The dictatorial rulers of The Woodlands, known as The Superiors, believe that diversity is the enemy of peace. Disobedience is punished swiftly and violently. Day by day The Superiors are usurping more control over the lives of the citizens, dictating the careers they can have; how many children they are allowed; and who they can marry. Rosa has always been different and her uniqueness will eventually land her in trouble she might not be able to get out of.
At first not much will surprise you about The Woodlands. The setup is a fairly standard dystopian world. However, a few important elements made this book really stand out for me. First, it felt to me like the author had really thought through where The Superiors beliefs would lead them. They repress dissent quite violently. They also take their belief that everyone should become genetically identical and have no community ties to the extreme, disturbing and logical conclusion. Rosa doesn’t get away with disobedience forever and isn’t a teenager who is suddenly able to take on governments. She needs help, she’s only good at the things she has learned about, and even at the end of the book no major societal changes are in the offering. I felt like this gave the book a realism that is missing from so many teen hero stories.
Another thing that made this book stand out to me were the unique details of the culture of The Woodlands. This included having a non-white protagonist, but also a lot of great detail about the structure of the society and the different cities. The book also gets major points for avoiding cliches I find annoying and for including just the right amount of teen drama. There’s a tiny bit of confusion over who loves whom, but nothing that becomes a full blown love triangle (thank goodness!). Sometimes I found Rosa’s behavior irrational, but she was in trying circumstances and pulled herself together before becoming annoying. I enjoyed that there was a great friendship and that in addition to our stereotypically strong, angry protagonist we were also given her cheerful and quietly strong friend to admire. The book even passes the Bechdel test.
While the writing quality was slightly below that of mainstream dystopians and I missed having a challenging ethical question to consider (the bad guys were just so obviously evil!), I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to anyone who has enjoyed recent dystopian YA. This book has a great diversity of characters; a fascinating culture; no love triangle; and a unique feel that makes it clear this isn’t just the same dystopian all over again. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel.This review first published on Doing Dewey.