Book Reviews

[review] Landry Park – Bethany Hagen

13479780Release Date: February 4, 2014
Publisher: Dial (Penguin)
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 374
Format: Hardcover
Source: ARC provided by publisher in exchange for honest review

In a fragmented future United States ruled by the lavish gentry, seventeen-year-old Madeline Landry dreams of going to the university. Unfortunately, gentry decorum and her domineering father won’t allow that. Madeline must marry, like a good Landry woman, and run the family estate. But her world is turned upside down when she discovers the devastating consequences her lifestyle is having on those less fortunate. As Madeline begins to question everything she has ever learned, she finds herself increasingly drawn to handsome, beguiling David Dana. Soon, rumors of war and rebellion start to spread, and Madeline finds herself and David at the center of it all. Ultimately, she must make a choice between duty – her family and the estate she loves dearly – and desire.

Tell Me More: If you know me, you know I’d be hard-pressed to resist any tale that uses period elements, even if the main genre that the story resides in is dystopian. So yes, my hopes were high for Landry Park, but unfortunately I found it predictable at its best and offensive at its worst.

The life of Landry Park, literally, is dependent on the class issues that permeate the story. The reader is introduced to this peculiar new world through Madeline Landry, who enjoys the lifestyle powered by abuse of the lower classes, even as she expresses a vague desire to change it. In various exposition paragraphs, the reader learns that Jacob Landry, Madeline’s ancestor, invented Cherenkov lanterns as a power source after a devastating war with the Eastern Empire. What’s left of America is miserable, save for the 1%, now known as the gentry, who are not the government but more powerful.

Madeline is not a very memorable heroine, and neither are many of the other characters. She fits into the trope of a dissatisfied rich girl well enough, and I understand her desire to educate herself. But what is it all for? She tells her father that it will make her a better owner of Landry Park in the future, but even her attachment to the estate feels half-hearted. I never really felt like she was a fully-formed character, capable of standing on her own. I have read of heroines like her before, and she does not do much to distinguish herself from the rest. I never felt like she was in true danger, and I was not emotionally invested enough in her to worry either way. Even the relationship between her and David was dulled by how obvious it was that they would end up together.

On a more serious note, I am particularly bothered by the seeming demonization of Asians as the Eastern Empire, even as a character espouses that “race is no longer a factor” in this futuristic world. I believe this is the first book in a series (correct me if I’m wrong), so there may still be more information to be gleaned about this war in future installments, but what I have so far is just that China, Japan and the rest of Asia decided they’d had enough of America’s environmental overreaching and invaded. If this is the war that has changed the landscape of the globe, describing its impact requires more than a few passing sentences. Race can never not be a factor. Including token black and Indian characters among the gentry is not enough to claim that, especially since America’s “enemy” in this story is made up of Asians. The difference alone establishes that race is a factor. Frankly, I find it is easiest for those for whom race has never been a factor to imagine a world where it isn’t. So why the Asians? Why this cause? I would love to know more about the background of this war, so that I can ground myself further in the story.

The class issues that Hagen attempts to address also fall flat because there just isn’t enough solid worldbuilding to hold them up. So much of the book is set in a very small area, because Madeline herself is isolated from knowing much about her life. As a reader, this can quickly become frustrating, because there isn’t enough ground covered to stabilize the world the author asks us to believe in. At the very least, why did fashion in this future world return to that of the 1800s? Was it meant as a sign of how out-of-touch the gentry are with the rest of the world? I can’t be sure because we get no hints as to how the social norms developed hand-in-hand with the rise and fall of certain classes. Reading this book felt a lot like being surrounded by gorgeous, filmy curtains that aren’t actually hiding anything substantial or valuable or even new.

The Final Say: Landry Park may dazzle readers new to the genre, but there is not much to see past the first few fireworks, and less to remember.

5749310About Bethany

Bethany Hagen was born and raised in Kansas City. She grew up reading Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, and all things King Arthur, and went on to become a librarian. Landry Park is her debut novel.

Add Landry Park on Goodreads | Follow Bethany on Twitter @bethany_hagen | Visit Bethany’s website

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