Author: Jenn Reese
Release Date: February 2012
Genre: MG, Apocalypse/Dystopia, Sci-Fi
Summary: Thirteen-year-old Aluna has lived her entire life under the ocean with the Coral Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides. But after centuries spent hidden from the Above World, her colony’s survival is at risk. The Kampii’s breathing necklaces are failing, but the elders are unwilling to venture above water to seek answers. Only headstrong Aluna and her friend Hoku are stubborn and bold enough to face the terrors of land to search for way to save their people. But can Aluna’s fierce determination and fighting skills and Hoku’s tech-savvy keep them safe? Set in a world where overcrowding has led humans to adapt – growing tails to live under the ocean or wings to live on mountains – here is a ride through a future where greed and cruelty have gone unchecked, but the loyalty of friends remains true.
☆: 3.5/5 – a good book for middle graders just starting out in the dystopian/apocalyptic genres.
Review: This is probably a good contemporary dystopian/apocalyptic book to introduce to middle grade/young YA readers. “Above World” has a very interesting society that I feel we didn’t quite get a good look at (hopefully that will be remedied in later books. The premise was interesting – humans fleeing the earth itself to survive in its depths (it reminded me a lot of “Dark Life” in that sense), but I feel like Reese could have used a few more drafts to fully flesh out the world she has created in this book. I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would.
That’s the problem I guess I have with “Above World” the most – it was okay. It could have been so much better than it was, and though I felt like though the basis for a very strong worldbuilding experience was there, it wasn’t fully fleshed out, and I felt like a skimmed a great part of the book because my attention was starting to wander. I think the most vivid parts of the book (when Reese wants to use her skills in sensory language, she really can) were when Aluna and Hoku were on land, trying to get the tech to save The City of the Shifting Tides, marveling and cringing at what humanity has become while their people have been living in the water. However when we were in the City itself, there was a ton of telling and not nearly enough showing that should have been there to hook the reader in terms of worldbuilding within that crucial first part of the book. When we were in the Above World, the imagery was deliciously strong, and I felt like I really was there – and that saved the book for me. It made the skimming worth it, and it made the rest of the journey a little easier for me to make with the characters to the end of their arcs within this installment of the series.
I could have done with a little more backstory with Sarah Jennings and more of a defined time period of when she helped create the Kampii and the City instead of having it mentioned as “a few hundred years ago”. I like details like that, and when you’re creating a new world from scratch, those details are crucial to building a very strong world. But as this looks like this is only one book in what looks to be at least a duology, I can understand why Reese stayed her hand there. But I still would have rathered a stronger and more set timeline as well as a lot more sensory language use within the City itself. I shouldn’t have to skim a fair chunk of the book to have myself drawn back in again.
In other words, perhaps this book was just a little too simple for me.
As for the characters and the plot, they’re well-rounded and the arcs are well-executed. Keeping things simple does make it easier to execute arcs and sub-arcs to achieve the end goal for the characters’ transformations by the end of the book, and Reese nailed that one here. She made it very easy to understand what was happening, and so I think that this one will be a big hit with the MG and very young YA crowd. There’s nothing objectionable so parents will be able to share this one with their children pretty easily. And hey, we need something to introduce this genre to young readers to, right? I think that “Above World” is a good modern start to the apocalyptic/dystopian genre for this age group.
However, if you’re a more seasoned/older fan of these genres, this may not be the book for you. You may find it a little too simple or not daring enough for your palate. Just throwing that one out there. But I encourage everyone to give it a read anyway and come to your own conclusion. “Above World” is out now in stores, so be sure to go and check it out.