattern than the norms, who mostly speak in dialect. How the Variants ended up better-educated is another mystery, but we’ll let that go. These things make me think that, in the end, this is intended to be a positive depiction, but it doesn’t go anywhere near counteracting everything else.

Worse, the Variants hardly appear in the story, and, when they do, they take on the role of villain or pawn. Even once a shaky alliance is formed, they’re compared to the Native Americans with the norms taking on the role of the more “civilized” settlers. This comparison is perhaps meant to be touching, but I find it seriously upsetting, considering how that turned out in history and the fact that the Variants aren’t even invited to the meal they provided. Nor was there ever ANY reason for the Variants to be hermaphroditic, which makes everything even worse.

The Writing
I don’t usually mention this, but Wasteland has a heck of a lot of telling. The only emotions I felt as I flipped through were irritation, anger and disgust, caused by the offensive nature of the world and the hackneyed romance. I should have felt fear for the characters and hope for the romance, but there’s no effort made to show us how these kids really are. Everything is delineated. Esther does not fit in. Caleb is strong but tortured. They’re in love now. Umm, okay. The telling is to the extent that scenes that might have been interesting are completely skipped, and the reader starts a new chapter with no idea how the characters got to where they are and has to read a short infodump to explain what was missed. None of those sections included twists or had any plot reason to be skipped. So far as I could tell, they happened solely to avoid showing things.

Kim and Klavan also made the questionable decision to use third person limited with rotating POVs. Of course, this storytelling method can be used quite effectively, but Wasteland is a good example of what not to do. The point of using a limited third person perspective is to allow for a closeness to the characters, while still being restricted to their knowledge. The characters all remain quite distant, perhaps because of how often the POV shifts. The POV moves almost at random, going into most of the named characters’ heads at one time or another, and even some who don’t even merit names. Several POVs show up only once, which is almost always a terrible authorial move, and certainly is here.

The Characters
As you probably expect by this juncture in the review, I was not impressed with Kim and Klavan’s characterization either. The only character who is even remotely dynamic is Esther, who still remains flat and unreal. All of the others have but one motivation driving their existence and lack the complexities that make a character written on a page come to life. It’s a sad day when I feel like the most realistic character is the baby, because at least they don’t really have personalities yet anyway. Oh, and they all have Biblical names, even though there’s nothing else said about the Bible or any reason why a bunch of teens on their own would just happen to choose Biblical names for their offspring.

The Plot
Every single bit of Wasteland felt like I had read it before, and where the book was headed always felt glaringly obvious. Now, to be fair, I’ve read about 150 dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories at this point, so I’ve got a bit more experience under my belt than the average reader. Still, I expect more from my books, and am not impressed when I read a post-apocalyptic novel that feels like it’s cobbled together from pieces of what came before, a blundering Frankenstein monster of a book.

On the plus side, the plot does not focus on the romance, though it might as well have, since Kim and Klavan do not take the time to set the romance they felt compelled to include effectively and there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot going on anyway. The plot consists almost entirely of the town needing to figure out that Levi, the obvious bad guy, is evil, and then figure out a way to throw off his rule. In the meantime, he hires the Variants to attack and they worry about that. Mostly, Esther runs around and thinks about how she doesn’t fit in.

Then Caleb comes to town, defeats some Variants, proving what a sexy badass he is. He and Esther do not like each other on their first two encounters. On the third, they are suddenly inexplicably drawn to one another. Within the course of a handful of meetings, in which they don’t do much talking or bonding, they fall in love and partner. As I mentioned before, we’re told how in love they are, not made to feel it:

“But something had shifted inside her, a strange new emotion moving into the other. Her desire to ease Caleb’s suffering had been joined with another desire, one even more powerful, like two streams meeting and converging in a riverbed, mingling in a current against which she had no strength.
She had never known this feeling before.”
– Page 199 of the ARC; note that quotes could change in the finished copy

What makes this even more upsetting for me is that Caleb was actually partnered before, his wife murdered and child kidnapped. His sole motivation is finding his son and revenging himself on whoever did that to his family. Yet we never learn anything about his bond with his partner or even what her name was. We’re told he loved Nameless but that he feels even more strongly about Esther in a matter of days. Everything about their relationship is rushed and unbelievable. Telling the reader something is true doesn’t make it believable. This is lazy writing, and I’m getting really tired of seeing it in young adult fiction.

I am also getting sick of these idealized sex scenes. Caleb and Esther have kissed once, when they find each other after a worrisome separation and partner. Once they’re partnered, conditions are right for making love obviously. Here’s how that goes, according to Kim and Klavan: “Soon, they were moving together, awkwardly, then expertly, bright with sweat” (239-240 of the ARC). Now, I do appreciate the nod to awkwardness, but I’m seriously supposed to believe Esther and Caleb are having expert-level sex not just on their first time, but Esther’s first time ever. This is not a realistic expectation to be giving to teen readers, and it’s not like adding expertly to the description makes the scene any sexier, since that was the whole of it.

Then, there’s the bad guy, Levi. He lives in fear of the sun and the water, never leaving the Source, his fortress. He’s skinny, pale, dark-haired, and weak, but possessed of a might intellect and can make people work for him. He turns out to be driven solely by the desire to destroy the life of his brother Caleb (SHOCK!), because their parents didn’t want the sickly kid and got rid of Levi. What is with this trend of the evil characters in dystopian/post-apocalyptic lit being related to one of the MCs? It’s not surprising anymore, so can we stop? What really takes the cake is that, at the end, Levi is easily defeated by Caleb. While Esther runs off with Caleb’s baby because gender roles, Levi commits suicide, so that Caleb doesn’t have to get his hands dirty by killing anyone, except maybe some Variants at the beginning, but they hardly count. Fuck this shit. I’m done.

In Conclusion
It’s not often that I say this, but I recommend Wasteland to absolutely no one. It’s sole redeeming quality is that it’s an easy, fast read, by nature of the simple sentences, which is no reason to read something. Every element in here has been done better elsewhere. Do yourself a favor: go read Blood Red Road or Ashfall instead.

Favorite Quote:

27 responses to “Review: Wasteland”

  1. Kah Cherub says:

    Wow. That plot is more holey than cheese (LOL. I just ahd to say it!). That thing about dried and canned goods is BS, it’s the other way around.
    And the inst-love that makes the guy forget EVERYTHING about the other woman he loved and his own kid? Jeez…
    and the girl was great at sex in HER FIRST time? please… kids are gullible but not idiots, authors.

    • Christina says:

      The thing with the canned goods was so weird to me. I have literally never seen authors say that before and my minimal research certainly indicates the norm to be accurate. I don’t get why they would change that; just to be different?

      Well, he doesn’t forget about the kid. But his deceased partner is ignored pretty much entirely.

      *eyerolls at the sex scene yet again*

  2. I second Blood Red Road and Ashfall here.
    That’s one of the reasons I love your reviews, Christina! They tell me straight away all the triggers I usually try to avoid in books, so I would steer clear of Wasteland because I abhore non-existent world-building, unexplicable deaths of all adults and instalove. As you said, fuck this shit.

    • Christina says:

      BRR and Ashfall both have some common themes/settings, and they are actually good books with strong writing, characters and plotting. Pretty sure you would hate this too.

  3. Yeah everyone knows that when you lose your v-card you really can’t expect to have expert level sex. That noise takes practice.


    I have this on my TBR and I may give it a chance. Depending.

  4. Amy says:

    Oh dear! I just started reading this one and I was already kind of having an issue with the 3rd person thing, but after reading your review I am so nervous to continue. And Lol!! Expert level sex? Really? Why would it even say that?

  5. Kat Balcombe says:

    Crash and burn! I didn’t read all your review because I may still read this one soon *crosses self*, but starting with a negative and all those words is not going to end well.

  6. I’m very sorry you didn’t like this one, Christina! I haven’t read it nor do I have time to in the near future, but I am hosting the tour and a blog post by the authors this week. Hopefully THAT will be fun. 😉
    Lovely review

    • Christina says:

      I hope the tour post is more interesting. Or tries to shed light on some of this. So glad I’m not the tour, because this would have been quite awkward…

  7. Jessica R says:

    Wow. I really, really dislike when books like this, which rely so much on the world they are set it, are severely lacking in world-building. That should be a huge part of the story because of the kind of book it is. Also, that whole relationship thing? “Rushed and unbelievable”? “Lazy writing”? Okay, no thank you! Sounds like there are a lot of reasons not to bother with this one. That’s really unfortunate :/ Definitely good to know, though, so thanks!

    • Christina says:

      For real. I am getting so tired of authors walking in the world building and the relationships. Writing isn’t supposed to be easy. I just don’t feel like nearly enough effort went into this.

  8. GillyB says:

    YIKES. What an awesome bad review. I’m almost tempted to read this now because I’m a horrible person. But you were awesome at explaining what did and didn’t (or rather, just plain didn’t) work. And OMG THOSE VARIANTS. I’m getting ragey just reading you talk about them. If I actually read the book I might throw it.

    And I might have stabbed it at the sex scene. Blechhhh.

    • Christina says:

      Good luck if you embark on this one. I wish I could say I feel like I was overly harsh on this one, but, if anything, I think I was nice.

      The sex scene was just unneccessary.

  9. Kayla Beck says:

    I wasn’t going to read the whole review because I thought that I wanted to read this. 1/5 stars? We don’t match up completely on interests, but I’m not going to risk it. 🙁

  10. Kayla Beck says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. One of my big frustrations with YA Dystopians, and one of the reasons I don’t read as many is because I never get a feel for how the worlds became the way they were. It’s almost like the author got this great idea for a world, but no idea how our world transitioned to that.

    Reading your review, it seemed that the Variant’s should be the heroes of the book. They seem more naturally adaptive to the change world, but I guess they are different and sexually ambiguous, so that makes them icky and we’re not supposed to like icky.

    When I first saw this from Harper Audio, I considered it. There’s just too many good books on my radar to bother with the questionable ones.

    • Christina says:

      See, I love dystopian fiction, but I’m pretty fed up with it at this point. So much of it has just been written to jump onto the bandwagon, rather than because the author truly had a great idea. It’s really bringing me down.

      The Variants SHOULD be the heroes. They’re much more adaptable and seem to have figured out a way to survive. But nope.

      Good choice!

  12. I had looked forward to reading about the hermaphroditic Variants. I’m so disappointed to hear about how they’re portrayed.

  13. Oh wow. I was thinking about reading this, but now after this review, i think I will definitely pass.

  14. Renae M. says:

    Welp. I had managed to never heard of this book before you started getting mad at it a few days ago, and I’m quite happy I was never interested. *moves to DNR* Thank you for the head’s up!

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