The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

Necessary Info:

  • Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina – “Aboriginal writer and illustrator from the Palyku downloadpeople”
  • Genre: Sci-fi, Fantasy, Dystopian
  • Pages: 383
  • Age Range: 12+ according to Publisher’s Weekly
  • Grade Level: 7-12
  • Publication Date: 8 April 2014
  • If you want to buy it, click here.

Synopsis:

The story is set in the future, some 300 years from now after human greed and focus on technology caused an environmental catastrophe that has destroyed the Earth as we know it. Humans have survived, but due to the disaster, “accords” have been written and new government entities have formed to regulate existence and ensure that humans don’t go overboard and destroy the planet ever again. Ashala Wolf, the protagonist, is the leader of The Tribe (called Illegals by dominant society), a group of young runaways who have special abilities and are ostracized because the dominant society believes that their abilities offset “the balance” in the world. Set in a futuristic time, the teens work against a system that despises them because they are inherently different, and they fight against this system in order to force those who are generally accepted to question the society that has forced these teens to live a life of seclusion in the forest.

Fulfilling her position as leader, Ashala makes the decision to be taken into custody by the evil Neville Rose in an effort to save her friends. She is pitted against Neville’s creation,  “the machine”, a device that extracts significant memories from a person’s subconscious. Neville intends to use the machine to locate the other runaways in an effort to eradicate them from the planet because he believes that those who are different don’t have a place in the future of society – the children’s special abilities are “unnatural”, so they must be destroyed. Ashala’s job, then, is to not only save her friends, but ask those in society an important question: “Does a person with an ability belong to the Balance?”

What I like about this novel is not only that the main character is a part of the Indigenous population, but also that the forest itself is a character with as much consciousness, life, and vibrance as the human characters. For example, before Ashala and her friends can live in the forest away from the society that imprisons them, they must ask the forest for refuge and vow to protect it, showing that the forest itself has agency that exists with and without human intervention.

I also like that the story took me on an unexpected journey. At the beginning of the story, I truly disliked Ashala’s consistent empathy for characters who were her enemies, specifically Connor, the guard who captures her and takes part in her interrogation. But, as I continued reading, I realized that there was so more to the story than the author gave me initially, and I was pleasantly surprised by the way the story turned out. Of course, I don’t give spoilers on this page, but there’s much more than meets the eye in this story, and I appreciate Kwaymullina for offsetting my expectations in the best way.

Diversity Elements:

  • The main character is a young Indigenous woman;
  • Diverse secondary characters such as Georgie Spider (tribe member) and Rae Wentworth (Doctor in the detention center)
  • Ashala experiences trauma with the loss of her sister, and there is a short discussion of seeking psychological help for panic attacks and coping. I think this is a diverse element because it shows that seeking assistance for trauma is sometimes necessary and ok.
  • In this story, racial segregation and discrimination is a thing of the past (as noted in the story), but the themes and deep feelings associated with discrimination due to differences is still prevalent.
  • Australian Aboriginal culture is interwoven throughout the novel by including the concept of Dreamtime

The diversity of the characters is shown through the characters’ racial makeup, and I love that the characters are flawed and nuanced. For example, Ashala is known for her extreme empathy for others, but there are times when I feel like this empathy impact was over-the-top. But later, there is discussion about how she was so filled with hatred over the loss of her sister at the hands of the government that she almost loses it and exacts revenge, wishing to kill anyone that may have had a hand in causing her this pain.

Additionally, this is considered an “Aussie” dystopian story, but I feel like there are so many aspects of the novel that can be used to promote cross-cultural discussion about the oppression that exists for diverse populations; how uniques family dynamics and friendships can go beyond blood, race, and/or other identity markers; how allies can assist in liberation/emancipation from oppressive forces; and how the ignorance of those who are not oppressed can restrain diverse populations.

Science: 

 

World Cultures/History

Aboriginal Dreamtime

Other Reviews:

Time Trap

Necessary Info:

  • Author: Micah Caida – in the author bio, it says that Micah Caida is a melding of two
    minds. What they mean is that two authors 17369278came together and chose this name to represent the two of them – Mary Buckham (Invisible Recruits series) and Dianna Love (Belador series)
  • Pages: 342
  • Age Range: 14+ according to YA Books Central
  • Publication Date: 20 January 2014
  • If you want to buy it, click here. At the time of this review (4/18/17), the first book is free through the Kindle app.

Synopsis:

Rayen is a 17-year-old girl who has no idea where she came from, what she knows, who she knows, or how she got where she is. This detail truly effects the entire story because she can’t answer basic questions about her heritage or family even though she does remember some things, like what an elder is or how to defend herself.

Rayen wakes up in the middle of a desert in New Mexico with some beast-like monster chasing her. Eventually, though, she gets away from the monster, is found by local authorities, and is taken to a special boarding school for extremely intelligent children. Because she doesn’t know who her family is or where she came from, the school commences to do a blood test, and while she waits for the results, she is sent to a computer class.

In this class, she is paired with the misogynistic and slightly racist, Tony, who detests having her as a partner. They go to an old computer room to begin looking for computer parts to use for the completion of their project. Once there, they run into Gabby, the girl with the colorful ponytails who seems to have janitorial duties for some reason (it’s alluded to, but we don’t know exactly why she’s receiving this punishment). Suddenly, the three of them get sucked into a computer that catapults them into the future. But, will they be able to make it home, and will Rayen ever find out who she really is?

What I liked most about this novel is that it was different – completely different from pretty much any book I’ve read this year. There’s a mix of science fiction, dystopian, and fantasy concepts, so there are great technological advancements, a society in ruins because of something (they didn’t fully explain how the world got to what it’s like now, but they hinted that a man-made virus could have caused the turmoil), and there is also some innate, spiritual, magical elements as well. The author(s) use this first installment of the series to build their futuristic world, and I must admit that some things were confusing (I re-read various parts multiple times to come up with a visual of the plants, the animals, the people, etc.), but using descriptors to create the picture was a fun endeavor.

Diversity Elements:

  • The main character is a Native-American woman;
  • Gabby – secondary character – is Asian
  • The futuristic people are various colors – blue, brown, etc.

The major diversity aspects were in Rayen and Gabby’s racial makeup, and I don’t think their races/their cultures added to the depth of the story. The racial information only gave Tony fodder to make insensitive jokes, and Gabby seemed a little stereotypical to me. I would have liked to see more done with the racial aspect to provide more nuance. But, I also think that stories like this paired with more accurate portrayals of diverse identities are necessary to bring to the conversation to discuss how authors could enhance their racially diverse characters.

Science: 

Social Studies/Government/History

Art

Although I don’t have any links to take you to for this, the world built by Caida is colorful and magical, and the descriptions provide just enough detail to give a general visual of the beings in this world. I think it would be awesome to have English teachers team up with art teachers to create visual representations of this world.

 Other Reviews: