by S. A. Bodeen
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Eli and his family have lived in the underground Compound for six years. The world they knew is gone, and they've become accustomed to their new life. Accustomed, but not happy.
For Eli, no amount of luxury can stifle the dull routine of living in the same place, with only his two sisters, his father and mother, doing the same thing day after day after day.
As problems with their carefully planned existence threaten to destroy their sanctuary—and their sanity—Eli can't help but wonder if he'd rather take his chances outside.
Eli's father built the Compound to keep them safe. But are they safe—or sorry?
(synopsis from Goodreads)
This book has been on my want-to-read list for years. When I found the e-book for a great price, I decided it was time to read it. Boy, was I disappointed. I really wanted to like this book, but it had so many problems that I read much of the book in a state of frustration rather than enjoyment.
The plot itself was interesting and, if it had been done well, could have made this book really special. Unfortunately, much of it came off as contrived and convenient, as if each obstacle was put in a character's way just to be an obstacle. I also didn't like the characters. The over-the-top villains have unclear motivations... though they're so extreme, they seem like evil-mastermind, supervillain wannabes. The supporting characters like Eli's mother and sisters seem like a collection of character traits rather than actual characters. There are so many descriptions of their hair and how it falls, but I don't feel like I know much about these women... except that they play musical instruments. His sisters think Eli is a jerk, and his mother keeps admonishing the kids to watch their language (because "frickin'" is apparently the mother of all swear words)... but other than that, these characters are kind of blank. Eli, our narrator, is supposedly a fifteen-year-old boy, but he reads more like a girl (do guys really notice and comment on people's hair that much?). He's always putting his face in his hands (actually, most of the characters do this; I guess it's how they show "emotion"). He doesn't touch people, and he doesn't want them touching him. It sounds like it's a big deal, that there's some earth-shattering reason for this. There isn't; he just decided to be that way. He also pukes more than you'd expect, especially after eating meat... which was kind of funny, especially after the author thought she'd try to include a teachable moment about how meat is so essential, and that if a vegan doesn't eat soy, they'll die of a protein deficiency. (P.S. Don't read this book if you're a vegan. For the aforementioned reason -- and for a few others -- it'll just piss you off.)
But my main issues with this book were continuity and editing. I took notes as I went along, because it was evident pretty early on that nobody had read through this book all at once and caught the mistakes. The birthdays were one such annoyance. In a flashback, Eli talks about the Christmas that he was nine, and they were in their house in Seattle. But wait... he'd already said he entered the Compound when he was nine; in fact, they'd entered on his ninth birthday. Later in the same scene, he says he was eight. This sort of mistake happened elsewhere, when we're told that Eli's father, Rex, was orphaned at nineteen. But then we're told about something that happened when Rex was eighteen, and his parents were already dead. Then there was a bit about a numeric code, which Eli said was about two dozen numbers. At 26 numbers, they decided that that wasn't enough: there were more (do these people not understand what "two dozen" is?). At one point, Eli mentions a commune, and in the context, it sounds like someplace his mother had been. I couldn't recall anything about that, so I used the search feature. That's the one and only mention of the commune. Then there was the point when Eli, who works out regularly and who's both taller and heavier than his father, couldn't hold him up when he fell... but when it came to carrying his heavily pregnant mother around... hey, no big deal! Continuity, folks. Let's get these things straight before we go publishing the book so we don't frustrate the nitpickers, okay?
I was drawn along by the story, and I did want to find out what happened next, but getting through the book was a bit of a struggle. I wasn't enjoying it. The ending hints at a sequel, but I don't think I can stand another round of mental editing. The premise was interesting, but the underdeveloped characters, weak plot execution, and lack of consistency were enough to make me dislike this one.
Overall: 2.29 out of 5