Rating: ⭐ (1)
Release Date: 15 November 2020
Eighteen-year-old Isla grew up in one of a handful of families chosen by the government to live their lives reenacting the daily lives of their distant ancestors. Mimicking the Mennonite ways of the past, Isla's home life is contained to the farm where she was raised with her brother and father and the community where each family represents a different time period in history.
The plot of the story shows itself in Isla's opportunity to leave the farm. Discontent with the old-ways of her home life, she struggles with fluctuating desire to leave her family and enroll in a secretive school after she graduates from her regular education. Ultimately whisked away, Isla finds herself in an outside world that is far from her dreams of boys and happily ever afters.
Caught in a dystopian nightmare where women are commodities and Isla has no control and no way home, Isla, and the women in the story, presses forward to discover a version of life that she can accept.
To be frank, I REALLY struggled with this story early on. I found so many questions that didn't seem to have answers. I found myself in this reenactment community sometime in the future, wondering what life was like outside, wondering what led to such a sheltered and preserved way of everyday living. While it was clear that Isla didn't know much about the world outside, she went to school with kids who didn't live in the community, thus, I assumed that she'd have some knowledge of what the world looked like outside her farm.
Even with so many ideas in the novel, the book lacks tension, mainly due to the characterization of the main character and the events that happen oh-so-convienently. Overly-naive, Isla is just along for the ride. She has no real desires or gusto. In one sentence, she questions the authenticity of someone in the life (to the point where that person likely got her into danger), then in the next blink, she places her trust in that person again, shrugging off the distrust and apprehension she felt just moment ago.
Additionally, like most sheltered girls, Isla daydreams about an older boy who graduated ahead of her. Imagining a life with him that will save her from a marriage to a sniveling neighbor boy that's practically arranged, she spends the earliest pages of the book wishing that she'd just spoken to him when she had the chance, defending him from her friends who don't think as much of him, and planning a way to get him back in her life. Permanently. But, just when the author needs the main plot to kick off, Isla's love interest - who she's never spoken too and who she's pretty sure doesn't know her name - conveniently appears, professes his affection for her, forces a kiss on her, and drops some on-the-nose information about government secrets (that Isla conveniently disregards later on).
Along the same vein, the characters feel underdeveloped. As someone who can get on board with a poorly-developed plot because of fabulous characters, I struggled to want to piece through this plot because the people fell flat. I can almost get past Isla's naivety and blandness due to her upbringing; however, the fact that there are no well-developed characters in this book shows that Isla isn't just a product of her environment; she's just not very interesting. Isla's best friend with the backhanded "compliments"? Not developed (mainly because Isla just shrugs off the insults thus there's no tension for them to grow out of). Isla's early love interest? Plot device who happens to assault her after giving vital information (basically writing him out of the book in the nick of time).
The character with the most potential? Isla's mad-scientist, hyper-focused, genius-inventor brother.
I won't give away the central plot, but basically Isla and her friends at the (sort of) secret school she's recruited to become dream addicts, used as commodities, and kept from their families. I will just say that I'd sum this ending up as convenient. There's implied tension in this book, but it doesn't come to the page successfully.
I think the author's general ideas are really cool. That's what made me say yes to reviewing LUSH; dream addicts, living your entire life in a reenactment community separated and sheltered from dystopian society, breaking out of that life only to discover that the world is crueler than an option-less life back home, (and the hint of romance: DUH). This author just should've taken another pass at the manuscript with a keen eye for amping up the tension and toning down the convenience.
Overall, the general sentiment of the book is good. We get plenty of dystopian stories of young people discovering their destinies and leaving their hard or boring lives behind (Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Red Rising by Pierce Brown, and even our OG Eragon by Christopher Paolini) but LUSH is a story about discovering home over destiny, about coming home, about growing into who you are rather than discovering someone new inside.
Like I said, I think LUSH has a lot of potential, there are just too many things going on and no sense of connection or order. This is one story that went to publication too soon.