My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Lesson Learned: Don’t Always Trust the Review Stars
WARNING: We’re getting into craft territory, so spoilers ahead.
I’m glad I got this book for free, because had I paid for this book, I think I would have regretted buying it. The reviews on Amazon are mostly positive about this novel, and I can see why.
But overall, I can also see, to me, why I had a very different reaction to it.
What I Thought Didn’t Work Well
The basic gist of Land is that a class of Canadian students wins a field trip to Disneyland for their awesome test scores. Then an EMP goes off, rendering all electronic devices useless. No phones, no cars with electronic parts (cars without these electronic parts still work, though). This leaves the class with a choice: get back to Canada by land or by sea.
As you’d guess from the title, this novel details five teeange students—Alex, Quinn, Dara, Josh, and Cooper—who decided to go by land…
and how they have incredible luck on their journey.
For the first half of the novel, the five run into absolutely no problems. None. Thanks to the five thousand American dollars their teacher gives them, because she is conveniently one who prepares for apocalypse-type situations, a.k.a. a prepper, they buy bicycles, food supplies, and equipment. And they bike their first 60 miles without much of a problem. Then they encounter a dying old man who gives them their camper so they don’t have to bike.
Yet in the second half, they get caught by a biker gang, and things finally get interesting.
As a YA post-apocalyptic novel, I admit I came in with a bias of the setting being really cruel and harsh, and people turning on each other pretty quickly. This novel dashed those expectations, showing that there were good people willing to help out some teenager along with some pretty bad people that wanted to take advantage of them.
I don’t have a problem with my expectations being challenged. However, you’re telling me a story. I believe I would have found this world more compelling if I was kept more on my toes, and kept on my toes early on.
As a reader and writer, I’m more likely to forgive you if you have a really great story that’s riddled with typos and grammar problems than if you handed me a really bad story with no editing issues to speak of. Land as a story, and its formatting issues, make it difficult for me to forgive it.
Here is an example from the Kindle version I read:
Alex was watching her teacher impatiently, “Looks like Mr. Carter isn’t having much luck moving the class together and he’s going to each group and giving the schedule out,” Alex pointed out.
The first comma should be a period. The second comma should come after “together.” And the phrase “Alex pointed out” isn’t a dialogue tag, nor is it necessary, since she’s pointing something out with her dialogue. The whole thing is one big sentence when it shouldn’t be.
There are also so many moments where I’m told by the writer what is going on when it would be much stronger if the characters brought it up on their own. By telling me what the effect is supposed to be, the effect is downplayed.
This comes up a lot in terms of the characters.
Alex is the character we follow the most throughout the book. The main thing that sets her apart from the other characters is that she has an unwavering desire to protect children, after volunteering in the hospital with them. And that’s completely awesome. Yet halfway in the novel, it shifts to a flashback involving Quinn and how his parents died and how his current companions helped him out of that rut.
And the language to describe that moment of recovery feels so obvious:
That summer, Quinn’s new friends slowly pulled him back to life. They filled a part of the void that his parents had left in his heart
For one, it felt out of place. And second, I’d much rather that the ending part of the flashback, with the pretty bow, not be there. Let the story stand on its own. Let the characters show how they helped Quinn recover.
What I Thought Worked Well
I have to admit that most of the characters were well constructed and unique. I wanted to see more of an arc for the characters, but that might be because Land is a part of a series, and I don’t get to see all of what happens.
Still, Land had both stylistic and structural issues—a double whammy in my book.
I don’t completely hate this book, but I don’t love it either. I can see why people like it, and I really wanted to give this three stars, but I can’t. Analyzing it on a craft standpoint, I find it a hard push for that extra half a star.