Buy The Haven
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Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Reviewer: Melissa on April 8, 2014
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
For the teens that live at The Haven, the world beyond the towering stone wall that surrounds the premises is a dangerous unknown. This is the way it’s always been, or at least the way it’s been ever since the hospital was established in 2020. Of course, The Haven is more than just a hospital; for the teens that live within its walls, it is the only home they have ever known. Everything in their lives are strictly monitored – their education, exercise, food, rest – and the people who run The Haven say that the rules are in place to keep them healthy, to help keep the Disease that case them as Terminals, the Disease that takes their limbs, lungs, and memories. Shiloh is different; she remembers everything. Gideon is also different; he dreams of a cure, of a rebellion against the status quo. In Carol Lynch Williams’ first Dystopian YA novel, The Haven, Shiloh and readers must consider various “what if” situations: What if everything they’ve been told is a lie? What if The Haven isn’t as safe as it claims to be? And what will happen if Shiloh begins asking dangerous questions such as these?
Opening up a book like The Haven is an exercise in entering an entirely new world. Whereas some Dystopian novels, like The Hunger Games, begin with a character who recognizes the deficiencies in the world she lives in, Williams has created a classic Dystopian story about a teen named Shiloh who has accepted most (if not all) the information that she’s received from the Whole teachers and doctors who run The Haven at face value. She knows that making skin-to-skin contact with other Terminals, even just in a friendly way, is dangerous, so she’s always avoided it. She knows that commingling with the boys of The Haven is strictly forbidden, so she’s never snuck around with any of them. She knows that disobeying the rules is sure to make her feel nauseous, so why would she ever want to try? It’s also an exercise in coming to understand and identify with a character like Shiloh, who expresses herself, at the outset, in ways that we would consider more akin to a lifeless robot than a human being. Her speech patterns certainly take time to get used to, as is her tendency to speak in the third person aloud to encourage herself to do something, especially when it’s hard for her to do. At the same time, I think that Williams made the right call when she gave Shiloh such a unique way of expressing herself and speaking about her environment because it makes it easier for the reader to understand that the world of The Haven is nothing like our world.
While I haven’t read every YA Dystopian novel out there, it’s safe to say that this one is unlike any I’ve ever seen before. However, it isn’t completely without a parallel. Parts of the narrative seem similar to the childhood scenes in Hailsham in Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, although I’ve admittedly only seen the film adaptation. That said, I believe that Williams takes the idea of a closed off community of children to very different places than Ishiguro did, but I really want to see that for myself now, so I’ve added the adult Dystopian novel to my to be read list now. What is similar, however, is how heart wrenching the reader will find every moment when Shiloh reveals details about her own past surgery and that of her classmates, and how these surgeries change their lives forever going forward. What is also similar is the belief by some students at The Haven that they’ve been told have been lies and propaganda to make sure that they remain docile and easier to control. The novel also makes the reader ask questions about what makes someone human? What is a sou and how can you tell if someone has one or not? And of course, what is the difference between someone who is Terminal and someone who is Whole? If you’ve read or seen Never Let Me Go, I think that you might be interested in checking out this novel, if only to see how Williams writes about similar types of characters in a completely new way.
Personally, I really enjoyed the novel the entire way through, until the ending. While some of the characters find themselves in different circumstances, it didn’t seem that way for all the characters. To me, it seemed as if there was more of the story to tell, but by limiting the narrative to a standalone, the ending wasn’t satisfying…at least not completely. Yes, I understand that many Dystopian novels don’t end on a completely upbeat note, but there certainly is room for the story to continue in a way that could impact the larger society of the book. I would love to read another book with these characters and this world, but unfortunately, I may have to keep dreaming in this case.
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