American War by Omar El Akkad

American War4ish stars

This is not your typical dystopia. I feel like that word, dystopia, has developed something of a negative connotation in literature recently because of the inundation of books, especially YA ones, that fit into the sub-genre. American War is science fiction in the same way that The Road or The Handmaid’s Tale are science fiction, which is to say, more speculative than science. And while this book may not be on the same level as those two, it’s really not that far from it.

The author presents a very well-realized future in which the US is entrenched in a second civil war. While the catalyst for entering war, the banning of fossil fuels this time instead of slavery, isn’t necessarily convincing for me, the actual events of the war and its consequences are quite plausible.

It’s not perfect. The writing is very good but not great. There seem to be a lot of things unaddressed, perhaps intentionally, but they’re things I think would be relevant and important to at least make mention of. Regardless, the focus of the story is on an individual and how she’s changed and morphed by the war- from the time she’s six, living happily at home with her parents and siblings, to twenty years later after having lived through unspeakable tragedy and abuse. The book queries How much can a person’s experiences justify her actions?

It touches as well (although maybe not as much as one might expect from the title) on American issues, history and culture but I could argue that it doesn’t matter so much where the story takes place and maybe, as some have pointed out, its American setting is more to reach a wider audience than anything else. It’s depressing and bleak, but still not quite emotionally stirring enough for me to really connect with the main character. Overall a very respectable debut with some impressive, timely speculation.

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