Tolstoy wrote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I find that with dystopian literature, every unhappy society is alike. There is a good argument to be made that modern literature has two main strands of dystopian literature, what we could refer to as the Orwellian strand and the Huxley strand, and YA dyslit follows that same trend. Renegade falls into the Orwellian/HUNGER GAMES camp with an authoritarian central government that controls every aspect of the citizens’ lives. For those who read political philosophy, there are definite echoes of Plato’s Republic echoing through this story, as could probably be said of much dystopian literature.
Any genre has the limitations of the field it has to work within, however. Where Renegade strikes an original note is the degree to which government thought control has evolved. Beyond Orwell’s Newspeak, J.A. Souders explores the way modern psychology and pharmacology allow for actual thought control. Souders excels in depicting the degree to which characters have been affected by the government with a creepy realism that leaves the reader chilled and wondering what the actuality of the system is. But the problem with brainwashing as a plot device is that it allows the author to get away with some glaring problems in worldbuilding which the characters all ignore because they have been brainwashed to do so. There are also some minor lapses in this story that are the equivalent of props getting moved between takes that, while not horrible, are a little distracting.
There is a definite HUNGER GAMES /run for your life/gratuitous violence element to Renegade that will appeal to fans of THE HUNGER GAMES, though Renegade lacks the creativity of the violence in Collins’ series. Mother makes for a more interesting villain however, because the overt evil shows up much sooner in this book than it does in the HUNGER GAMES books. This is necessary because the evil is much more centralized than systematic in this series. I have a major problem with Mother though. It’s a small spoiler, so if you want to read it, highlight the following text: Mother is crazy. Like, full on psychotic break crazy. Insane villains aren’t really interesting to me because while it’s an easy way to justify any action they take, it’s also an easy way to justify anything they do, without having to worry about explaining their motivation. Just like protagonists, villains need to be internally coherent, so I think insanity diminishes that ability to be interesting. [End spoiler]
Renegade is an entertaining read for YA readers, and for adult fans of dystopian literature. The relationship between Evelyn and Gavin is sweet and endearing, though of course it develops quickly as most bonds do under pressure. This is the first book in the ELYSIUM CHRONICLES and, with the cliff they are left hanging off at the end of Renegade, it will be interesting to see how the pair develops as a couple.