Tuesday, October 23, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Park Service

The Park Service | Paperback

Title: The Park Service
Author: Ryan Winfield
Publisher: Birch Paper Press
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Type of Review: Personal
Kara's Rating: 5 Kicks to the Heart

Blurb: Aubrey Van Houten is a 15-year-old misfit who spends his time reading and dreaming about the good old days above. Believing the planet uninhabitable after a global nuclear war, Aubrey's people live deep underground, begrudgingly working assigned jobs until they can retire at 35 to a virtual reality paradise. Through a series of curious accidents, Aubrey stumbles onto the surface and discovers a real paradise off limits: a pristine planet where humans are hunted and killed by a mysterious Park Service. Now, Aubrey must decide between his only friend, his true love, and his imprisoned people, as he struggles to find the courage to stand up to evil, no matter how pretty its face.

KARA'S REVIEW: This is Ryan Winfield's second book and it was highly anticipated by  a lot of people--myself included. I even attended his unveiling on Facebook. And I have to be honest, when I read that it was a young adult trilogy and that it was already being compared to The Hunger Games, my expectations plummeted. For those of you who don't know, I despised how horrible The Hunger Games turned out to be. So, needless to say when I read the description of The Park Service I had flashbacks of the anger and frustration I felt about The Hunger Games and the overwhelming urge to heave the book across the room. BUT, I am a devoted Ryan Winfield fan and I was determined to read his book.

Man, am I glad I did!! And it reaffirmed the lesson that you can't judge a book by its cover.

The Park Service is phenomenal and miles ahead of The Hunger Games in so many ways. First of all, I loved all of the characters. I truly felt for them and feared for them--I still do and it's been almost a full week since I've finished the book. Turning fifteen is difficult enough on its own, but to be thrust into some of the situations that Aubrey finds himself is heart wrenching.  There were so many scenes that stuck with me, but the one that still gives me chills to think about is the whale scene and the aftermath. I won't go into detail because I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but be prepared to have a very emotional reaction. Which leads me into the second reason this book is so awesome...

Ryan has a way with words. He can describe the most gruesome, action-packed, heartfelt scene in such vivid detail without over doing it. He doesn't beat the reader over the head with details that don't matter, but gives us enough to get a picture in our minds of what is going on. I will admit, there were some parts that I felt the descriptions went on a little too long, but it didn't drag the story down and I know this is just my own personal "thing."

And finally, everything you think you know about a world without people---everything you think you know about a post-apocolyptic world---everything you think you know about how a dystopian YA novel is supposed to play out: Forget it. Forget all of it. As I was reading this I kept expecting, waiting, for certain things to happen. Based on the words and actions of the characters I tried to anticipate what was going to happen next. I was wrong every single time. The Park Service was a truly refreshing take on something that has been done to death. Now I'm really thankful it's a trilogy.

For anyone who has read my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads you'll notice I only gave this four stars. The reason I did that was because of the subject matter in certain parts. This is a YA novel and four things stick in my mind that made me question the appropriateness of this book for youth: (1) the bird/pigeon scene, (2) the whale scene and the aftermath, (3) the fox scene, and (4) Eden. So, I decided to share this with my 13-year-old daughter and she had absolutely no problems with it whatsoever. She said to me: "Mom, how do you think people survived before we had everything we have today? How do you think people who live in the jungle survive? It's the circle of life. Stop being so sensitive. It was just a book." (Gotta love her!) Hence, the reason for my now 5-star review. Sometimes you just need a little perspective.

Despite all the great things about this book, there was something bothering me. Ryan's first book, South of Bixby Bridge, was a very adult book dealing with addiction and the path to sobriety. How did he go from writing that to writing YA? And where did he get the idea for The Park Service. Well, I asked him just that and here's what he had to say:

"Several years ago I found myself at a lecture given by Wade Davis, an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, and he was talking about an interesting people who live in the Sierra Nevada of northern Columbia. The Kogi, he said, escaped to the glaciers of the high mountains to avoid being conquered by the Spanish. Considering themselves elder brothers of humanity, the Kogi select their priests when they are infants and raise them in the absolute isolation of stone huts, teaching them about the world they will protect but not even allowing a ray of sunshine to touch their skin. After 18 years of learning about the world outside this dark hut, the young priest is brought to a cliff where he watches the sun rise over the valley, seeing everything he has learned about abstractly for the first time in all its natural glory. Now, this image of learning about the physical world before seeing it, this idea of having one’s senses bombarded with the reality of our gorgeous planet all at once, that image stuck with me in a persistent question about how that might feel, about how it might change our relationship to everything around us. I had been doing character sketches on a boy I wanted to write about and somehow this fascination with the Kogi and their young priests worked its way into his story and The Park Service was born—born really in a dream."

That is hands down the best answer I've ever received to that question. =)

If you haven't read The Park Service yet, I suggest you get on over to Amazon and get a copy. It'll be worth it.