Thursday, May 23, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... ROOTLESS by Chris Howard

Every Wednesday, I'm going to post a review of a great YA book.  Most of these reviews will, of course, be of YA books by and/or for guys.

To get things started, let's talk about the novel Rootless by Chris Howard.

Rootless tells the story of a future earth without trees.  As a result of the Darkness, a phenomenon that plunged the world into artificial night for years on end, all plant life has died (with the exception of corn, which has been genetically engineered and monopolized by the company GenTech).  In this desert world, the narrator, a young man named Banyan, builds artificial trees out of metal and wire and other scrap left over from the ruins of the old world.  His mother is dead; his father, a tree-builder before him, has disappeared.  And Banyan believes his father's gone for good too, until he discovers a photo, a recent photo, showing his father chained to a tree.

A living tree.

So begins Banyan's odyssey across a landscape controlled by corporate thugs, punk pirates, and ruthless slave traders.  He's accompanied by the bodyguard of a former client, a female pirate he might be in love with, and a woman who knew his father and whose mysterious tree tattoo might be the clue to the location of his father and the world's last surviving trees.  Starvation, double-crosses, and despair are ever-present threats in the hostile world Howard has created.  But the bleakness is balanced by small and fragile mercies: hope, and artistry, and friendship, and the love of a son for his father.

Rootless is Howard's debut, and it's stunning.  The world he builds is utterly convincing, the characters fully rounded and human.  Banyan's voice is fresh and original, both familiar and surprising.  There aren't many new ways to say "my heart skipped a beat," but Howard finds one: "My heart thought twice about beating."  And then there's this beautiful sentence: "My father stared up at the canopy and I stared at it with him, listening as the wind blew tunes through the branches, watching as the breeze shook rhythm from the leaves."  There are lots of sentences like this in Rootless, and that's fitting, since at some level the book is about the power of art to heal a damaged world.

A sequel to Rootless is, I understand, in the works, and I can't wait to get my greedy YA Guy hands on it.  If you're looking for a gritty, unsparing YA dystopian with a driving plot and a breathtaking vision of the future, Rootless is for you.

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