Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reader's Diary #1053- PJ Sarah Collins: What Happened to Serenity?

I don't know if we've reached peak dystopia yet, but surely in 2011 when PJ Sarah Collins published What Happened to Serenity? there was still some elbow room in the YA market. In the Canadian YA market? It's probably still a veritable prairie of youthful misery.

What Happened to Serenity? is told from the perspective of a teenage girl named Katherine who lives in an oppressive and isolated society in the year 2021. Supposedly they are the last survivors of an ecological revolution, but two events provide a combined catalyst, setting Katherine off on a mission to find out the truth which she now feels has been kept from her. The first is a mysterious note found in a cornfield that begins, "Everything is not as it seems." The second is the disappearance of her best friend's younger sister Serenity. Katherine must decide who she can trust and whether or not the truth is worthwhile, but she pursues and eventually escapes the confines of her town, meeting up with outsiders. Skeptical of the outside world as well, she nonetheless gets the answers she has been seeking and exposes her society to the world at large.

I wasn't off to a good start with this book from the very moment that I discovered that Collins was using Serenity as a play on words, as in what happened to her friend's sister named Serenity, and what happened to enjoying the peaceful, structured community; or what happened to the... serenity? I hate when authors give their character's overly convenient names for them to pun with. Then I started to notice all of the other dystopian books and movies that had very similar elements: The Giver, 1984, even M. Night Shymalan's The Village. I won't go as far as suggesting that Collins' stole these ideas, but she had to have been aware of them and I think she could have avoided it better.

That said, there were some positives. I enjoyed the hook at the beginning. There was a major focus on the importance of asking question, which I felt was handled less conventionally. And the setting was definitely a plus. I won't spoil what it was anymore than I already have, but I'll say that I was more than halfway through before I realized that I was reading a dystopian novel, not a post-apocalyptic novel, and that subtle difference created a mystery which was almost satisfying enough to make me overlook the book's lack of originality in other areas.

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