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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

The Orwell Project: 3 - "Eve" by Anna Carey.

Once again, thank you for the comments and your thoughts. I have a few more things I’d like to discuss regarding some points I made in my “Matched” review regarding the separation of author and text, but I think it may be easier to do so in a separate post, possibly on The Book Lantern. I know I said “The Selection” would be my next entry, but cheap Kindle deals plus my birthday plus an uncharacteristically lovely day meant I just had to move onto another book with a lot of hype and a dead end.

Summary (taken from Goodreads): The year is 2032, sixteen years after a deadly virus—and the vaccine intended to protect against it—wiped out most of the earth’s population. The night before eighteen-year-old Eve’s graduation from her all-girls school she discovers what really happens to new graduates, and the horrifying fate that awaits her. 

Fleeing the only home she’s ever known, Eve sets off on a long, treacherous journey, searching for a place she can survive. Along the way she encounters Caleb, a rough, rebellious boy living in the wild. Separated from men her whole life, Eve has been taught to fear them, but Caleb slowly wins her trust...and her heart. He promises to protect her, but when soldiers begin hunting them, Eve must choose between true love and her life.

Cover impressions: The moment “Twilight” is invoked in the promotion of your book, you’ve got some serious hype to live up to. The same applies to the use of “The Hunger Games”. However, to bill a book as a combination of both is just setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s not unusual to see such comparisons made in the advertising of a book. It’s the entire backbone of the Orwell Project, after all. Publishing, now more so than ever, needs to make money, and the easiest way to get the tills ringing is to create hype. It’s not always successful, as we’ve discussed, but when deployed in the correct manner it can work wonders. “Divergent” managed it but “Matched” and “Eve” both stumbled. With “Eve”, I can easily see why, just from that promise of “The Hunger Games meets Twilight”. For many, the romance was a crucial part of “The Hunger Games”.

I’ve only read the first book, a shameful admittance on my part, but I always felt that the romantic element felt tacked on. Suzanne Collins’s agent admitted that she had suggested more romance for the series, whilst Collins was more interested in the war element. It shows, even in the first novel where the manipulation of narratives such as a dream romance broadcasted live make up a fascinating part of the story. I know many people disagree with me on this, but romance has never felt like a crucial, necessary or even particularly interesting addition to a dystopian narrative. It feels distracting, often serves solely to fill pages and suggests a complete lack of priorities for the protagonist. When society has crumbled and you’re up against a totalitarian government or something similar, you should be more worried about that than if the guy you like will hold hands with you. Romance works best as a secondary plot, and even then it’s tough to pull off well, so to push it front and centre is asking for trouble. So, with that long ramble off-topic, I bring the project back to “Eve” with the shocking revelation that I genuinely enjoyed it for the first third of the novel.
“Eve” opens with the introduction of an all-girls’ school, walled off from the rest of society in the remnants of what once was America, ruled by one King. These girls, having lived comfortable lives and educated in trades they believe they will spend their lives working in, are set to graduate and move into the next level of education. For school valedictorian Eve, her dream of being an artist is in sight, but her world is shattered when she sees the truth for herself – eighteen year old girls are strapped to beds, forcibly impregnated and must breed continually in order to replenish the country’s population. Understandably, Eve runs away, directed by one kind teacher to follow the path to a safe haven known as Califia. On the way, accompanied by fellow runaway Arden, she meets a man for the very first time, Caleb, who helps the pair out and shelters her from the military, who are keen to bring her to the main city where she shall take her place as the King’s new wife.

Up until Eve meets Caleb, the novel is rather enjoyable. It’s by no means a masterpiece and the first person narrative became a tired staple of the genre long ago, but the first third of “Eve” remains well paced with a genuine tension and hints of an exploration of the change in gender roles when society crumbles. Given dystopian fiction’s history in tackling women’s issues, most notably in Margaret Atwood’s classic novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” and, more recently, in the much hyped YA debut of Lauren DeStefano, “Wither” (see my review here), it’s no surprise to see another novel tackle the topic. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the author has no real interest in such issues, nor indeed in accurately developing a world where such drastic changes in gender roles would occur. It’s another world with a single non-democratic ruler that briefly mentions a decadent city where the rich live carefree, much like the Capitol, but the decision to divide the sexes and have the girls be explicitly taught to fear and hate men before forcing them to breed leaves the reader with nothing but questions. Surely if such a patriarchal system were to be instigated then it would be far easier and more sensible to teach the girls about traditional domestic roles of housewife and mother. To push this traditional role not only as the norm but as the girls’ sole function would require the involvement of men, even if sexual intercourse never takes place. Spending seemingly unlimited resources on providing schools of young girls with comfortable room, board and several years of education also seems pointless. One character says this is done because it makes the next step easier if they have had several years of the supposedly fulfilled purpose of learning a trade. While Eve’s naivety and fear is perfectly in character, to have her go through such a u-turn, from fearing men her whole life as she has been taught, to becoming entirely consumed by the first one she meets, feels unnatural and rather insulting. It asserts the insinuated gender norm of the society, that women are passive and need to be protected. While I wouldn’t quite compare it to “Twilight” as the marketing did, the author’s need to insert a romantic angle ruins the promising potential of “Eve”.

Let’s talk about reproductive issues in dystopian fiction. Science fiction has a long standing history of using the body and its subsequent invasion as a metaphor. The numerous “Invasion of the Body Snatcher” movies used its eponymous theme to tackle contemporary fears and issues such as the McCarthy witch hunts. Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, its sequels and the recently released sort-of prequel “Prometheus” famously tackle the fear of bodily infection and loss of control over ones extremities. Personally, nothing terrifies me more than losing power over my own body. Today, with women’s rights being constantly threatened and abortion providers being shut down, severely limited in their power and even birth control coming under entirely unfounded scrutiny, it’s not a surprise to see teen fiction tackle the topic. That’s not even taking into account that glorious thing known as puberty, a horror scenario to many a teenage girl.

At the heart of these books, mainly “Eve” and “Wither”, although we can’t have this discussion without mentioning “The Handmaid’s Tale” (a similar theme appears in the next Orwell Project entry “Glow”), is the terrifying and not all that fantastical idea that society views a young woman’s worth solely as a walking womb, and that she shouldn’t even have control over that. Given the dystopian genre’s long and illustrious history in exploring the contemporary world through seemingly fantastical scenarios, this is a theme that deserves proper execution. My main issue with “Eve” and “Wither” is that they shy away from the nitty-gritty of the matter and because of this they end up falling into some tired and suspect tropes of general YA. Despite everything that occurs in both novels, both heroines end the novel with their virginity intact. This is especially uncomfortable in “Wither” given that heroine Rhine’s 13 year old sister wife ends up pregnant while the husband respectfully keeps his distance from the 16 year old. The novel sets up a genuinely unnerving premise – a world where women are forced into polygamous marriages in order to quickly repopulate the earth before a virus kills them all at the age of 20 – and refuses to go all the way. “Wither”, like “Eve”, has many problems in its world-building, but by setting up the ridiculous and damaging dichotomy that the heroine’s ‘goodness’ is inextricably connected to her ‘purity’, the novels end up going against that they’re supposed to be condemning. I’m not saying that the heroines had to have sex or be raped or be subjected to something equally gruesome and degrading; that’s horrific. The issue here is in the authors mollycoddling their heroines against the world they have created. What is the point of setting up such a scenario if the reader is perfectly aware that the heroine is safe from the evils they’re up against? Ultimately, “Eve” fails to live up to its potential because it refuses to fully embrace the premise it has created.

I’m not exactly known for my ringing endorsements of romance in young adult novels. It’s not that I hate romance – I love it and happen to think that it’s one of the most challenging and rewarding genres in fiction, both to read and to write. My issue has always been with the oversaturation of romance in the genre and the reliance of insta-love over true characterisation. Not only does “Eve” squander its potential as a dystopian novel in favour of focusing on the romantic angle, the romance itself is dull, uninspiring and fails to work on its own level. It just doesn’t work in the world Carey has created. The novel is far more concerned with high school rom-com style misunderstandings and stolen glances, something which this reader found mind-boggling considering the evidently more important issues unfolding throughout the novel. The series has potential as a whole but in order to fully live up to it, the author needs to fully embrace the concept she has created, spend far less time worrying about the romance, and to tighten up the world-building and mood substantially. However, the abrupt ending and clear assertion of the heroine’s priorities (take three guesses) don’t fill me with much hope.  

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