Alenna Shawcross, the protagonist of Lisa M Stasse’s debut novel The Forsaken, is inevitably going to be compared to Katniss Everdeen. Before reading The Forsaken, my copy sat staring at me from my desk where I continued to ignore it. I was sure it would be just like The Hunger Games. I donâ€™t know when I got so closed-minded, people.
Alenna is like Katniss in so much that she is a teenage girl in dystopic new world about to embark on a heroâ€™s journey. That and the three of us totally wouldâ€™ve been friends in high school. Designated an orphan since the current government, U.N.A., raided her house and kidnapped her parents, Alenna has survived in obedient solitude. When a U.N.A. mandated test marks her as â€śbrutally violentâ€ť she is exiled to The Wheel, a mysterious island of deviant teens. In The Hunger Games, Katniss knows she is a hunter; while her confidence may still be shaky, she is aware of her skill and how it will serve her in battle. In The Forsaken, Alenna doesnâ€™t know what her skill is; she doesnâ€™t understand how she is valuable. It is the promise of this discovery and the process by which it is made that makes her journey worth reading about.
Stasse has a cerebral tone and it is Alennaâ€™s analysis of her situation plus the actions it motivates that kept me engaged. Her journey is one of self-discovery motivated by discovering the truth about her parents and the inevitable life changes that come with being 16, no matter who or where you are. The adolescent angst of belonging is exacerbated by the extreme reality in which these characters exist. An internal battle exists among The Wheelâ€™s inhabitants, the power divided between a violent dictator calling the shots from behind a wooden mask and a young couple offering a pretense of normalcy. Alenna is immediately protected and befriended by another girl, Gadya, and joins what seems to be the more humane camp.
Stasse tributes The Lord of the Flies in The Wheelâ€™s savageness but offers us hope in Alennaâ€™s friendship with Gadya and her protection of David, the first person she meets on the island. Oh, and there is a boy. The mysterious boy who spoke to Alenna through the TV, the boy she believed in before she knew what she was going to be fighting for, the boy with the blue eyes.
No longer allowed the privilege of not participating, Alenna is stimulated by a circumstance greater than her that forces her into relationships, into action and into the process of becoming a fully realized human being.
Thank God, itâ€™s a trilogy.