By Ekta R. Garg
August 13, 2014
Rated: Borrow it
When a cryptic illness kills all children and adults and leaves teens alive, the teens must find a way to survive in a post-social media world. For a handful of young adults, however, just surviving isn’t enough, and when they receive a small glimmer of hope about a cure they decide to abandon the last tentative hold they have on any stability to try to save the remaining world and themselves. YA author Chris Weitz challenges his readers with this premise in the sometimes-frenetic but ultimately enjoyable novel The Young World.
Jefferson (Jeff) plays second in command to his older brother, Washington, who acts as leader of the “tribe” of teenagers living in New York City’s Washington Square Park. The Sickness has taken everyone’s parents and younger siblings in a brutal fashion. No one knows what the Sickness is or where it came from; they only know that it only killed children and any adults who have reached the age of 18.
The story opens with Washington close to his 18th birthday, and right on cue he begins exhibiting symptoms of the Sickness. Jeff knows he can’t take his brother’s place, but the Washington Square Tribe vote him as their new leader. Bolstered by the confidence from (and secret love for) his childhood friend, Donna, Jeff steps into the role. His first responsibility becomes assessing a possibility everyone covets: a cure for the Sickness. In order to decide whether the cure can become a reality, however, Jeff must leave Washington Square.
He sets out with Donna and a few other friends, and they run into trouble right away. Other tribes inhabit various parts of the city, and not all tribes function according to the same “live and let live” philosophy that the Washington Square tribe encourages. Jeff and Donna must deal with constant threats to their lives and the lives of their friends while at the same time balancing their growing feelings for one another. The closer they get to the cure, the more dire the situation becomes—and no one knows the price they might have to pay for that cure or whether they even want to pay it.
Author Chris Weitz captures the proliferation of social media among young people with razor-sharp precision. The result comes in the form of witty, snarky internal and external dialogue that will have the book’s target audience as well as adults nodding along and smiling. The story alternates in first person between Jeff and Donna, and neither character holds back. Readers will become ensconced in the story, all the more because the explanation for the Sickness comes straight from our current times.
Readers may find the book’s pace a little exhausting. Weitz doesn’t allow for much breathing room between action sequences. The characters face one trial and have just enough time to turn around and move forward a few steps when the next trial barrels into them. About three-fourths of the way through the book, readers may feel themselves gasping.
Breakneck pace aside, Weitz certainly gives readers something to consider. I definitely recommend The Young World for those who enjoy dystopian fiction.