Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Format/Source: ARC from Goodreads’ Giveaways
Clearly inspired by the author’s connection to the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans, Orleans is a different kind of young adult dystopia. I’ve read a lot of this particular genre, perhaps almost obsessively. At first I thought I was going to get one kind of story, and instead got something else.
Successive hurricanes hit the Gulf coast, Katrina after super storm, after massive storm. (A fiction that is perhaps not too different than the reality of the increased occurrences of unusually strong and devastating meteorological events.) The hallmarks of civilization are continually flooded and ruined. And while each time the people of the city try to rebuild, their efforts are thwarted by the arrival of another storm, each with increasing devastation. Aid workers enter the city to provide help with caring for the sick and the wounded. But the death toll continues to rise. The Super Dome, used as a refugee camp during Katrina, eventually becomes the tomb of over 75,000 bodies.
A strange new virus further complicates the matter. The Delta Fever works fast and will cause the death of any who are infected. Only constant blood transfusions can stave off death. Consequently, the survivors of the city live in tribes determined by blood type, in the hopes that it will slow the spread of the disease. And the rest of the United States determines that a wall must be built to quarantine the city and surrounding areas, effectively severing the Gulf Coast from the rest of the States (now the Outer States of America).
As someone who has worked with crisis management and currently works for an emergency management entity, I found this premise very interesting. It is the combination of fantastical derived from real plausible events. What makes it stand out as a different kind of young adult dystopia is the fact that it is not completely about a government trying to create an imperfect utopia, or creating an oppressive kind of regulations on its people. Instead, it is about a real need for survival and the unfortunate results of events that are out of human control.
I speak so much about the premise because to me, it is the setting, the city of Orleans that is the real main character of the book. Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States, sneaks into the city to help try to find a cure for the Delta Fever. Fen, a teenager who has experienced all kinds of horrendous and traumatic events, is trying to find a better life for her fallen tribe leader’s baby. And while together they go on a harrowing journey, it is the city that is truly alive and evolving.
I was confused about different aspects of the story. I was confused about the perimeter of the wall: how far does it circle around, which other states are included in it or if it was just around the city of Orleans. I was confused about the nature of the disease: how it spreads, why people seem to have it but maybe don’t, and how it started. I was confused about some of the places or actions the characters were and took. Even after rereading a paragraph I’d still be confused.
The book switches from first person to third person narration based on Fen vs. Daniel’s point of view. Fen’s first person narration involves a simple kind of dialect that perhaps some would have difficulty getting through, but really is quite easy to understand. “I be scared of the beast.” Vs. “I am scared of the beast.”
I had a hard time connecting with the characters, but I really enjoyed that there was no romance and no really bad cliffhangers. A young adult book that doesn’t suddenly cut off for a sequel! and furthermore, no love triangles, or horribly crippling teenage angst! A success in and of itself, in my opinion.
I would recommend this book to those who have a strong tolerance for the cruel realities of human nature and for high levels of devastation.
My rating: 4/5