Author: Sophie Jordan
Publisher: Harper Teen
Series: Uninvited #1
Other Reviews for This Author: Firelight; Vanish; Hidden; Foreplay
I am a Sophie Jordan fanboy. After loving her Firelight trilogy and her first foray into the New Adult genre (Foreplay), I was more than up for giving her new young adult series a chance. Uninvited is perfectly on-trend with the current market of YA books that explore scientific (or pseudo-scientific) concepts in a context that feels modern or futuristic to some degree. It's very much an off-shoot of the dystopian and post-apocalyptic sub genres that are winding down in popularity. Jordan is very good at writing stories that work well with genre trends, and I don't think Uninvited is any different. While I didn't love it as much as her New Adult book, I still thoroughly enjoyed it for the escapism, the romance, and the action. Uninvited is a book that readers who love fast-paced stories will devour.
Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS) has recently been discovered. The United States is scrambling to figure out what this means for the population on the whole. One thing seems to be consistent with gathered data: the increase in tested-HTS cases directly correlates to an increase in violent crimes. Something within the body of humans is manifesting itself in violent tendencies that often result in incidents of individual, or even mass, violence. According to the government, measurements have to be taken in order to make sure that HTS doesn't result in a generation of killers because the general people deserve their safety.
Privileged seventeen year-old prodigy Davy Hamilton never expected to test positive for HTS. She has a fabulous boyfriend that she thinks she's in love with; she can sing like an angel and play several instruments; she has gotten into Julliard. Everything about Davy's life is perfect - certainly nothing has related to violence. The testing sends Davy into a spiral. She's expelled from her private school and sent to a public school system where the few HTS-positive students are kept in a classroom called The Cage. Davy now has a caseworker, the chance of being reported and marked if she exhibits violent behavior, and will never attend Julliard.
The Cage puts Davy's life into a little more perspective. With the only other girl deadly quiet and all but one of the boys showing some level of aggression, it's clear that Davy's prim-and-proper attitude will need some adjusting if she'll survive among those infected with HTS. The predatory teacher assigned to watch them doesn't make things any easier. Davy's only hopes are a scrawny kid with more brains than brawn and Sean, a tough, silent type that seems to be the defender of the group. Davy's time with HTS makes her question even her longest-running relationships as friendships fall apart and romances break up. In a world where the only people to trust are those labelled with the same supposedly destructive disease, can Davy survive? Can she remain the same person that she always was, or is she destined to become a killer?
Confession #1: The scientific premise of this book is illogical.
Confession #2: This book addresses an extremely privileged character without much context, and is not a good representation of a character understanding their privilege or checking it.
Confession #3: I still really enjoyed reading it, but not because of #1 or #2.
So, let's start with #1. It's pretty obvious that a disease that makes a group of people "killers" is illogical. On top of that, Jordan's world is not built to make this premise truly understandable within the context of the idea. It's the epitome of a "high concept" book that doesn't necessarily transition that concept into something that works on a minute detailed scale. We are never told where this disease stems from; we are never told how one is tested for it or where it originates; we are never told why this disease was discovered in the first place, how it supposedly effects those that have it, or how the disease manages to just make people more prone to violence. Turning it into a disease also has severe implications in other regards. It is supposedly recessive and passed from both parents, but because it's supposedly linked to genetics, does that imply that it's mental. And if so, why is immediately vilified as a disease and why are the people that are infected with it demonized? It could have potentially been commentary on how mentally able people are prejudiced against those with mental differences to the point where they assume that they are more likely to be violent, but it didn't have enough support in the writing or the world building to back up that potential outcome. I found myself wondering exactly how I was expected to believe that this was logical when the potential for the concept was set aside in favor of more conventional YA world-building tropes.
On to #2! Davy is a character with a voice that is reasonably distressed, confused, sad - everything one would expect in this situation - and it's easy to read in the sense that the pacing of the narration and the internal monologue vs. external action is perfect. Sophie Jordan's narrators are always interesting and engaging when it comes to their style of narration, with just enough description of emotions to make the story personally connective. I liked reading about Davy when it came to those aspects. I also felt that Davy gained some sense of self throughout the story, though she tended to be reactive versus proactive (for instance: she doesn't have the escape plans, she doesn't fight back save for when she's emotionally beaten down). There's one scene where she does take the lead despite some sexist assumptions from a random secondary character. I appreciated that nod towards her being intelligent and able, though it doesn't happen enough in the story for her to be overwhelmingly strong as a female character.
But, more to the point of #2, Davy is privileged. Her family is wealthy enough to bribe someone once before she's infected with HTS, and she has enough natural talent in music to get into Julliard. She's gone to private school in an upper-class neighborhood, has many internalized class privileges she doesn't acknowledge, and never encounters a non-white/heterosexual/cisgendered character throughout her journey. Even when she's presented with the conflicts of being labeled with a disease or when she meets people of different classes, Davy is called out for being different and doesn't realize that it's total bullshit that she's different because she's more "prim and proper" because of her upbringing. There's also the simple fact that a musical prodigy such as Davy would be much more active in music if she would retain her ability. We never get scenes of her practicing until later on in the story, and even then it's not frequent or described with much detail. Someone good enough to get into Julliard would reasonably have an intensive practice schedule or at least an intensive understanding of the weight of musical practice and devotion. Davy's narration puts her into a position where it seems to just come naturally to her, and that comes across as both unrealistic and privileged. I enjoyed reading Davy's narration a lot, but these problems stuck out after I finished reading in an unpleasant way.
#3 is where it gets confusing. Despite the above issues, I really did love reading Uninvited at the time. Jordan's writing is easy to fall into. Her romance writing is excellent - Sean is legitimately a solid love interest, and his love story with Davy is pretty balanced along with the action sequence. All of the action sequences coupled with the tragic events hit the market demand in ways that were appealing, tropeish, but still original. I still want to read the second book a lot to find out what happens afterwords. In a lot of ways, I think the writing within this book has grown substantially from that of the first Firelight book. The addition of the questionable world-building and themes of privilege is what disconnects me from truly adoring this book on a constructive level. On a level of pure enjoyment it's grand, but acknowledging the issues within the narrative leads me to being less enthusiastic about the book than I was when I had just finished it.
Do I think every reader will love this book? No. I would go so far as to say that readers tired reading about privileged characters who tend towards being "special snowflakes" will want to stay away from this book, as well as readers that would find the HTS science to be offensive (because of its lack of depth or because of its potentially negative themes). Readers that want an engrossing story, that enjoy Jordan's style and may not notice or agree with the above statements will probably adore it. It's simply a matter of which type of reader you are. Me? I'm squarely in the middle because I find both issues important, and I am going to have to grade the book lower and hope that the second book addresses some of my issues with the world. It's such a great book in theory - I just wish that it held up under critical analysis.
Cover: Eh. I love the shine in her hair, but it doesn't really capture me or make me think "wow". The color scheme is also extremely similar to Lauren Oliver's cover for Panic, which is funny considering how close the release dates are (and that the publisher is the same).
Rating: 3.0 Stars (Because of the issues of privilege and the world, I had to lower the book's grade a few notches.)
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Heather and Harper Collins!!)