Recently, I finished reading Swans & Klons, a young adult dystopian novel by Nora Olsen. The story opens with Rubric—our heroine in a city brimming with only women—visiting her childhood caretaker. You can immediately tell that things are quite unlike our own world. Paper seems scarce; names may be nonexistent for lower classes. As the other woman enters the room and their conversation begins, we learn of Salmon Jo, Rubric’s girlfriend, and the fact that she may be an uncommon character for whom trouble lies ahead. This promising exchange had me all geared up to continue and find out more about this strange place.
In that first chapter alone, Swans & Klons quickly showcases many of the hallmarks I associate with dystopias: unexplained slang and diction, clones, and doomed love. I was quick to pick up on the overarching themes of escape and renewal. Early on the story drew me in, but the first half of the book wasn’t as strong as the second. I struggled with figuring out some of the foreign words, like edfotunement. That one did not feel particularly intuitive to me and I struggled over whether it was “entertainment”, “television”, or something altogether different because it looks almost like “fortune”.
I really, really liked that this slim novel did not follow the same tired routes that most YA dystopian tend to stick to. Instead of leading a revolution, the heroines focused on a sort of underground railroad, where they would shuttle other slaves out of their city. I thought that this was an interesting take on everything—that you can’t always have your cake and eat it too. You can only do the best that one person can.
I would like to see a follow-up. While I am satisfied with the main characters not toppling their society, I do believe that they can do it. Or I would at least love to see just where they go next. It sounds like there is a whole new world outside of the city for their exploration, and one book itself seems paltry in light of that setup.
One other issue that I would like to discuss is homosexuality in this work. It’s interesting how everything is tipped on its head and heterosexual relationships come out as taboo. While it is great for young people to see how normalized different pairings are or could be, I feel that Rubric’s reactions towards the cretinous males and the idea of them almost shines a mirror on how people of the LGBT community don’t want others to act. I wasn’t able to decide if I found it ironic or maddening—my feelings swung back and forth like a pendulum.
Overall I give this book a four out of five. While it has its faults, the world created within it is a marvelously intriguing place. I am left with so many questions; I was thinking right up until the last page. When I was nearing the end, I felt sad yet excited. The action went right up until the grand finale.