Saturday, September 8, 2012

YA Sci-Fi: "Orleans" by Sherri L. Smith

            I have to admit that I rolled my eyes when I saw that this was yet another postapocalyptic young adult novel. I mean, how many truly different variations on this tired old trope can you get? More than I thought, it turns out. And Smith has yet another one, admittedly more creative than some, in her upcoming novel Orleans.
            The book starts out with a back story presentation that's enticingly unusual: instead of just having a narrator tell you what's going on, or finding out alongside a character who's just as in the dark as you are, Smith uses a combination of a timeline and excerpts from (fake) government documents to set the scene for her readers. It's a creative way to go about presenting a dramatic opening scene.
            The story centers around a young woman from Orleans, Fen de la Guerre, and Daniel, a young scientist from the Outer States of America. Southern states have been isolated from and abandoned by the rest of the country after hurricane after hurricane turned the region into a ruined swampland full of Delta Fever. Most of the narrative is written in Fen's Orleans vernacular as she narrates, but switches out to more normative grammar and speech patterns when a chapter is written from Daniel's perspective. While I found this an effective way to communicate perspective and give the reader insight into the mind of each character, it felt like Smith sometimes had a hard time separating the two voices. For example, Fen would occasionally use words that felt too big and educated for her simplistic vernacular, words that felt much more suited to Daniel's speech pattern. Reading level was fairly low, as one might expect from your average YA (young adult) novel.
            Two main points of conflict arose in the course of the story, one of which centered on Daniel and the other on Fen. The two of them seem to be working their way toward mutual help in solving both problems, but I was shocked when at the end of the book one of the conflicts was resolved and the other was just left hanging in midair, like someone forgot to turn the gravity on and bring it back down to earth somehow. That was a big disappointment in my book, seeing the complex situation that Smith had carefully woven around the conflict just abandoned. It gave the impression that the author either got tired of the whole issue or somehow managed to entirely forget about half of it.
            Overall, while the reading level and writing were nothing impressive, the story line in Orleans was imaginative and had some innovative ideas in it as far as back story presentation goes. Fans of Katniss from the Hunger Games books will enjoy Fen's spunky, necessity-wrought knowhow as well as her commitment to her loved ones. Look for Orleans in stores in March 2013, or pre-order online from your favorite bookseller. 

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