Book Review: Wasteland by Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan

Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan
HarperTeen, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-211851-6

From the publisher—

Welcome to the wasteland

At fifteen,
the citizens of Prin marry.

At seventeen,
they reproduce.

And at nineteen,
they die.

Esther thinks there’s more to life than toiling at the assignments—Harvesting, Gleaning, Excavating—day after day under the relentless sun, just hoping to make it to the next day.

She doesn’t care that her best friend, a variant, is considered “the enemy.” She doesn’t care that Levi, who controls the Source, is the real enemy and might send his Taser boys after her if she makes one wrong move.

Then Caleb shows up. Could there be another way to fight for survival?


I wanted so much to like this book but it just wasn’t to be. Wasteland turned out to be something of a wasteland itself.

Most of the characters are rather flat and that probably explains why I felt this reads like a graphic novel without the pictures. Esther is 15 but still has very childish ways and emotions even though, in a society in which death comes at 19, you would expect 15-year-olds to be much more mature. When her sister begs her not to leave a worksite because she could be thrown out of the community, she doesn’t care how her behavior is affecting Sarah. She also doesn’t question why the variants have been attacking Prin. Esther is altogether lazy—she doesn’t even bother to learn how to fix a meal, leaving that task to her sister— and amazingly ungrateful, not to mention incredibly naive.

Skar, on the other hand, is an empathetic character. She is a variant (while humans are called norms) and she and her family live on the “outside”, not welcome in town. That town is run by Rafe, a mean lout, but the reality is that everything is controlled by the clever, intelligent, supremely psychotic Levi. Then there’s Caleb, whose partner was murdered and his child kidnapped. His search has brought him to Prin and he finds a lot more than he ever expected or hoped, including the dreaded (by me) insta-love. Esther and Caleb fall too hard for each other too soon, especially Esther who has never felt anything towards boys but is suddenly madly in love.

Worldbuilding is thin and leaves far too many questions unanswered: what happened and when, when is this, why does everyone die at 19, what is the disease with lesions and how did it start, how did the variants come to be, why is the sun too hot for exposure, how could they still be using gasoline unless “it” wasn’t all that long ago in which case why are there no adults, why is there no learning to farm or hunt, why is everyone monogamous, why are the variants hermaphroditic and why mention it since it doesn’t seem to make any difference in the story, how did a 12-year-old gain such power? Levi muses that “he had found drinkable water in Prin where none had existed for decades” so why would anyone have stayed there plus he’s only been handing out bottled water for 6 years at the most so where did the townspeople get water for all those decades? Most importantly, there are only 5 or 6 pregnancies a year and only one baby, at most, survives to 3 months old but it has supposedly been decades since whatever it was happened and everyone dies at 19 so how is there any population left at all? A good dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel will leave the reader with questions at the end but not this many by a long shot.

Wasteland is not the usual dystopian as the town is controlled only by one person rather than a ruling class or government. That difference is a nice touch and I’m sure the authors will make more of that in future volumes. Unfortunately, as you can tell, there is a lot I don’t care for in Wasteland so I doubt I’ll be finding out what happens in those later entries.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2013.

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