There are two reasons I finish a book in a day. The first is because I’m so pulled in by the characters that I just want to keep reading and stopping seems like the worst idea ever. The other is because I know that if I put it aside, I’m probably not going to pick it up again. The second option usually only happens when I need to do a review and I’m not totally enjoying the book.
Now, I didn’t finish Jaded in a single sitting. I was about a quarter of the way through when I sat down with it Sunday morning. And the first chunk wasn’t terrible. In fact, the first 1/3 was actually kind of enjoyable. It wasn’t the best dystopian novel I’ve read, but it certainly wasn’t the worst either. The fact that I finished it is a good indicator that it’s not 100% awful.
The premise is neat. A commune existing in modern society but within its own restricted confines. Within the commune, a type of eye surgery has been perfected that divides people into factions. Three different colours each for adults and children, and blinding for those who try to escape. This could be crazy interesting!
Unfortunately, it feels like the author was so excited about the idea of the commune and the opportunity to come up with all these crazy colour names for people that she forgot to come up with an explanation for why the surgery is done in the first place. The fact that the surgery is extremely high tec is discussed at length, but the why is never actually explained. About halfway through the book, one of the younger characters is taken to view a video on the origins of the commune and the procedure. Yes! Finally. An explanation as to why this society even exists. Nope. The main character actually falls asleep during the video… what this leads me to believe is that the author doesn’t know the answer to this question. In any good dystopian fiction, the reason for any restrictive community is always explained. It’s integral to understanding why the characters want to escape. It’s engrained in the characters from a young age. They’re indoctrinated. Especially in communities where the people are required to follow rules as stringent as those in Nirvana. But that doesn’t happen in Jaded.
One of the greatest flaws in the book is the result of this omission. There’s no tension. Because we never know why they can’t leave and why the society exists, we can never really care if they get out. Why are the adults broken into factions? Red – medical. Yellow – teaching and tobacco. Blue – wine making. What about all the other professions? The division doesn’t seem to make any sense. And what’s up with the guards? Why are they dicks? What do they do other than drive around and make lewd comments? Oh, and get stabbed in the face with a pen and do nothing about it… How big is this restricted commune that the guards don’t know who people are? We get two events near the beginning of the book where Jade has run-ins with the guards – one with the aforementioned pen stabbing – and then other than guarding the Centre meetings, they disappear. No one appears to guard the fence. There’s exactly one location to turn off the power to the electric fence that surrounds the commune and no one guards it? Really? The guards literally do nothing. They’re set up to be these awful bad guys but then they just go away. Except for one weird appearance at the end that makes zero sense. Saffron is dating the guard…?
Other examples where events just kind of go away – Jade goes to Bronze for information from the outside. When she asks for it she just sits down in a public market and straight out asks for it. Without double checking to make sure they’re not being overheard. With no trepidation, even though she claims to hate this guy. He finds it for her in like a day and gives it to her with no fanfare. She’s just discovered that her grandparents aren’t dead. They escaped from a commune where apparently no one can escape and they live 40 miles away and are that easy to find? And Jades reaction is basically ‘huh’.
Kids appear from the outside after horrible car accidents that kill everyone but one child. And these happen about once a year? This is great tension. This is a story worth investigating. But once again, it’s mentioned once in passing and not talked about again. I’d rather Jade didn’t even consider it. It would be a great storyline for another book in the series, but why would she even thing about it? This is just the way the things happen in the commune.
Tyrian is colour blind because of a botched surgery. Mentioned in a throw away half page conversation. Never mentioned again!
Part of this is the fault of the writing. The author feels genuinely invested in the story, but the writing is clunky. “It’s like I opened a hope chest of truth and destroyed the lock of naivety”… Really? I was actually talking about this exact sentiment this morning with a writer friend of mine – the idea of killing your darlings. It’s something I find a lot in first time, and self-published authors. It’s something every author is guilty of. What I’m talking about is those sentences you can tell an author is in love with. They’ve written and struggled and massaged it until they think it is precious. It’s the shining jem of the novel. But what they really need to do is throw it away. The sentence is so over written that it actually takes the reader out of the story. I literally underlined it in red (I was reading a pdf. I do not write in my books, any of them.) and wrote ‘come on!’ beside it.
One of the Gillespie’s biggest problem in terms of writing is the which vs that conundrum. This is something that trips up many a young/new writer. ‘Which’ clauses are extraneous. They appear after a comma and can be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning. ‘That’ clauses are crucial to the meaning of a sentence. Their removal drastically changes the meaning of a sentence. This isn’t personal preference or writing style; it’s grammar. Gillespie uses which all the time. When which is used instead of that, it creates overly formal sounding sentences that don’t actually portray the writer’s meaning.
The dialogue is stilted and formal in some places and light and breezey in others. The lack of consistency makes it hard to figure out what this community’s relationship to the outside is. The Outside is supposed to be this great place of mystery, but they seem to have an awful lot of contact with it. People say things like wine o’clock. Where would they have learned this phrase? It seems like pretty much anyone could have access to the outside. Bronze was brought into the commune from the outside as a child and he’s allowed full access to the outside? That seems super counterintuitive. Wouldn’t you keep the kids you kidnap away from the place you took them from?
There are some inconsistencies within the story that are the fault of the editing, not necessarily the storytelling. In chapter fifteen, April Fool’s Day is explained in detail. It’s the focus of basically the entire chapter but later in chapter eighteen, Jade says that they’re running away on March 12 – 21 days later, so this thought is happening sometime in February. I’m sure it’s supposed to be May 1, but it’s a major error in the storytelling that should have been caught. At another time, Jade is grouchy because she’s going to be forced to have three children. But later her mother had her tubes tied because of a “commune law which states a woman may only give birth to two children”. Jade spends most of the book struggling to decide between teaching and winemaking but she can barely read? She says this over and over again. She and Peaches even bond over it. Reading is a struggle for her. But she’s still considering it as a career? A proper content edit would have caught these (along with other) mistakes and raised the story from mediocre to potentially really good.
I’m sure there are people that really love this novel, but it’s a little to surface for me. With a bit more depth, it could have been great. But as it stands, I won’t be waiting for the second in the series.