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Book Review: Hungry by H. A. Swain

Tagline: In the future, food is gone.

Publisher’s Description: In the future, food is no longer necessary—until Thalia begins to feel something unfamiliar and uncomfortable. She’s hungry.

In Thalia’s world, there is no need for food—everyone takes medication (or “inocs”) to ward off hunger. It should mean there is no more famine, no more obesity, no more food-related illnesses, and no more war. At least that’s what her parents, who work for the company that developed the inocs, say. But when Thalia meets a boy who is part of an underground movement to bring food back, she realizes that most people live a life much different from hers. Worse, Thalia is starting to feel hunger, and so is he—the inocs aren’t working. Together they set out to find the only thing that will quell their hunger: real food.

H. A. Swain delivers an adventure that is both epic and fast-paced. Get ready to be Hungry.

My Thoughts:

Hungry is set in a world where food no longer exists. There are no animals. No greenery. Everything is completely reliant on tech.

When we first meet Thalia, we get a sense that a utopia has settled over the land. Thalia, however, is very nostalgic for the past. She wears her grandmother’s clothes. She refuses to completely buy into the very consumerist society. And she is hungry . . . she is shocked when her stomach literally growls for the first few times.

Hungry is many things, but what I liked best about it was how it mirrored some of the things you see happening in our current world, including the market domination of One World (could they be a stand in for Monsanto? It’s possible). One World likes to pretend that they have cured all the world’s ills, but the truth is that they have created for themselves a single market which is making them incredibly rich, but at the expense of many others.

In fact, as we get further into the story the curtain is pulled back and Thalia learns that she lives in the inner circle of society – it literally is called the Inner Loop – where she is living a life of privilege. She gets personalized synth formula, what they use for food, personalized gizmos, and the very best education opportunities. What she soon learns is that there are other classes of people who can barely afford generic synth formula, who drive combustible automobiles or take public transportation to work menial jobs which barely affords them basic survival. And much to her dismay, the ills of the world – crime, murder, etc. – which she had always been told had been wiped out still exist outside her safe haven.

In terms of making readers think long and hard about various important and current political issues, Hungry does not disappoint.  Thalia meets Basil, an Analog who is part of the rebellion against the current system, and he gives an impassioned speech about how the system is designed so that he can’t get ahead no matter how hard he tries. This speech really echoes a lot of what you read about socio-economic upward mobility in the press. And having this speech come from someone that we have learned to respect about halfway through the story really brings the point home.

There are, however, a couple of issues that I had with the book. In the first part, we are introduced to Thalia and her world. We then get glimpses into the truth and meet the character of Basil. Then, Thalia is put in a rehab facility for her hunger. Revolution begins. This is all really good and interesting. But then, Thalia and Basil escape to the Hinterlands, which are basically the rest of the world where they are found and become involved in a type of cult for a while. It’s a lot to happen in just one book and parts of it are rushed, particularly as you get to the end. Although this section reinforced some of the main themes of power and corruption, and it brought back a character which brings some earlier moments full circle, it wasn’t as fully developed as the rest of the world that Swain took pains to create. For me, the book unravels a bit towards the end, which is unfortunate because there was some really good stuff in this first part of Hungry.

Some of the basic themes discussed in Hungry include human nature, power, corruption, corporate control, greed, class warfare, climate change, and the use of science and technology. The class warfare and government control issues were particularly fascinating to me.

I thought the first part of this book was interesting and did some really fantastic world building, but then it unravels. And I will admit, when you see how futuristic this world is, it’s hard to imagine that it evolved this quickly considering the fact that Thalia’s parents are part of the science team that helped make it happen. For me, the timeline seemed a little off. In the end I give it 3 out of 5 stars. I think Swain put some unique twists on the dystopian genre and manages to capture some very real and relevant parallels to our contemporary world.

Kirkus says, “ Despite some loose worldbuilding and predictability, this is a page-turner that wants a sequel.Emotionally satisfying dystopia with a generous helping of forno.” – Kirkus, June 01, 2014.

Hungry by H. A. Swain publishes by Feiwel and Friends on June 3, 2014. ISBN: 9781250028297
I picked up an ARC of this at TLA.

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