Friday, March 2, 2012

Middle Grade & Young Adult Corner: Partials, by Dan Wells

Overall: 8.3

This is a very good start to what will presumably become a series. I do have a few notes, though.

AR Grade Level: Unknown
Suggested Age Range: 13+ (Although there are very few naughty words - and no graphic sexual content or gratuitous violence - the themes are still pretty adult.)

Plot Synopsis:

"The human race is all but extinct after a war with [the] Partials — engineered organic beings identical to humans — has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by RM, a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island while the Partials have mysteriously retreated. The threat of the Partials is still imminent [--] but, worse, no baby has been born immune to RM in more than a decade. Our time is running out.

Kira, a sixteen-year-old medic-in-training, is on the front lines of this battle, seeing RM ravage the community while mandatory pregnancy laws have pushed what's left of humanity to the brink of civil war, and she's not content to stand by and watch. But as she makes a desperate decision to save the last of her race, she will find that the survival of humans and Partials alike rests in her attempts to uncover the connections between them -- connections that humanity has forgotten, or perhaps never even knew were there." -- from Amazon's book description.

The Skinny:

I read - and enjoyed - Wells' John Wayne Cleaver series, so I was certainly willing to take a chance on this one. And was I disappointed? For the most part, no.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first:

  • The one problem with the limited third-person point of view - and its relentless focus on Kira and her thoughts - is that we aren't really provided the full picture. In particular, I wish I knew more about what drove the more militant members of the Senate. A few of them come off as flat, over-the-top fascists, and that makes the ongoing liberty-vs-survival discussion feel less like a genuine conversation and more like a one-sided battle against a clique of straw-men. I sympathize with the largely pro-liberty message -- but I also think the common good needed a stronger champion.
  • Wells jumped over a lot of time - and a lot of story - in the final chapter. How was East Meadow's government reorganized after baby Arwen survived? How was the Voice reintegrated given their terrorist activities? Maybe this is because I'm an adult reader, but I would've liked to have seen a deeper exploration of the aftermath.

On the other hand, the mysteries woven through this story regarding Kira's heritage, the genesis of the RM epidemic, the machinations of the Senate, and the reasons for the Partials' retreat - some of which are resolved by the end of the book and some of which are deliberately left hanging to leave room for a sequel or two - are undeniably compelling. And I particularly enjoyed the interaction between Kira and Samm, which laid bare the grey areas of the conflict with the Partials. Does an artificial origin vitiate a man's humanity? Is it fair to hold the Partials responsible for the sins of their creators? Is it just to deny them their rights as clearly sentient beings? I think Wells' answer to this question is "no" -- and rightly so, for as we see through Samm, the Partials clearly have human souls despite their pheromone-based "programming" and their super strength.

On the whole, I'm intrigued. The concept certainly has the potential to develop into a top-flight exploration of our fallen human nature -- especially our instinctive reluctance to broker a peace after a devastating conflict and our unfortunate attraction to revenge. My hope is that there will be a book two at the very least, as I would like to see where Wells ultimately takes the story.

Characterization: 8.0

As I note in the short discussion above, some of the adult characters need to be fleshed out a little more. The teenaged protagonists, however, are generally well-conceived.

Plot/Pacing: 9.0

As I said, the ending is a bit rushed. Despite that flaw, however, this novel's greatest strength is definitely its pacing. It clocks in at over 400 pages - which is on the hefty side for a YA novel - but you don't really feel that length because Wells is a master at crafting his "act outs" and keeping the reader guessing.

Concepts/Themes: 8.0

Again, I would've liked to have seen a little more balance in the novel's treatment of the ever-present tensions between the individual and the society. Still, I think the story's heart is fundamentally in the right place.

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