Companion to When We Wake
By Karen Healey
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
Abdi Taalib and his best friend Tegan, who he's very much in love with, are prisoners of the Australian government. They tried to expose the government's wrongdoings when it comes to a cryogenics project, but ended up captured, tortured, and forced to publicly recant their statements and support the project.
I haven't read WHEN WE WAKE, but WHILE WE RUN contains plenty of recap. In addition, at the beginning of the novel Abdi doesn't know much about what is going on and is pretty preoccupied with the mental and physical stress of being a performing monkey with the promise of worse on the horizon. I was really impressed by this opening, which drew me in despite my unfamiliarity with the setting. It is not easy to read, but it is engrossing. Karen Healey does not back away from the horror of the government using Abdi and Tegan as slaves, and the consequences of these months linger throughout the novel.
Healey combines strong character work with a plot from a political conspiracy thriller to bring a future world to life. It's not too far in the future - countries and religions of today are still recognizable - but technology and social issues have progressed. The mingling of real-world issues with future tech is very well done. The world of WHILE WE RUN is relevant to today's reader, but doesn't come off as a blatant screed.
Actually, several elements prevent WHILE WE RUN from being a blatant screed. For one thing, there are no easy answers. Abdi might not have any fondness for the Australian government, but that doesn't mean that he agrees with the various terrorist/freedom fighters he encounters either. He's very determined to make up his own mind, which forces him to face that there often are no good answers. Then there's the delightful mix of character backgrounds.
Abdi is a second-class citizen in Australia, but in his home country he's wealthy and privileged. He's also atheist, but his family thinks he'll come around. The other characters come from a variety of ethnic and economic backgrounds, and represent a variety of sexualities and genders. This diversity helps show how all of the characters come at the issues in question from different angles.
I'm quite happy that WHILE WE RUN made the Cybils shortlist in YA Speculative Fiction this year. It's a thought-provoking read that doesn't forget to throw in some action and keep things moving.