Release Date: October 4, 2016
Published by Atria/Keywords Press
In case you haven’t met, allow me to introduce Joey Graceffa, an impossibly beautiful YouTuber with artfully-coiffed, anti-gravity hair and the variable voice of Him from The Powerpuff Girls. His uploads range from video game play-throughs to assorted challenges and stream-of-consciousness silliness — he’s pretty adorable. And in addition to his online fame, the twenty-five-year-old was on The Amazing Race… twice.
And now he has written a YA dystopian novel. (Alongside one Laura L. Sullivan, whose name appears in a much smaller font… and not at all on the cover.)
Having all of this personal knowledge of its (co-)author makes reading Children of Eden akin to that time James Franco released a book of short stories. It is hard work to divorce yourself from expectation, whether low or high, and form an opinion based not on the personality of whom you know — or think you know — so much, but instead on the work in front of you, on its own merits. This is especially the case when the celebrity writes outside their obvious experience. For example, when supermodel Naomi Campbell released the novel Swan — about a supermodel named Swan — you had to acknowledge she knew what she was talking about; ditto Nicole Richie’s socialite in The Truth About Diamonds, and Lauren Conrad’s reality star heroine.
But just because Graceffa has spent a bunch of time in a Minecraft world based on The Hunger Games, that doesn’t mean he knows much about dystopia, right?
Graceffa knows a lot about YA dystopian conventions, and they are all present and accounted for here. This is by no means a bad thing — an enjoyable romp through this genre doesn’t necessarily require too much divergence (no pun intended) from the established norms — but it is worth noting that most everything in his Eden has pretty much happened before, in one way or another.
Still, it is fun to see just how those ever-trusty elements are put together, and there is a nice twist on the almost essential love triangle that is actually pretty awesome.
So, our story.
Rowan is an illegal second child hidden in the regulated habitat that safeguards the surviving human population hundreds of years into our ruinous future. Marked for death should her existence ever be discovered, her parents arrange for her, at age 16, to take on a false identity, leaving her family behind forever. But Rowan is angry — it turns out she was the first child, and her twin given precedence only due to his poor health at birth — and so gives in to a ridiculous but withal understandable impulse to finally venture outside her home/prison, regardless of the consequences. Her life is saved through a series of would-you-believe-it? happenstance, and much of the rest of the book is spent dwelling on the many ways in which her life is also, once again, saved. But she does manage to do some saving of her own, and while Rowan is assuredly a flawed heroine, she is an eminently relatable one.
Although, man is she preachy.
You see, this particular hell future was created by an environmental disaster on a massive scale, and in the post-Ecofail world in which Rowan lives, everything is recycled, reused and renewable. While this is certainly laudable, when this sixteen-year-old shut-in starts, and then continues, hammering home her Important Moral of the Story, you have to wonder if her creator had ever heard of using science fiction as a metaphor. Maybe trust your readers to get the point without waxing increasingly incredulous over fossil fuels and plastic bags? Just because your intended audience is teenagers, doesn’t mean you need to spoon-feed them every mouthful of allegory.
Or maybe it does? In fairness, Graceffa — with his 8.6 million subscribers on YouTube — probably has more contact with the wider teen audience of today than most of us could ever imagine, and if he believes that what should be implicit needs to be made pointedly explicit, for their sakes… well, this book becomes kind of a stinging indictment on the whole generation, really. But with very exciting chase scenes!
Because exciting chase scenes Children of Eden assuredly has. And while, about three-quarters of the way through, I was hopeful this was going to be a standalone story — there was no mention of “Eden, Book 1” or such in any of the promotional literature, and things seemed to be coming to a head — it was definitely designed to accommodate at least a sequel, so doubtless more excitement is yet to come. And make no mistake, even if I could have wished for more subtext in the text here, I will definitely be back to see just how Rowan, and her phalanx of rapidly-made friends, will bring down this particular evil dystopian regime.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll even be surprised when they do.