Monday, June 27, 2011

Awaken Book Review

Author: Katie Kacvinsky. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 9780547371481.
Annotation:  Seventeen-year-old Madeline Freeman lives in a world that is kept in a state of perpetual safety and peace. Everything is wired: school is digital, relationships, activities, everything is done by computer from home. But when she starts to see that this life is missing something, she must choose between being safe and really living.  
Personal thoughts:  I really enjoyed this book and read through it very quickly! It definitely makes a statement about how wired we are in today’s society and the slippery slope that lies ahead. As an former-Oregonian, I did find Kacvinsky’s use of Corvallis as a bustling metropolis of the future kind of funny. Other than that, the story was very interesting and well written. According to her website, she plans to write a sequel, Middle Ground, coming soon. I look forward to it!
Plot summary: The year is 2060, and seventeen-year-old Madeline “Maddie” Freeman lives a very sheltered digital life. In Madeline’s society, everything is done online from home. Children are educated through Digital School, a program created by Maddie’s father, and very little face-to-face interaction occurs anymore. Maddie has come to terms with her digital life, but this hasn’t always been the case. When she was fifteen, Maddie hacked into her father’s computer, releasing important information to those opposed to Digital School. This serious crime could have landed Maddie in a detention center for life, but her father’s influence saved her, and now she lives in a state of house arrest: her actions are monitored, websites she can visit controlled, and she is not allowed to socialize with anyone in person. Everything changes, however, when Maddie meets an online friend in person for the first time. His name is Justin, and Maddie quickly learns that he is one of the rebels opposed to Digital School that she helped in the past. Justin tries to convince Maddie that her digital life isn’t reality and that he and the rest of the rebels need her help. But can Maddie really turn on her family, even if she is opposed to her father’s creation?
Review:  This debut novel from author Katie Kacvinsky is a thrilling combination of technology, adventure and romance in an interesting futuristic setting. The society in Maddie’s 2060 is very conceivable given the current trends of our reliance on computers. Far more social interaction is done online in 2011 than ever before, and the complete shutting out of face-to-face relationships in favor of the safety of the computer screen doesn’t seem so improbable. Perhaps one of the best parts of Awaken is that it will likely shed light on these issues for teen readers who might be overly caught up in their Facebook, text messaging or online games. Apart from this hard look in the mirror, Kacvinsky has crafted an intriguing plot and set of characters that will surely make for a good series. Maddie is a very likable protagonist and her strained romance with Justin will likely remain at the forefront of the story in the next installments. The futuristic technology Kacvinsky creates, cars that can go underwater as submarines, lipstick-sized stun guns, add to the fun. A good start to a promising series.
Genre: Fiction/Adventure
Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Divergent by Veronica Roth and The Giver by Lois Lowry.
Themes:  Technology, relationships, in-person vs. online interactions, romance, rebellion.   
Awards/Reviews:  N/A  
Series Information: Sequel Middle Ground coming soon.

Discussion Questions:

- Do you think that Digital School could actually become a reality? Why or why not?

- Why do you think that Maddie is against digital school? Would you feel the same way she does? Why or why not?

- Do you think that Maddie and Justin should try to have a romantic relationship? Why or why not?

- Why do you think Maddie's father wants to protect Digital School so much?

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