I tried twice to read this book, and each time I made it a little further. I got about halfway before giving up entirely. So, why did I give up? Well, no disrespect toward the author, but honestly? The book reads like a cross between a sermon and a textbook, with the occasional bit of dialogue thrown in so it could technically be called a novel. I'm not kidding, characters will walk up and out of the blue just start lecturing on how everyday products are manufactured using petroleum, and how with the oil reserves depleted, you can no longer buy cosmetics, or batteries, or hairbrushes, and you can't run your heaters or bathe anymore, and, oh my gosh, no one ever saw it coming! Or someone will start talking about solar generators or wind power, and again, it literally sounds as if they're reciting from a textbook.
I'm nearly halfway into the book, and nothing has happened. A few teenagers are crushing on each other and everyone is grumbling about gas costing $80 a gallon, and how they must walk to school, and the girls can't wash their hair or wear their contact lenses, and the cafeteria is closed because they can't afford to power the refrigerators. There's no one saying, "Hey! Let's start building a windmill in the backyard!" There's no one DOING anything about the problem. They just stand around and mope or whine or get drunk. By this point in the novel, I would expect SOMETHING to have happened. I get that there's no oil left, I understand the people are suffering without their iPhones and their blow-dryers. I get it. But how many chapters do we need of these teenagers grumbling about it? Plus, there are so many different teenage characters that I can't keep them straight. It switches between them, but there is nothing to differentiate them from one another, they all sound exactly the same. It makes it impossible to care about any of them, because I can't tell who they are.
I know people hate it when someone reviews a book that they haven't finished, but I gave this book an honest shot. I tried twice to finish it, and I just couldn't bear to slog through any more. And that's really saying something, because I LOVE "end of the world" post-apocalyptic stories! I think the idea is an excellent one, and I think the author could probably write a really great story if she brushed up on her characterization, dialogue, and plot.
I give the book two stars because the idea IS an interesting one. People SHOULD be made aware of how many items in their everyday life are based on oil, and how crippled the word would be if the oil reserves ran dry. That said, this novel is not the way to go about educating people on the subject.
on January 16, 2011
Empty / 978-0-545-17278-3
I'm a greenie in good standing - I know the difference between "recycled content" and "post-consumer recycled content", I avoid petroleum based products as much as possible, and I drive as little as possible. Even if I hadn't been interested in doing these things for my own health and the health of the planet, it's been good sense to wean off of petroleum products ever since the market started demonstrating just how volatile it really is. So I'm all in favor of a good dystopia novel that can drive home just how dependent America is on oil and how dangerous that dependency can be, but "Empty" by Suzanne Weyn is NOT that novel.
The writing in this novel is atrocious - major plot points are "summarized" at the ends of each chapter with newspaper articles that sound fake, unrealistic, and rushed - as if the author couldn't be bothered to edit them properly before going to print. The entirety of the novel is told from the point of view of several teenage "everymen" characters - all of whom sound identically bland - and the "action" of the novel unfolds by having supporting characters literally walk up to them on the street and lecture them about how dependent we are on gasoline and why the world is rapidly going to heck in a handbasket. The cardinal rule of writing - "Show, don't tell" - is broken on every single page of this novel; for instance, in order to demonstrate how the hot water in our pipes relies on gasoline to heat it, we do NOT see a character wash her hair and get a nasty surprise when the water is ice cold. No, instead we have a character *announce* that she's going to wash her hair so that another character can TELL her that the plan won't work, and why not. This is boring, unimaginative, and reads like a badly-written religious tract.
"Empty" is set "ten years from now", but the author seems not to understand what this might entail. She seems to want a story where everything is going along fine and then *BAM* gasoline shortages, but this would mean that either (1) the story would have to be longer in order to really explore the concept of petroleum shortages, or (2) quite a lot of the shortages would have to be jettisoned from the plot entirely. You see, if all oil were gone tomorrow, we wouldn't immediately run out of shampoo (there's a lot stored up in warehouses waiting to be sold), but the characters of "Empty" *must* run out of shampoo *immediately* after the novel starts, so the reader is flat-out told that the high school girls have been hoarding shampoo and nail polish for awhile now. In the same vein, electricity rationing has been going on in town, if only because people can't afford to run the heat and A/C constantly.
But if rationing has been going on for some time, why does the sudden blackout slam the characters into complete, dumbfounded confusion? Where are the candles and the non-petroleum shampoo? One step further, where are the candle making equipment and the shampoo home recipes? Why does everyone in the area have a gasoline- or lithium-powered generator, but no one has ever even HEARD of a manual- or wind-powered generator? And why, WHY, do all the teenagers have holographic cell phones that they use constantly?
What's most frustrating about "Empty" is the lost potential. I'd LOVE to see a dystopia novel where everyone breaks out their vague memories of "Little House on the Prairie" and of childhood boy scout lessons, and then people start experimenting with boiling water on the charcoal grill for bathwater, and figuring out how to cook food in their fireplace, but all we ever get from "Empty" is lectures masquerading as dialogue, teenagers crushing on each other, and everyone being completely clueless and helpless. It's strange and inhuman to see half the people in town unable to get to work or school because it's "too far to walk" and no one even MENTIONS the possibility of bicycles, not even as a handwave to support the plot (as in, "wow, it's too bad all the bicycles were destroyed in the Great Two-Wheeled Cataclysm of 2020!"); at least not until everyone is shepherded into New Utopia Village where everything is clean and self-sustained, and bicycles are magically dispensed from a company grant. (I'm really not making this up.)
Words really cannot describe how disappointed I am with this book. Everything about this book - the characters, the way they interact, their responses in a crisis, the newspaper articles, the very world around them - comes off as completely unreal, totally fake, and poorly written. The subject of oil dependence is an important one, and it deserves a better novel than this. The problems with oil dependence should be *shown* to the reader, not baldly told to them by supporting characters in between the snogging sessions of the "main" characters. I honestly feel that this novel was rushed out to take advantage of the market and the "greenest" thing to do would be to not buy it at all.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
on April 12, 2012
I had high hopes when I picked up this book. The plot/scenario sounded interesting - no matter what side of the "green" debate one stands on, I don't think anyone can deny that oil *will* run out some day, whether it's in the near future or a few generations from now - and I've grown used to young adult books dealing with dystopian, apocalyptic or just plain disaster plots in an intelligent and decently written way.
So, yes, "Empty" held a lot of promise for me. Unfortunately what it turned out to be was a book that read like a lecture aimed at ten-year-olds (or perhaps eight-year-olds), certainly not young adults - although the half-hearted attempt at romance and characters in their later teens seemed to indicate otherwise. The language and narrative style were so simplistic it was hard to get truly interested and the lecturing, the "message" came through so hard and clear that it occasionally nearly turned me off (and I'm by and large a supporter of the ideas being promoted here).
That's not to say the book was *all* bad - it was a quick and at times not completely dull read, and the characters, while not exactly engaging or with a huge amount of personality, weren't off-putting. Might be a decent read for a child / pre-teen who is interested in saving the planet and life without oil, I suppose.
We really have no idea how much we rely on fossil fuels in this world. When I think of a gas shortage, I think of having to cut down on driving, but really had never thought of just how many products are petroleum based, from toothpaste to ball point pens. Our reliance on fossil fuels is terrifying, and Empty by Suzanne Weyn shows just how quickly everything can fall apart.
Sage Valley is your average town full of middle class folks who work hard every day and live their lives as though nothing in the world will ever drastically change. When a global-wide oil shortage begins, however, they are in for a rude awakening. Suddenly kids are biking to school. Sports teams stop because they can't drive to the opposing schools. Gas costs $40, $60, then $90 dollars per gallon. People can't heat their homes. Medicines are in short supply. Food deliveries stop. Very quickly, people start to get desperate.
Tom is your average second-string football player who only worries about his crush, head cheerleader Nicki. When the gas shortage begins, his biggest concern is not being able to drive her home. Nicki's biggest concern is having to wear her glasses because there haven't been any deliveries of her contacts to the pharmacy in a long time. Gwen has gone from the outcast to the only kid who has a warm house thanks to her brother's black market dealings. As if the gas shortage wasn't the worst problem, the climate change is finally about to get the better of them. Two enormous hurricanes from the gulf coast and the East Coast merge and make their way up the East to practically destroy everything in their "superhurricane" path. Disaster relief is virtually nonexistent in the current times, and Sage Valley is left to survive by its own devices.
This is not only a story of how everything falls apart (although that is certainly in the foreground). It is also a story of how tragedy brings people together. How people in dire circumstances can become selfless. Heroes even. It is also a story of how things need to change if we are to survive. Towards the end of the story, the kids find a "Green" house that was built to be self-sustainable with low amounts of electricity, food production, and heat. Are we prepared for what is going to happen when the non-renewable resources we gobble up are gone?
In the deluge of apocalyptic books these days, this is a fairly good one, especially for adolescents. It directly deals with their lives and can be an eye-opener for just how drastically their worlds can change. Sometimes it is hard for kids to understand how things truly affect them, like wars, natural disasters, etc., until they are in their backyards. This book puts the disaster in the worlds of these kids. It is also a fairly short, low-skilled book that would be perfect for younger or low-skilled students. The plus is that it isn't nearly as depressing as some of the stuff out there. Sure everything changes, but that doesn't mean it needs to be the end of the world! We can still find ways to survive, even in circumstances we never thought we would face!
I like authors who work with current topics, especially when they write for the teen or older child, but this story just doesn't get off the ground and the writing is overstated and repititive. There is too much "telling" and "over telling" when what is needed is either simple narative or interesting dialog. She describes a scene, allowing us to understand by the description what someone is feeling and then ruins it by telling us what the person is feeling, sometimes twice. The world in peril idea is not worked into the story in an emotionally engaging way. It is described rather than experienced and there are no unique ideas, twists or turns expressed here. I finally had to put this one down after several attempts to finish it.
on February 1, 2012
I love YA dystopian novels, but this short (183 pages) book is just a rant against unrenewable energy, global warming, and genetically modified foods. The characters were so bland that it was hard to remember who was crushing on whom. All of the cautions they mention are well-publicized in today's news, and it would have been fun to read a story with real characters who deal with these problems, but this book was dry, discouraging, and humorless. Oh, my goodness! No gasoline and no food! Oh, my goodness! A super-Category-6 hurricane! Oh, my goodness! Floods and mobs and destruction! You can stand and flap your hands like this, but without a real story, no one will spend time reading your over-blown rhetoric. Even the "newspaper articles" were so badly written that no one would believe they were from any legitimate source. No plot, no characters, no energy -- an empty book.
on May 23, 2016
I'm a middle school English teacher and I read this book to consider putting it in my science fiction unit. Overall, I was pretty disappointed.
Mainly, I find the characters a little disappointing. They're fairly cookie cutter, and it takes until the final pages to see any evolution in most of them. They're facing a terrifying, semi-apocalyptic event and yet every one of them clung to truly insignificant things like not liking how one looks in glasses or trying to figure out whom they have a crush on even as parents and neighbors are on death's door. One girl's brother is missing for a large portion of the book and she doesn't seem concerned. Basically, it seems to be pandering to the outcast girl reader who wants to believe that jocks are hollow people and the semi-popular guy who ignores her will eventually have a "She's All That" moment. It's been done, and it's pretty pandering. When I was a teenager, I was that girl though so maybe I would've liked it at 15, but I like to believe I would've still seen how cliche it is.
The character failings have broad impact on the story as a whole. Because you don't particularly like any of the characters, you are less invested in what decisions they make. You can also see pretty much everything coming. The lack of skill with character creation extends to the dialogue, which sounds like it was written by someone with very limited exposure to young adults. The novel tries to put too many blatant messages into the mouths of scared and ignorant teens and it just rings false. Also, the novel doesn't invite much inference about character opinions or motivations as it pretty much tells rather than shows all of that.
I also took some issue with the science behind the hurricane stuff. It seemed kind of contrived to fit the plot and at one moment actually defied geography. There was enough conflict without needing to bend the laws of climate science.
And yet...I'll probably still offer it as one of the options for my students. Why? Because it demonstrates pretty well the typical elements of science fiction: it has a clear message and thesis about our world and scientific elements of that world. It also incorporates science research pretty frequently. I did like the usage of the news articles at the end of each chapter. That was a unique touch in an otherwise trite book. Also, it's a fast read, so you aren't wasting too much time on a mediocre story.
on January 5, 2011
One of the reasons I like to read is to be entertained, the other reason is I like to be informed. In this book, Empty, I felt like I got both. The book's premise is that the world has run out of gas. Its set in a typical suburb outside of NYC where the 3 main characters are teenagers. All the teenagers are experiencing a personal loss of something -- parents, money, lifestyle -- and they have to learn to deal with it. Besides being out of gas, which means no joy riding, no dating, no hanging out with friends (unless they live next door), it also means food is no longer delivered to the local supermarket and that's where the trouble really begins. You can't live without food! And these kids don't start really experiencing hardship until the fall when it is too late to plant a garden so now they are left to their own devices. For some it means stealing, for others it means sharing. Being a "Young Adult" book, it is not too harsh. But frankly if gas really ever went up to a $100 a gallon, there'd be massive riots and lots of dead bodies around. Desperate people are not nice. Our whole society revolves around cheap fuel. Which means if it gets to be more expensive than it currently is, for a while, you can cut down on other expenses like vacations, restaurants, etc to comp for it. But if gas gets really expensive ($10 a gallon) then there are going to be more major problems and in this fragile recovery, that could spell trouble.
With this book, you'll see what at least some of the options are in dealing with a situation that we may all soon experience. Be warned and be ready.
on January 17, 2011
Fact: one day this planet's oil reserves will run out.
In Empty, Suzanne Weyn speculates on what effect this will have on the American way of life. Set ten years in the future, it explores how teens in a small New England town cope when gasoline and other petroleum-based products become scarce.
I'm a proponent of both conserving the world's resources and exploring alternative energy sources. As such, I applaud the author's attempt to make young people aware of our over-dependence on oil.
However, as a reader, I found this book dull and unpleasant. There's a preachy tone to the writing and a lot of dry facts about eco-friendly energy. The characters are poorly drawn caricatures (the cheerleader, the misfit, the handsome boy) and the plot is stereotypical apocalyptic storyline (war, super-hurricanes, and the disruption of electrical services).
I feel like the author never really dug into the meat of what it would mean to live without oil. The characters complain that it's cold and they can't wash their hair or wear makeup, but they have no trouble coming up with $200 for a gallon of black-market gasoline. Ultimately, they don't even have to figure out a new way to live because everything they need magically appears out in the woods. I'm not kidding. This book has one of the most incredibly convenient - and highly unlikely - endings I've ever come across.
Bottom line: this book, born from good intentions, has a great premise, but runs dry when it comes to plot.
on August 9, 2015
First and foremost, the story line is unbelievable ("Oops, people, we are totally out of oil across the entire world! Boy, were we fooled!). Second, the writing is sophomoric. There are many sentences and whole paragraphs in desperate need of revision. One wonders: Did anyone edit this? It appears Ms. Weyn is under the assumption that to write FOR young people, you need to write LIKE young people. And finally, as mentioned by others, the dialogue and the "preaching" for the green cause are beyond description. The book was incredibly redundant; I kept thinking, "Didn't I read this before?" Yes, I had. The news reports were the most difficult sections to read through, and they weren't at all necessary to further the plot.