Review: The City Center by Simone Pond

City CenterReviewed by Toni…

“Catching Fire” is coming out this weekend, so I thought this would be a great time for this review. One reason is that this book has been reviewed before as having a bit of the Hunger Games in it.

Before anyone shrugs this off as a review of someone who is a Hunger Games fan, halt right there. I hate the Hunger Games trilogy. Ranting about it would produce so much heated typing that the pixels would burn off this screen. Let’s just say that as I did with the third book of Twilight (oh yeah I suffered through that too), I also threw the third book of the Hunger Games trilogy against the wall. And then enjoyed watching my cats turn the books into scratching posts.

After those two, I swore reading anymore YA(Young Adult) books of the same caliber. Considering that wonderful fad where one major bestselling hit will spawn other similar genre books, I turned away alot of YA books recently.

That lasted for about four months. I read a particular dystopic, soon to be  in movie theaters novel (Divergent…cough) restored my faith in enjoyable YA fiction. So when I saw the description for “The City Center”, I was in a more benevolent mood to read it.

When it comes to YA books, I have to be in a forgiving mood to read it. I have to forgive the “constraints” of teen angst,the standard characters, the lukewarm romances. They’re not meant to be analyzed too deeply. Unless your teenager cut off internet,television, smartphones, and society in general, you’re going to find it hard to relate to the conflict between the characters in a YA novel or even be attracted to the idea of the main character.

So for a YA book to engross my attention span, it has to be unique. I will ignore romance if the story is unique. My eyes gleam from happiness when I see a unique story. Divergent did that (I am absolutely looking forward to this movie). “City Center” definitely did that.

First off, no smexy times. Sorry peeps, it’s a YA novel. So your going to have to deal with the conflicted and sudden emotions of our teen characters, Ava and Joseph.

This world, due to ruthlessness of certain elite individuals, is ruined. Only a small city protected under a glass dome survives. Throughout the decades, the city watches with unrelenting fascination as ten finalist couples train together in the performing arts for the coveted role as the King and Queen. Eerily similar to how we watch the Royal Family and reality TV stars (oh my fingers twitch with annoyance as I write that), the finalists are scrutinized,idolized, and fantasized every day of their lives. Every weight gain, every mistake, every facial expression is monitored via a chip in their body.

As everyone watches the finalists, continual feed of the war outside the dome rages on. Apparently, there are rebels threatening the tranquility of the city. No one leaves the dome. No one exits the dome.

The citizens are so controlled no one cares.  Emotions are controlled chemically and accepted without any question. Roles in society are programmed and distributed without question. Everyone accepts their place.

Except for our Ava.

Ava is a favorite of the society. She is in the lead to be Queen. Everyone adores her (well give a take a few a$$hats). Yet she’s unhappy. Her thoughts digress. Her emotions are in turmoil underneath her trained expression. She’s intelligent. She’s resourceful. I love that she has a best friend in station deemed below her and that they sneak off to watch class movies. Ava’s favorite is “Roman Holiday” (which is also my favorite).

Just like in “Roman Holiday”, Ava dreams of shirking off her constrictive lifestyle and do something different. That opportunity comes when a breach occurs in the city and everyone scatters to safety.

Except for Ava.

She just sits bemusedly on the bench. Her amusement broken when she encounters the rebel. A young rebel named Joseph.  Instead of hurting her, he offers her a diary and implores her to read it. Then the soldiers take him away.

Who is Joseph?

Why didn’t he hurt Ava?

What’s in the diary?

What happens next?

Answer: get the book.

The combined elements in the novel are so interesting. The way I was picturing the setting was a mixture of “Return to Oz” (love that movie), Victorian costumes, shiny computer things everywhere, gleaming walls of streaming data, a video game version of a forest, and the evil guy wearing a top hat. I’m pretty sure there was no description of a top hat but I added it mentally anyway.

The story is definitely not typical. Despite the modern technology,there’s an archaic hierarchy being used to dominate the masses.Instead of killing one another, the finalists are trained in dancing. How Ava rationalizes through her problem makes it hard for me to believe that she’s just a teenager. Until  her naivety kicks in, then I totally believe she’s a teenager.

The power of this novel actually comes from the world building and the action. As for the characters, all I could say is…meh. Ava came out strong in the beginning but once she met Joseph, she seemed kind of muted. Granted, her whole world is shaken apart. Since her whole identity is seeped in the City Center, I doubt she would emerge the same person.  Joseph, well, yawn. He wasn’t terribly thrilling or exciting. Except for breaking into the City Center, he kind of reminds me of Peeta. Yawn.

One thing I gotta say about Joseph. He never rescues  Ava. He tries. It’s just that Ava uses her head and rescues herself. In hindsight, Ava is keener and more interesting without him. Hmm.

How the conflict is resolved seems a little bit too contrived into a happy ending. I get a sense that it’s not. I don’t have much to back that up, I just have this tickling notion that it’s all going to fall apart.

If there’s a sequel, I very much look forward to seeing the devastation that will follow.

It’s easy to throw in a Hunger Games connection because that is what commercially relevant. I wouldn’t describe it or gauge it on that level.

Length: Novel

Genre: Post-Apocalypic/Dystopia/romance(-ish)

Primary Book Format: e-format

Publisher/Imprint:  Ktown Waters Publishing

Blush Quotient: Tingles of pale, pale pink

Smart Girls Rating:  4 stars

Can order it here: Amazon

Find out more info about the author and series here.

(Disclaimer: This book was purchased by reviewer to enjoy and review)