Thursday, September 04, 2008

If I slid off the dome would I get hurt?

I wanted to like this one. It was even in my Looking Forward post!

It starts out grim in the prologue:

"The big television camera of the You've Been Caught Napping game show prowled in the darkness at the edge of the set, their lenses focused on the old man's face...A thoughtful viewer might have wondered why he didn't wipe the sweat away. But behind the silver podium that displayed a very high score, his hands lay trapped in a pair of strong plastic manacles. That was something those cameras couldn't see...The old man rested his head on the podium in front of him, the one that hid their nasty secret. After all, game shows were rollicking good fun, entertainment for the whole family. Imagine how viewers would feel if they saw the hypodermic needle inserted in his arm"
(pp 1-2).

Martin lives in a dome. All of his needs are provided for him by computers and bots. The weather's always nice. Even when he fights with his genetically engineered and brilliant little sister he still loves her. Life is perfect. But why doesn't his mom like the game shows? Why do his parents argue in whispers at night about things his father sees at work? Why are all of the adults so afraid come inspection time? Slowly, but surely, Martin begins to see cracks in his perfect domed world, and when some weirdo comes and takes Martin's little sister, and all the Wonder Babies away, Martin is sure she's in need of rescue. But how exactly do you escape when the walls have ears? And even if you can escape, isn't there a reason everyone lives in domes, protected from a hostile environment?

So, you've got your basic dystopia crossed with an epic quest. Sounds like a magic combination, right? In fact, there are many things to like about Clare B. Dunkle's The Sky Inside. The scenario is compelling. The characters feel genuine; once a close look is taken it is clear that below the surface people are conflicted with their environment; no one is without their flaws, but no one is completely evil. All of these qualities are fantastic. It's something we should demand in every novel. But. Sadly but. There were holes. Plot holes. And a couple other issues.

Many holes can be filled up with a sequel, but in this case I feel the plot struggles to truly stand on it's own: How did Martin happen to get Chip, an illegal modified bot that solves all of the problems and challenges that the boy encounters. In fact, while charming and all, the whole Chip character was a total device - very deus ex machina. Every. Single. Time. Martin ran into a deadly test the dog took care of the problem - or told the boy what to do. Every. Time. On top of that, why did adults in the neighborhood not notice that Chip was modified? If the "the walls have ears" why didn't they catch Martin & Chip before they even left the dome? If what they saw was reasonable malfunctioning, I don't feel the case was made for it. I wanted more World History; the adults all seem to know what's going on, but there wasn't enough information given as to the WHYs of the domed communities, or how long they've been living there, or what the suburb names mean.

So, ultimately the gripping scenario couldn't overcome what, for me, were gaping holes in the story. I'm a pretty forgiving reader in general - I'll overlook a lot of issues if I'm entertained, but I really don't feel as though the potential was met in this title. It won't necessarily stop me from giving this book out, because I know most young readers aren't going to be as critical as I, however, because of how dark this book starts out with the game show murders, I will be careful not to give it to kids prone to nightmares.

Even so, I didn't stop reading the The Sky Inside, I truly wanted to know how it all turned out. Of course, there isn't any real resolution. One must presumably wait for the sequel, The Walls Have Eyes It makes me sad. Such potential. I like dystopian novels.

These people disagree with me, so find your balance there:

Becky's Book Reviews
Mrs. Hill's Book Blog
The Magic of Ink
Milkbreath and Me
I really do appear to be the only one with issues: Author Site

Read it yourself, let me know what you think. Sample chapters.

Obvious comparisons to: The Giver, The City of Ember (4th book arrived on my desk this week!), The Hunger Games (for older kids and out next week!!), Gregor the Overlander, etc.


Ms. Yingling said...

Why I read each one. If you aren't thrilled about the book, it's going to be hard for you to recommend it.

Ms. Yingling said...

This arrived the next day in my pile from the public library, and I felt the same way. Too many holes to support the book when it did not intrigue me.

Anonymous said...

It's a terrific, thoughtful review. As a reader, characters who sail through life on some version of deus-ex-machina can be exceedingly annoying; as a writer, reviews like this remind me *not to do that*...


Saints and Spinners said...

I'm a little late with this, but I wanted to let you know that I'm with you in being disappointed with this one. I really liked Dunkle's previous books, but this one came across as if it were pieced together from a number of different stories (The Giver and Invitation to the Game come to mind).

Jeanne said...

I reviewed The Sky Inside positively, figuring that his father, who was prescient in many ways, had arranged for the dog. Also this is a YA novel with a male main character, and those are too few and far between.

Jackie Parker said...

Regardless of how the dog appeared, it doesn't take away the fact that the plot relied far too heavily on the dog's ability to ease Martin's way throughout the story - impeding Martin's growth as a character, among other things.

But you are certainly welcome to disagree with me, and that's why I provided the links to others who do.

I'm dismayed at the idea that we should have lower standards for literature simply because the protagonist is male. That not only is a great disservice to our young men, it greatly underestimates their ability to discern poorly executed characters. Guys deserve good lit, too.

Also, if you are looking for good reads for boys, you should take a look at Guys Lit Wire. Hopefully you'll find quality books that appeal to teen guys there.

david elzey said...

I wanted to like this as well, and was equally disappointed, and couldn't bring myself to review because, well, it felt a little stale.

I find that those who believe books for boys need to pass a lower threshold are probably part the problem when it comes to boys and reading. Boys aren't stupid, they know when they're being pandered to, or being given inferior reading, and they come not to trust those who treat them this way. Or worse, they get turned off to reading because all they know, all they are fed, are books with lowered expectations.

I am slowly gathering a list of books with male protagonists that condescend to male readers and provide unflattering or unrealistic portrayals of boys, and are generally disappointing. What I have so far is that all of them are written and edited by women. I'm not trying to ignite a gender war, but I think it's worth noting.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Solely on the basis of the cover illustration, I was reminded of a book I read as a kid, Outside by Andre Norton, which is probably very dated by now, but also deals with the domed city idea. I remember really liking it as a kid, but I wonder if it would stand up to reexamination?

It's too bad this one seems to have its faults--I do love dystopian books.

David, your list of books sounds interesting. I'll be very curious to see which books you think are unrealistic or condescending portrayals of male protagonists.