Title: The Young World
Author: Chris Wietz
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: July, 29, 2014
Genres: Science Fiction, Apocalyptic, Adventure, Romance
The Young World is New York City run by teenagers. It’s been two years since the Sickness wiped the world of adults and children, and the only people left are the ones with the right hormones to make them immune. Once you turn 18, you’re dead.
Jefferson (a brainy, philosophical, good-hearted hero) reluctantly takes over the Washington Square tribe after his brother dies. They do their best to defend their territory, treat each other fairly, and help everyone survive. But when Jeff gets a clue to save teen-kind, he sets out with Donna (the snarky girl he’s secretly loved since Kindergarten) and three others to find the one cure to save them all. The journey to the cure is a cruel one as they defend themselves from chauvinistic, white supremacists, a group of cannibals, tween fashionista tunnel rats, and even an escaped polar bear from Central Park Zoo.
This is Chris Weitz's first book, but you might recognize his name from directing movies like The Golden Compass, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, About a Boy, and American Pie. Well versed in the juvenile arts, Weitz creates a dystopian story as cruel and relentless as the mean girls from high school. Actually, it’s totally worse.
The New York teens have resorted to violence to protect the short years of life they have left. This means the tribes spend as much time scavenging for firearms and bullets as they do for food. When Jefferson, Donna, Brainbox, SeeThrough, and Peter adventure out to find the cure, they repeatedly have to defend themselves. The first threat comes in the form of a baby bottle Molotov cocktail and Dora the Suicide Bomber – a doll with an unexploded M-80 in her backpack. This is just a taste of apocalyptic New York City. I was entertained for the first half of the book, along for the ride no matter what the kids faced and appreciating the comedic relief when delivered. Peter, who joined the journey because he was SO bored, had one of my favorite lines, “Um, I would just like to say that I signed on for a good time? And so far, I barfed, I got shot at, and somebody tried to feed me human flesh.” After what they’d been through, it was a welcome laugh. In the second half, I started to feel weary of the dark world Weitz created and sad that this was supposedly the world teens today created when everyone else died. The killing, the meaningless sex, the continued loss of loved ones, the abuse of the weak – it left me feeling less excited to pick up the book and generally like Ugh. Then there’s the end. I didn’t realize this was a series. After feeling a little downtrodden by the story, I was disappointed with how it ended and felt kind of emotionally blank. According to Goodreads.com, the second installment is scheduled to publish this year.
Between cannibals, fistfights, and shoot-outs, Jefferson and Donna question whether it’s worth loving anyone during such a short duration on earth. Love vs emptiness, God vs nothing, sameness vs change – these are some of the major themes of the book. Weitz also hits on now pointless cultural obsessions like Adderall, Cell phones, and “spreading words sideways” (which is Facebook and Twitter – information concerned with the present instead of the future). One thing The Young World does is offer a wealth of relevant discussion topics. In fact, if I recommended this book, it would be in a group setting, which brings me to the following question.
Would I let my teen read this?
Our Facebook status = It’s complicated? I liked some things about this book. It’s clever and funny, and it delivers so many subjects to talk about that I really could offer many more pages of analysis. Peter could have his own page; the African American gay Christian who poses questions about the presence of God during hell on earth and is also the comic relief. I wish more YA books had this analysis-worthy quality.
The underside is the heavy language, the hard topics of abuse of women and youth (12-13 year olds), and the unrelenting violence between kids. I also think sex is misrepresented. Jefferson says at one point that “boys are born easy,” that simply because they’re male they’ll have sex with anyone willing, which is a myth. It’s also another example of a good discussion topic.
The content of the book is not necessarily unrealistic to the teenager experience today. Sure, if it were a movie it’d be rated R, but as I recall, the same would be true for the hallways between classes in high school.
So, I think this would be an interesting group discussed book in a senior lit class, or if you’re looking for a book to read with your teen (maybe especially your son).
Age recommendation: 17
Swearing – Heavy: swears and derogatories
Drugs and Alcohol – References to addicts; some alcohol drinking
Sex – Many references to sex – the teens discover they can’t get pregnant. Between that and their short life span, they do it a lot; a make out scene; a sex scene (not detailed, you just know they’re going to and then they’re laying on the cold floor together); offers of prostitution, references to girls being owned for sex
Violence – Hand to hand combat; Sword combat (close range stabbings, cutting off hands, through necks, in the ribs); boy strangled in public; boy stabbed to death; teens mangled by bullets; reference to cannibalism
My Goodreads rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars
Buy: The Young World - on Amazon.com
I read a lot. I'm a Mom. I'm officially in my 30s, but strangers often don't believe I'm old enough to drink. I love Young Adult fiction, and thought it was worthwhile to help teens and adults find age-appropriate options.