Happy Saturday, Reading Nook!
Today, we're reviewing a thought-provoking book by Kristen Simmons called The Glass Arrow.
It's a thought-provoking look at an alternate future, which been described as being comparable to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. We absolutely agree with that assessment, and are VERY excited for you to read this book.
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 10th 2015 by Tor Teen
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
In a world where females are scarce and are hunted, then bought and sold at market for their breeding rights, 15-year old Aya has learned how to hide. With a ragtag bunch of other women and girls, she has successfully avoided capture and eked out a nomadic but free existence in the mountains. But when Aya’s luck runs out and she’s caught by a group of businessmen on a hunting expedition, fighting to survive takes on a whole new meaning.
Simmons paints a violent picture of a world where genetically modified and processed foods (along with a whole host of other issues), have resulted in a world where women have become a commodity, often to be played around and sold at their male owner's will. I was frankly surprised at how profound and complex some of Simmons's ideas are in this imagined world, and I can't wait for all of you to read this book as well.
Things that worked:
When we first (officially) meet Aya, she's in the midst of a personal rebellion. She's been captured and held against her will, about to be sold off to the highest bidder. However, she's not about to go down without a fight. She kicks and fights her captors; she damages herself to make herself less presentable, and basically does whatever she can to escape her bounds.
While Aya's tactics are often harsh and difficult to relate to, Simmons makes sure that Aya remains a sympathetic heroine. We can't help but feel for her as she dreams of being reunited with her family, and how se feels physically ill at being in a genetically modified environment.
I think that a lot of readers, especially younger female readers, will appreciate Aya's spirit (shades of Katniss and Tris), while also recognizing that she's a far grittier and more realistic heroine for the times.
If there's one thing I've learned about reading Kristen Simmons's work in the past, it's that she gets better and better with each book. The writing in The Glass Arrow flows, and she interweaves multiple complex storylines throughout the main story.
The plotting is also excellent - Simmons has a knack for writing action sequences that will leave readers breathlessly turning the pages.
The relationship aspect
While I was a little surprised at how quickly Aya and Kiran became attached to each other, it actually makes a lot of sense. This is a society where men traditionally lord their gender and genetic superiority over women, so it's not that surprising that Aya would become attracted to the the one person who is also treated as being societally inferior.
I especially liked the fact that their relationship develops out of one-sided conversations on Aya's part, and how those conversations begin to blossom into something more. Simmons definitely plays around with the idea of the traditional forbidden romance/dystopian relationship, a change I absolutely think readers will appreciate.
The deeper issues
While I generally expect dystopic fiction to show the grittiness and trauma of living in a totalitarian society, I was a little blown away just by how much Kristen Simmons didn't hold back in her story.
She makes it a point to include poignant reminders of just how much women have lost in this society, including sexual encounters without consent and instances where girls will go to any lengths to make sure that they remain free. There's one particular instance that had me grimacing in horror and empathy, because it's clear that the loss of agency, is a very real, day-to-day struggle.
But even when she's showing the sheer awfulness that society can sink to, Simmons pairs her graphic examples with thought-provoking questions. In one instance, an act of kindness to a young boy results in that person becoming beholden to that boy, and it challenges readers to question just what happens in society, when our basic social contracts are considered null and void.
Bottom line: Simmons asks a lot of thoughtful, provocative questions which challenge reader expectations on society and societal understanding.
Without giving any spoilers away, I think that Simmons has the perfect ending. Things end on a relatively optimistic note, but also aren't wrapped up fully. It's a perfect example of the larger fight needing to continue, and I can't wait to see if Simmons will choose to explore this world further.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
As Nikki states so eloquently in her review, there were some elements of The Glass Arrow which didn't really make sense. While I can absolutely believe that decades of consuming genetically modified food and disease have led to increased potential for infertility - it's a tentative real-world concern and an idea that has been used in fiction before - Simmons doesn't really explain who the problem is being solved, outside of trying to capture women living in the wild. Mathematically, it doesn't add up.
The evolution of the society
One thing I would have absolutely loved for Simmons to expand on, is the overall construct of the society. While the elements of a dystopic society were cleraly there (dehumanizationa; a totalitarian government); she doesn't really explain why her society functions that way. She has so many interesting elements, I would love for her to have expanded on just how society got that way.
However, I will fully confess: I may be overreading the book, simply because I have read so many dystopian books in the past couple of years.
This is a hard novel to read at times; Simmons doesn't hesitate to show the desperation and anger that many of these characters feel as they rail against a iron-fisted society. But at the same time, this is why this book is important. Simmons encourages readers to think beyond their boundaries, and question just what they would do if they were in a similar situation.
Highly recommend for all readers, especially readers who are looking for a different take on the dystopian genre. Simmons challenges readers and asks some them very important questions, and will keep them thinking long after they've finished reading.