by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Reading level: YA
Source: Simon & Schuster Galley Grab
In a war-torn future United States, fifteen-year-old Tessa, her childhood friend Gideon, now a traumatized military hero, and Dek, a streetwise orphan, enter enemy territory and discover the shocking truth about a war that began more than seventy-five years earlier.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
I know I've read some of Margaret Peterson Haddix's books before (Among the Hidden and Running Out of Time) and I remembered enjoying them, so when this title came up on Simon & Schuster's Galley Grab, I thought I'd probably like it. I don't know what the problem was; maybe I was a lot younger (and less discerning) when I read those other books... or maybe The Always War just wasn't very good.
My main complaint is that I just couldn't develop any sort of connection with any of the characters. Tessa, the protagonist, has an extremely thin backstory. All we really know about her is that she's read a lot of old books and that her parents seem to be alcoholics who do nothing but sleep off their hangovers and go to work. (There have been complaints about uninvolved parents in YA literature, but Tessa's parents have got to be some of the worst I've seen. They only make one "appearance"... and that's when one of them anonymously gets up to flush the toilet!) Tessa as a character is bland at best and annoying at worst. Her constant self-deprecation borders on whininess and she actually makes Bella "I'm-never-good-enough" Swan look a bit conceited. The other two main characters aren't much better. Gideon is supposedly suffering from PTSD, but even that doesn't make him very interesting. I got the feeling that we readers were supposed to fall for him, but he was too boring to be really appealing and it seemed like he was being forced upon us a little too much. I honestly lost count of the number of references to his golden hair. Dek was the only character who had any chance of being interesting, and even she didn't really capture my interest. With three teenagers in a YA novel, you'd think you could at least count on some sort of love triangle... but even that never materialized. Besides, I was never sure if Dek was even a teen or if she was just some sort of precocious wunderkind... so a love triangle might've seemed inappropriate anyway.
The premise for the story was okay, but it wasn't executed very well. There weren't very many exciting moments, and the ending came rather quickly (and a little too conveniently). The Always War is a dystopian novel that takes place in the future, but it didn't seem all that original to me. Ender's Game and The Hunger Games both came to mind as I was reading this book. Plus, I was put off by the Americo-centric flavour of the landscape. As with The Hunger Games, North America is just one giant country... which always raises more questions for me than it answers. I usually assume that either Canada and Mexico have been amalgamated with the U.S.A. ... or that the author doesn't realize that the U.S.A. is not the only country on the continent (or even in the entire world... and some of the statements made by the characters in The Always War made me wonder about that, too).
The best thing I can say about this book is that it's short (at just over 200 pages). It's intended for ages 12 and up, but it really reads more like a middle-grade novel. The story is not very sophisticated, the characters are dull, and the writing is pedestrian. If I were eleven, I might be impressed... but I've read better YA dystopian fiction.
Overall: 2.43 out of 5