by Helen Douglas
Published on 2013-11-05
by Bloomsbury Publishing USA
Genres: Friendship, Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
The day Eden met Ryan changed her world forever. Actually, not just her world. Ryan has time traveled from the future to save the world.
In a few weeks, Eden’s best friend Connor will discover a new planet—one where human life is possible. The discovery will make him famous. It will also ruin the world as we know it.
When Ryan asks Eden for help, she must choose between saving the world and saving her best friend’s greatest achievement. And a crush on Ryan complicates things more than she could have imagined. Because Connor is due to make the discovery after the girl he loves breaks his heart. That girl is Eden. Grounded in a realistic teen world with fascinating sci-fi elements, After Eden is a heart-pounding love triangle that’s perfect for dystopian fans looking for something new to devour.
Science fiction is a hugely underrated genre in modern YA. Pure sci-fi – the kind with spaceships, aliens and futuristic technology – is seen as somehow unattainable, and it’s true that it’s more difficult to be original in sci-fi than in other genres. I think that’s why most authors now choose to dilute their science fiction stories with elements of dystopia.
Recently, however, I’ve seen YA sci-fi undergo a resurgence. Just look at books like Alienated by Melissa Landers, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, and Avalon by Mindee Arnett: pure, unadulterated sci-fi (written by women!), packed with adventure, romance, danger and intrigue. Unfortunately, After Eden just didn’t live up to the expectations set by other similar titles.
After Eden has a fantastic premise and incredible potential. I mean, the discovery a possibly-habitable planet that in actuality harbours a lethal parasite which could spell disaster for all of humankind? Talk about high stakes! It’s dark and it’s fascinating. I can see it already: drama, action, betrayal, survival.
Douglas puts time and effort into the setting, particularly focusing on constellations and other scientific details without making it too complicated for the lower YA audience she’s aiming for. She tries to keep her characters grounded by having them study for exams and face the normal presssures of high school, but this was where the book began to fall flat.
There are so many high school tropes that seem totally out of place in a book with a strong sci-fi emphasis like After Eden, and the main source of these stereotypes is Ryan, the (obviously) handsome and (naturally) mysterious new guy at school. The second he arrives, everyone’s talking about him. Everyone is falling over themselves to be near him. I love a good fictional hero, but I just couldn’t figure out what the characters saw in him.
You’d think Eden would be more likeable, since she’s important enough to be in the title, but no. Douglas downplays her intelligence and replaces it not only with insta-love in her relationship with Ryan, but a love triangle in her relationship with Connor, her best friend, and it’s totally unnecessary. After such a tantalising premise, the plot is completely taken over by Eden’s romantic quandary. She constantly maintains that she only has feelings of friendship for Connor, yet she leads him on instead of owning her emotions and telling it to him straight. Her romance with Ryan lacks credibility; I couldn’t even bring myself to root for them until close to the end of the book. Eden refuses to face consequences and while I felt for her in the latter half of the story, she’ll never be one of my favourite YA characters.
What happened to bringing smart, confident, kick-ass girls into genres like sci-fi? Where is the spark, the fire? Why must the author rely on tropes such as insecurity and jealousy instead of creating a real character, someone with a goal and ambition and agency?
I was also irked by the level of slut-shaming in After Eden. Like the high school tropes, slut-shaming has no place in this book (or in any book, for that matter). Eden criticises and belittles girls who act the same way she does, wearing short skirts and lathering themselves in perfume. Again, I ask: what happened to portraying bonds between female characters that don’t revolve around bitterness or boys?
In short: I enjoyed aspects of the plot – including time-travel and moral dilemmas – in After Eden and I was glad I stuck with the book as I liked the ending, but I just wish there hadn’t been so many things to dislike about the rest of the story. The characterisation is poor and the potential is wasted. It’s a pretty fast, easy read, but I don’t think I’ll be recommending it often.
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