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When We Wake (Nebula/Andre Norton shortlist).

When We Wake by Karen Healey

Reviewed: 2014-03-16, 11:59, My Rating: 3.5 out of 5, review contains spoilers: No

When We Wake

This is my benchmark for the SFWA 2014 Nebula YA category (aka Andre Norton). It's a good start, with an interesting premise, which I don't regard as a spoiler, as it's on the front cover, that the protagonist, Tegan, is brought back to life after being killed and frozen.

The book - set in Australia - falls into 3 parts, with a short part 1, a snapshot of the day she dies and the friends she's about to leave, and some of the skills she may (or may not) need to get her through parts 2 and 3.

Part 2 deals with her arrival in the future, thawed and healed, and her adjustments to the technology and mores of her new home. She finds friends, and enemies, as she tries to integrate into a new school, and the narrative drags here; I wonder where it's all going. But her school is an unconventional one, with highly talented pupils, even the obnoxious ones, and it's here that Tegan assembles her team, providentially with skills that will prove necessary to get safely through part 3. And her love interest.

Part 3 kicks off with the discovery of the military secret that must be revealed to an apparently conscience-less Australia, sitting pretty in a world that coping badly with climate change, pollution and resource shortage. This is where her "team" gets to show off.

It moves quickly from here, and the team play their parts, and fall away. Some are "shot", and with a variety of lethal and non-lethal weaponry about, I'm left in some uncertainty about the finality of these "shootings", wondering whether X or Y has been sonic-shot-incapacitated or traditional-shot-dead. Perhaps the author isn't sure who she's going to bring back at the end, or in the sequel, or maybe it's just sloppiness.

Reading as an adult, I have a big issue with the security, both domestic and military. It's just too easily defeated, if you have the right friend, with the right apps. I have a minor issue with the odd interjections from Tegan's post-denouement self - I'm not sure they add anything. (Hypocrite, I hear my own reviewers call.) And Tegan finds it far too easy to evade her watchers - the military are cast as villains, and acquire the stupidities thereof. The other villains - the religious fanatics - also have a fair measure of villain-stupidity.

Some real plus points, though. Tegan's moderate religious beliefs are treated really sympathetically, and contrast against both the atheism she meets and the religious fanaticism. Likewise, the inclusion of sympathetic (liberal) Muslim characters. And Tegan's cautious attitude to sex and drugs. And to Rock and Roll, too, if you consider Tegan's obsession with the Beatles.

And some good, provocative topics dotted about the novel, too. Climate change. The responsibility of the developed world towards the other nations (the haves and the have-nots). The morality of eating meat, in a climate-challenged world. It's a book that does challenge young adults to make life-choices for the long haul. Better, it does it unobtrusively, in a way that doesn't preach.

In the end, the good points well outweigh the bad, and When We Wake justifies its place on the Nebula voting shortlist.

When We Wake on Amazon

page last updated Sun Jan 25 12:14:37 UTC 2015