Ummmmmm. That's sort of hard, given that there are officially 1,297 new teen dystopian novels out right now that all the kids want to read. I finally figured out which series she was looking for --- The Hunger Games, which really isn't a whole bunch like The Giver anyway. (I think that Anthem is the dystopia most like The Giver but it's certainly not the book all the kids are reading.)
Really, the amount of dystopias right now is astounding. It's hard to keep up. And honestly, some are better than others. One of my favorites I read last year was Birthmarked. The society in the novel is set hundreds of years in our future, when Lake Superior has become an "unlake" due to climate change. The wealthy people live inside the Enclave, where there is electricity and running water. The poor people live outside, without those luxuries but with a little bit more freedom. The freedom, though, is tinged by one of the demands the Enclave makes: a quota of babies must be "advanced" to live inside the Enclave---essentially, the mothers are required to give up some of their babies. As in theory this means the babies live in prosperity instead of poverty, the mothers reluctantly agree.
Gaia Stone, the daughter of the midwife and an adept apprentice midwife herself, had two brothers who were advanced, but as she has a large scar on her face from a burn when she was small, she stayed at home with her birthparents. As events transpire, she experiences her first delivery, begins to question her society's rules, searches for her mother, and tries to uncover the truth. There was romance and adventure and menace and her bravery seemed exactly the right size to the threat. This was my favorite dystopia (I liked it better than Matched which I also read last year) because of the concepts of the society: the poor seeming to live in peace with their conditions, albeit an unpeaceful one. The government's ability to get entirely competent mothers to hand over their babies. The affects of environmental degradation upon the remnants of our world, and the way little bits of our technology and of our language still held sway. The minatory government.
I couldn't wait to read the sequel, Prized. Except, I had to wait until I could get to the top of the hold list. And then Haley wanted to read it first. And then I read Britt's review, and she didn't love it so I waited until I had negative three days to read it. (Translation: it was three days overdue when I cracked the cover. Sigh. Even working at the library I still stink at getting my books back in time.) But here's what happened when I did get started: I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. to finish it, even though I was already exhausted when I started. It's been a long time since a book has made me stay up until three in the morning. This sequel held, like the first book, adventure and romance. A controlling government. And problems with births and genetics.
Britt didn't love it because she felt like the characters didn't act the way the first book suggests they would. I think she's right, especially Gaia, who felt a little bit soft. But my main complaint with this sequel is that they government didn't feel menacing enough. As I read I kept thinking back to The Knife of Never Letting Go, which has similar themes but was sometimes almost unbearable for me to read because of the government's sinister qualities. In Prized, it just didn't feel harsh enough. Indeed it was nearly bucolic. Since Birthmarked was set in such an unforgiving society, it didn't hold true for me that Sylum, the society in Prized, was less intense. It felt...rushed, somehow, like there were details missing.
What I did like was the relationship between Gaia and Leon, who brought the romance in Birthmarked. I think his response to the situation he finds himself in—which I don't want to detail so as not to ruin the story for you—was entirely him. I mean: he's a complete ass. He says abusive and manipulative things to Gaia in an attempt to strike back at her for her mistakes. He's not nice. But his response is human and completely dead-on for his personality.
Someone else (and as I think about it more, perhaps it was Britt) said that they didn't like that the author put Gaia right into the inner workings of another dystopia. I didn't see it, really, as other. I think that Sylum is an extension of the Enclave in the fact that they are each different models for the way a group of people might act under extreme environmental duress. The same forces that shaped the Enclave shaped Sylum; details of the setting and location made the groups develop different coping mechanisms.
And, honestly: I would have been fine if the story had simply ended with Birthmarked. Dystopias aren't the only hip & happening YA trend. Trilogies are, too, which sometimes is a good thing. Sometimes the story starts to feel forced, however. In fact, the author says on her webpage that she had originally intended for Birthmarked to be a stand-alone book. She revised the ending when her publisher offered her a three-book deal. Perhaps this creates what I think of as the Annie Wilkes phenomena. Annie Wilkes is the main character in Stephen King's novel Misery; if you saw the movie it is Cathy Bates' character. She forces her captive, the writer Paul Sheldon, to write a novel he didn't want to write, a continuation of a series he'd already written the last book for. Annie isn't content with just any old solution to the death (and thus the end) of the main character. She wants a plausible, well-written story and makes sure that Paul writes it. He has a moment of realization, when he figures out how to reanimate the character, about just how good the book will actually be, despite Annie's insane methods of making sure he delivered it.
Sometimes a publisher pushing to have a stand-alone book made into a trilogy creates the Annie Wilkes phenomena: another book that is better than the author thought he or she could write. A more developed story and further, meaningful adventures for the characters we readers have grown to love. Sometimes it just feels forced. Prized was almost Annie-Wilkes worthy. Maybe Caragh O'Brien only needed to be hobbled a little bit to produce a sequel that wasn't mildly disappointing. But. I am still holding out for the conclusion!