Time Zero (#1)
by Carolyn Cohagan.
Time Zero is the first YA novel by Austin author Carolyn Cohagan. It tells the story of Mina, a fifteen year old girl living inside the walls of what was once Manhattan, under the rule of an extremist religious regime. Her world is very small- her dress code, her words, her behavior are all strictly prescribed and monitored. She will pass from her father’s household to her husband’s, a man she will have no say in choosing. But with her grandmother secretly teaching her to read, and an unintentional encounter with someone she should never talk to, Mina dares to start hoping for something more. But when breaking the rules can very seriously result in death, it will not be an easy thing to find a new path.
One interesting (disheartening, heartbreaking) aspect of this book is that every rule Mina has to follow is a rule that a girl somewhere in the world, right now in 2016, has to follow. The religion in the book is fictional, but all of the rules were pulled from actual religions in practice today- including ones in the US. You can see the list here. The fear that these rules generate, under the constant monitoring, was very palpable throughout the book. The light sci-fi touch on the police weapons and scan technology only enhanced that.
Mina as the narrator was engaging. She was overall believable, if at times a little more trusting that I would expect from her world and upbringing. The relationship between Mina and her mother… whew, that’s a doozy. The family dynamics in general were interesting and well-tensioned, both in Mina’s family and others in the book. I liked that there was no love triangle, though I suppose that could change in later books. Her romantic interest seemed to suffer a bit from the dreaded YA insta-love, but happily Mina was more restrained and hesitant about jumping to that level.
I was not impressed with the ‘rebel’ group that Mina finds (I don’t consider this a spoiler, as there will always, inevitably be a rebel group of some sort with any oppressive government). That’s not to say it wasn’t realistic within the confines of the world, but I certainly side with the few characters who expressed dissatisfaction at their inactivity.
I also had a few issues with the ending. For one, the band of characters that Mina ends up with had one character whose presence was not really warranted by events. It felt a bit forced for this person to be there. The other issue is that the ending was really unsurprising. This is a YA book where the main character has spent her whole life within walls that have shut the outside world out. I bet you can guess where book 1 leaves off without even reading a page.
But, those issues aside, this is still a really good read. Mina will draw you in. The action is well-paced, the dialogue well-done. There are good spikes of humor to offset the pervasive fear. I fully intend to pick up book 2 to see what happens next.
If you like YA dystopias, add this to your TBR pile. It will be available on May 16 this year.