Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review of Beta, by Rachel Cohn

This book came out about two weeks ago. I got an ARC through a giveaway at Live to Read. Thanks again, Krystal!

From the minimal research I did on Rachel Cohn, it sounds like all of her other books are contemporaries. This doesn't come as any surprise. Beta reads like a science fiction book written by someone who, quite honestly, half-assed all the science fictional elements. This is very clear from the world-building. In order to design a unique, futuristic world, you have to be able to think outside your own boundaries. How would growing technology and mass-scale wars and disasters change cultural mindsets? How would the world be different?

The world of Beta isn't that different from ours. This book is only two steps away from being futuristic Gossip Girl or Desperate Housewives. The rich people have the same hobbies, problems, and mindsets as they do in most contemporary literature. When I hear about an island paradise where people are practically drugged into relaxation, I think about people lounging around by the pool all day, not people studying to get into top universities or training for the military. And how is it that this world's views on gender are nearly identical to our own? Then there are the little things. Does the author really expect me to believe that people in post-polar meltdown dystopia eat the same food and use the same slang and idioms as I do? Language is supposed to evolve, dammit!

Now, that's not meant to diss the book as a whole. There were parts where I actually liked this book. The characters all started out very well-rounded and interesting. I liked the 'whiny teenager' aspect of Mother's personality, and how Greer, as the archetypical slut, still seemed far more intelligent and observant than most of the other characters. Unfortunately, the subtleties in their characterizations fully disintegrated by the end of the book. Greer and her interesting complexities all but vanished off the page, and Ivan's seeming 'meathead with a heart' demeanor descended straight into, well, just plain meathead.

There was, however, one aspect of the plot that stayed successful throughout: Tahir. I don't want to spoil anything, but his arc was both brilliant and unexpected, and I loved his family.

Elysia's own character development was excellent. I loved seeing her coming into her own as a person and beginning to assert her own identity and freedom. But, once again, I found myself disappointed at the end.

And this is where the spoilers begin:

Elysia's journey to asserting control over her own body and her own destiny was completely undermined by the decision not to abort the pregnancy. Note that I'm not criticizing a woman's choice to keep a baby who was conceived through rape; that decision is the woman's to make, and I respect it. However, the decision to keep the baby was never Elysia's. It was the Aquine and M-X who made that decision for her, and Elysia merely accepted it. The fact that Elysia never rebelled or even displayed open resentfulness at that decision completely went against her new-found strength. I did some research on the author, and it doesn't seem like she's anti-abortion in any way. I don't think she meant this book to have a contradictory message, but unfortunately, that's what came out.

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