The title and cover design are completely ambiguous, so I’ll let you in on a little secret: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan is about interstellar futuristic space travel. For some reason I didn’t get the memo when I first picked up the book, and knowing that would’ve prepared me a lot better for the science fiction and physics mumbo jumbo that peppers the pages. Don’t know how gravity, inertia, and decompression work? Then I might suggest that you peruse Wikipedia or your dusty high school science book for a moment, because if you’re not careful the technicalities could distract you from how gripping a novel this really is.
Fifteen-year-old Waverly Marshall and sixteen year old Kieran Alden are the oldest children aboard the Empyrean, a large and multifarious spaceship that’s traveling from the destroyed “Old Earth” (that would be our planet, people… get your stuff together!) to an idealistic “New Earth” millions of light years away. Naturally, the trip will take decades – at the novel’s start, the ship has already been in space for forty-two years and won’t arrive for another forty-five – and the success of the mission to colonize a whole new planet depends on kids like Waverly and Kieran getting married young and having lots of babies. Although they hold the most responsibility as the eldest, they’re hardly alone – there are over two hundred children already on the Empyrean, plus their parents.
As with most science fiction novels, the first few chapters are bogged down with explanations, but Ryan wisely introduces the main conflict early: another ship, the New Horizon, has begun flying beside the Empyrean after forty two years without contact between the two. The New Horizon had been light years ahead of the Empyrean and was set to arrive at New Earth first, but something made them slow down, and the crew on the Empyrean isn’t very excited about finding out what.
This book is packed with action, conflict, and tension. While everything and everyone seems black and white at first, as the novel progresses facts unravel into half-truths that dissolve into lies, and yet, the reader’s never really sure who’s telling the truth, and who can be trusted. It’s at once exhilarating and at once frustrating, but it kept me ensnarled so I guess the exhilarating part won out.
The biggest triumph of Glow? The Empyrean teenaged girls are totally badass. While most female protagonists in young adult novels piss me off or annoy me, Waverly Marshall becomes my hero. She blows away all my expectations of a weak, dependent girlfriend and turns into an intelligent and nails tough leader.
But there’s one small caveat…
On the back of the ARC is this blurb: “Pulse-pounding and addictive, GLOW begins the most riveting series since The Hunger Games”.
Emphasis is mine. Oh my god nooooooo.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m so tired of young adult series novels. Does every book have to have a sequel? What’s more, does every new concept have to start a trilogy or a tetralogy or something even longer? What ever happened to stopping while you’re ahead? It would be different if these books actually built on one another, becoming stronger with each installment, but it seems like most fall flat by the beginning of the second book, and then I’m upset because I spent the time and money for nothing. Glow has huge potential, but my disdain for most of the characters (besides Waverly and her friends, of course) and a sluggish midway point make me hesitate to invest any more time in the series. So I’m going to say I enjoyed this book but leave it at that.
Also… what’s up with all the ‘Hunger Games’ comparisons? This book was nothing like the Hunger Games. I wish publishers would stop trying to capitalize on one huge success and just market books for what they are, not what they want to be.