When Cora Mason wakes in a desert, she doesn't know where she is or who put her there. As she explores, she finds an impossible mix of environments—tundra next to desert, farm next to jungle, and a strangely empty town cobbled together from different cultures—all watched over by eerie black windows. And she isn't alone.
Four other teenagers have also been taken: a beautiful model, a tattooed smuggler, a secretive genius, and an army brat who seems to know too much about Cora's past. None of them have a clue as to what happened, and all of them have secrets. As the unlikely group struggles for leadership, they slowly start to trust each other. But when their mysterious jailer—a handsome young guard called Cassian—appears, they realize that their captivity is more terrifying than they could ever imagine: Their captors aren't from Earth. And they have taken the five teenagers for an otherworldly zoo—where the exhibits are humans.
As a forbidden attraction develops between Cora and Cassian, she realizes that her best chance of escape might be in the arms of her own jailer—though that would mean leaving the others behind. Can Cora manage to save herself and her companions? And if so . . . what world lies beyond the walls of their cage?
**An ARC of this book was given to me in exchange for an honest review.**
Megan Shepherd has diverse taste: This is straight-up Slaughterhouse Five (the alien zoo parts) meets Lord of the Flies plus any recent YA love-triangle novel. Any at all. There are thousands, take your pick.
So major props for coming up with a somewhat unique idea. Or at least, you know, borrowing ideas from less borrowed-from stories. Meaning the Slaughterhouse Five one, not the Lord of the Flies one. Lord of the Flies has been borrowed-from I don't know how many times. Honestly, I almost feel burnt-out on books about kids turning against one another and going crazy and being violent. Interesting and thought-provoking (or at least it was the first few times I read it) and entertaining, yes. But a little overdone. Kurt Vonnegut is a worthy author to borrow ideas from but after seeing the Slaughterhouse Five connection to this book I can't help but compare the authors. No offense, Megan Shepherd, but you're no Kurt Vonnegut. That is all I will say about that.
I actually liked the way this began. Six human teenagers are abducted by aliens and relocated to a fabricated alien world made to look human. They are given 3 rules: Eat, sleep, procreate. They are even told with whom they should procreate. They're also given puzzles to solve, entertainment and whatever they need to live. Aside from all that craziness, there's weird things going on all around them, visual tricks being played on their heads, and just weird mind games in general. You see that everyone is going to slip into madness; It's going to happen, right? You see it coming. But I felt like it happened so suddenly. One day they're all working together to solve puzzles and figure out their environment, the next nearly everyone is ganging up on Cora (our protagonist) and blaming her for everything going wrong. The only person whose fall from sanity felt legit was Leon's because a) he was already a little unstable when he arrived, b) he isolated himself early on and c) he had a lot of guilt to spike his crazy meter. Seeing inside everyone's heads and how they thought and processed--especially after slipping out of sanity a bit--was interesting. But it could have been done more convincingly.
The love triangle. Well. Blah, first of all. I'm sick of them. And secondly, it was just weird. Cora is a beautiful, tough, take-no-crap from nobody type of girl. One love interest is Lucky, the human she is paired with in the enclosure. He is hot, smart, thoughtful and they share a past. Lucky is irrationally in love with Cora, but, honestly, kind of creepily so. He seems sweet and strong at first but about halfway through the book he becomes this love-sick puppy. Did. not. like. Then there's Cassian, the third part of the love triangle. He is the alien who stole all these kids from their homes and now keeps them in the alien enclosure. He's also incredibly beautiful, feels deeply for the human plight and is falling in love with Cora. I just--How does Cora not find it creepy that Cassian watched her for years? YEARS! And Cassian is an alien who can read her mind (more on that later) and do other psychic stuff. And Cassian abducted her from Earth to place her in an alien environment. How old is he? Because she's a teenager. Why did Cora not find this incredibly creepy?!? But, oh, he mostly looks human, only more beautiful, and he seems to care about Cora even though he told her flat-out that he specifically chose her for this habitat. Really?
Ok, and Cora convinces everyone to make plans to break out of the habitat. Which makes sense to me, I would have had the same thought. But there's no real planning. They don't find out much about the enemy at all, the plans mostly revolve around turning toys into makeshift weapons and the aliens can READ THEIR MINDS! That right there would probably put a huge damper on everything since, you know, the aliens would know exactly what they were doing (that said, why didn't they put a stop to more things? Weird). They learn that feeling pain clouds their thoughts so that the Kindred (aliens) can't read their minds, right? So they start pinching themselves whenever they think about certain things or whenever they talk to each other about plans. Only, thing is, the aliens can still hear them talking even if they can't read their minds. So... that could have been handled a whole lot better.
There were some things that I really loved in this book: The actual habitat that the human kids were placed in was fascinating. All the weird perspective stuff and the way it was designed and how the puzzles worked--all of it was fun to read. The actual writing was easy-to-read and addictive. I wanted to know what would happen, I was invested in the story, I even mostly liked the characters until they all went crazy. There were a few cases of annoying reiterated thoughts ("His lips were so close to mine. Did he want to kiss me? Did I want to kiss him? What if it happened again?" that kind of thing) that got annoying. But mostly I was okay with the writing. Not spectacular, but not sub-par, either.
I will definitely read the sequel. I want to know where this goes. But it better be better than this because right now I think I like this series but I need some major convincing.
Sexual Content: Moderate-Heavy
Language: Moderate (I think--don't remember)