Something is rotten in the state of New York. In Jesse Karp’s debut young adult novel, the Big Apple is decaying and (of course) can only be saved by a handful of people—or can it? Take the jump and read my review of Those That Wake.
Those That Wake is set in a dystopian New York City, in what I would consider the not too distant future. People seem a lot colder and technology pervades every aspect of life. There are HD(TV)s everywhere you look, and most people spend all their time looking at their cell(phone)s. Sounding familiar? Anyway, for our teenage protagonists, Mal and Laura, this is all they’ve ever known. The two are not friends and in fact have never met. One night as Mal comes home from his favorite pastime of fighting in the streets, he gets a message from his estranged brother that he needs help. Upon further investigation, Mal’s brother has disappeared. At the same time, Laura goes off for a college interview and when she gets home, learns that her parents have completely forgotten who she is. The two start separate journeys to regain their families and come together to realize that someone or something has wiped them from the collective memories of everyone they’ve ever known.
The premise of Jesse Karp’s Those That Wake did intrigue me at first. I picked it up hoping for a good sci-fi thriller, a little bit of mystery, some shocks and turns here and there. What I got was quite disappointing, though. The plot has moments of becoming something better than it is, where Karp stops trying so hard to be a hip young adult novelist, and tries to just be a good writer. But these moments are fleeting and few so the plot is eventually bogged down by itself. The novel is confusing and disjointed and at time just simply scoff-worthy. I usually give a book 50 pages before I toss it aside, but unfortunately for me right around 50 pages is one of those rare moments I described. So after I realized that this book was in fact lame, I was too invested to just put it down. I had to know what happened in the end. And I guess at least Karp was able to evoke that from me.
Back to the horrible plot. As I mentioned, it does have its moments where you can see the potential underneath. Deep inside this book there is a good story with believable characters and everything, but how Those That Wake is presented just seems rushed, but at the same time seems to drag—the whole structure of this book is just out of whack. There are whole chunks of the novel that seem to be missing, like any semblance of character development. Karp expects us to fall for these characters and feel for them in the short amount of time we get with some of them. And even the ones that spend the whole novel with us still seem new and uninitiated by the end. In the hands of a more seasoned writer, this would absolutely be possible, but Karp’s muddle and haphazard plot gets in the way of thinking about anything except trying to keep up with what the hell is going on.
I see Karp’s message in the text. I can see what he’s trying to say (I won’t spoil it for you), but I think he could’ve done a much better job of saying it. If the time was taken to polish this novel up, work on the characters a bit more, and produce the really creative story I could sense in the pages, than I would’ve enjoyed this more. I wouldn’t really waste my time on this novel, but it is short and reads rather quickly. If you’re not well versed in dystopian literature and just looking to test the desolate waters, give it a chance and see (but know there are much better dystopian works). Maybe I’m nitpicking (but that’s why I write, isn’t it?) and I’m just spoiled by the fact that there is really great Young Adult fiction out there, but Jesse Karp’s debut actually just offends me as someone who tries to give ‘kids’ books a chance.