Dark Parties by Sara Grant
Dystopian, 320 pages
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
NOTE: There are a few spoilers in this that are marked SPOILER in pink CAPS. To read the spoiler, roll your pointer over the word spoiler. If you don't want to know the spoiler, keep your pointer away and you can read the rest of the review unspoiled. :)
It's hard to know where to start with Dark Parties. There were times I really liked it and times I had serious reservations. Dark Parties starts off interesting (if a little weird) with a literal "dark party" - Neva and her best friend Sanna organize a party held in pitch blackness. It's a little bit random makeout session and a little bit teenage rebellion. Two things happen at the dark party that are basically catalysts for all of the action of the story: Neva accidentally makes out with Sanna's boyfriend in the dark, and the teens plot a protest. We'll start with the protest, which starts as a vow not to have sex (so they don't bring more babies into the Protectosphere - though if you have a vow to not have sex, why are you tempting yourself with a "dark party" group makeout sesh?) and evolves into vandalism and plans for a rally.
I couldn't really tell you what the early rebellion was against. Ostensibly it's against the Protectosphere, the dome in which they live. But really it's just against The Man and everything the governement represents. We're given glimpses throughout the story of the governmental control, resource shortages, propaganda,missing people, etc., but I never really saw the motivation for the teens' rebellion. I mean, with Neva, there is some substance there because she lost someone close to her, her grandmother, who fed her a steady diet of secret righteous indignation. Neva keeps a list of the people who go missing (mostly girls), and she's unsettled by the things her grandmother taught her and her grandmother's disappearance. So on the one hand, I get a bit of her rebellious inclinations. But for the group of teens as a whole, I never really got how they all came together and why they were all so anti-government.
I mean, there are legitimate reasons to distrust their government and even to rebel. But the thing is, they don't know that through most of the story. They seem to just be a little pissed off that life isn't pretty, but if that's what they've grown up knowing...do you fight if you don't know any better? The reasons behind their rebellion and their vehemence never really gelled for me. They seem angry that they all look alike (a product of the limited gene pool imposed by the Protectosphere), but again, if that's what you've grown up knowing - would it really seem strange to you, or a reason to get angry? Maybe there is a case to be made for an innate desire for individuality, I don't know. But I think, as the reader, I could have used a little more guidance or a little more back story early on to understand where the rebellion comes from.
But maybe I just wasn't getting the full impact of the rebellion because it felt like it was muddled by the relationship, which brings me to the second point: Neva makes out with Sanna's boyfriend, Braydon, whom she claims to distrust and actively dislike until she makes out with him. Apparently his kisses must be magic, because the rest of the book from then on is basically Neva waffling back and forth between "But I like him! We can't, he belongs to Sanna! But I just want him so bad! But Sanna, but Sanna, but what if we make out in this abandoned shack? Oh noes, Sanna!!" I know a lot of people have expressed dislike for the story because they can't like Neva since she's screwing her BFFFFFF over by (almost) screwing her boyfriend. I could care less about this, her emotions regarding the betrayal are actually done pretty well, even if I do make light.
It's just...I don't think it was a necessary layer for the story. It didn't add anything to me, and more often than not, it detracted. As the story goes on and Neva begins to find out some disturbing things that actually make a rebellion seem more plausible and even necessary, she becomes more and more distracted by her desire for Braydon, a boy she hated but suddenly can't stop kissing. (And SPOILER) It just all felt unnecessary to me. Look, not EVERY book has to have a romance, and not EVERY romance has to be angsty. It needs to serve the story, there needs to be a reason for it, and in this case, I didn't feel there was a reason, and it did a disservice to the story. It lessened the impact of the story: these two things (dystopian revolution/cheating with your BFs boyfran) were held up side by side, and if I'm supposed to believe they are just as important as each other, well then, in the scheme of things...it makes the dystopia less compelling which was really the point of the story. It showed a lack of focus, Grant was trying to do too many things, and it just didn't work for me. I kept seeing things that could have been taken advantage of, and things that should have been cut.
But here's the thing: in spite of all that, the muddled focus and the not always compelling dystopia/world-building and the potentially hard to like MC, I actually did enjoy reading this. It's a very quick read, and there are some compelling things going on that do make sense as a dystopia once you finally get to them. With the popularity of dystopia these days, a lot of them are becoming really watered down and the label dystopia is being applied to just about everything. This, once it gets going, actually works for me as a dystopia, and the idea of the Protectosphere and the homogenization of the population, and SPOILER, these things actually make for a really compelling dystopic theme. When Neva finally gets her head out of her ass and finds out what's going on - I felt like the story should have started there. Even though it didn't, I did enjoy this. If it sounds interesting to you inspite of the somewhat dubious lead and the muddled focus, I do think you should pick this up. It may not be the best, most focused and impactful example of dystopian lit out there, but it has its moments and it's certainly entertaining.
*Dark Parties was provided to me by the publisher, Little, Brown Books in exchange for a fair and balanced review.