Incarceron and a look at the 2012-2013 ITA nominations.

12 Mar

 

It’51MscpKKInL._SL500_AA300_s been a while since I sat down and sunk my teeth into a YA novel! This one’s been on my list since last fall–it’s gotten a lot of buzz at the high school and junior high level, and the sequel, Sapphique, is already out.

While this book is technically a science fiction story set in a futuristic world, it often feels like a fantasy novel; there’s a quest narrative and a dose of magical elements, and an ingenious mechanism that allows for both a dystopian, futuristic prison, and an opulent kingdom designed to match “Era” standards, everything fitting into an aesthetic and social system from days gone by, to exist in the same book.

Let me break it down, because this is where things get a bit complicated. Incarceron is a living prison. It is sentient, constantly watching and recording its prisoners, and nobody has ever escaped. Finn is convinced that he was born on the Outside, but the only clue he has is a mysterious mark on his wrist and a crystal key.

In a separate part of the world, or perhaps in a separate world altogether, there’s the land where everything is designed to feel like the past; carriages, castles, gowns, and the works. Although there is some cheating on the sly with out-of-era technology, the social system stays dated. Claudia, daughter of Incarceron’s warden, is betrothed to be married, but when she finds a way of communicating with Finn, she begins to learn about the prison, which is entirely different from what she and her people have been told. In return, Finn begins to piece together his mysterious past.

In terms of prose, there’s nothing too exciting going on here, but the world Fisher creates is fascinating, and it gives way to some interesting ideas to chew over. I was particularly fascinated with what these worlds were ideally supposed to be and what they ended up being instead. Both Incarceron and the “Outside” were designed to be paradises, and so either side considers the other side as a paradise. In the beginning, Incarceron was to be a place where criminals were relocated and reformed to be a part of this amazing society with excellent education and technology, but instead factions split up and crime breaks out. And Claudia’s world, too, is far from perfect, even though it was designed to be.  “We will choose an Era from the past and re-create it. We will make a world free from the anxiety of change! It will be Paradise!” reads a decree that opens up an early chapter of the book.

That leads the reader to ask, why do we idealize the past? Is it because we only choose to see the good details and ignore the bad or inconvenient ones? It seems natural to become nostalgic for things gone, to shy away from change and to keep things old. Yet the citizens of this Era-restricted world constantly cheat with modern conveniences; hidden washing machines, secret elevators, carefully-used Skin Wands. It’s interesting that society seems unable to make a comfortable mesh of these old and new things; instead they pretend that everything is old, hiding away new conveniences like some ugly but necessary secret.

The fate of the prison, too, makes the reader wonder, as the characters in the book do, if man automatically reverts to evil. When criminals are given the best resources, will they still return to crime and evil, despite all best efforts? I really don’t think so. I mean, Australia turned out okay.

At 442 pages, this book is rather hefty, but the type is forgivingly large and the book flies by. There are some satisfying twists toward the end, including the very inventive and surprising location of the prison. It’s also a nominee for the 2012-2013 Iowa Teen Awards (ITA). While I wouldn’t deem it as the best book of 2012, it certainly is the most inventive one I’ve read this year, and I’m curious to read the sequel.

Then again, I haven’t gotten around to ANY of the other ITA nominations for the year! I need to get on that. Here’s a look at the other nominees:

  • Artichoke’s Heart, by Suzanne Supplee
  • The Big Field, by Mike Lupica
  • Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • I Am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore
  • Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld (my GRANDMOTHER has read this one and I have not. Goodness)
  • Lockdown, by Walter Dean Myers
  • Lost in the River of Grass, by Ginny Rorby
  • Maze Runner, by James Dashner
  • Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper
  • Payback Time, by Carl Deuker
  • Ruined, by Paula Morris
  • The Running Dream, by Wendelin van Draanen
  • The Truth About Truman School, by Dori Hillestad Butler
  • Virals, by Kathy Reichs.

Have you read Incarceron? If so, what did you think? How about any of the other ITA nominations? Any guesses for which one will or should win?

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