Book Review Blitz: Taken – A dystopian for teens

Taken book review

Taken will be released on April 16, 2013. I received an ARC in exchange for my honest opinion!

Taken is one of those books that grabs you from the beginning and never lets you go. Even at the end I was sitting there wanting the next book in the series NOW. I’m adult reader of Y.A. dystopian & sci-fi fiction and I can confidentially say that Taken is one of those books that successfully crosses the age barrier. It has a terrific premise, fleshes it out with great characters & situations along with twist and turns that leave you wanting to find out more.

I’m going to be careful about what I say in my review because part of the fun of Taken is NOT knowing what is going on and having it unravel for you thread by thread right along with the main characters. There is a feeling you get while reading the book – the same feeling the characters are experiencing…something isn’t quite right sprinkled liberally over a sense of unease. Just as a layer of one mystery is revealed, you still are left suspicious and wondering until yet ANOTHER layer is uncovered as it turns out that everything you thought you knew had another dimension to it – as lies are slowly peeled away and the truth begins to shine through.

Taken is told from a first person POV by Gray, a 17 year old in the village of Claysoot. His older brother Blaine is 18 and today is the last day Gray will spend with him because…there are no men in Claysoot. Every boy becomes a man at the age of 15 and then, at 18, they are all gone. Taken. They call it the Heist.  No one knows why it happens,  just that it always has.

There are other mysteries to the town. How it began, and why there is a wall that surrounds the countryside.

“When the Wall was discovered, Bo volunteered to go over first and scout things out, but he was unable to see what lay on the other side. The view from a large oak tree in the northern portion of the woods yielded nothing but pitch blackness beyond the Wall, and he deemed it unsafe. He tried to talk others out of climbing, but a few tried. Their bodies came back a charcoaled mess, burned and lifeless…”

After Blaine is taken by the Heist, Gray is left…alone as his mother died years ago. He discovers a note to his brother hidden behind a picture frame:

“And so I share this with you now, my son: You and your brother are not as I’ve raised you to believe, Gray is, in fact…”

…and then there is nothing more. The missing part of the note propels Gray to start searching for answers and what he finds just raises more questions. He discovers he’s not who he thought he was and that just might be the key to finding out about his town, his people’s origins and the Heist.

It’s no surprise that Gray makes it over the wall (as the book blurb states) but what he finds there is unlike anything he could have imagined. As answers to his world start pouring in, things get even more complicated and just when it looks like he finally understands what’s going on, there is yet another layer of truth to unravel.

I’m going to refrain from saying any more about the plot details, because as I stated before,  part of the fun of this book is discovering that what you thought you knew isn’t necessarily correct. Everything is revealed to you as it’s revealed to Gray. There are no obvious answers, just hints to keep you guessing.

I really enjoyed the world building in Taken. It was like a cross between Running Out of Time by Margaret Haddix (which is similar to the movie The Village) and Revolution 19 -only done RIGHT (because the characters move from a rustic world to an advanced one).  The book blurb compares it to The Maze Runner, but I have to disagree. Maze Runner felt a lot less sophisticated than this book and seemed like it was intended for younger teens. Taken is a much more mature novel.  Don’t think that Taken copies other dystopians because of the comparison to other books. I found it fresh and original in many ways.  It’s not just a dystopian though. There are also a few sci-fi elements, but these are understated and there’s nothing like aliens or anything like that.

As far as the world building goes, Erin Bowman paid attention to little details that made Gray’s observations very realistic. She takes a young man transported  from a rustic village to an entirely different type of world and makes it believable. Some of the history of the current world’s situation is glossed over, but you have enough information to securely know what’s going on (at least by the time you hit about 70% in the book).

I also think Bowman did well with the relationship building between the characters.  Nothing seemed forced or unrealistic. There is a love interest but it’s not the focus of the book and doesn’t drown the plot in teenage angst. I won’t write any details about it because there is a bit of a twist and surprise in this realm that I don’t want to spoil. Suffice it to say that it contains a “triangle”, as most books seem to do, nowadays.

At the end of Taken (which I read in one sitting except for a necessary trip to the grocery store), I was sitting there thinking NOOOO… because I wanted more! It’s clear there is going to be a 2nd book and I can’t wait to read it! Taken is Erin Bowman’s first novel and I suspect she’s going to get a brand new legion of fans with this first foray into novel writing. I know I’m one!

Now, for the MOM part of my review. 😉

Because of some of the more mature themes that are implied at in the book, I wouldn’t recommend it to younger kids. Of course each family/individual will want to make the decision about whether it’s appropriate or not based on their family’s values and beliefs. Here are some possibly objectionable items:

The boys of Claysoot are slated to sleep with different girls with the intention of getting them pregnant (how else can the little town repopulate itself since men don’t exist?). There are several times where it’s made clear that teens are sleeping with other teens (or supposed to) but nothing is explicit. In the context of the world, the teens aren’t doing anything rebellious or bad.

There are a few moments where attention is drawn to a young woman’s curves or clinging undershirt and that type of thing (slight s*xual tension for the main character). You have descriptions like “lips taste like rain” and “Her limbs are long and lean, her curves itching to be touched.” The last quoted sentences is about the extent of it and there are about 11 instances of that type of thing in a book of approximately 247 pages. There is an incident where it’s mentioned that Gray and someone are stopping things from getting too “heated” because they don’t want to end up making a baby.

The characters drink alcohol and get drunk, act inappropriately (it’s clear that if he would have given in, a girl would have kissed Gray or perhaps more because she was intoxicated) and several have hangovers.

The characters play a drinking game called Little Lies where they have to pick out truth from lies and if they get it wrong they have to take a drink.

There is a minor amount of swearing, mainly the word d*mn , one incident of bullsh*t and the expletive “scr*w you”.

Summary: Taken is an engaging, interesting story with lots of twists and turns and a refreshing male POV. I think it will be well received by  Y.A.  readers and new fans will be clamoring for the sequel! It does, however, have some items of concern for younger teens and conservative families. Although I enjoyed the book, I’m not ready to hand it over to my 14 year old.  For me as an adult, it was quite tame compared to what you find in most contemporary novels, but it’s still a bit much, in my opinion, for a young teen.

Want to read more of my book reviews (for adults, teens and children)? Click here!