I’m noticing a psychological/sexual politics theme in a lot of these up and coming dystopias. And I’m loving every minute of it. There’s nothing like a YA dystopia to make me feel grateful for all that I have. And while famous dystopias of times past deal with things like always being watched (1984), or keeping a whole society in order (The Giver), which deal with turning current situations upside down, and making things scary, these new dystopias are all about tuning things backward for groups of people (particularly women), and making things scary that way. Books I have read in the past year or two that made things scary for women (of the future): Wither by Lauren DeStefano, XVI by Julia Karr, and Matched by Ally Condie. I feel like these books are creating a subgenre of YA dystopia, but I’m not sure what the title of the subgenre would be.
Any way, Dark Parties literally starts with a dark party. Two best friends, Neva and Sanna throw a rebellious party in the dark, hoping the darkness will allow people to feel free to share how they feel about current political/government situations. And what I love is that none of the world is explained right away. The first sentences of the book are at the party. And things about the world they live in come into play naturally as the story continues. Before any major rebellious announcements can be made, Neva gets a very passionate kiss from someone who is not her boyfriend in the dark. She soon learns its from her best friend’s boyfriend, and she wishes she could take it back.
Neva’s group of friends all take serious risks in their mini rebellions of dark parties, stolen historical artifacts, silent marches, climbing of political structures, spray-painting of slogans, etc. And between all the people who go “missing” and the police interrogations, you’d think Neva and Sanna would be more careful. Actually, Sanna does become more careful due to the persuading of her new boyfriend (whose in love with Neva), and Neva’s boyfriend decides to not get involved with all the political actions of his friends because he was one of the first to be interrogated, and knows what the government is capable of. Unfortunately for him, his new cautious attitude is what draws Neva away.
The book is about learning to pretend that liberties aren’t important to you in order to do something about it later. It’s about waiting for the right moment to spray paint the city or sneak into a hidden office in a government building. It’s about trusting your heart and surviving heart-ache. The story really gets interesting when Sanna gets taken away after the silent protest. She gets sent to the Women’s Empowerment Center, which is more like the center for drugging women, impregnating them, and making them breed as many babies as possible.
Neva’s world is dwindling in population and it seems like people are dying at younger ages. She lives in Homeland, and in a sense it’s a bit like City of Ember, not because it’s underground (it’s not), but because the entire population is within one giant dome, cut off from the rest of the planet, meant to live independently. A lot of the teens in Neva’s group of friends complain about how nothing is new; everything is recycled from envelopes with dozens of addresses on them to shirts so worn they are all grey. There’s actually a really interesting scene where Neva comes across a globe and pieces together that something like a planet actually exists. And it’s in these small, interesting moments that details about Neva’s world come out naturally.
Neva sets out with Braydon (the boy who both girls love), to infiltrate the Women’s Empowerment Center, and rescue her best friend. She does this on a time limit because she has a limited time slot to escape Homeland for good. She frees a large group of women (many of whom are pregnant), she learns about choices and the reason people make them, she gets betrayed, captured, interrogated, rescued, and every time I think she’s finally going to make it out, something bad happens to push her down again.
The number one reason this book was so good: the plot. It’s fast paced and action-packed; I literally could never put it down. Number two reason: the love triangle. I loved the drama between Neva, her boyfriend, her best friend, and her best friend’s boyfriend. It worked as an excellent teen drama subplot for all of the bigger picture action. And number 3: the ending. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone; don’t worry. Just know that Neva decides something and it has nothing to do with her family, with a boy, or even her best friend. There’s finally a YA main character that chooses just what’s right for her. And it’s empowering.
What I didn’t like: Neva sort of shifted from shy girl to rebel leader rather quickly without much transition. She and her best friend, Sanna, sort of reversed rolls. Sanna started as the brave one. And I get why at the end of the book Sanna was who she was. But, she was who she was way before the end. I needed a more gradual change. I don’t think a boy could really affect the girl who threw the dark party that much. I mean, he made her a bit of a wuss, and I didn’t really find that believable. And likewise Neva became awesome. She went from being afraid of the dark to freeing a house full of pregnant ladies! But again, I feel like her shift into the brave role was too quick for me. I like a little more development, please.
And lastly, while I just adored Neva by the end, there was something missing with her. I just didn’t feel like her motive for everything she did (her grandma who might be alive outside Homeland) was strong enough. For me to feel like the risk of her life, the life of her friends, and so many other sacrifices were worth it, I needed a really good reason. And Grandma wasn’t cutting it. Maybe if I knew her character more, or if some other reasons were made more pronounced, I’d get Neva’s decisions more, but I just wasn’t fully understanding her character.
However, all in all, this was a fantastic book. The story alone rates it high with me. I just wish there was some better character development, and a stronger motive for the main character. I still give it a 9/10 just because it was one great story. And it would make a really interesting book club book.