As an almost-19-year-old bookworm, I’ve pretty much grown up in the age of young adult (YA) dystopian novels. When it comes to books such as “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” “The Maze Runner,” “Red Queen,” “The Knife of Never Letting Go” — I’ve read and (mostly) loved them all.
That being said, “Wakers” is the most intriguing and honest YA dystopian novel I’ve ever read. Most modern YA stories rush through the plot with fast-paced action and quickfire romance out of fear that their young readers will get bored halfway through the book — this novel, however, takes the time to develop lifelike characters who elucidate its ideas. While its complexity may limit the book’s popularity among middle schoolers with short attention spans, it also elevates “Wakers” to be a thought-provoking novel that has something truly meaningful to say.
Written by Orson Scott Card (“Ender’s Game”), his new book “Wakers,” which will be released on Feb. 22, follows 17-year-old Laz who wakes up on a completely deserted Earth as a clone of his original self. He has the remarkable ability to “side-step,” which essentially consists of jumping his consciousness to other versions of himself in parallel timestreams (cool, right?). Luckily for Laz, he’s not stranded on this Earth alone. There’s also a female clone who’s still sleeping. And if you’re thinking this sounds a lot like the plot of the 2016 film “Passengers,” this is literally the one and only similarity — thank God.
Herein lies the main difficulty for writing a book like “Wakers”: The worlds and plots of sci-fi, young adult and dystopian fiction have been so thoroughly developed that there’s not a ton of breathing room for originality. This novel is walking through a minefield of tropes and clichés, and to accidentally stumble into them would blow the story to pieces. But somehow, Card has successfully paved his own unique lane within the world of young adult fiction, a distinctive path marked by fascinating ideas and a surprisingly truthful and respectful portrait of what it’s like to be a teenager.
Laz and the female clone, Ivy, are incredibly well-developed characters with complex motivations and full, realistic sets of strengths and weaknesses. There’s a lot more to them than meets the eye, and the depths of their personalities are revealed as the two begin to understand one another. I absolutely love Laz and Ivy’s conversations. They meet each other as equals on every front, whether they’re insulting each other, cracking jokes, discussing some metaphysical concept or opening up about their feelings. Their dialogue is masterfully wrought — it’s intriguing and thoughtful and quick, never skipping a beat. Laz and Ivy are also pretty funny; I laughed a lot while reading this book. Their relationship makes the story feel incredibly organic.
What’s even more impressive is the honesty Laz and Ivy are portrayed with having. Card aptly captures the awkwardness of being a teenager, especially in relating with someone you’re attracted to. All the confusion, second-guessing and preemptive defensive measures between the two protagonists make for a truthful depiction of adolescent relationships. I also really appreciate the way the author portrayed their relationship in all the glory and messiness of close relationships similar to real life. Laz and Ivy fight and squabble like normal people. They get annoyed and envious of each other. Card doesn’t gloss over their unworthy thoughts or inclinations; he leaves on display the very human struggle of being good and kind. Laz makes an effort not to take things so personally, and Ivy tries hard to be kind to him — the way they each move towards the other with the goal of meeting in the middle makes for the most realistic relationship I’ve ever seen on paper. It takes quite a bit of compromise and intentional effort to make a relationship work, which “Wakers” demonstrates beautifully. In our modern culture where individuality is often prioritized before selflessness, this novel’s particular embodiment of love couldn’t be more significant.
Love and humanity aside, the ability to “side-step” is one of the most fascinating powers I’ve ever encountered in fiction, and Card develops it so thoroughly that there are no questions left unanswered. By the end of the story, you’ll be thinking that timestreams could very well exist, and it’s just a shame that we can’t maneuver through them like Laz. I can’t say much more without giving away the plot, but let’s just say that all the timestream talk in this book will be enough to make your head spin in the best way possible.
“Wakers” is the perfect intersection between the YA dystopian genre and Card’s own brand of intellectual thought. There are some truly meaningful ideas woven throughout this novel — ideas about free will and power dynamics, what it means to grow up and how to love. The story never resorts to darker themes or racy scenes to keep the reader’s attention, and in that way, it feels unusually wholesome for a modern dystopian novel. This novel is bursting with organic characters, perceptive truths and intriguing ideas; it’s not just fast-paced entertainment. “Wakers” is a story of substance, genuine and insightful, and I loved every second of it.
Daily Arts Writer Pauline Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.