By Bethany Wiggins
Published on April 2nd 2013
Published by Walker Childrens
Published by Walker Childrens
My feelings about this book can be summed up pretty easily in one GIF:There is no cure for being stung.
Fiona doesn’t remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered—her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighborhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right hand—a black oval with five marks on either side—that she doesn’t remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. She’s right.
Those bearing the tattoo have turned into mindless, violent beasts that roam the streets and sewers, preying upon the unbranded while a select few live protected inside a fortress-like wall, their lives devoted to rebuilding society and killing all who bear the mark.
Now Fiona has awakened branded, alone—and on the wrong side of the wall.
Because at first I was all YES THIS IS AWESOME THIS BOOK IS SO CREEPY AND UNSETTLING AND I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT IT but by about 60% in I was like NO WAIT STOP GO BACK THIS IS NOT THE BOOK I THOUGHT I WAS READING and then I got to the epilogue and I was like COME ON ARE YOU KIDDING ME. (My word choice might have been less charitable but we like to keep it clean around here.)
I have never been more sad about not liking a book, to be totally honest. The premise is fascinating and at least vaguely grounded in reality -- not the maniacal zombie beasts part, but the parts which are rooted in the very current, real-world problem of honeybees dying at alarming rates. In the first few chapters, we are immediately plunged into a filthy, desperate, terrifying world with Fiona, who has no memory of what possibly went wrong, and it's absolutely thrilling. Like, heart pounding in your chest, chills down your spine. I thought it was masterfully written, and captured the horror of suddenly waking up in this terrible world where there are violent beasts and armed militias and no hope whatsoever. With both the reader and Fiona having no context for what's happening, the opening was so very effective at building mood and tension.
And then the book turned into a completely unadvertised love story.
Now, despite the fact that I spend a lot of time complaining about romances, I am not totally anti-love story. I just want it to be realistic and not icky. Stung gets the realistic part right -- you try being around Hottie McHotterson 24/7, the only person who treats you like you're a real person, and not falling for them -- but fails on the icky factor. Here's why it didn't work for me (I will be vague, so as to avoid big spoilers, especially considering that the love story aspect isn't even promoted in the book summary):
- Fiona wakes up with the body of someone in her late teens, but the last thing she remembers is a time period roughly around her 13th birthday. So she's got the mind of a tween/early teen and the body of a woman. I don't know, if I were Hottie McHotterson, I'd maybe be taken aback by this fact. Fiona hardly even has time to adjust to this horrible new world she's found herself in, let alone her new body and advanced age. The love interest knows this - he knows about the years Fiona is missing - but it doesn't seem to give him much pause.
- In true YA fashion, things progress from mutual dislike of one another to "I don't want to live without you" in no time flat. A backstory is given for the characters to try to give their relationship a little more context and realism, but it didn't work for me, and also helped emphasize how weird my first point there was.
- One character calls Fiona a nickname from their school years: Fotard. It's one of those bullying, pigtail-pulling sorts of names, but all I could think of was that with so much attention and emphasis on trying to eradicate "the r-word" as a slur from people's vocabulary, the author surely could have picked something else. There's got to be another teasing sort of nickname for Fiona which doesn't have the association with calling someone you don't like or someone who is different from you "retarded". Especially considering the fact that the name winds up being used somewhat affectionately by the characters.
- Rape, or threat thereof, as a plot point. I have complained about it before and will continue complaining about it every time I see it. This book basically says that all women need to hide themselves away/dress like boys/be ugly in order to not get raped, and that all men are basically so starved for that sort of contact that they can't control themselves and will force themselves on any woman around. As long as she's hot. It is a stupid, stupid plot point and it's sexist all around and a cop-out and I'm tired of seeing it in media.
- By the end of the book, things start to fall apart. There was a lot of telling-not-showing and a lot of things happened very quickly in ways that didn't always make sense on a first read-through. (As a grown adult who has been reading for longer than some published authors have been alive, I should not have to read passages of a book marketed towards teens several times to understand what happened.) And there's also a case of Completely Unnecessary Epilogue. I understand that authors and publishers want to leave books open for a potential series if they perform well, but Stung had a completely satisfactory ending on its own. The epilogue felt cheap and tacked on, like it was a ploy to please, please let a sequel get green-lit.
Sorry if I sound bitter, but the beginning gave me such hope and the rest of the book didn't live up to it, in my opinion. I give the first few chapters of this book five solid resounding stars for the horror and creep-factor, and then I take off a couple for the way I felt let down by the rest of the story. It's another case of getting something totally different from what I was expecting, I suppose.