Today we’re featuring another YA novel, and it’s a good one!
YA literature is such an interesting area of books, because I think the struggle to create something thought-provoking and worthwhile, while also being relatable and engaging for younger readers, can create some really powerful writing. Some of my favorite books and authors firmly inhabit YA fiction land. (Is that a real land? It should be…) Although on the other side of the spectrum, sometimes YA can be solidly awful and get away with it because …? I’m not sure really, but I have yet to understand the phenomenon that was Twilight.
Luckily, we don’t have to talk about the dark and glittering underbelly of YA literature, because today’s book is actually really quite good! The Murder of Adam and Eve by William Dietrich was a pleasant surprise for me after spending October reviewing a string of YA novels that ranged from the cringeworthy to the merely annoyingly flawed.
The premise of this book goes basically: “What if a race of advanced aliens decided that, to wipe out the polluting, violent, screwed-up humans slowly destroying the planet, they went back in time and assassinated humanity’s genetic ancestors so that we never evolved?”
First check for environmentalism, because Dietrich gets in there and explores the idea that maybe the planet is pretty important after all, and people aren’t treating it so well. And that’s a serious, actual, real problem that somehow people are still ignoring. But he avoided sounding preachy with his message, which is where this other YA novel failed, because getting all up in your reader’s grill is a good way to lose said reader regardless of whether they agree with you or not.
Instead, Dietrich explored this great idea called ‘having fun with your writing’ and created a book that is part nature-survival romp, part sci-fi, and all entertaining. The sixteen year-old protagonist stumbles his way through some pretty crazy happenings, (trying to avoid spoilers here, because I’m going to recommend this book to you, so don’t judge me) only to come out of it all as a stronger, better person. Update: this book has received criticism for not only being scientifically inaccurate, but for also featuring a bland white male character as the relatively dense protagonist and is therefore not a diverse book or a very creative one. While I can see the merit in these criticisms, I still enjoyed the plot. So. And scientifically speaking, I’m pretty sure this book wasn’t meant to be a textbook.
Leading on from this, let’s talk about said white male protagonist. one of the problems I frequently find with (especially self-published YA literature) is that the adult writers probably haven’t been teens themselves in a long time, and it’s not easy to write them: there’s always the danger of either creating an empty shell of stereotypes – she struggles with acne! and hates her parents! and wants to be the most popular person in school and be asked to the prom or she will literally die! and that is all she is as a character! Or else swerving in the opposite direction, and creating a little adult-type person who has it all figured out.
But teens are neither of these things, thank goodness. From my own fuzzy memories of those dark days, I remember being a teenager much like trying to survive in the wild, in a place you know nothing about. You know you have the tools to survive, but you’re not quite sure how to use them yet – you’re smart, but you don’t have a lot of practice with it. The future is an unknown quantity, which is frightening. Everything is still new, because now there are all these big decisions to be made, where before they were made for you. It’s a turbulent time, man, and now I’m having high school flashbacks and let’s move on.
Dietrich, I think, does a reasonable job of portraying his protagonist, Nick, as all of these things, as a real person. My only criticism in this regard is the typical teen love-story element, which presented from Nick’s point of view comes across as kind of cheesy, and really lets him down as a character. Dietrich passed on the opportunity to create a well-rounded character who was also not weird about girls… but then I was never a teenage boy (thank fuck) so perhaps that’s really how they think. *Shudders*
The Murder of Adam and Eve overall gets a high recommendation from me, and you should definitely buy it for the teen in your life, or perhaps for yourself. If you like sci-fi, explorations of alternate time streams, survival romps, or well-written engaging books in general, get it! While the book is self-published, don’t let that put you off: William Dietrich is a Pulitzer award-winning journalist and writer of adult novels who, according to his own website, decided to self-publish this, his first YA novel, because publishers didn’t like the eco-theme. I’d say that was short-sighted on their part. It was released on October 1st, 2014, and is available through Amazon.