CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 3

Outcasts cover

A Review

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring the young adult dystopian novel, Outcasts, second in The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson. Several of our tour participants have remarked about dystopian fiction and its predilection for gloom.

In my view, this genre is one of those that can show how the Christian worldview stands in stark contrast to that of a view that ignores God.

My introduction to the genre was Brave New World, followed soon after by 1984. I believe I came to understand the world better for having read those books, yet I wouldn’t want a steady diet of that kind of literature. It is, quite frankly, so hopeless, it’s depressing. Until a person realizes there are key components of truth left out.

Jill Williamson has not left those out. The picture she creates in her Safe Lands series, of a hedonistic society literally rotting away, could be depressing, but there’s more to the story. There are characters working to escape, bring down, and cure the corrupt society. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. Continuing the story begun in Captives, Outcasts features the three brothers from Glenrock–Levi, Mason, and Omar–as they deal with their present circumstances. They have rescued their women from the harem and now must do the same for their children who are either in the state boarding school or nursery.

Omar and Mason continue to live as nearly normal lives as possible while plotting with the people of Glenrock who live in hiding. Levi has taken up the mantle as elder and leader of his community, though he’s finding the role much more challenging than he could have imagined.

Who is he to trust? How can he get everyone on the same page, with Omar making his own superhero plans and constantly vapping and consorting with Safe Land women, even as Shaylinn is carrying his baby; with Mason bent on finding a cure for the disease the flakers carry. What hope does Levi have to reunite all his people and get them to safety?

Strengths. I’m not sure where to start. The characters are so strong in this book–with complex motives and heartfelt struggles, both internal and external. They are captivating, so much so that when I finished reading the book, I found myself planning to go back to the story in the evening, only to realize that I had to wait until the next book comes out. The point is, I wanted to know what happened to the characters I’d come to care about.

But just as strong is the worldbuilding. The Safe Lands have their own entertainment, society celebrities, fads and fashions, slang, cliched greeting, technology, political system, and state secrets. The place feels real!

Which brings me to the plot. So much is going on in this story. There is the overarching question–can the Glenrock citizens escape? But there are relational questions for various characters, too, and then there is the greater question about the Safe Lands and what they are hiding, what they are doing to their citizens, and who might be behind the whole thing. It’s intriguing on some level on every page.

More importantly, Outcasts and the other books in the series are addressing important issues, without preaching. Rather, the choices the characters make show all that a reader needs in order to discern what worldview addresses the pressing problems best.

Weaknesses. I have no serious complaints. I’m sold on this series and find myself lost in the world and engaged with the characters and the ideas presented in the story. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.

But there was one place where I felt the story could have been stronger. Without giving spoilers, it’s hard for me to discuss in detail. Suffice it to say, one character seemed to act in a surprising, if not uncharacteristic, way, with consequences that turned the story (and still must be dealt with in the next book). Perhaps a little more foreshadowing or a closer look at this character’s development would have made the story stronger at that point.

Recommendation. Outcasts and The Safe Lands series are must reads. Not just Christians can embrace this story because it is one of struggle between two distinct ways of life that anyone can understand and appreciate. It is also about how the gulf between the two can be bridged and how the leadership of the two sides can go astray. It’s a big story, a powerful story and shouldn’t be missed.

It’s also clearly targeting older teens, but adults can appreciate the story just as well. The third book in the series, Rebels, is due out in June, so I suggest you read Captives and Outcasts between now and them so you won’t be left out.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

The Problem With Broad Brushes

A tempest broke out in the kidlitosphere this week because a writer at the Wall Street Journal took a number of authors to task for their “depraved” works. The response was instantaneous and loud, centering most on the horror of “censorship.”

I find that interesting because there are similarities to the waves stirred by author and friend Mike Duran in his recent post about Christian fiction and his idea of two camps of Christians.

In both discussions, I see a liberal application of a broad brush, from all quarters, and it is against the broad brush I stand.

Broad brushes handle a big job in the shortest amount of time (apart from rollers or spray guns 😉 ), but they have an accompanying drawback — they can easily spread paint where it does not belong.

From my point of view, this was the case in Mike’s article. In holding to his “two camp view,” he made this comment about those he characterizes as in the camp where “law is the driving principle” — those writing Christian fiction:

As long as we Christians define our witness primarily in terms of Law — no cussing, smoking, drinking, dancing, or sex — and see our fiction as a tool to perpetuate those values, we are destined for tension.

Of course the problem is that a good many novels coming out of Christian publishing houses have no such agenda. They actually have higher goals, aim for and accomplish something greater than propping up incidental cultural mores.

The furor about the WSJ article was similar. The author, Meghan Cox Gurdon, made some broad brush claims. Here’s one:

Grim though these novels are, they seem positively tame in comparison with what’s on shelves now.

The implication, of course, is that there are no books that are less grim than the ones she named that came out in the ’70s. That statement splatters paint on a good number of novels that are not grim and do not deal with “damage, brutality and losses.”

Those issuing a rebuttal take up the same broad brush. From one comment:

I find it ridiculous that anyone might think it a good idea to censor literature

Or how about this one:

You are supposed to be telling those gatekeepers to DROP DEAD. Because they ARE censoring things and that’s SICK. A journalist who thinks that censoring is OK should NOT be a journalist. [So apparently, the commenter has a right to censor journalists, but journalists haven’t the right to censor anyone else. 😉 ]

Broad brushes. They hurt individuals. Christian novelists who are not driven by law, who are not remotely interested in promoting a set of superficial values are lumped in with those who may believe Christianity is primarily about meeting a prescribed list of do‘s and don’t‘s. In the end, readers will steer clear of Christian bookstores and the aisles where Christian books are shelved because they expect all those books to be the same.

In the same way, YA writers who are not dabbling in depravity (not used here as a theological term) may come away stigmatized and vilified by some, while parents and librarians and teachers who wish to steer children away from morally questionable books end up wearing the censorship tag.

So what does the broad brush earn us? Does the conversation become less entrenched? Are people on different sides of the issues more inclined to listen to one another?

As I see it, publishers will continue to produce books that sell. The writer who is making an effort to buck the trend is the one who gets hurt. All YA books are trash or all Christian fiction is law driven splatters paint on the worthwhile YA books and the Christian fiction that is not law driven. Those books do exist and they should be celebrated, not buried under someone else’s layer of paint.

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