The Awoken by Katelyn Monroe Howes (book review).

Alabine Rivers wants to change the world. Disillusioned by the greed and the double dealing that makes politics work, Alabine feels lost until life finds a way to distract her. Meeting the love of her life and being diagnosed with terminal cancer prove to be quite distracting. After tests upon experimental drug trials upon more tests, Alabine is left with one last hope before accepting the finality of death, freezing her corpse knowing that current science cannot wake her back up or cure what killed her.

One hundred years later, Alabine wakes up to a very different world. The ethical questions surrounding the Awoken, those brought back like Alabine, have fractured the United States and all Alabine’s former privileges has been wiped away. There are those that defy the law to save the Awoken. The Resurrectionists. They believe Alabine can save all of the Awoken but do they have the right person?

My first comment about this book feels completely and utterly petty. I hate the narrator’s name. Hate it. It threw me off every time I read it. Why? It is entirely irrational. Perhaps because I kept wanting to read ‘Alabine’ as ‘Abalone’ which pushed me out of the plot so I could remind myself that the character was named after a mollusc. The name is not explained. It has no origin story. She is Alabine Rivers and she is not a mollusc.

In spite of this, I feel for Al in the feel pages of her story. Waking up is hard. I love sleeping. I know a toddler that will poke himself in the eye to stay awake and not miss anything. Not me. I’ll take snoozing in a warm bed over facing the world any day of the week. Waking from a hundred year sleep to be forced into a desperate escape under fire with barely time to blink.

From the moment she is Awoken, Alabine is running for her life with little to no explanation. Not just explanations about why people are trying to kill her but why she has to hide and why isn’t there any technology? Why is a major city abandoned and derelict? Everyone forgets that the world isn’t hers. On top of this, the entire novel takes place in an extremely short amount of narrative time. Alabine is defrosted and set to saving her newfound minority group without so much as a cup of coffee or a shower.

With so much happening, it’s surprising that I didn’t feel on the edge of my seat. Alabine’s new world is explained through exposition and by contrasting it against her previous life through flashbacks. This looking backward, combined with the past tense of the prose, left me interested in the plot but in no doubt that Alabine was going to get through these trials. While it didn’t get my adrenaline pumping, it did keep me interested like a history documentary about an event you’ve heard of. The ‘history’ of Al’s new world felt real. Tangible. Each flashback brings up details that help show the path that was taken from ‘then’ to ‘now’.

There are no codeword concepts in ‘The Awoken.’ No mutants, vampires or aliens to stand in for real life current persecuted groups. Monroe Howes’ highlights the exclusive nature of inclusivity where anyone can belong, regardless of wealth or skin tone, so long as they can conform to the nebulous idea of normal.

I did enjoy ‘The Awoken’ but I was surprised to find little hard Science Fiction in it, despite the high tech premise of the plot. This novel is at the fiction end of Science Fiction. The story does take place in a future where science can bring frozen corpses back to life as actual people not zombies but, at its heart, it is the story of a twenty-something girl struggling with the world and her self-esteem issues.

If you enjoyed Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ or Mira Grant’s ‘Feed’, give this debut novel a go. It is very readable while also giving lessons about privilege and the ease in which we can slip into complicity.

LK Richardson

October 2022

(pub: Dutton/Penguin/Random House, 2022. 416 page hardback. Price: $27.00 (US), £26.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-59318-528-5)

check out website: www.penguin.com/dutton-overview/

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