One of the perks of being in the APOCALYPSIES debut author group is that I get to read some of my fellow authors’ books way before they hit the shelves. I’ve read quite a few new YA books this year because that is what I write and what I primarily reach for when choosing a book to read. But I signed up to be on the list for a particular middle grade book because I found the cover and synopsis so intriguing.
From the back cover of FREAKLING by Lana Krumwiede:
In twelve-year-old Taemon’s city, everyone has a power called psi — the ability to move and manipulate objects with their minds. When Taemon loses his psi in a traumatic accident, he must hide his lack of power by any means possible. But a humiliating incident at a sports tournament exposes his disability, and Taemon is exiled to the powerless colony. The “dud farm” is not what Taemon expected, though: people are kind and open, and they actually seem to enjoy using their hands to work and play and even comfort their children. Taemon adjusts to his new life quickly, making friends and finding unconditional acceptance. But gradually he discovers that for all its openness, there are mysteries at the colony, too — dangerous secrets that would give unchecked power to psi wielders if discovered. When Taemon unwittingly leaks one of these secrets, will he have the courage to repair the damage — even if it means returning to the city and facing the very people who exiled him?
I just finished FREAKLING and I can say with certainty that my instincts in choosing this story were right on. I’ve read a respectable amount of of sci-fi/fantasy and really thought this book was well done, unique, and emotionally satisfying. There are some tropes that readers (particularly genre readers) will find familiar (the Chosen One, the evil sibling, etc….) but the book never falls into cliche-ville and never feels like a hollow retread. Krumwiede is bringing enough freshness to the table in the way of characterization, plot, and good old-fashioned writing chops that I found myself turning the pages and feeling inspired as a writer and, at times, getting a little downright teary-eyed.
So let’s talk about the world that FREAKLING is set in. One of the conventions of genre-writing (in this case, a sci-fi dystopia) is world-building; the creation of new objects, landscapes, gadgets, slang, social norms, political and power structures, etc. These narrative creations need to feel far enough removed from our own reality to technically be considered “other worldly” yet still maintain a high degree of credibility in order for the story to stand. Anything less and readers simply won’t buy into it. Shoddy world-building will infuriate a devoted reader of genre fiction very quickly.
I totally bought into the world of FREAKLING.
In the way that I bought the Buggers in ENDER’S GAME and Hogwart’s School in HARRY POTTER and The Capitol in THE HUNGER GAMES, there was an internal logic and richness to the world that immersed me quite fully.
Additionally, while readers want to feel “transported,” there needs to be some sense of familiarity and humanity to the world as well and I found that I was quite sympathetic to the main character right out of the gate. I hurt when Taemon hurt. I was angry when he was angry. And I was glad to get to know him. He was a character I felt really good about rooting for.
I think what I liked best about this novel is the fact that I couldn’t put my finger on it genre-wise. It is marketed as a dystopia which is a subcategory of science fiction however there is something mildly fantastical going on as well….the priests’ power over the population seems mystical and the use of psi (telekinesis) feels almost “spell-like.” The gadgets (unispheres, psi-locks…) have a steampunk quality to them and then every once in a while, there is something randomly contemporary thrown in. (The school has a marching band in which the main character plays the bass drum and familiar slang is peppered here and there like the term “zipping your fly”). I really like the fact that Krumwiede was willing to take risks like that and blend genres. It’s hard to do, so hats off, truly.
And then there’s that cover…AMAZING. I think the globe and metal gears captures the spirit of the book so well and will definitely catch readers’ eyes when they are perusing the bookshelves this fall.