I don’t know if you heard, but dystopian fiction is big in the young adult market right now. And by big, I mean it took over from the vampire craze surrounding Twilight a few years ago. The major star of this movement is The Hunger Games Trilogy, but there are an increasing number of dystopian offerings available. Article 5 by Kristen Simmons is one of them.
Dystopia meets post-apocalyptic
If you’ve read any amount of dystopian fiction before, you know that there are two genres it likes to intersect with: dying earth and post-apocalyptic. Article 5 is a bit of the later. After a hugely destructive civil war, the United States has fallen into the hands of a highly conservative militant government. The Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and democracy itself are gone. Instead, the dictator and the Federal Bureau of Reformation have issued a series of moral articles to which everyone must comply. This has put added stress on a population that’s already been decimated by civil war, relocation, and food shortages. Entire cities have been abandoned under the order of the new government, and the country is rife with lawlessness and unrest.
Our protagonist Ember and her mother are taken into custody for non-compliance with article 5, which outlaws children born out of wedlock. Even though Ember is seventeen years old, and the FBR has only been in control for around three years, they don’t intend to grant Ember and her mother an exemption. The rest of the book follows Ember as she gets a good, hard look inside the system of the FBR and just what this new government means for her and society as a whole.
No fluffy bunnies here
Young adult literature often gets a bad rap for being too much about romance and sparkly vampires. This is not Article 5’s sin. In many ways, this book pushes the envelope. It’s one of the darkest young adult books I’ve ever read. Ember is physically abused, sees people die, and spends most of the book in very real and justified fear for her life. All of this happens directly on the page, and is not just referenced in passing to dilute its impact. By the end of the book, she’s seventeen going on thirty because the seventeen year old she started the book as cannot survive in this world. Her companion through much of the book, Chase, has been abused even more than she has and has a major case of PTSD. In short, this is not a book for those under twelve. This is definitely a book that should come with a disclaimer recommending that you know what you, or your teenager, are capable of dealing with before you pick it up.
Ember is a protagonist who isn’t going to take anything lying down. She’s a real go-getter, and by the end of the book she’s in the position to save others instead of needing others to save her. She doesn’t give up, no matter how many mistakes she makes. It’s her drive that pulls you through the book. I also liked that Ember isn’t the kind of girl to just fall into a boy’s arms. Even though Chase was Ember’s boyfriend before he was drafted into the FBR as a soldier, she isn’t interested in getting back together just yet. She’s got other things to do, like finding out where her mother is and figuring out where and how they’re going to live. At the same time, both Chase and Ember have to deal with how the FBR has changed them both. That’s not to say the romantic tension isn’t there; it is. It’s just being allowed to develop and mature, unlike the the somewhat shallow and unrealistic relationships often featured in young adult books.
Why you should read this book
If you enjoyed The Hunger Games, this will be exactly what you’re looking for. Fast action, tension you could cut with a knife, and a strong critique of certain aspects of our current American culture. However, if you like your dystopia a bit more literary, or perhaps you like your young adult fiction slightly more watered down, this is not going to be for you. Again, if you, or your teenager, are not ready to deal with things like executions and torture, leave this book on the shelf for a while.