Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky
Publication Date: May 30, 2011
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: technology, digital age, dystopian
Format read: Borrowed from the library.
Summary: The year is 2060 and the world and everyone’s life is basically run by a computer. Maddie lives her life on a computer screen, getting to formulate just how people perceive her. It’s not until she meets Justin that she begins to get curious about the outside world and decides to meet him at a study group. Instantly, she wants more than just communicating with him through a computer screen.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am constantly checking my phone for Twitter updates and emails, and turning on my laptop in the evening after staring at a desktop for eight hours straight during work. But what if that was all we had? What if no one went out for walks on the beach? Or hung out in a coffee shop? Or went shopping at the mall and just laid on their front lawn reading a book?
Life like that seems pretty dark and dismal, doesn’t it?
Kacvinsky has built a startling world, one that is only 48 years from now. That’s not that far away. In fact, if this book was real life, my generation would be Maddie’s mother, a woman who has her favorite novels from the past tucked away, a woman who gifts her daughter a blank journal and hands off these books like golden treasures when the time is right. Maddie’s mother doesn’t forget the simplicity of the past and hopes to pass that on to Maddie, even if her husband and Maddie’s father has had a huge hand in this push toward the digital life as leader of the digital schools.
While Kacvinsky doesn’t build a world quite as concrete as Megan McCafferty’s Bumped series and goes a tad overboard with the ‘evils of technology’ theme (We get it, we get it, I kept muttering to myself), she does a deft job of creating this character who is a victim of her time and the world’s dependency on digital. But sometimes these feelings pop up and she wonders why she can’t just go outside for a date instead of pretend she’s outside on a date and she’s stuck in this conundrum. Does she even know who she is because she’s so busy creating this image for herself? Has making things so easy actually made life incredibly hard?
Meeting Justin in person changes all of that. He’s part of a group that wants to revive the old way of living. Taking time to enjoy and not rushing through life just because. Connecting with people. Talking to people face-to-face. Spending time near people, looking straight in their eyes and not at a pixelated screen. But there is that problem of who her dad is and how she’s on probation and watched even more than the normal kid. They are both off-limits to each other in ways and it makes their chemistry that much more tangible and fiery.
I’m not normally one for dystopians but Kacvinsky’s premise hit close to home. While I love to learn the latest gadgets and have made some of my closest friends through social media, I still know how much I treasure watching someone’s face when they talk, hearing their laugh, and watching their hands move in excitement or frustration. While I know personally just how well you can get to know someone with all the advancements we have today, I want nothing more to be able to show up in my car and go bowling and out for a glass of wine with them.
Sometimes I fear all of this is just a distraction, one that will cause me to miss the real moments in life and make me lazy when it comes to the important things. Kacvinsky’s novel is also about control and how we have to work hard to believe in our own abilities to connect and not rely on machines to do everything for us. Or we’ll just become robots, or worse, rolling around on a cruise ship in the sky like the humans in Pixar’s Wall-E.
Everyone has something to fight for in Awaken, even if they don’t know it yet. Though at times long-winded, Kacvinsky has introduced a thought-provoking premise with brave characters standing up to powerful forces while managing to smoothly interject a budding romance. I, for one, can’t wait to see how it all ends in part 2 (which comes out November 20).