Title: The Big Empty
Author: J.B Stephens
Genre: YA, Dystopian, action, mystery
Perfect for: younger and older ya readers!
Taken from Goodreads,
"One year ago, a devastating plague called Strain 7 killed three quarters of the human race. Around the world, power systems failed and supply chains screeched to a halt. The surviving population of the United States has been relocated to the coasts; the heartland is now a wasteland called The Big Empty. But seven teens trying to put their lives back together will learn that the abandoned zone holds danger, secrets, and above all, hope."'The Big Empty' debuted October 2004. It has now gone out of print, but can be found easily at libraries and online. Thinking back, this was probably the first true dystopian novel/series I read. Maybe it's for that reason that I hold fond memories for it!
'The Big Empty' follows a group of kids as they learn about themselves and the truth about their world and the horrible disease that decimated civilization. This is by no means a novel that is for a strict age range. Even though the characters are older teens, I think this novel would suit younger YA readers just as well as older.
Stephens world wasn't complicated or hard to read-- it was just right. (And this is coming from someone who has trouble reading hardcore sci-fi worlds!) The main goal of 'The Big Empty' was not to play on a love triangle, but was focused on the characters, the role the disease played in their personal history and how it binds new friends together. (Towards the end of the series, there is a cute romance that develops, however!) It has action and mystery, too!
Chapters change perspectives and it takes a bit to really know who is who (due to the large number of characters). As a reader, the switching of perspectives helped create suspense for when the characters (who lead completely different lives) would finally meet in some sort of middle ground.
Speaking about characters, Stephen did a good job with naming the characters. I know it seems a silly thing to be impressed with, but in a world full of 'repeat' names, I loved the ones he chose. Specifically, I love the name Keely. It's up their with Scott Westerfeld's choices in the 'Uglies' series!
While I love the book, it's not perfect. It has a bit of a slow start, but is nothing compared to other books that I've read!
'The Big Empty' is the first of a four book series. If you liked 'The Uglies' by Scott Westerfeld or even the popular dystopian titles on the market now, I recommend picking it up and giving it a try! You won't find it at your regular bookstore, but a used book shop or library will probably have it!