Written by: Lesley Hauge
Hardcover: 243 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co
June 2010, $16.99
Genre: Dystopian/Young Adult
Sometime in the future, after wars and fires have devastated the earth, a lonely, windswept island in the north is populated solely by women. The women have survived against all odds by working hard in their fields. Their lives are tough.
Among these women is a group of teenage Trackers—expert equestrians and archers—who are in training to protect their shores from the enemy. The enemy, they’ve been told, is men.
When these girls come upon a partially buried home from the distant past, they are fascinated by the strange objects—high-heeled shoes, teen magazines, makeup—found there. What are they to make of these mysterious things, which introduce a world they have never known? And what does it mean for their strict society where friendship is forbidden and rules must be obeyed—at all costs?
My name is Smirking and not only am a biblioholic, but I also tend to be drawn in by pretty pictures. That’s right, occasionally I will spend my hard earned money on books that have pretty covers. Such was the case for Nomansland. Lets face it that is a very pretty cover. So much so that I had to figure who the artist was, Cliff Nielsen (who did lots of X-Files artwork as well as some other amazing artwork). That being said it is always disappointing when a book does not live up to its amazing cover or even its awesome concept.
Keller is a Tracker, whose sole job is to protect the shores of their community from invaders. In her community there are no friends, no vanity, no laughter, and certainly no boys; nothing that a normal teenage girl would grow up with. But she is not the average teenage girl. She has grown up in a strictly disciplined life of rules and regulations where men are savages and routine helps keep everything together. They are dystopian Amazons. Keller has always done what has been told, always followed the rules and excelled at her duties. But then Laing, a fellow Tracker shows her a world she has ever known; a world that has now been lost where girls paint their nails and say words like “lame”. Keller has never had a friend before, nor has she ever rebelled and the story that follows should have been both beautiful and tragic.
I have heard comparisons to The Giver, but unfortunately it is not a book that I have read, so I can’t really say the same. I do know that I was disappointed. Disappointed because there were glaring pot holes that were the size of James Cameron’s Avatar ones. For example Keller is the only girl of the group who wants to read words from the Past, wants to know what the world was like before the Tribulation, but she has no idea what a snake is. I mean this literally. She sees a snake in the forest and has no idea what it is. For girls who are so utterly clueless, who do not know the written word, I find it hard to believe how easily Laing and the others become stereotypical teenage girls. They suddenly know how to put on lipstick, know how to use the word ‘lame’ correctly, etc so easily all through looking at teen magazines that they cannot even begin to read. It bugged me a lot. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief no matter how hard I tried. It was too easy, too convenient.
However there is a good story there, one of a girl whose curiosity opens a new world. A story where one young woman has to choose between the life she knows and the life she discovers is out there. Has her life been based on a lie? Is there something more? And what price are you willing to pay to know and understand that world that not only once existed but may still be out there. Keller is trying to find her place, find out who she is and what that means. These are great things about this book. And this is just the surface detail. When you delve a bit deeper, you also have feminist concepts, the frivolity of modern teenage life (though here it was a bit too one dimensional and stereotypical, but then maybe that is because I am no longer a teenage girl). As I said, amazing concept, just poor execution.
Another thing that really bugged me about the book was that I didn’t feel any real connection to any of the characters. While some of them showed promise like Keller or even Amos none of them were fleshed out, none of them made me empathize or curious and that can be intensely frustrating when everything hinges on your protagonist and her story through her eyes. If you don’t have a connection with the character, it is hard to like it all especially since she is the one you are supposed to connect with.
Things I loved: I like the dystopian Amazon angle. I like the way the community rejects all things feminine, all things they believed brought the destruction of the society. These are things that make you think. After all our current society is one that bases so much on appearance. It is a trap, a Pitfall as Keller might say. Not everyone follows the rules though. Ms Windsor wears skirts, pleats her hair and wears things like lipstick. Keller and the other girls are kept ignorant of so many things. They know that you either become a Tracker or a Breeder, but I doubt they know where the ‘Seed’ actually comes from. So it is interesting to see how one teenage girl’s room for the Time Before changes the little band of Trackers and how it changes Keller’s view of the world. Keller has to choose what is more important, how much she is really willing to risk, and how much of her life has been based on fear and lies.
I also really wanted to like Keller. She is not your average heroine. In fact her life, her world view has been shaped far more by her life in the community than she would care to admit. In many ways, and sometimes a bit too heavy handed, she is like Ms. Windsor. She is the girl who can and is willing to do the jobs that so many others find hard to do like putting down a lame animal. If Keller does as she is told, continues to live the life she has known she could be Ms. Windsor. And Ms. Windsor is a crazy woman. In fact, she is wonderful to read simply because of how frakking nuts she is. Want to hear a rant, listen to her rant on Eve from the Bible or the Bible in general, let alone the world and society from the Time Before.
Things I didn't love so much: I absolutely hate that the book seems to suggest that the moment you give a girl makeup, high heels and teen magazines that she becomes a vain, irritating defiant little bitca. Really? You introduce femininity and suddenly you become the downfall of society. I am all about feminist notions, being the smirking woman that I am, but this fell flat. It was heavy handed, it was stereotypical and to be honest not that interesting. In fact it was exactly how I predicted the story to go and that was unfortunate. Apparently once you give a girl some high heels and nail polish all she cares about is beauty contests and men (which these girls had not seen before). It’s rather insulting to be honest. These girls find a house full of objects from the Time Before: bicycles, computers, books, etc and the objects they go to are fashion magazines and makeup? These are girls who have never seen a snake before. They don’t know what Monopoly is or a TV. Wouldn’t you explore all of those things first? Beauty and vanity would be far from my concerns. Apparently not if you are a teenage woman in Nomansland.
Actually now that I think about it, the book isn’t exactly ‘yeah with feminists’ either. In fact the community is all about rigid rules, no laughing, no sisterhood in the sense that we think of sisterhood, no names ending in Y, you either are a fighter or a breeder, long hair equals vanity and creativity is sorely lacking. I wouldn’t want to live there either. It would be uninteresting and not the idealized Amazon women yeah thing I had going in my mind. So either you’re a shallow vapid teeny bopper or a mean, would cut off my left breast sort of woman. There is no happy balance in Nomansland.
The prose isn’t always amazing either. Sometimes it gets fairly repetitive and as the story unfolds, but then again there are moments that shine. For example when she describes a bicycle or a computer keyboard. In this way her descriptions are fantastic as Keller describes objects from the Time Before.
I think the most disappointing thing was…the fact that there was a good book in there. The concept was great, the cover art intriguing, but it all just felt forced and fell utterly flat. That is disappointing when you see so much potential and then somewhere it gets lost. The voice doesn’t ring true, the story you wanted to read somehow forgotten. Kind of like how the movie Daybreakers was for me.
Buy or Borrow: Borrow. Though to be honest I am not sure if I would do even that. The cover is really pretty though. Apparently I need to go read The Giver now.
Part of: Stand Alone, though I see potential for a sequel.
Also Recommended: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for a decent dystopian future, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan or The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood for something a bit more adult.
2 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks and most of that is just because there was a decent concept and a pretty cover.
Have your own review? Let me know and I will post it.