Saturday, April 23, 2011

Empty by Suzanne Weyn

Empty by Suzanne Weyn
ISBN: 0545172780
Scholastic, 2010
256 p.

Plot Summary: The setting is the near future and the world's finite oil resources have been depleted. Some of the top ten oil producing countries such as Venezuela are being invaded by U.S. forces all in search of precious crude oil. This does not mean necessarily that high schoolers live different lives until Gwen, Luke, Tom, and Niki's town has a serious shortage. They must live without products that are either made of oil or are shipped by oil-guzzling vessels. It seems the adults are no better off, fighting at gas stations where the prices are hiked up to twenty dollars a gallon. When it couldn't get much worse, a superhurricane hits the town. People are in need of food, medicine, and supplies and it seems that Gwen and company are some of the only ones healthy and lucid enough to help.

Critical Analysis: Clearly, Weyn's book is a thinly veiled attempt at showing the young adult audience the possible future if the world's dependence on oil does not cease. The problem is, Weyn seems to have forgotten to inject an interesting story along with this respectable environmental message. The characters are flat. The story mostly involves Gwen and company trying to do normal teenager things, then running out of gas on the way. Weyn's teenagers are not ones that I would have wanted to hang out with now or back when I was their age. They often bring up lectures they remember from Social Studies and ask dumb open ended questions about why the world did not catch on to its oil dependence earlier. Stilted dialogue like this really detracts from the believability of the story and blows all chances of the reader's immersion into the world.

Despite it being a post-apocalyptic novel, Weyn never made an oil shortage seem any worse than a series of minor inconveniences. Niki doesn't have lip gloss, Tom can't drive his cheerleader girlfriend to the lake to make out. Are these really the first things that come to mind in a worldwide oil shortage? All of this naivete leads to a tacked on revelation that we do indeed need an environment full of bicycles, self-sustaining farms, and hard work. This is all well and good, but I did not believe for a second that these characters who were most concerned about themselves forty pages ago all of a sudden have decided that they need to contribute to Weyn's ultimately weak environmental message. I have nothing against the message, just the way that Weyn delivered it.

Reader's Annotation: In the near future, the world has nearly depleted its oil resources. How will Gwen and her friends survive without the lifeblood of the United States when disaster strikes?

Author Information: Weyn has also written The Bar Code Tattoo, an ALA pick for Reluctant Readers in 2007. She was born in Flushing, New York. She lives on a farm where she draws from her horses both as inspiration and a source of stress relief.


Genre: post apocalyptic, young adult, drama, disaster, suspense

Curriculum Ideas: Empty would be an easy transition for any Social Studies class talking about depleted oil sources. Despite its triteness, it does imagine a teenage life without oil. Perhaps it could be used to spark a conversation about the world's dependence on oil and ways to resolve it.

Reading Level: Grades 7-10

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: I wanted to read a recent release and this was on the new young adult shelf at the library. I'm a fan of post apocalyptic works and I agreed with Weyn's message, I wanted to see if she could pull it off. I also wanted to change up my genres a bit, this one's different from the horror and fantasy that I tend to read.

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