Time Zero by Carolyn Cohagan is one of the better young adult dystopian novels I’ve read, though I don’t necessarily think it’s something really new and unique in terms of plot and main character. In this case, though, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing.
Cohagan’s novel, the first of a new series, is based on real life religious practices around the world and constructs a powerful story about a secretly educated young girl that must live in a transformed Manhattan until she decides to do something about the inequality in her society.
Brace yourselves, this ended up being a longer review than I intended.
It was the Goodreads blurb that actually caught my attention. The basics of the plot is about a fifteen year old girl that lives in future Manhattan that is ruled by extremists of a religion that follows a ‘prophet’. This society and its religious rules dictates girls aren’t allowed to get an education, they require permission to speak to males, and marriages aren’t about love at all. The males have far greater value than the females.
But Mina’s grandmother has secretly been teaching her to read, which starts Mina down a “path of rebellion, romance, and danger that not only threatens to destroy her family’s reputation, it could get Mina killed.”
The plot is not only suspenseful but empowering as the reader tags along on Mina’s journey as she struggles against feeling powerless and underestimated and learning what it takes to go against society to be who she wants to be.
I’m unfortunately unsurprised about some of the things that Mina experiences as she is essentially sold to one of the wealthiest families who is willing to pay a grand sum for her to marry the son – someone who she does not think highly of. On the day of her birthday and her ‘offering’ she meets another young man who saves her from being trampled in a mob as they sadly stone a women to death for supposedly being unfaithful to her husband. Mina and the young man start a friendship that soon turns towards greater feelings, both of them constantly breaking the rules.
While the romance and associated thoughts tend to come to the forefront often, it’s still amazing to read about Mina’s bravery to escape her engagement, wanting to stand up for other women, and find a way to be who she wants to be without fear of death from greater society.
I really liked Mina as a young heroine. There were many moments where I couldn’t believe she did what she did – mainly because she reacted without thinking and because of those actions, she put herself in far greater danger rather having to worry about hiding the fact that she can read. However, I don’t hold it against her too much considering she is just fifteen and has grown up having to obey orders from various people. I thought that Mina was a great embodiment of the all the girls and women in the world that are struggling with many of these still real issues.
Mina’s mother (I forget her name) – man I dislike her so much! But of course she is responsible for Mina growing up to be an obedient member of society and future wife. Her mother is very manipulative and even goes as far as to humiliate Mina during her offering by setting her cloak on fire so that she ends up showing herself in a too tight dress and without her veil. Her mother knows Mina’s mature body and pretty face will result in a high money offer for a marriage proposal. It makes me sad, angry, and hurt for Mina, yet it does not surprise me. Her mother doesn’t know any other way.
Judah is Mina’s love interest (not her fiancee). Judah is actually the fiancee’s guard who has served the family for a long time. His interest of course stems from Mina being smart (and possibly a little outspoken). He risks his own life and job by attacking Mina’s fiancee during his attempt to rape her. He flees and Mina is punished. This ultimately starts his journey with her as they struggle to hide and ultimately find a way to flee Manhattan.
There are many other characters and they all serve their purpose. They are all products of this society that has been living like this for who knows how long and it shows. However, I see development happening towards the end of the book in some characters and I can see it happening further in the later books.
The writing itself was nothing spectacular to me. It was very in the middle for me; there was just enough descriptions of the different things that Mina sees or experiences. I actually felt that some of the writing was weak when it came to really illustrating the world and what was going on. During the majority of the book, what I could imagine clearly came and went while reading, which sometimes took away from the whole of the book.
What I Disliked
I definitely thought that the writing could have been stronger, but I think I was the most upset about the huge cliffhanger. I didn’t know until towards the end that this is intended as a series. I’m afraid that it’ll turn into just another dystopia series.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews that are saying that this book is essentially a white female’s view on Islam a la Fox News. However, I think that if they took the time to read the book’s site, timezerobook.com, they would learn that yes Cohagan’s initial inspiration came from all the extremism happening in countries with high Islam populations. However, she wrote this book because she wanted to show that those countries aren’t the only ones dealing with these issues. The USA, just to name one, deals with it too – maybe not as much or as publicly, but it’s still there. The site has a section where she outlines the sources where she got her inspiration for some of the different rules that females must follow. I believe her core message is simply that the oppression of women is still happening around the world and needs to be changed.
Okay, end rant.
Tell me what you think!