[ARC Review] American War by Omar El Akaad

Title: American War
Author: Omar El Akkad
Format: Paperback, 330 pages
Genre: Dystopian
Publisher: Knoopf
Release Date: April 4, 2017

[Read | Skim] [Buy | Borrow]

If you’ve been following I’ve decided to read 11 ARCs over 11 weeks. I am seriously behind in reading and reviewing them. The majority of the ARCs I receive are from work, as is American War. I picked this up last year from the break room because it sounded interesting and plus I wanted to expand my repertoire of reading dystopian literature.

Disclaimer: This review reflects my unbiased opinion and as a result I am not able to promise a wholly positive review. My apologies in advance.

My Thoughts:

American War is El Akkad début novel and it hits at the heart of a lot of things (i.e. climate change, fossil fuel vs. renewable energy, war, the North vs. the South).

So, this second American Civil War began over fossil fuel. The North wanted to go the renewable energy route and the South wanted to stay fossil fuels. This got me thinking about what’s going on in the U.S. with Trump’s comment about clean coal:

Ah yeah, no. That’s an oxymoron.

Anyway, back to American War. For the most part I enjoyed it. I really liked Sarat’s character until I didn’t, which was about 1/3 of the way through the novel. I liked her because she reminded me of me  – curious, always questioning, a tomboy. She was smart, resourceful, marched to the beat of a different drummer.

I stopped liking her when she decided to take a boy up on a humiliating dare – sit in shit. Yeah I said it. At the refugee camp there was a moat and a boy dared Sarat to sit in it. I had hoped that she would say, ‘you first’ but sadly she walked over to it and sat down. El Akkad takes 2 1/2 pages to describe this, and when I realized Sarat was going to take the dare I had no desire to read the details. So, I skipped it.

There were some things I saw coming about Sarat that I hoped wouldn’t be true – she’s a lesbian. El Akkad set her up in what I feel in the most stereotypical way to be a lesbian. She’s 6’5″, has a big hulking frame, she has no interest in lipstick or makeup, she’s a tomboy, she likes to play with boys, she likes to do the things boys do, she’s fearless. Why by the way describes a lot of heterosexual girls, too.

There were times when I had a really hard time with the suspension of disbelief. Mainly because things weren’t connecting for me. It’s pretty clear that there is a huge climate change element in the novel. The waters have risen to the point where the Mississippi River is no longer a river it’s now classified as a Sea. It appears that the East and West Coasts have been swallowed up by water and people have moved inland, but yet a good chunk of Louisiana is left. Not terribly plausible considering that nearly half of Louisiana is below sea level.

I wasn’t real fond of the stereotype that the North (the Blues) were the progressives and the South (the Reds) wanted to keep up the old world order and not give up their fossil fuels. Nor did I care for the premise that the South lost another Civil War to the bigger more powerful North and that the South despises the North. And for me the cause of the war and the reason the South secedes doesn’t seem remotely worth war let alone a secession. Fossil fuels.

It may seem that I didn’t care for American War, but that’s not wholly true. The novel is action packed and kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat at times. There were times I couldn’t wait to pick it up and read. El Akkad’s descriptions are wonderful, albeit verbose at times. I could feel Sarat’s hurt and heartache and fear. I could feel her strength. I could see why young people join revolutions and rebel groups and are proud to be called insurrectionists – to right the wrongs they feel have been made. War is a horrible thing. It not only takes loved ones away it takes a piece of you, too.

I am interested to see where El Akkad goes with his authorial career.

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