Saturday, August 20, 2011


Written by: Suzanne Weyn
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Language: English
October 2010, $7.99
Genre: Young Adult//Fiction

It's the near future - the very near future - and the fossil fuels are running out. No gas. No oil. Which means no driving. No heat. Supermarkets are empty. Malls have shut down. Life has just become more local than we ever knew it could be.

Nobody expected the end to come this fast. And in the small town of Spring Valley, decisions that once seemed easy are quickly becoming matters of life and death. There is hope - there has to be hope - just there are also sacrifices that need to be made, and a whole society that needs to be rethought.

Teens like Nicki, Tom, and Leila may find what they need to survive. But their lives are never going to be the same again.


I try to be green. I really do. As my Threadless shirt says, “Stop destroying the planet. Its where I keep all of my stuff.” I cannot imagine how my life would be different if gas suddenly skyrocketed to $10 a gallon or $20. I would use my bike a lot more than I do, even if it meant biking 18 miles into work or would I just have to find a new job? Would we use horses, carpool more? Find new jobs that are close? Grow my own vegetables because let’s face it those would skyrocket too as so much is driven in from elsewhere. We’d all become a bit more self-sufficient that is for sure.

We all know that eventually the fossil fuels will be no more. What do we do then? How will our lives change. I think mostly we all hope that it doesn’t happen in our lifetime. This is the premise to Weyn’s book Empty. Lovely concept or so I thought. How different would our world be 5 years after the fuel shortages especially when people begin to hoard gas?

Finn and I were quite excited to read about the concept, hoping for another wicked Apocalypse sort of story, just one that hits a bit closer to home. So she bought copies when our local Borders closed down for all the girls in our young adult book club. Sadly didn’t quite turn out as we expected.

Things I loved: I love the concept, but I wanted more. While I liked the perspectives of three characters, they were all one dimensional and let’s face it, pretty damn stupid. I liked the news articles dispersed throughout which sadly apparently was the one way to show passage of time. I liked showing the worst of humanity in black market stuff (who knew that nail polish would become black market in this near, near future), riots, hoarders and more.

Things I didn't love so much: Lessons learned: girls should wear glasses and less makeup, people should learn to ride bikes and build self-sufficient ‘green’ homes. Oh and yes, love your Mother Earth. I hate it when authors spend so much time trying to drill a message into their readers heads that they think we won’t notice that they have a very thin plot, bad dialogue and more holes in said plot than a piece of Swiss cheese. I get that we should be saving the Planet, that we should be doing more about alternative forms of energy and becoming more self-sufficient in our personal lives and in our communities. I understand that living in a ‘green’ house would be wicked awesome. Who wants to give me a couple million to do so? I didn’t think so.

I think some of my huge issues began in the second chapter because to be honest I was actually kind of interested as of the first chapter. And then it began to go downhill. Apparently teenagers are so vapid and stupid that they are willing to go to the next town over even though gas is $25 a gallon in a gas guzzling truck. Also apparently the world has turned into Jane Austen-land where people have tons of money lying around with no apparent jobs for said expensive gas. Apparently our near future also includes people who don’t know how to ride bikes, who refuse to give up luxuries even though they cannot afford it, where no one has done their part to try and be a bit more eco-friendly and the concept of self-sustainability is about as foreign of a concept as 30 being the new 20 to a teenager these days.

Like I said before there were some great things that I liked about the book. I would have loved a more thorough exploration of what people will do for gas (siphoning, hoarding, etc). And yes the rich will continue to do what they do simply because they can. I guess what I don’t believe is that people will wait until all of the fossil fuels to dry up to change. You would think that small self-sustaining communities would prop up, and yes that others who don’t want to do the work would try and come in and take it. We’d have more smart cars, more public transportation (which seems to exist in abundance in every other country in the world except for own). We’d have more fireplaces, more gardens, solar panels to charge our electronic equipment because I am also a realist in knowing that we really don’t want to give that stuff up. None of this is even explored. Because even though it is in the new future, the town that Tom and Gwen live in has apparently been completely cut off from the rest of the planet and the ‘Green’ movement that has been happening for some years now.

Oh and top of all of Gwen, Tom and Nikki’s problems (egads she must wear glasses and not wear contacts which are made from oil, what is a popular cheerleader type to do) with gas shortage, there is a massive hurricane. This is so Weyn can show you a post Katrina like world where people use canoes to get to the drugstore, where food and medicine riots occur, and Tom can mumble for two sentences that it will suck if his mom might die to the massive amounts of mold which have compromised her lungs. Because what is important is the Green message that Weyn has to shove down your throats.

Ms. Weyn, kids aren’t stupid. It’s true that even when I was a pre-pubescent young woman and then a pubescent young woman that I was fairly self-involved. It’s a bit of a rite of passage. You forget that there is something else out there than Christian Slater and Johnny Depp, your best friend (who apparently is going to live right next door to you and you will never ever, ever grow apart), and trying to avoid doing homework. Mostly teenagers are just trying to survive adolescence in general. We forget that a world is out there. Now, I do that the generations below me are even more consumerist, self-involved and have that over all feeling of self-entitlement, but I also feel this is due to me becoming like my parents and about two years away from shooing the kids of my lawn in a crotchety old voice. I also fear it’s because my generation taught them that it was okay to be that way. (Case in point: unemployment. There are jobs out there, but there are some who would rather just have the government send them a check every month than get that drive thru job which they think is beneath them….or get two jobs. *gasp* But I digress.) Point is, they aren’t that stupid. I know as a future, far future mind you, mom if gas is $20 a gallon, you bet your ass my kid is riding a bike a lot, and you bet that I won’t be handing out precious twenties so they can go gallivanting 30 miles away….just cause. Yep, harshness will be me. Unless of course I suddenly get paid $30 an hour at my job and can afford to give said future offspring $20 which is suddenly the new $5. And a massive hidden ‘green’ home no one has ever managed to find…ever with enough food and power to help these kids town. Umm, yeah. Sure.

As I said there are plot holes aplenty, bad dialogue, one dimensional characters and well the prose isn’t amazing while we are at it. Which is a shame because I really wanted to like this book. I loved the concept and she could have done so much and still get her point across, still give a wee lesson on ecology and being earth friendly. But I think somewhere she was so obsessed in wanting to get her point across that she forgot her audience and that she forgot she wasn’t trying to write a dissertation that 16 year olds would possibly want to read. A very big shame.

Still had me thinking though, so I guess that is something.

Buy or Borrow: Borrow, but only if you’re really bored and convinced I perhaps missed something in my review. I did finish it though, and that says something right?

Part of:Stand Alone

Also Recommended: For some happy apocalypse stories of course I will always recommend The Hunger Games, Divergence or even Water Wars (though admittedly I haven’t quite read that one yet, but the cover sure is pretty and it is in my TBR pile).

1.75 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

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