Dark Parties by Sara Grant
Released: March 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
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Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Neva has been trapped since birth. She was born and raised under the Protectosphere, in an isolated nation ruled by fear, lies, and xenophobia. A shield “protects” them from the outside world, but also locks the citizens inside. But there’s nothing left on the outside, ever since the world collapsed from violent warfare. Or so the government says…
Neva and her best friend Sanna believe the government is lying and stage a “dark party” to recruit members for their underground rebellion. But as Neva begins to uncover the truth, she realizes she must question everything she’s ever known, including the people she loves the most.
Inside the electrified walls of the Protectosphere is a community cut off from the rest of the world. The government says they’re better off because beyond the Protectosphere lies a wasteland. Citizens may notice luxuries like blueberries, chocolate, and new clothes are disappearing, but at least they are alive.
But, are they really living when the government determines what job an individual holds? Or tries to brainwash the youth into reproducing at a younger age to save a dwindling population? Are they really alive when troublemakers are injected with tracking devices? Or worse, when family members and friends suddenly disappear during the night? Only the government knows where to, but to question them might create for you the same fate.
The teens hold Dark Parties to start underground rebellions, to join celibacy pacts, to spray paint anti-government propaganda on city walls. But, when their friends start disappearing, their rebellion fizzles out. Of the youth that attended the Dark Parties, three fighters remain– Neva, Sanna (her friend), and Braydon (Sanna’s boyfriend). Without the support of their peers, the three dig into their government to discover the history of the Protectosphere, and they begin to learn the atrocities their government is capable of.
Dark Parties by Sara Grant could have been a great novel, but like most of the other books I’ve read in 2013, it fell short of amazing. “Decent” and “all right” are more fitting adjectives. Perhaps my opinion would have differed if I hadn’t read two, awesome dystopians prior to Dark Parties. Already, the novel had some pretty big shoes to fill, and I approached reading it with a more critical eye. At first many of the elements of the society in Dark Parties seemed generic, but as I read on, they started to seem similar. Dark Parties by Sara Grant is to Young Adult as The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau is to Middle Grade. I’m not implying Dark Parties is a rip off because there are a few elements unique to its storyline. I am saying that because I’ve experienced a similar story already, Dark Parties failed to excite me. Besides, I liked Lina and Doon better than Neva, Sanna, and Braydon.
Neva, the main character, lacks passion and personality. Her ability to lead a rebellion seems more a result of circumstance than her own drive. Then there is Braydon, the love interest. He’s dating Sanna, Neva’s best friend, but Braydon is trying to become intimate with Neva, too. And Neva falls for it! As I read the story, I kept wondering how Neva could be attracted to a guy, who is two-timing her best friend. Hoes before Bros, amiright? Even worse, Neva is barely remorseful about it. I mean, she keeps saying she feels bad, but she still pursues Braydon. Aside from his teenage infidelity, Braydon lacks a personality, like Neva. (Perhaps they are meant for each other after all.) He’s pseudo-mysterious. He appears to be brooding, but that’s only because he doesn’t have anything valid to offer in a conversation. He does drive a motorcycle though, and everyone knows the ladies find motorcycles sexy or something. Braydon seems to exist merely as a plot device– Neva’s temptation to break her celibacy pact. But, I feel like the author should have given Neva someone more worthwhile and convincing. Sanna is about the only character in the story that is interesting, though at times she seems artificially sweet. Regardless, she has more passion, she has more challenges to overcome, and she has more life-altering decisions to make. Why couldn’t the story have been about Sanna?
While most of the characters lacked substance, the world didn’t. About 16 chapters in, the reader learns the founding fathers of the Protectosphere were xenophobic. The Protectosphere was developed to keep the effects of globalization out– no sharing religion, no sharing language, no sharing culture, no sharing ideas. I think this is an interesting idea given the shrinking world we live in, but I don’t think the idea was explored as well as it could have been. In fact, it caused a few holes in the world building. Earlier in the story, Neva laments over blueberries, which are no longer available in her world. Except, chances are, if she’s living in America or Europe, blueberries probably grow…naturally. Things like coffee and gas for cars still exist in Neva’s world though, and both of these most definitely would have to have been exported from the outside world. Unfortunately, I didn’t sense any irony or hypocrisy here, which makes this aspect of the world seem underdeveloped.
Even though I didn’t find the storyline compelling for the most part, I continued to read because I kept hoping the story would improve. And improve it did. Things took a turn for the better when Neva infiltrates the Women’s Empowerment Center. For the first time, the reader and Neva understand the grotesque and horrible things the government does to its people, its women. Finally, a fire sparks in Neva; she realizes what she’s fighting for and fighting to get away from. Then, Grant leads us through a series of twists and turns and twists that had me at the edge of my seat. And just when I thought things could get any more satisfying, the last few pages happened. The end. OH MY GOD! I mean, I can’t tell you what happens because spoilers, but trust me when I say the ending was perfect. Unexpected. Thought-provoking. Grant doesn’t wrap up Dark Parties neatly with a nice little bow. As many answers are provided as questions are created in those last few pages. I guess you could say the story ends on a cliffhanger, which I understand is an acquired taste. I’m obviously a huge fan of them. I like it when a little is left up to the imagination, and since this book appears to be a stand-alone, all I will have is my imagination. I loved that the ending of Dark Parties filled me with as much wonder as it did Neva.
Read Dark Parties if you enjoy dystopian novels but haven’t read too many stories that fall into that genre. The character development and world building seemed worn out at times, but Grant’s storytelling shines during the second half of the novel. I’m not even being cheeky when I say the ending of Dark Parties makes it a book worth reading.