Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Teen/YA Review: On a Clear Day

I have a confession to make. Before I read this book, I’d never heard of Walter Dean Myers, who is apparently a well-known and beloved author of over 100 children’s/YA books. Shame on me. So, On a Clear Day was the first Walter Dean Myers book I’ve read (I listened to it on audio) and the last one he wrote, published posthumously after his death in July.

Dahlia is a young Latina girl living in the near future, in 2035, at a time when eight huge corporations, known as C-8, control all resources. The world is strictly divided into haves and have-nots. Gaters live in gated communities to keep them safe, and favelos are the poor, many of whom are homeless and get by through crime. Dahlia is a Gater but just barely; she lives in a poor gated community in the Bronx, with little real protection aside from its fence and elderly guards. Dahlia is an orphan who lives in a tiny apartment by herself, surrounded by kind neighbors who look out for her and for each other.

Dahlia’s life changes drastically when two young men show up looking for her. Michael is a former rock star, and Javier is a disabled computer whiz in a wheelchair. They seem to be an odd pair, but common goals have brought them together and led them to seek out Dahlia. She wrote an article about computer projections a few years ago, and they need a math expert to round out their team. They invite Dahlia to join them at a world conference, made up of people who want to see things change in the world.

Their team of teens/young people also includes Drego, Tristan, Mei Mei, and Anja, each of whom has his or her own unique skills. Together, they make up the unofficial U.S. delegation that is attending this conference in London. They meet with other teams, made up of equally youthful delegates, and discuss the current state of the world and how they might somehow take some power back from the C-8. Later, back in the U.S., they gather more information and plan an incident designed to bring attention to their issues that ultimately turns violent.

This was an odd book in many ways. It’s a very thoughtful dystopian story, with obvious parallels drawn to our own world (after all, it’s only 20 years in the future), but perhaps it’s too obvious. Myers is clearly trying to make some points about the dangers in our world – about corporate power and the increasing gap between poor and rich – but he’s kind of heavy-handed with his messages. The first two-thirds (or more) of the book is all talk and little action, which might be off-putting to some teens.  There are long passages of young people debating lofty topics and a lot of talk of mathematical modeling (Dahlia’s specialty).

I tried to just go along for the ride, but I also had some trouble with believability. Although the story is set in a very real, gritty world, the situations involving the young people often felt implausible. For instance, this conference of rebels takes place in a luxury hotel in downtown London (odd to begin with), and Dahlia is whisked from her just-scraping-by existence to a world of first-class airfare and luxury hotels (presumably, the ex-rock star is paying for everything) with scarcely any notice. She settles into her expensive suite – which is much larger than her apartment at home – as if that’s a normal thing for her to do.

Overall, I tried to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the story, and I did, to some extent. Myers’ writing style in this novel is somewhat rambling, though, and the story often felt disjointed. It feels somewhat undeveloped and ends rather abruptly, just when you feel like you are getting into it. However, the world he’s created is easy to imagine based on some of the flaws in our own world, and his primary message – that anyone can make a difference if they work together – is a hopeful one.

NOTE: I keep hearing great things about Myers and would love to read one of his better books. Let me know what your favorite Walter Dean Myers’ books are.

Listening Library

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