Zombies are my favourite horror creature.
I used to be terrified of everything ghost or spirit related, but as I’ve grown up, I’ve developed more of an appreciation for the undead and the apocalyptic world that comes with them.
The Young World doesn’t have zombies, but it does have the destitute world that’s left behind after humanity is practically wiped out. Aside from that, it also features kids, teenagers, the young. Hence the name.
If you don’t know who Chris Weitz is, he’s most famous for his directing work on films like American Pie, The Golden Compass (the film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights) and Operation Finale. He’s also a producer and screenwriter. I’ll put my hands up and admit, I had no clue about his film work before reading the book. Although I’ve seen most of his films, I’ve never been the type to know who directed or produced stuff. Ironic considering I’ve thought about working in directing myself (but let’s not get into that).
The Young World is Weitz’s first novel and the first in a trilogy. I have yet to read the second novel but it’s definitely on my list!
“After a mysterious Sickness wipes out the rest of the population, the young survivors assemble into tightly run tribes. Jefferson, the reluctant leader of the Washington Square tribe, and Donna, the girl he’s secretly in love with, have carved out a precarious existence among the chaos.
But when a fellow tribe member discovers a clue that may hold the cure for the Sickness, five teens set out on a life-altering road trip, exchanging gunfire with enemy gangs, escaping cults and militias, and braving the wilds of the subway – all in order to save humankind.”
First thing to note, the story is set up with two POVs, each chapter alternating between them. The first is of Jefferson, the reluctant leader of the Washington Square tribe. The second is Donna, his secret crush. What I loved most about this setup, besides the two different character perspectives, was that each POV had a unique font. Jefferson’s text was darker. A step further in identifying different characters. If the narrative itself (told in the first person) wasn’t enough to establish character, this went a step further to help the reader keep track of whose narrative they were in.
This setup also meant that we saw scenes from both perspectives. Interesting, as many would find this reductive and repetitive. I, however, loved it. Being able to see how different characters react, in their own minds, helped me relate to the story and the characters a lot more.
Now, I write quite a bit. Having done an English and Creative Writing course in university, you would expect me to. But one comment that came up quite frequently with my work was that my stories often had the sense of films. Meaning, the imagery, scenes and everything involved in the storytelling, seemed like it would work as a film. That’s how I think. I imagine the story and see it how I would watch it. I mention that because the same thing can be seen in The Young World. The scene changes, the imagery, it all feels very movie-like. I’m sure there’s a technical term for this somewhere.
Clearly, Weitz’s work in film was influencing the way the story was written. Of course, that’s not a negative. In fact, it helped me read it. Cliffhangers and descriptions, it all worked well and honestly, if it ever becomes a film, then it certainly would work.
Something you can’t forget when reading this novel is that the characters are teenagers and it shows. The vulnerability written into these characters is evident and exactly what you’d expect. No Mary Sues or Gary Stus (admittedly, had to Google what the male version of Mary Sue was). These characters are fleshed out, believable and honest.
One thing I’d like to make note of, a little spoiler-y, is Donna’s reference to unreliable narrators. These characters being aware that they are telling a story to us was very meta and I liked it.
As always, there are a few improvements to this novel:
Admittedly, although the main characters are honest and believable, many of the side characters are stereotypical. That’s not to say all modern-day issues would be thrown out of the window when you’ve had to restart society all over again, but I did find it overwhelming with so many stereotypes being packed into only a few characters.
I will say that it was the characterisation of the other characters (and at times, the protagonists) that I found overly stereotypical. I’ve read many reviews of this novel that pointed out small actions and thoughts by the main characters that were either deemed “wrong” in their view or stereotypical. Whilst I can see where they are coming from, having characters that are perfect is unbelievable and boring.
One thing that I didn’t like about Donna particularly was the view of other girls. Appearances seemed important to her, even in the apocalypse (which I found a little unbelievable, but let’s not forget that the end of the world had only just happened. These kids grew up with beauty standards being shoved down their throats, so it’s not too unbelievable that it would still matter). However, her remarks calling girls “hoebags” seemed a bit over the top. I will admit I’ve known many girls, especially as teens, who thought similarly. So, whilst believable for the story, was it necessary?
The atmosphere was written well for the most part but I did at times find that it lacked emotion. Perhaps that’s because of the style; it can hard reading the same scene from different POVs and being able to keep track of how you’re meant to be feeling, especially if they feel differently.
As for the ending, it did end on a cliffhanger that intrigued me and made me want to read more. Unfortunately, it was also quite predictable.
For all the negatives I’ve listed, I did really enjoy this book and look forward to reading the next. Language and storytelling perfectly fit the young audience it is intended for. However, a few adjustments to characterisation would have improved the relatability.
Would I recommend this book?
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