I suppose it’s fair to preface this by saying that I’m not always a YA reader. I tend to focus my reading away from YA, mainly because I just prefer the struggles and stories of older characters. Perhaps this is because I’ve lived my own “coming-of-age” stories already and as a result, I often don’t find that topic that appealing. My motives when I read versus what I write often conflict in that way. But that’s my opinion and I think that, most likely, most others will vary, particularly as YA has matured and changed a lot, for good and bad, from what it was when I was a teenager.
What I am a sucker for, YA, adult, or otherwise, is dystopian novels. I’ve always been fascinated by apocalypse or massive societal change in any fiction. When I was a child, the idea that someone could walk through a city in which there were no people amazed me. (See the film The Quiet Earth for a perfect example of what I mean.)
Dianne Lynn Gardner’s Altered is different from the pattern that I’ve grown used to seeing or reading in YA dystopia of late. There’s not much of a romance subplot. The main female character, Abree, isn’t defined by her relationship to a love interest. This doesn’t feel influenced much, if at all, by Hunger Games or zombie fiction. (There are no zombies at all, actually.)
For all of that, this is a true YA story, written in a language and a voice suited to younger readers. Gardner’s work is not adult fiction masquerading under a “young adult” tag. Although older readers will enjoy the work, it is good to note that its primary audience–and one that will likely relate best to it–seems to be preteen and teen readers. That does not, however, means that this is a simple story. Not at all.
Altered begins with a premise that seems rooted in a fear that’s become more prevalent in the modern world: food contamination. We live in an era where things that were once considered safe have become potential dangers to us. A few years ago, I wouldn’t thought of pre-packaged salad as potentially life-threatening, for instance. Now, it feels sometimes that the media is constantly alerting the public to some new problem with the food supply. Gardner takes this problem one step forward: what if the supply was being contaminated on purpose? What if this contaminant could be used as a form of mind control?
When you think about it, this is a terrifying idea. How can you retain freedom when everything that sustains you is a tool meant to keep you captive?
This is the problem that the young antagonists must struggle with as the secret is revealed. A shifting storyline moves the focus between the United States and Mexico, between children and parents, between those who have given up and those who will never give in. Woven into these narratives as well is a surprising twist: Mesoamerican mythology.
As a fantasy author, Gardner’s other works have a European flair in their mythos. Altered brings in a new world dynamic to reveal a method of escape to the desperate citizens of her current world. Stories of rainbow serpents and Ant people serve as parables to guide Abree, her young protagonist, on her journey to resist the government that would see her family torn apart. There is much more to the world that Gardner creates, I think, than just one short novel can express and one hopes that the author will retain this delicate balance between modern politics and old gods and continue on with the tale that she has begun.
To find out more about Gardner’s work, you can visit her website.
DISCLAIMER: I was offered a free copy of this book as review. I had, however, already purchased the book at that time.