Review: The Ward by Jordana Frankel

Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Title: The Ward
Author: Jordana Frankel
Genre: post-apocalyptic, dystopia, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Published: April 30 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.5/5

Sixteen-year-old Ren is a daredevil mobile racer who will risk everything to survive in the Ward, what remains of a water-logged Manhattan. To save her sister, who is suffering from a deadly illness thought to be caused by years of pollution, Ren accepts a secret mission from the government: to search for a freshwater source in the Ward, with the hope of it leading to a cure.

However, she never expects that her search will lead to dangerous encounters with a passionate young scientist; a web of deceit and lies; and an earth-shattering mystery that’s lurking deep beneath the water’s rippling surface.

Jordana Frankel’s ambitious debut novel and the first in a two-book series, The Ward is arresting, cinematic, and thrilling—perfect for fans of Scott Westerfeld or Ann Aguirre.

The Ward was a fun read. It was a breathe of fresh air in the post-apoc/dystopia genre that seems to retread and reuse the same ideas and themes over and over again.  Catastrophes hitting the US with dire consequences are not uncommon, but the "Wash Out" event that left New York and Jersey underwater is. This is a fun, fast-paced, fresh and creative, Jordana Frankel has hit the ground running with her debut novel. Full of adventure, intrigue, and even a bit of mythology, Frankel takes her readers to a waterlogged and dangerous futuristic New York. I had a good time reading this from start to finish. For the first time in a long time, The Ward manages to be a post-apocalyptic scenario, that if imperfect, still manages to be both believable and entertaining. 

Ren is a mostly likeable, but flawed main character. Her story isn't too original for a post-apocalyptic set-up - a withdrawn and angry orphan with a chip on her shoulder and a dependent- but she grows and develops into more than a cliche early on in the book. Ren is a woman in a man's world in her sport of choice, and that just made me like her more. She's unafraid to do what she wants and how she wants, though the sexism she faces almost constantly in racing can be dispiriting as a female reader who enjoys typically-male sports. Either way, Ren carries the novel, for the most part ably, until the narrative works its way around to her romantic entanglements. I had the most issues with the way both plotlines about the boys involved were setup and executed.

Let me just say, I'm so, so tired of love triangles. In any genre they muck up an otherwise good book, but they are at their worse in the young adult field. They're just overwrought and always obnoxious, and often, just lazy writing and plot points. Thankfully, it's not as overt as it could have been here in The Ward, but believe me, my love-triangle senses started tingling as soon as the character of Callum is introduced. It doesn't help that the other love interest, Derek, does nothing worth making him desirable. I couldn't root for either character for two reasons: 1. I didn't care about them individually, and thus, even less so for Ren and 2. I liked Ren best on her own, without needless attractions to mysterious boys.

The Ward may not have had  me thinking over deep messages and overarching themes after I finished, but it was pure entertainment for the day it took me to inhale. Frankel sucks you in with the few few chapters and you don't want to leave until it's all over and the race is won. The worldbuilding detailed through the book is minimal and, yes, honestly it could with some strengthening and expansion, but it didn't doesn't detract too much from the overall experience. There are moments of greatness to be found in The Ward - the ambiguity of the antagonists, the creation of the awesome omnimobiles, and the unexpected (and somewhat off the wall) twists and revelations - but sexism, the trite love triangle, and incomplete worldbuilding can cause it to falter. 

The Ward isn't going to please all those who try to read it. It's more post-apocalyptic than dystopia, though a few elements of the later pop up throughout the narrative. Some readers won't be able to excuse the overdone romance, or the lack of clear worldbuilding, and that's totally okay. It's completely understandable, even. I've picked apart other novels for just those reasons. This isn't a book for everyone. It's a thrill ride, coasting along on the strengths of a complicated main character in an oppressed and dangerous waterworld. (Now try not to think about that awful Kevin Costner movie. You're welcome.) I was undecided on a rating right after finishing, still caught up in the tension of the climax, but after a few days I can see the book's faults more clearly. That doesn't mean I didn't like this book - I liked it very much. It just could have been slightly better. As it is, I had a great time reading it. I would definitely recommend this to a friend - but maybe suggest they borrow it from the library, if not buy it.

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