4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
In a sea of Young Adult dystopian novels, Way Down Dark felt like a breath of fresh air. Ironically, considering it is set entirely on a claustrophobic spaceship. I really don’t like it when books are branded as ‘The next Hunger Games’ or whatever the current trend is, as this has been called, and it really isn’t that similar.
Australia, the ship where Chan lives, has several different factions: the Lows, the Bells and the Pale Women. Not everyone is in a faction, the former two being particularly violent and the latter a religious sect. But as the story begins, the Lows are becoming more violent and slowly taking over more and more of the ship. And then Chan begins to fight back against them.
I actually liked the violence of this book. There are a lot of YA dystopian novels out there that talk about how violent society is, but it is never shown. In Way Down Dark, life is tough. The Lows are brutal and what they do is horrific, but through this Smythe demonstrates just how much of a dystopia Chan is living in. It was also good to finally have a YA protagonist who doesn’t feel guilt for killing and doing what she has to survive – Chan is tough, she is a product of the Australia, and what she does is, for the inhabitants of the ship, just a fact of life. Smythe does not skim over that, and the book is all the more shocking and effective for it. Additionally, Chan’s appearance was not mentioned once, apart from when she says she shaved her hair to avoid lice, as most people on the ship do. A YA protagonist who does not talk about her looks, how ‘plain’ she is? What a relief!
I had several questions about the world-building. Why is everyone on this ship? We don’t get much more detail than ‘the Earth was dying’, but I want to know more. What was actually happening? Global warming, nuclear war? Is everyone on the ship all that is left of humanity? Why are there no authority figures or any form of government? And most importantly, why was Chan’s mother so well-known amongst the ship’s inhabitants?
However, I really really enjoyed this book. It’s short, at only 288 pages, and there’s a lot crammed in. I’m just hoping that my questions will be answered in book two (although some were sort of answered towards the end, which then opened up more questions that I can’t discuss without spoilers!), which I will definitely be reading. How can I not, after that cliffhanger of an ending?