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Monday, September 22, 2014

YA Review: The Disunited States of America

The Disunited States of America by Harry Turtledove

Published: First published in 2006 by Tor Books. This review is not that late (I only started my blog in 2008!). The edition I have was published in May 2011 by Tor For Teen
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 285 in my copy
Part of a series: Apparently it's book 4! I think they work as self-contained books, though. I certainly didn't realize until I looked it up on goodreads and saw the four, honestly
Got via: Um, it's kind of been a while and I'm not entirely sure. I think Tor might have sent it to me? I know I didn't buy it, and it was in my review stack so I'm assuming it's a review book. I can't find anything about it in my email, either. Oh, well, here's the review if you sent me this!
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): Time travel doesn't work. You can't go backward or forward; you're stuck at "now". What you can do is travel sideways, to the same "now" in another timeline where history turned out differently.

So far, only our home timeline has figured out how to do that. We use Crosstime Traffic to conduct discreet trading operations in less advanced timelines, selling goods just a little bit better than the locals can make. It's profitable, but families who work as Time Traders have to be careful to fit in, lest the locals become suspicious.

Justin's family are Time Traders. The summer before he's due to start college, he goes with them to a different Virginia, in a timeline where the American states never became a single country, and American history has consisted of a series of small wars. Despite his unease, he accompanies Randolph Brooks, another Time Trader, on a visit to the tiny upland town of Elizabeth, Virginia. He'll only be away from his parents for a few days.

Beckie Royer thanks her stars that she's from California, the most prosperous and advanced country in North America. But just now she's in Virginia with her grandmother, who wants to revisit the tiny mountain town where she grew up. The only interesting thing there is a boy named Justin--and he'll be gone soon.

Then war between Virginia and Ohio breaks out anew. Ohio sets a tailored virus loose on Virginia. Virginia swiftly imposes a quarantine, trapping Becky and Justin and Randolph Brooks in Elizabeth. Even Crosstime Traffic can't help. All the three of them can do is watch as plague and violence take over the town.

Review: I have to say, I'm not the biggest science fiction reader. It's just not usually my thing. I don't really have a mind for science and I struggled a bit with it as a kid. And I can tell a lot of that kind of affected my experience reading thing. The kind of writing it was, and sometimes the world-building, was sometimes hard for me to get into and follow. A lot of it just wasn't my cup of tea, but sometimes it was kind of slow, too.

I do think it could be a good book for those kids who tend to skip YA, and go straight to adult ones. Knowing hooligans these days, they'd probably be better able to follow it than me!

Plot Talk: Me trying to describe the plot and world-building of this is why I don't write sci-fi. How about, especially since when I read the first few chapters of this, I was feeling gross and today I've been fighting a headache for like 6 hours, you just read the summary while I smile and nod? I used the longer, more detailed one so you could understand the world-building and everything a little better.

Characters: The book alternates between the third person POVs of Beckie and Justin. Since the book opens with Beckie, I'll start with her. Beckie is from the "alternate" world where each state is like a country. She's terrified, but she's also brave and clever and I liked her. I really liked that she didn't get whiny about being stuck in Virginia, where she definitely did not want to be, especially considering the whole war thing going on. But to be honest, sometimes she didn't sound like a teenaged girl.

The other narrating character was Justin, who came from the "home" timeline which basically seems to be, like, the 2090s of "our" world, with his mom. He was a fine character. I didn't really connect with him as much, and he maybe could have been a little deeper, but he was fine.

Most of the other characters were also fine. Nobody was amazing, but they were all interesting enough. I don't think the characters, however, were the strongest part of the book. Especially the female characters. Most of the women did very little in this book to advance the plot.

PG-13 stuff: There were a lot of adult themes. Racism, most heavily, violence, murder, gore. Being as it's a war-themed book, it's not surprising, but knowing what you're going into is good.

Cons complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I'm not super into war books, honestly. It's just not my thing at all. Sometimes it was kind of slow and sometimes the voices didn't really seem like teenagers.

And then there was this bit that I kinda just facepalmed:
"Okay, the good news is, he didn't go off somewhere and then come down with the disease. The g**sies didn't steal him, either - though right now, they're welcome to him." Mr. Brooks didn't sound as though he was joking. "The bad news is, he doesn't know one thing about what being a soldier means."
- pg. 199

Which was shortly followed by this:
He didn't really say people. The word he used was one nobody in the U.S.A. in the home timeline could say without proving he was a disgusting racist. People in the home timeline cussed a lot more casually than they did here. But words that showed you were a racist or a religious bigot or a homophobe... Nobody in the home timeline, not even people who were really racists or fanatics or homophobes, used those words in public. The taboos were different, but they were still taboos.
- pgs. 201-202 

Now the reason I censored that word up there? That word is a racial slur for Romani people. Brooks is supposed to be from the home timeline. If you're going to talk about nobody using racial slurs, maybe you shouldn't do so after having used one three pages earlier.

Also. I'm a white chick here, so I don't feel 100% comfortable talking about racism as though my opinion matters, but I can pretty well tell when things aren't quite right. And maybe if you're writing a book that focuses so heavily on racism, maybe you could, you know, have more than one character who isn't white.

And has a name. And doesn't die.

Just a thought.

Cover comments: I like the cover. It's neat and it just looks good. Eye-catching. I think kids would like it.

Conclusion: Gosh, this review sounds critical. I'm sorry! It was interesting enough. I did realize I know very little about US history, ha. (I'm not great at history in general and, you know, I'm Canadian.) I liked the idea of it. I just think the execution wasn't always the best. I did enjoy a lot of the story, but some of it was slow, and some of the bad things really made me headscratch. (We have a world free of racism and sexism and homophobia! But most of the action and plot will be driven by straight white dudes, we don't have a single POC character with a name who lives, and everyone's straight. Wtheck?)

I do, however, think there's a definite audience for this kind of book. I also thought the Reader's Guide and Discussion Questions are a nice touch. This would probably be great for those young readers who don't want to be seen reading "girly" books (and the romance is minimal) and those who need a challenge.

In the end, there were things I didn't like, but for the most part, I think I was not the right audience for this one. So I'm going to have to give this one a three, honestly.

Other Notes:

- I wrote "The Disgruntled States" THREE times and insisted that this author was actually named Henry. Twice. That's gotta be a new record for me.

Peace and cookies,


  1. I've never heard of this one, and it doesn't sound all that exciting, so I'll probably just go ahead and skip it. Thanks for the review!

    1. I don't really blame you. I think it's definitely a niche audience, and I don't think I'm that niche. Thanks for the comment!


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