Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Time Zero- Carolyn Cohagan

The premise of Carolyn Cohagan's Time Zero drew me in, but reading it forced me to confront my feelings on dystopian literature in general.

In the future, a walled-off Manhattan is ruled by religious extremists who- huge surprise- have deemed women to be second-class (if that) citizens. Women must be veiled and cloaked at all times and aren't allowed to be educated; even learning to read is a capital offense. Makeup, perfume, nail polish, all those are illegal (because their only purpose is to entice men, of course), and women are forced into arranged marriages to the highest bidder at age 15. They have no control over any aspect of their lives and must live out their days being subservient to their husbands, only speaking when spoken to. It's in this world that Mina is taught to read by her mysterious, gruff grandmother, using something Nana calls the Primer, full of fascinating text that doesn't make much sense to Mina, but the pictures of a world that once was enchant her. She's basically memorized the entire thing.

On the day of her Offering ceremony, Mina learns that Nana has broken her hip. Disobeying her mother, she sneaks out to Nana's apartment to retrieve the forbidden Primer in order to keep their secret safe. It's on the way home that she witnesses a stoning and meets Juda, who rescues her from the angry mob that would have trampled her in their zeal for punishment. After her Offering, negotiations begin and Mina's set to marry Damon Asher, a boy that repulses her but whose family is rich and who offers her family the best price for her. It's a visit to the Asher household that sets a series of events into motion that will end with death, revelation, and change.

The reality that every rule that Mina lives by, a girl somewhere in the world is living by now is a sobering one, and that was what pulled me toward the book in the first place, along with the premise of a world ruled by religious extremists (I do love a good story about religious wackos). But this book didn't really do it for me, and I don't think that has anything to do with the book itself. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I just don't love dystopian books in general and I think I like the idea of them more than the reality. There's something about the characters in dystopian novels that I have a hard time connecting with- they never seem quite real to me in the way that contemporary (or even historical) fiction characters do. I had the same reaction to Divergent and The Hunger Games. While I liked them and found them to be well-written, they just weren't necessarily the books for me. Time Zero falls along those lines; there's nothing wrong with the writing or storyline, I just personally failed to connect.

If you're into dystopian literature, this might be one for you. The dynamics between the characters are fascinating; Mina's mother is a swampbeast of the highest order, which makes it difficult to understand how her marriage with Mina's father works. Damon Asher's mother has some pretty serious issues and her marriage to Mr. Asher is kind of a trainwreck. But Nana? Nana is a grade-A badass and the kind of character we would all hope to be if we were stuck in her reality. With the exception of Juda and Nina's father, the men are horrifying creatures, hell-bent on lording every last iota of power they can scrounge over anything female, and the world Ms. Cohagan has created is strong and terrifying. The escape scene, set in dark and flooded subway tunnels, was my personal favorite; its description will put you right there, floating on a plastic outhouse door and praying for safety. I was a little disappointed in the ending; I hadn't realized it was meant to be a series, and so this novel ends on quite a cliffhanger (this is solely because I'm not really a series reader, but I know there are tons of readers out there who are!). If you're into the fictional downfall of society, definitely check this book out, because it offers a new twist on a frightening future.

Are you a fan of dystopian literature?

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