Friday, September 14, 2012

Exodus by Julie Bertagna

Summary:  15 year-old Maya lives on an island that grows smaller every year as the polar ice caps melt.  She and her family are forced to leave the world they know in search of a new one, a sky city made to house the refugees of diminishing land masses.  Unfortunately in the city Maya finally discovers, all refugees are not considered equal and things are more complicated than she ever imagined.  With the help of a tree-dwelling people and a collection of misfit children, Maya fights against the system for the sake of equality, survival, and the people she loves.

Dystopian Issues: Climate Change, Slavery, Class System
Part of a Series: The first book in the Exodus series
Next in Series:  Zenith
Age of Main Character: 15
Number of Pages: 337
Year of Publication: 2002
Publisher:  Young Picador

Review:  I've read Julie Bertagna's Opposite of Chocolate (not a dystopia) and I enjoyed her quirky characters and unique story.  When I read Exodus however, I did not even identify it as being written by the same author until I read Bertagna's biography.
     Bertagna is exploring an interesting subject; what will happen to the world when the polar ice caps melt and land masses shrink significantly.  If humankind does not venture out into the cosmos as suggested in several science fiction novels, movies, and tv shows, how will the human race survive?
     The answer is not all of us will.  But in Bertagna's book, some will survive on the diminished land masses and some will move to new sky cities.  Maya is a land-dweller who lives in a world of limited technology.  The internet as we know it now is in complete disarray and exists as a relic as opposed to an information superhighway.  Still Maya manages to make contact with someone who calls himself Fox, a resident of something called a sky city that no one in Maya's community has ever heard of.  When rising waters force Maya to leave her home with others from her community, they set out in search of the elusive cities.
     Other communities have faced similar problems and had similar ideas though, because when Maya reaches the city with the survivors of her community it is surrounded by a boundary designed to keep out refugees like herself.  Resourceful, determined and driven by grief however, Maya manages to find her way inside the boundary yet still outside the city itself.  I found Bertagna's descriptions of Maya's surroundings to be convoluted, but things became even more confusing when Maya discovers a gang of children without the ability to speak and then a group of tree-dwelling people who have escaped from the sky city.
    The children and the tree-dwellers have vastly unusual names that are jarring to the story.  I'm not sure why living in a tree means you have to have a weird name but it seems to be a prerequiste.  Maya finds out that not only are new people not allowed in the city, the city also takes the homeless children that live below to use for slave labour.  When one of her friends is captured and taken away, Maya feels compelled to do something about it.
     Overall, the story came off as disorganized and, at times, boring.  I didn't connect with Maya as a character, I had problems when she finally meets Fox and seems to fall in love with him overnight and I was confused while trying to understand how the sky cities ran and developed in the first place.  This is the first book in a trilogy though, so it is possible more answers are provided in later books.  The problem is this book did not make me want to read the other ones.
     What I did like wasn't even the main point of the story, it seemed to be an aside point Bertagna was trying to make about how women don't have the opportunity to achieve as much as men because they have children instead.  At the same time, women accomplish more than men because each child born is like giving birth to a living dream.  It's poetic and has truth to it in its own right, but did not contribute to the overall plot or story.
     I expected more from Bertagna, especially with such a thought-provoking preface quote, but I was very disappointed.

Real Life Dystopias:  The exploitation of people against their will is not a new thing.  North America's sordid history of selling Africans into slavery is a prime example.  Al Gore has warned us about the perils of climate change, and one only has to read a Charles Dickens' novel to know how a class system works.
     But to pick up on Bertagna's aside, another dystopia is the disparity between men and women, and the different values put on each sex's accomplishments.  Bertagna raises some good points, why aren't women valued and respected more for their ability to grow and raise the continuing generations of the human race?  And what would women be able to accomplish if they did not feel the ties and responsibilities of family?  However, where would the world be if women didn't feel such ties?

Memorable Quotes: "Now retrack to the dawn of the world's drowning.  Stand at the fragile moment before the devastation begins, and wonder.  Is this where we stand now, right here on the brink?"
     -  Exodus by Julie Bertagna, preface

     "As Broomielaw trails off into thought, Mara remembers what bothered her as she walked through the vast halls of the university, looking at the portraits of the golden names.  There were no dreamswomen.  Apart from the odd mythical figure or queen, not one of the golden names had belonged to a woman.  All the great dreamers had been men.
     Now Mara sees how it could have happened.  The women might have dreamed just as hard - as hard as Broomielaw does now - but their dreams had become all tangled up with the knit of ordinary life, with meal-making and babycare and nest-building.  Yet wasn't precious little Clayslaps more wonderful than anything dreamed up by those golden names?"
     -  Exodus by Julie Bertagna, pg 169

     "'But women grow the living dreams, the human ones,' Gorbals argues.  'A human being is the greatest creation of all.  Each of us is a new living dream.'"
     -  Exodus by Julie Bertagna, pg 175

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