Monday, May 28, 2012

The Always War - Review

Title: The Always War
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Tags: young adult, juvenile, middle grade, dystopian, war, future, unmanned planes, computer, science fiction
Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN-10: 1416995269
ISBN-13: 9781416995265

Publisher's Description: 

For as long as Tessa can remember, her country has been at war. When local golden boy Gideon Thrall is awarded a medal for courage, it’s a rare bright spot for everyone in Tessa’s town—until Gideon refuses the award, claims he was a coward, and runs away. Tessa is bewildered, and can’t help but follow Gideon to find out the truth. But Tessa is in for more than she bargained for. Before she knows it, she has stowed away on a rogue airplane and is headed for enemy territory. But all that pales when she discovers a shocking truth that rocks the foundation of everything she’s ever believed—a truth that could change the world. Is Tessa strong enough to bring it into the light?

This book would definitely be rated no higher than PG, possibly G. There are no language or sex issues. And despite the title, there's no violence either.


I love a good dystopian novel. Give me a protagonist ready to break through the drab, gray malaise of her life and defy a tyrannical government and I'm usually hooked. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those times. Especially given the current state of our own society - groping TSA agents, inane terror alerts, etc. - I was excited to read a story about a society governed by the constant fear of enemy attack and mandated vigilance. Haddix does manage to capture the malaise, describing a people broken down by war weariness. Many of the scenes are, however, a little too unbelievable. To the extent that there are any adults in the story, they are unrealistically incompetent. The child protagonists are, on the other hand, far too sophisticated. Tessa and Gideon are, at best, high school aged and Dek is viewed by them as a mere child.
Yet these three are much more intelligent and capable than any of the adults they encounter. There is simply no satisfactory explanation for why this should be the case. There are really no adults in the society who were as capable as the children of finding out the truth?

The characters don't really grow throughout the book either. Tessa's self-confidence does grow by the end as she begins to trust her own knowledge and abilities, but Gideon and Dek don't really grow much at all. Granted, the story occurs over a short period of time, but there just isn't a whole lot of depth to those characters. 

According to the publisher's website, The Always War is aimed at those 7th grade and up. I think they've got that backwards. It should be 7th grade and below. There's nothing objectionable for younger readers and I think older readers would not find the plot credible. This could be a decent dystopian for upper elementary/ lower middle grade readers. It's similar to The Virtual War by Gloria Skurzynski or Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, though it's more tame than those books. But I would definitely choose those titles over The Always War. I'll give it three turntables. I'd rate it lower for myself, but since it's geared for a younger audience, I think it's decent for that age group.

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