Sunday, June 10, 2012

What Happened to Serenity? Book Review

Author: PJ Sarah Collins. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Red Deer Press. ISBN: 9780889954533.

Annotation: Katherine is fifteen and too old to be asking questions. Her whole life she has learned to trust Father and the Brothers and Sisters: they know what is best and keep the Community running. But after her best friend Anna’s little sister, Serenity, goes missing, how can Katherine keep from longing to discover the truth about her disappearance and the “perfect” society she lives in?  
Personal thoughts: I hadn’t heard much about this novel prior to picking it up and, after reading it rather quickly, I can’t imagine why it hasn’t received more attention. I really enjoyed the soft but brisk pace of the story, and was surprised by how well-developed the characters were for such a short book. There wasn’t anything that annoyed me about Katherine, not an easy feat when it comes to accurately portraying a fifteen-year-old girl. The novel did remind me a bit of the movie The Village, but after reading that the author originally wrote the story thirteen-years-ago, I can appreciate her originality in coming up with the plot. I look forward to seeing what else PJ Sarah Collins comes up with in the future, and would definitely recommend this to tweens and teens for enjoyment or in the classroom.  
Plot summary: At fifteen, Katherine is too old to be asking questions. Her whole life she has been taught in school that asking questions is for children, something their minds don’t realize is wrong and goes against the Manifesto that governs life in the Community. But Katherine can’t help but be curious about the society she lives in: why is Father the only one who makes decisions? Why isn’t anyone allowed to own color? Are they really the only Community left alive after the Ecological Revolution? Katherine’s parents urge her to quell this curiosity; it only leads to trouble and could wind up negatively influencing the Life Role she is soon to be assigned. When Katherine’s best friend Anna’s little sister, Serenity, goes missing, however, Katherine is more determined than ever to ask the questions necessary to learn what happened to the six-year-old, and why Father and the rest of the Community don’t seem to be troubled by her disappearance.   
Review: Part poetry collection, part dystopian thriller, this short but enjoyable novel from debut author PJ Sarah Collins manages to accomplish in just a little more than 200 pages what many young adult novels fail to in 400+: identifiable, well-developed characters, an interesting storyline, and a twist that will keep the reader thinking long after the closing pages. The novel centers around fifteen-year-old Katherine, a curious and intelligent girl who sees that there is something more to her life in the Community than blindly following Father and the Manifesto. Katherine is a writer, and uses a forbidden journal to create poetry about her life, the verses of which separate each chapter in the novel. She is also deeply devoted to her younger brother Scott, something that makes the situation surrounding the disappearance of Serenity more emotional for her than simple curiosity. One notable feature of the novel is that, for the most part, it is devoid of the traditional romance component that seems to be a requirement for young adult novels. A possible “pairing” with another member of the Community is mentioned, but Katherine is quick to throw those concerns aside, focusing instead of her desire to discover the truth about the society she lives in and the fate of her friend’s sister. Overall, Collins has done a wonderful job of creating a quiet but thought-provoking story that manages to be entertaining while avoiding dumbing-down the narrative for the target audience. Easily recommendable for tweens and teens alike.
Genre: Fiction
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, All Good Children by Catherine Austen, Eve by Anna Carey, Partials by Dan Wells, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi.   
Themes:  Dystopian, perfection, community, questioning authority, trust, conspiracy.  
Awards/Reviews:  N/A  
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
-        Do you think the Community was perfect? Why or why not?

-       If you lived in the Community, would you be complacent or would you be curious like Katherine?

-     Why do you think Father used the cutting-off of hair as a punishment? How did this punishment influence the rest of the story?

-      What do you think Father meant when he said people criticized him for creating a society with no soul?

-      Do you think such a place as the Community exists in real life? What challenges would such a place face in today’s society?

-     Would you want to live in a place like the Community? How would you change the Community in the story if you were going to live in it?

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