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Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky Book Review (SPF)

Title: Middle Ground
Story Arc: Awaken Series
Publication: November 20, 2012 by Harcourt
Hardcover: 336 pages
Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian
Age Group: Teen, YA
Source: Blog Tour
Excerpt(s): pgs 145 + 163

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In this provocative cautionary tale for teens, the sequel to Awaken, seventeen-year-old Maddie’s rebellion against the digital-only life grows dangerous. Maddie is in Los Angeles, trying to stay out of trouble. But one night, a seemingly small act of defiance lands her in the place she fears the most: a detention center. Here, patients are reprogrammed to accept a digital existence. Maddie is now fighting for her mind, her soul, and her very life. Once again, Katie Kacvinsky paints a disturbing picture of our increasingly technology-based society.
If I had to pick a single book that encapsulates everything I want in a YA book, in any book really, Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky could quite possibly be that book. Last year, Kacvinsky released a story of a world that, if Galadriel had asked me to look into her mirror, is presented as a nightmarish, chilling, and all-too-feasible future for the world we live in now. She depicts a society that is slowly losing touch with their own humanity, since everyone who lives in it has scorned the idea of natural living and has instead opted to seat themselves behind their computer screens where they live an idyllic, otherwise cold reality that allows them to build themselves and their lives in the image they desire. Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky is a fast-paced, elegant novel, but what I love most about it is that the events of the plot don’t hide the themes of this book—self-acceptance and self-awareness, love conquers all, the dangers of ignorance, materialism, the beauty of simplicity, and I could go on—and the overall message Kacvinsky subtly bashes us over the head with. It’s not necessarily the themes themselves, as they are all too common in a variety of literature, but it’s more the manner in which Kacvinsky executes them, particularly in this installment. I’m generally very careful in making a claim so large as my dream book simply because it leaves too much room for worry since I am explicitly recommending something that may or may not be right for everyone. But, Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky bumps the worry to the foot of my list and has me too enamored to care.

Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky begins a month after the turn of events in last year’s Awaken, and the first chapter manages to make the time difference seem both unbearably lengthy and as though I’d just finished Awaken yesterday. The stretch of time feels very long to the main character, Maddie, and we get the sense that time has just dragged on with nothing meaningful happening, which has her almost stir-crazy. At the same time, if you’re a little fuzzy on the minor details—i.e. certain characters’ names—then it may take a bit to get back to a place where you’re reacquainted with them again. Back to Maddie’s restlessness, it’s either born from her friends’ willingness to relax into virtual living or the lack of excitement—i.e. high-speed chases, running from law enforcement, general nonviolent badassery, etc.—mostly brought on by the arrival of her sort-of boyfriend Justin Solvi, or both. And within the first couple of chapters, with barely any provocation, Maddie cracks. And it is glorious, quite exciting, and—what’s especially notable—in a way that feels like an organic sequence rather than a deliberate opener to suck us back in. Of course, where there’s excitement Justin never strays too far. However, every action has a reaction, as they say, and the consequences for Maddie’s actions are dire and fortify the plot of this second book.

One thing I, right off, was glad to see remained the same are these nostalgic or passionate, insightful, almost poetic pages of self-reflection that can be found in Maddie’s journal, which act as spontaneous divisions between chapters. The book is the beautiful, elegant dress in the window, but these pages are the stunning, mesmerizing detailing on the dress, a part of the whole that draws the eye and brings the whole thing together in one awesome cohesive piece. Kacvinsky's language isn’t simplistic or necessarily easily accessible for perhaps a younger audience, but her words do strike a chord that is impossible to ignore. It’s because of these journal pages, and Maddie’s other moments of pondering and self-reflection that we feel deeply invested in her character. It’s her conversations with Justin—intelligent, thoughtful, contrary conversations—that really cause you to think in creative and new ways, which also simultaneously accents their attraction—one that doesn’t just spring from the loins and sentiment, but one that’s also on an intellectual basis, where they show each other a different world by swapping perspectives, wrong or right.

This Justin and Maddie are delving into each other on a deeper level while growing stronger as a couple. This is not the same Justin and Maddie you saw in Awaken—the tough, hardened, unreachable activist recruiting a girl unsure of her place in life and quite ignorant to the manipulation of those she trusts. The character growth is raw and obvious—they teach each other to bring each other higher and learn to shoulder the other through the low points. They learn how to handle each other. And yet Kacvinsky doesn’t dismiss the importance of the Sexy Times either. That aspect of their chemistry is so… complex and thrives on their joint fascination with the simplest of touches, tastes. When they stare at each other it’s not to fill the time with cheesy lovey-doveyness but to be in the moment and experience what they’re both essentially experiencing for the first time—a legit relationship, a whole and complicated one, the emotional and the physical.

It’s beautiful. Simply and meaningfully.

And while Maddie and Justin are, for me, the main highlight of this book, this series for that matter, the plot is heavy with turmoil, loaded with horrifying circumstance, and just enough action! All the adrenaline and kick-butt stuff kicks off the start of the book and then we’re thrust into a riveting section spotlighting Maddie’s mental battle for her sanity. Meeting new characters and witnessing the emotional toll on Maddie and Justin’s relationship is certainly major, but Maddie’s individual courage, dedication, and strength really shine through this half of the book. And it also tests a part of Justin’s strength we haven’t seen—his inner muscle, his ability to withstand the emotional torture of submitting to Maddie’s decision to fight for what’s right, for the betterment of society, with the bare minimum of help, as opposed to resisting despite how painful it is to watch her fight on her own.

I know I mentioned that this installment is fast-paced, but I should adjust that by saying it’s well-paced, as it’s well-suited to the events of the story and follows the story’s current perfectly so that it’s never unbalanced with dull or too-full moments. Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky is absolutely a page-turner that exemplifies the author’s control while managing to smoothly, naturally go exactly where it needs to.

The ending is just more testament to the author’s BOSSNESS. She not only manages to add in all the things without making the story overflow and flood the reader with unwanted or too much information and growth and plot, etc. She also manages to give a solid resolution to the book in a way that makes Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky potentially capable of being a standalone, very much like it’s predecessor.

To put it very simply, Katie is a frigging boss-genius-type-person who I shower with undying praise and devotion. Fans: it only gets awesome-er.

Most Likely to be Enjoyed By: Literally everybody with an appreciation for great, heavy genre fiction that is intense and eloquent and that I think can still be enjoyed by those who prefer more simply-written books. You don’t have to be a fan of dystopian-esque societies to truly dig into this book. It’s amazingly written, both character and plot-driven, and avoids any over-abundantly used writer’s tool—love triangles, unfulfilling cliffhangers, unnecessary melodrama, overdone story line, cheesy romance, etc. Kacvinsky’s book is passionate and exciting minus preaching or overly heavy issues. Everyone can love this book.

Content Warning: I would say the thing that could be tallied up to most concerning would be the mental torture written into this book. Bloody, violent, nightmarish in tone and imagery. National catastrophes of this future are used—like terrorism, for instance—to torture detainees into mental submission in a harsh, indelicate, non-textbooklike manner that could possibly make anyone uncomfortable.

Blog Rating: Special Shelf
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Goodreads Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
He looked down at my hand and laced his fingers with mine. His skin was so warm. I let my mind fixate on the energy of his touch. He leaned closer and lifted my hand to examine it in the dim glow of his flashlight. I really saw him now, his hair sticking out from under the cap and around his ears, his eyes that were aware of everything, his solid hand. I was starting to wake up. The rough skin on his fingers traced over my knuckles and he kissed each of my fingertips, one at a time. He dropped my hand from his lips and his eyes relaxed.
I began the questionnaire. There were only twenty-nine questions. I stared at the document before I started. That was it? Answering twenty-nine questions could define me? I wondered if the answers to twenty-nine questions could even describe this room, let alone the complexity of a person. Or maybe people weren’t that complex anymore. Maybe technology was making us so full we were empty.
Minus Some Words: Feeling very much like Maddie in that second quote, I abhor the idea of trying to manipulate your interest in reading this book by using a mere paragraph. Blech. Because you must be manipulated, cajoled, tricked, beaten into reading Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky. It may have just bumped itself up to my number one slot on my list of favorite books of the year. My wariness toward this sequel was utterly unfounded, and, honestly, I don’t understand why I was worried. The pacing melts into events of the plot so that they work in tandem to deliver an exciting, action-packed, intellectually stimulating story featuring two strong-willed, constantly growing characters whose chemistry is based on nearly everything that could attract one person to another. It’s passionate and raw and beautiful. If you’re a fan, I have no doubts that you’ll be completely amazed! And if you’re just now hearing about this series, read Awaken and then hurry and catch the frak up!

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Got something specific in mind? Dare I believe I might NOT have covered something you wish to know? If so, let me know down in the comments section. Comment if you're into technology a little too much. Or don't, that works too. But you'll hurt my feelings...


April C said...

I like fast paced and BOSSNESS, but have not read Awaken, so I guess that means I totes need to read Awaken NOW and then Middle Ground, eh? <3

Sam @ Realm of Fiction said...

I think I need to catch the frak up as I haven't even read the first one yet! this sounds great. Amazing review, you! :D