**I received a copy of this book from Legit Lit Book Tours and the author in exchange for an honest review.**
An action packed blockbuster. Red Dawn meets 1984. The perfect book for kids 10-14, even those who don’t like to read.
Jack wants to hang out with his friends but his mom’s rules keep him grounded until they wake up to machine gun fire and everything has changed. Foreign soldiers have invaded his hometown cutting off power, shutting down communications, and restricting travel. To make matters worse, he doesn’t know if his dad is alive, wounded, captured, or dead. He wants to find him, however, his mother doesn’t care, the soldiers are in his way, and the cop who busted him is no help at all.Feedback from a 92 year old great grandmother: My comment on it, is that Shannon did a wonderful job of writing Thirteen. It was well written, and the description of events was well thought out. It was exciting, scary at times, and sad as well. It’s a book worth reading. — OK so it was my 92 year old grandmother…
It’s absolutely not a secret that dystopian novels are all the rage right now in the reading world, due in part to the popularity of The Hunger Games. However, one thing I’ve noticed — at least in the dystopian novels I’ve read — is that we don’t really get to see or even learn much about daily life during the transition period of freedom to totalitarian control; most stories drop us right in the middle of the action, or around the time The Chosen One hatches their plan to bring down the dictator/The Capitol/what have you. The refreshing thing about Shannon Peel’s Thirteen, though, is that it subverts some of these tired tropes that are popping up everywhere in young adult fiction as of late. Not everyone can be Katniss Everdeen or Tris Prior, even though we desperately want to be. As much as I enjoyed seeing the establishment of a dystopian setting for once, there were quite a few elements in Thirteen that pulled me out of fully suspending my disbelief while reading that definitely need addressing.
The novel follows Jack, a thirteen-year-old boy living in the Vancouver area of British Columbia, Canada with his recently-divorced mother. Feeling dejected from his father’s recent departure from the family, he begins to rebel in little ways like sneaking out with his friends and setting off firecrackers in the dead of night. However, after he and his mother are violently woken up from the sounds of explosions and gunfire, Jack realizes that this is more than just childhood pranks happening right outside his window. As the hours pass, the neighborhood gradually realizes that the commotion came from a sudden occupation of Vancouver by North Korean soldiers, set on holding the city hostage until the United States repents for their crimes against North Korea in recent decades. The thing is, though, Jack is determined to step up as the man of the house and he’s not just ready to submit to the occupation just yet. With his dad still missing and his mother not stepping up to the plate, Jack knows that it’s up to him to keep his sanity — and himself — alive.
To be completely fair, it’s worth noting that I’m probably not the intended audience for this book. As mentioned in the book’s description, Thirteen is really targeted toward middle-grade readers around ten to fourteen-years-of-age; since the story is written from Jack’s third person perspective, the readers get insight and feelings from only his younger and less experienced point of view. He is exceedingly prone to making snap decisions and judgments about the situations he finds himself in and has little regard for how his actions can negatively impact those around him. For example, at one point, he and his mother go to the grocery store the day after the occupation began, but find themselves nearly targeted by soldiers picking off people who are taking food that was not assigned to them. Jack, however, knows that there’s probably some food in the grocery store’s back storage area, so he jumps out of his mother’s car to dash inside while she’s trying to leave the parking lot. He completely disregards the fact that he could easily be shot and killed while he’s making the mad run into the store. As a twenty four-year-old adult, I cannot fathom the mental gymnastics it would take for someone to make such a decision, especially since his actions could result in his mother being killed. However, I could see where a younger reader would cheer Jack on as he’s trying to gather provisions for him and his mother.
Also, there were smaller details about the beginning of the occupation itself that made me question exactly how real of a situation this would be. During a chapter-long plot exposition early in the story, we find out that the people of Vancouver weren’t immediately terrified at the tanks and marching soldiers roaming the streets. They had initially thought it was a movie set being established. Granted, Vancouver is, in reality, a popular filming location, but where were the cameras? The trailers that come with a movie set? I had a hard time believing that citizens of a major city would just brush off random military tanks rolling through town as just actors.
All of this is not to say that Peel is a bad writer. Apart from the solely-exposition chapter, Peel did a fantastic job of setting the scenes in such a way that it created vivid imagery in my mind. Often, when I read works from newer authors, they tend to do far more telling the audience what’s going on, rather than showing us what’s happening from the character’s eyes. One of the scenes followed Jack and his mom as they collected firewood for heat and cooking, since citizens were not allowed power but for only an hour a day during the occupation. Peel describes every detail about the serenity of the ravine as juxtaposition from the chaos only miles away in the center of the city, but, of course, in Jack’s eyes, nature is boring. However, as another writer, it was a nice touch for us to be put directly into the scene via his senses and thoughts. Additionally, only once during Thirteen did I feel separate from the action of the story, but from the start of the next chapter, we were back into the action. As mentioned earlier, I also appreciated that this took the dystopian genre from a different perspective. Jack isn’t set to fulfill this great prophecy or single-handedly overthrow the North Koreans, like we see in most of the heroines and heroes of recent dystopian novels. Instead, he tries his best to adapt to living life as normally as possible in light of everything being thrown into chaos out of nowhere.
While Thirteen isn’t one of those novels that I would find myself reaching for to repeatedly reread, I can fully appreciate its merit to its intended audience. It’s truly not often that we see dystopian novels showing the perspectives of anyone other than older teenagers and adults; seeing this rapidly-changing world through a younger person’s eyes is certainly refreshing in the midst of a genre that’s gradually going stale. Though there are some things within Peel’s world building that absolutely need tweaking to make the occupation more believable, she has packed in enough action and description that make me interested in seeing how our young hero moves forward. Thanks for the cliffhanger, Shannon; now I have to wait!
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