Hunger Games copycat covers. Have you notice how many of them there are out there? So many. Black or blue cover. Circle-based logo, possibly involving flames. Apparently publishers like to do this as a way of telling readers that a book they haven’t read is like a book they have read. You know, picture language to get to your subconscious. But it makes my eyes glaze over. I see a Hunger Games copycat cover, and I run in the opposite direction. I liked the first one, now let’s do something new. Endless repetition of the same set of symbols: no thanks. So you can probably see why, looking at the cover above, I went into Paradigm with reservations. (Holy crap, I just looked at the cover of Divergent, which I got at a flea market last weekend, and it is almost exactly the same. Sheesh.) Was the book going to be as derivative as its cover? No, no it was not. Whew. That was a close one there.
Paradigm is a solid book with better-than-your-average-dystopia writing. Despite containing the classic dystopian elements we’ve all come to know and (possibly) love—the slightly ominous corporation, a selection process, natural disaster, a walled community, SECRETS, and people living underground—it managed to escape feeling (overly) derivative. The narrative alternates between two characters: Alice, a girl whose experience of the storms that end the world as she (and we) know it leads into the start of the dystopian society we see Carter Warren navigating 80 years in the future.
Lowe handled the familiar elements well, giving the moral questions brought up by the book complex answers. Alice’s perspective shows us how what might develop into a dystopia can start out as a necessary and positive coping mechanism for survivors of disaster, while Carter’s story shows us how those elements can shift into something more ominous, can become dead weight. The goal must be, the book seems to say, to keep shifting, keep changing. Only through re-evaluation and change can a society remain a place that all of its members will want to live in.
Also at war between these two stories were an Ayn Randian idea that selfishness is the best possible course of human action, particularly when it comes to the arts and love, and the idea that communistic equality and a lack of individuality can bring about happiness. The interesting thing about Paradigm was that it managed to show situations in which both viewpoints were appropriate. That’s a lot more nuance than I was expecting.
One issue I wished had been explored in slightly more detail (and I do mean slightly more—just a sentence or two sprinkled throughout would have done the trick) was that of parenthood. At the start of his story, Carter is frozen—a coping mechanism for his community to deal with resource scarcity, among other population-related issues—and wakes to find that he had fathered twins who were born during his absence. Because he was frozen at the age of fifteen for fifteen years, he is the same age as his children when he finally meets them. Not only would I have liked to see more of the emotional impact of fatherhood, I would have liked to have more emphasis placed on the bizarre situation of having children that are your age. Unfortunately, this is one bobble that Lowe leaves out. The story fares well without it, but its presence would have added another layer of depth that would have earned it a few more stars from me.
As a lover of post-apocalyptic books, I was very satisfied with the depictions of ruins (nice writing there, Lowe), and, just as Octavia Butler does in her Parables books, the implication that a dystopia is very likely to follow an apocalyptic event. Because said ominous corporation is there to take care of survivors, we don’t get much fun surviving-in-the-ruins-of-humanity stuff, which is an aspect of post-apocalyptic fiction I quite enjoy. Oh well. I think I’ll live.
Paradigm zooms in on both the good and the bad parts of life without flinching. There is an attempted rape, a murder (you could argue it was a mercy killing, but which is worse?), prostitution (it is never stated explicitly, but it is very often implied that Alice’s mother was a prostitute), and something really, really horrible happens to a really nice dog. I hear the kids are calling this “gritty” these days, but I think I’ll go with occasionally brutal. Consider yourself warned.
As for the ending, which can really make or break a book like this: success. Really enjoyable for spoilery reasons I will leave unsaid and for a very satisfying symmetry. All the more so because it didn’t feel like an “obviously this is going to be a series ho ho ho have a cliffhanger suckahz!” ending. Even though this is going to be a series. Probably containing three books.
When I read young adult books, I try not to think of all of the similar stories that have come before it that I—at the ripe old age of 31—have had time to read, and instead to imagine a teenager reading this with no idea that all of those other stories exist. If this was the first dystopia a person had the chance to read, would I feel like they had gotten to see some of the best the device (feels more like a device than a genre to me, though you could argue it both ways) has to offer? Yes, actually, I would.
Three out of five water purification tablets.
Where I got it: From the publisher for review via NetGalley
Where you can get it (Preorder, publication date is June 13, 2014): The Book Depository (Free shipping world-wide)
Fun facts: While Lowe has won awards for her short fiction, this is her first novel.