I first heard about The Ward while the book was still being edited. Its author, Jordana Frankel, gave a talk at her alma mater about plotting a YA novel. She read from the first chapter and laid out a timeline. I knew I wanted to get my hands on the finished book.
The Ward is a dystopian novel, set in a waterlogged future New York City plagued by an infectious, cancer-like disease called the Blight. Its protagonist, Ren, is a 16-year-old who’s grown up fast. Orphaned like many children in the Ward, she has relied on resourcefulness and quick-thinking to stay alive and care for her younger sister, Aven, who is dying slowly from the Blight. Ren races a mobile and works secretly for the government in order to pay for medicine. While searching for fresh water, she makes a surprising discovery with effects that could change the future for everyone in the Ward.
This book is fast-paced, and the setting is full of perils. It also offers a backdrop for exciting underwater chase scenes, or claustrophobic explorations of the city beneath the water. I didn’t always love Ren, but I appreciated her intense affection for Aven and the way she spoke her mind, including the way her open sexual interest in certain male characters was narrated. There is a lot packed into this 465-page book, apparently the first in a two-part series. It delivers action, romance, and suspense (there’s even some gore, and a few scenes that feel right out of a horror story).
At times, the events of the novel were moving so quickly (or the actions in a scene), that I had difficulty picturing them as I read. I was a little disappointed that with such an evocative setting, Frankel didn’t play around more, either with the mobile racing or the creepy, abandoned sectors of the Ward. Occasionally, I felt that unimportant events got too much stage time while other scenes could have lasted longer. Nevertheless, I think Frankel’s unique setting and premise set this YA novel apart from other dystopian futures. And Ren takes control of her fate while piloting a mobile at breakneck speed, being intimidated by police and government figures, and navigating the plague-ridden wings of the hospital and the Ward. Although there are moments where her emotional immaturity shines through (she is, after all, a teenaged girl), she makes some pretty tough decisions and makes them with aplomb.
Jordana Frankel will read from her work on March 11 in Towson, MD. The event is free and open to the public. For details, go here.