Tuesday 12 April 2016


Book review: MARTians by Blythe Woolston

After reading a few hefty novels in a row, filled with intricate world-building and stories that required a slower pace of reading to ensure I didn't miss a small nugget of information that would become important later down the line, I was keen to delve into a lighter read which wouldn't require quite so much brain power and I picked up the thinnest novel on my to-read shelves; the interestingly named MARTians. I assumed this would be an alien invasion novel, but it's actually more of an middle grade/young adult dystopian tale which looks at today's society of excessive consumerism and takes it one step further into the extreme – a fascinating concept.

Zoë Zindleman still has 1.5 years of high school to go when the screen at the front of the class is suddenly filled with the features of the Governor, announcing that in the interest of efficiency the school is closing and Zoë and the rest of her class are now officially graduated. She is deemed ready to start her career and is offered entry-level positions at both A11MART and Q-MART.

Initially Zoë is excited to get this opportunity she'd been working towards for years but she soon realises that starting on the career ladder isn't all its cracked up to be. As her mother has to move away for work, Zoë is left to her own devices at home but it isn't truly a home as they need it ready for potential viewings at all times and she cannot really live within the walls of the house; she's always just a visitor. Not that any of the houses in her cul-de-sac have sold for years, but it needs to be ready – just in case.

And the journey to her new job is inconvenient as well, especially when the buses stop going to her neighbourhood. So when a local boy tells her to stay at an abandoned shopping mall across the foot bridge from their work she reluctantly takes him up on his offer. Between spending her days being brainwashed at A11MART and her nights being told conspiracies about her new employers by the boy and the other occupants of the mall, Zoë is stuck between what she has believed her entire life and finally seeing what has become of a consumerism-obsessed world that is slowly collapsing in on itself.

There were some terrifyingly realistic examples within MARTians about where we are headed as a society and the value we place on owning things over the true value of life. It's a concept that's certainly not new within dystopian fiction, but the almost clinical way in which main character Zoë observed the world at the start of the novel provided an interesting perspective and made it seem all the more disturbing. What was completely normal to her seemed absurd and extreme to me yet actually the reality is that it wasn't all that far removed from where we are today.

While the concept was a fascinating one, the somewhat simplistic writing was at odds with the complex ideas the book was focused on. Furthermore, I found that the story didn't really go beyond the fantastic idea making it lack in depth and feeling like it was unfinished, perhaps a first draft that needed to be fleshed out more. This was a shame as I had high expectations for this book; it had me gripped in those very first pages, as so many interesting ideas were all introduced at once, and I was desperate to learn more about the futuristic world it was set in. 

Adding to the air of mystery around the true intentions of super brands such as A11MART and Q-MART, with their far-reaching influences and sinister methods not even clear until well into the story, was a clever way to make this an engrossing read as well. Despite perhaps not being fully pulled into Zoë's world for the entirety of the novel, this angle certainly had me hooked and made me want to read further to discover their true, quite possibly horrific, intentions.

We never do completely find out what is going on behind-the-scenes at the super stores though, and that is another reason this book felt unfinished to me. The opening and premise were brilliant, but the execution a little mediocre, almost letting the story fizzle out rather than have a memorable conclusion. There are some brilliant elements woven into this MG/YA dystopian tale and the story is certainly a terrifyingly realistic one, but I wish there had been something that made me go 'Wow!' as I turned that final page.  

MARTians is published by Walker Books and you can buy a copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.

Connect with Blythe Woolston

Website: www.blythewoolston.net

Twitter: @blythewoolston

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