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Review: Awaken

Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky was released in the U.S. on May 23, 2011 in hardcover and eBook formats. It is currently available online to pre-order in both formats from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, the print edition is 320 pages.

Awaken is one of the books that can be chosen for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge hosted by Kristi at TheStorySiren.com and is one of my original twelve picks.

Goodreads description:

Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether it’s to go to school or on a date, people don’t venture out of their home. There’s really no need. For the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life—until she meets Justin. Justin likes being with people. He enjoys the physical closeness of face-to-face interactions. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her.

Suddenly, Maddie feels something awakening inside her—a feeling that maybe there is a different, better way to live. But with society and her parents telling her otherwise, Maddie is going to have to learn to stand up for herself if she wants to change the path her life is taking.

In this not-so-brave new world, two young people struggle to carve out their own space.

***

In 2060 the majority of people spend their lives indoors. Tucked safely away in their homes, hidden from the dangers of society in their encapsulated environments.

Plugging in and reaching out digitally to make those human connections with the outside world. Inventing the lives they want to live, creating the people they want to be, simply by pushing a button.

Experiencing the world through their digital personas, learning only what Digital School wishes to teach, and thinking only in those rare moments when they are not plugged in, being bombarded with the constant digital chatter that fills the emptiness their lives have become.

Imagine living this life, not realizing you were asleep. Not until the moment when someone woke you up.

***

Awaken is a thought-provoking dystopian novel, with an utterly compelling storyline and an intensely captivating love story.

Set in a future version of our society in which people have isolated themselves and grown to rely so heavily on technology that they aren’t even aware of this shift, Awaken challenges readers to take a look down the road to see what their lives might become.

Living in fear, trapped indoors, willing to let those in power make her decisions for her, and choosing to experience life in that single dimension that digital technology offers, is how Madeline Freeman exists day after day and year after year. It’s the only life she knows. It’s the one she’s comfortable with, even if it doesn’t make her truly happy.

Making those connections to her hundreds of digital friends around the world, from the security of her bland-colored home with its laminate safety flooring, eating her bland-tasting food, and looking out at her artificial lawn and plastic trees ensures that nothing exciting will ever happen, but gives her the peace of mind that nothing bad will happen either.

But when Justin Solvi enters her life, he makes her aware that there’s more to living than just being plugged in. That there is a real world outside of the artificial one she’s created for herself, and that she has the ability to think and do for herself without relying on any outside influences.

Awaken is the story of a girl who learns that there is more to the world than what she has been led to believe, that safety isn’t always worth the price of freedom and that even one person can make a difference.

Author Katie Kacvinsky has really given readers something to think about with Awaken. She has certainly motivated this reader to step outside and unplug for awhile.

But she has also written an enchanting love story between two people who have lived very different lives, but who share the same passion and determination for what they believe in.

Madeline and Justin are smart, strong, insightful and courageous. Maddie starts off as sympathetic character but grows into one who is incredibly likable and Justin is lovable from the very beginning.

There are very few stories that inspire thought in a way that is engaging and exciting. This story is one of the few. Awaken dares readers to wake up.

Reviewer gives this book [rating=6] Like In-N-Out Burger‘s infamous secret menu this one deserves my off-the-menu 6 star rating.

On a personal note:

Wow. Just, wow. Talk about scary good. If I even thought it was going to be remotely as amazing as it was, I would have read this story months ago when I first saw it on NetGalley.

Awaken was a complete surprise. From the moment I started reading it, I just fell right into the story. I loved the author’s writing style. It flowed so beautifully. And some of those passages just took my breath away. I literally had to stop and sigh a few times before I could read on.

The story itself was totally relatable. Even though it’s set in the future, the transition from now until then follows a very believable path. And the fear that initially caused people to hide behind closed doors made complete sense. As scary as this future seems from our perspective, it’s one that is very possible down the road.

This is another book that really made me think. It offered so many concepts that gave me pause and made me apply them to real life. The ideas in this book are really not much of a stretch from where we are right now and where things are headed in the not-so-distant future.

But I also fell in love with the love story and the two main characters, Maddie and Justin. Even though his motivation wasn’t completely pure, what he did for Maddie was the best gift anyone could ever receive.

Justin is totally swoon-worthy. He is also noble and selfless and one of those good guys you just really want to get to know.

Maddie was another surprise. I knew from the start that there was something there, but she really grew as a character in ways that I didn’t initially think possible when I started the book. And it wasn’t all Justin’s doing, which I’m glad.

They are such a perfectly matched couple. I did not expect a love story when I read this book. At least not one that made me sigh so many times. Every single time they were together I was completely drawn in.

And most of all I loved seeing the real world through Maddie’s eyes. Having her experience the simplest things like touching the grass and hearing the wind in the trees for the very first time was so amazing. It reminded me just how much I take for granted.

And of course I love that our main character, who spent most of her life trapped indoors, was ironically named Freeman.

When I started reading Awaken I thought this was a standalone book. I got really worried when I was almost done and it felt like there was so much story left to tell. The ending completely left me hanging, yet at the same time it felt as if that might have been intentional, so that readers could fill in the rest with their imaginations.

But I am so totally relieved that there is another book planned. And I hope it comes out soon, because I am dying to find out what happens next. I want to see if these characters can really make a change to this world in 2060 where everyone has become so isolated.

This was a completely unexpected read, and one that I am totally in love with. Even though this story is a dystopian, it feels just as equally character-driven as society-driven. I can’t wait to see more from the author and to read the next book whenever it comes out.

My favorite swoon-worthy passage:

He grabbed my face in his hand and pulled me close and this time he kissed me, really kissed me, and I opened up my mouth and my heart and my soul and he flooded in.

***

According to the author’s blog there is a sequel planned for Awaken.

Book trailer for Awaken:

***

This review is based on an eARC I received courtesy of Houghton Mifflin and NetGalley.

Food for thought: I wrote this review in the evening, after working remotely from my home office. Connecting to my office across the country only by computer. Communicating with my co-workers through email and text messages.

I wrote this on my laptop, checking in with my digital “friends” throughout the day. I submitted this review to an online website, posted it on my blog, and spread the word online through Twitter and Facebook.

I did not have to step out of doors, speak with any person, or make a real life connection with anyone in order to do this. So I have to wonder just how much different am I from Maddie? And it’s only 2011…

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