Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Roar: Add Another Classic to Dystopian Literature

The Roar by Emma Clayton is a highly enjoyable read. It is in the same vein as the popular YA novels the Hunger Games and Catching Fire. The Roar is set in a dystopic future similar to some of the genre’s great, classic predecessors. The Roar shares similarities to two of the greatest books in the genre: Brave New World and 1984. The main antagonist in the book has extended his life to an unnatural length taking pills conjuring Brave New World. Clayton’s writing also strongly relates to 1984. Both books contain the themes of being separated by class; those who are ruled are on a frantic journey towards self identification. However Clayton’s strongest influence is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. The books share many similar themes that drive each respective novel towards a breathtaking conclusion.

Before the story begins, Ellie, one of our heroes has been kidnapped and imprisoned. The Roar roars off with Ellie and a Capuchin monkey in tow, barreling towards earth in a Pod Fighter. They cross the wall that extends across the entire northern hemisphere and race towards the United Kingdom at ridiculous speeds. They have escaped the evil Mal Gordon’s satellite space station with the goal of seeing Ellie’s family. Ellie was kidnapped by Gorman because of his suspicion of her “special” powers. Ellie is chased by goons, but the deadly twelve year old pilot outmaneuvers her tails and flies underneath London into The Shadows. Ellie makes a small mistake and ends up crashing in the Thames which is now a giant, stinking floodplain. She sinks to the bottom with the thought that she is going to be buried alive in the black muck that was once the famous river. To her consternation and relief, Ellie is “rescued” by Gorman and brought back to her prison in space. Clayton’s action is brisk, intense, and does not let up through out.

The story switches focuses onto Ellie’s twin brother, Mika, who lives in a fold down house (fold down because you fold up your bathroom in order to fold down your kitchen, all in 50 square feet) in a suburb of London. Mika is an extraordinary young boy. Everyone believes that Ellie is dead because that is what her family has been told by the local police. However, Mika has strong feelings (and convincing dreams) that his sister is alive and is willing to do anything in order to get her back.

Mika attends his local school where all of the learning takes place by video. One day in class a new program is started where all of the students are forced to drink health supplements. He feels that the government, who has initiated the “Fit Mix” program, is trying to poison the children. The program also includes physical exercise, as well as a new “game” that teaches the children how to fly a Fighter Pod (think spaceship) that the children are coerced to learn through the excitement of this new “game”. This same arm of the government, run by the Evil Mal Gorman, has certain sinister goals that they want to accomplish by running this “Fit Mix” campaign. Gorman initiates all of the children into competing against each other in a massive government supported competition. Mika is sucked into winning the game because he feels that this may be a way to find Ellie.

The plot continues with Mika becoming more and more involved in different stages of these games and through the competition, Mika gets closer and closer to his sister. I won’t give more of the plot away as that would be a disservice to anyone wanting to read this one.

One reason the book is so compelling is the descriptions of where these characters live and what their environments are like. The world north of the barrier is very dichotic. The Shadows, which is the remaining cities and towns built before the Fold Down Houses and the Golden Turrets were erected. The Shadows are the bottom of a three tiered city scape. The Shadows is a world that doesn’t ever see sunlight, where deadly mold covers all surfaces, and where the refuse from the world above is basically dumped on top of this motley living space. Living in the Shadow’s would be the equivalent of living in a dump or a sewer, unpleasant and unsanitary. Above the Shadows is where Mika lives, the Fold Down Houses. This area is where the majority of the lower middleclass lives. It is older and run down, but not necessarily physically dangerous. The houses are ridiculously cramped. This leaves the Golden Turrets, where the rich live. These are spacious apartments that jut out of the sky line. The people living in the Golden Turrets are not wanting. Picture a golden skyscraper with all the amenities included.

Clayton’s writing about the different classes from these three separate environments, was one of my favorite pieces of the book. At one point in the story the main characters are in the Golden Turrets and experience an immeasurably eerie occurrence. Here is a quote from the book.

--Boom. Boom.

“What’s that?” he asked as his feet hit the pavement. It sounded like the heartbeat of an enormous beast, as if a dragon were sleeping beneath its treasure, instead of on top of it.

Boom. Boom.

“The Shadows,” the chauffeur replied. “haven’t you heard?”

“No,” Mika said. “what’s happening?”

“The mold is getting worse,” the chauffeur replied grimly. “And hundreds are dying every day. And they say the government won’t help them because it’s cheaper to let them die.”

“But the people in The Shadows won’t be ignored,” the chauffeur said. “So they’re banging on the pillars holding up the Golden Turrets with huge steel balls on chains. All day and all night they swing them – one time for every person who’s died. It was driving people crazy up here when it started on Friday night, but apparently you get used to it.”

Boom. Boom.

“I don’t think I’ll get used to it,” Mika said. He gazed at the pavement and tried to imagine what was below, all that darkness and water and millions of people trying to stay alive and balls on chains swinging against the pillars.

“Creepy, innit?” the chauffeur said.

Sure is. Thanks for such an awesome description Ms. Clayton.

Like Ender’s Game, The Roar features a government agency training children through games. Ender was forced in a certain direction through games and, in the end of the book, was made to command an army in order to defeat his enemies, the buggers. Mika on the other hand is coerced into learning to fly by the governments offer of instantly improving his families lives. Ender is, in essence, tricked, where Mika has consciously made the choice to participate because he believes he may be able to rescue his sister.

Another strong comparison between the two works is the dream sequences. Ender keeps dreaming about the game that he is playing, in particular about the decomposing giant. These dream sequences are driving pieces in the book. Mika is also troubled by nightmares. He dreams about these incredibly ancient, living skeletons with old fashioned televisions for heads. Disturbingly, Mika dreams about Mal Gorman as one of these “Tele-heads” before he has even met him. In Mika’s dream, all of the Tele-heads surround him in order to eat him. Mal starts with a pair of giant scissors at his big toe as the first course.

There are several other themes that Ender’s Game and The Roar share. These themes include older enemies that both treat the protagonist horribly, but the hero gets even with these awful enemies in both books. Both characters are also manipulated by their respective governments. In this regard Mika takes control of the manipulation, where Ender only has a limited control over his destiny throughout the book.

Clayon’s writing is vivid and her themes are compelling. She takes up warring social classes, the environment, and psychic powers with deft skill. The book is never preachy and never assumes that her target audience isn’t smart enough for the morally challenging aspects of the narrative. Clayton is awesome at taking these serious, modern ideas and making them accessible for the kids (and adults) that take The Roar on.

Everything about The Roar is top notch. The plot, characters, themes, and environment of the book are right up there with the Suzanne Collins Hunger Games series and the classic dystopic novels that we all love. This one comes highly recommended. I hope that more people get their hands on this absolute gem.

5 out of 5 – Absolutely one of my favorites that I have read so far this year!

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