• By Blythe Woolston
  • Candlewick Press
  • 224 pp.
  • Reviewed by Colleen Sack
  • December 22, 2015

A provocative tale of teens surviving in a world where consumerism runs amok and Big Brother is always watching.


MARTians, the latest novel from award-winning author Blythe Woolston, is a captivating and thought-provoking look at a culture of consumerism gone too far.

In Woolston’s dystopian world, public schools have been abolished, family homes are becoming a thing of the past, and life revolves around gigantic commercial centers that supply every want and need. Young Zoe Zindleman must find her place. Abandoned by her single mother and forced to “graduate” early from school, Zoe ventures into the working world as a new employee at AllMART, where mysterious disappearances, invasive surveillance, and brainwashing are part of daily life.  

But Zoe is not entirely alone. Timmer, also left behind, takes her under his wing and welcomes her into a small cohort of other abandoned youth who are struggling to survive and waiting (in vain, as Timmer repeatedly reminds Zoe) for their families to return. Together, they live in the Warren, a deserted strip mall shrouded in mystery. Zoe doesn’t ask Timmer where he goes when he leaves at night for hours at a time, but she suspects it involves Raoul, the unseen character who acquired the strip mall for Timmer’s purposes.

A cast of archetypal supporting characters — a troubled child, a beautiful damsel in distress, and synchronized twins — becomes a part of Zoe’s life at the Warren. There she passes the time by reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, a gift she received from her teacher upon graduation.

The book’s memorable descriptions and dystopian themes provide an undercurrent that resurfaces in Zoe’s thoughts as she makes connections between Bradbury’s world and her own. When Zoe shows the book to Timmer, he remarks, “The future — or past or whatever it is — it sounds like now.” If Zoe’s world seems a lot like the one that Bradbury predicted, MARTians has the same chilling familiarity.

The book is rich with details that paint a vivid, strangely recognizable picture of a degenerate consumerist society. One of the novel’s most prominent symbols of dysfunction is the newscast, a 24/7 brainwashing presence that distracts citizens from the real problems facing their society: corruption, homelessness, and poverty.

Cellphones also play a role in consumer coercion and are used to send controlling “reminders” to AllMART employees, automatically refill medications, and even assign careers to Zoe and her classmates. Questions of how exactly the government operates and who is really in control are left unanswered for the reader, as they are for Zoe.

True to the YA genre, MARTians also is in many ways a coming-of-age novel. Zoe is on her own for the first time and must come to terms with who she is, although her journey of self -discovery proves difficult in a system that makes a point of stripping people of their identities and individuality. Against the odds, Zoe and her friends’ increasingly bold efforts to break free of the system culminate in a decision that will change their lives forever.

Fans of dystopian and YA fiction alike will thoroughly enjoy this poignant and troubling portrayal of an all too familiar world of consumerism and corruption. At its core, MARTians is a book that celebrates the persistence of the human spirit. Zoe and her friends may have lost everything, but even amid a world of chaos and fear, they rediscover family in each other.

Colleen Sack is the current YA Fiction Writer/Researcher intern for the Washington Independent Review of Books. She is a student at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she studies English and music.

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