When I was a teenager in the early- to mid-nineties there was a place a few towns over called Incredible Universe—it was a big box store that sold CDs and electronics and featured, in the center of the store, a massive virtual reality station. I never tried the VR station, because it freaked me out (for the same reasons that first-person video games freak me out), but people were really, really into it, and teenagers would spend so much time queuing up to use it. Aria, the protagonist of Under the Never Sky, basically has a VR station like that implanted in one of her eyes, and has spent her entire life existing in that world (called The Realms). She’s completely sheltered (and is the product of bio-engineering) and hasn’t experienced any of the “normal” things we expect of teenagers, including basic physical contact.
The other protagonist, Perry, lives out in the “real world,” where people are organized in a tribal system. It is a very raw world, where violence is commonplace and they’re constantly aware of the Aether, a creepy weather situation that is extremely dangerous (there’s a lot of lightning and lightning freaks me the hell out). The novel focuses on the collision of these two worlds and these two people and their journey to recover each of their respective loved owns (road trip!).
- The premise worked for me—I think because I have a weird fascination with virtual realities of all sorts and the way people get so sucked into them.
- I was so, so happy to come across another third person YA—I don’t have a particular preference for first or third person, but so much YA is first, and in a novel like this, third person made infinitely more sense.
- I don’t think it’s spoilery to say that there’s a love story in this novel, and it really didn’t work much for me. It was very, very sudden and I actually enjoyed the first half, where the two are not at all seeing eye-to-eye and thrown together, far much. The romance just felt like “BAM!” and all the sudden the two characters are in lurv…
- Is there any YA novel out there where the boy is the sheltered, freaked out character and the tough-ass girl saves his butt? Because I’m really weary of the tough boy/weak girl trope.
- There is a character introduced later in the novel, Cinder, who is fantastic—my favorite by a mile. Probably the most creative in the novel, and he really saved this book for me, as his introduction was around when I really started rolling my eyes over the “BAM!” romance.
Perry’s special gift is a heightened sense of smell. And it’s really creepy and kind of gross:
Perry closed his eyes and inhaled. Her scent had changed. The rancy Dweller musk was almost gone. Her skin breathed a new scent into the air, faint but unmistakable. For the first time since he’d known her, her flesh smelled like something he recognized, feminine and sweet. He smelled violets. He took a step back, swearing silently as it hit him.“You’re not dying… . You really don’t know?”“I don’t know anything anymore.”Perry looked down at the ground and drew another breath, no doubt in his mind. “Aria … it’s your first blood.”
I just don’t see the attraction of a boy who’s just inevitably going to be so TMI. The following might be a smidge spoilery and is definitely a whole lot of yuck.
“Perry, if we … couldn’t I get … ?”“No,” he said. “Not now. Your scent would be different.”“It would? How?” Questions. Of course with her. Even now.“Sweeter,” he said. She pulled him closer, wrapping her arms around his neck.“Aria,” he whispered, “we don’t have to do this if you’re not sure.”“I trust you and I’m sure,” she said, and he knew it was true.
I have so, so many issues with that scene (hello? she goes touching people for the first time to having her first period—at 17—to having sex for the first time in just a few weeks; that doesn’t seem rushed *at all*), but the smell thing just creeped me out.
I don’t have an issue with sex in YA, and am glad this novel didn’t go the way of so many, with the whole platonic sleeping trend, but I didn’t care for the rushed way it was handled at all. I felt like Aria was wanting to experience all the things she’d missed out on living her life in the Realms, and that Perry, as the older, more world-savvy character, had a certain level of responsibility to Aria—especially since he’d been positioned in the novel as something of a protector. It didn’t sit well with me.
Which brings me to another issue with Perry: he’s always (usually in his head, thankfully) criticizing Aria for asking so many questions. And it drove me crazy! What does he expect? She’s never been out of a pod or her creepy virtual reality world before being cast out by what’s essentially a crazy city council! Logically, she would have a few questions about this creepy new world she’s experiencing. So, this drove me crazy.
Also, this is random, but I initially skipped over the word “blond” in the description of his hair and got very excited because for a moment I thought Perry was a non-white YA love interest, which would have been so exciting. Alas, later mention of his blond waves, made me realize this was wishful thinking on my part (apparently he was able to comb out his hair or something).
I know it sounds like I’m skewering this novel, but I really did enjoy reading it (with the exception of the aforementioned scene in the spoiler above). Under the Never Sky fits into the same category as Divergent: super-hyped, not as good as the marketing and early reviews promised, yet nevertheless wholly readable and enjoyable, despite numerous issues. It’s a funny place for a book to live in my mind—liking it despite itself. This novel was marketed as a dystopia, and it’s really not, it’s more futuristic with a touch of science fiction. I have to say, once I got my head around where it fits in the spectrum of YA sub-genres, I enjoyed it much more.