First let me say that undertaking a review for an entire trilogy at one time is harder than it seems. My opinions may differ wildly from book to book, as is the case for this trilogy. I found the first two books well written and true to real characters in a potentially real future. For the most part, I was so very disappointed in the third book of the trilogy. Not very well written, the plot development is not believable, is contrived and feels much like Kacvinsky decided to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. I had much higher expectations for Still Point.
To understand my point of view, continue reading through the synopsis and review of each book individually.
Awaken Series Book #1
Initially Read on August 13, 2014
I gave this book 4 of 5 stars and highly recommend it.
** spoiler alert ** ***SPOILER WARNING!!!!****
Through her internal monologue, as well as her interchanges with the other characters, it is evident that Maddie is ready to join the resistance against the DS (Digital School) and her father. The story develops to reveal her first rebellion at the age of 15, and we learn that it was not a minor rebellion but a catalyst for protest against the DS. This puts her on the radar of a major movement of nationwide resistance movement.
It is easy to see that her feelings at 17 have been building just under the surface since her first rebellion. This makes her inclined to give into the seduction of the resistance and the enigmatic leader Justin. She is initiated into the face-to-face world developing her first real friends. Clare makes an excellent best friend… the only true one she has ever had; and she has the ability to ease Maddie’s transition into a brave new face-to-face world.
However, Maddie still young and inexperienced in the real world. She has a potential to make mistakes that will put her on a collision course with the law. She is taken into custody and bound for the Detention Center in Iowa. Justin arranges for her interception and subsequent transport to him in California. Despite needing to continue to recruit for the resistance, Justin can’t deny his need to spend alone time with Maddie even as he tries to overcome. Before they leave their little bubble of isolation away from the real world, Maddie slowly chips away at the wall Justin keeps between himself and everyone else.
As they arrive for a short visit to Eden, they already falling in love face-to-face in a digital world. It becomes very obvious by the end of this book that they have a special connection.
Really good initial book in this trilogy. I especially like the way the title can apply to more than one of the characters. I really enjoyed this book and found it to be well written. The protagonists are well developed characters who are both lovable and inspiring. There is excitement in Maddie’s awakening to the real face-to-face world, in her daring and dangerous adventures, and in her discovery of real love.
Awaken Series Book #2
Initially read August 14, 2014
I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it.
** spoiler alert **
Maddie has reached been able to live with her brother Joe, work on finishing Digital School, currently her only option if she wants to graduate. She is able to spend time with Clare and a couple of her other friends from time to time while waiting for Justin to come back to town. She goes to hang out with her friends to a local club only to find it is a digital club where people interact as if through a video game. Maddie takes the opportunity to override the system to post anti-DS messages. The security guards take her into custody. Only then does Maddie realize that Justin is there and has managed to share the blame for her “prank”.
After they escape the club, Justin tells Maddie he loves her and can’t live without her. He plans to find a place to rent in LA until she turns 18 and is no longer under “house arrest” at her brother Joe’s. He plans to spend as much time with her as possible until then. “Forced” into an intercept, Maddie finds herself in unexpected, serious trouble that results in Joe’s betrayal and Maddie’s incarceration in the LA Detention Center. She is drugged and forced to fight the reprograming sessions she is forced to attend each week.
Even though her sanity sometimes walked the line, she learns that she can draw on the strength of her memories and love for the people in her face-to-face world. This is especially true of her memories and love for Justin who commits himself to be her rock… her strength when she was fragile. It helps Maddie a lot when she finds a way to meet with all of her friends each week with an additional visit with Justin alone each week. Following her escape from the DC, Maddie finally sees the toll on Justin that her imprisonment and torture caused. He loves her so much that he became a shell of the man he was before her arrest. They only become whole again when they are reunited.
Of course, Maddie can’t breathe or feel truly free until she liberates the other prisoners of her DC. Plans are made, logistics covered and the rescue initiated. For the first time, Maddie finds herself thrust into mission leader. With encouragement from Justin, Maddie executes an almost perfect mission. However, Maddie is forced to rely on her experience in an unorthodox mission escape learned from Justin’s example. She proves to be more than capable.
The conclusion has Maddie’s father offering potential help to close the Detention Centers only if she comes back home and gives up her friends and the love of her life. We are left to wonder what her decision will be.
For the most part, I enjoyed this second installment of the The Awaken trilogy. I found it well written and appreciated the further development of the characters of Maddie and Justin and their relationship. As a reader who has become immersed into their world, it was painful to feel her brother’s betrayal and to live through Maddie’s time in the DC (Detention Center); although it was interesting to watch her constitution become much stronger.
Maddie demonstrates early on her resistance against the DS in a very public way and she is very unapologetic about it. I felt her empowerment as she experiences it. Justin demonstrates the depth of his love by wanting to have a permanent home as his basis of operations… a home he can share with Maddie. No matter what, he wants to build a life with her. To me, he is beginning to grow as a person and opening his heart to Maddie’s unconditional love. Reading about the depth of their connection made me feel their love.
Once Maddie is betrayed by her brother and is incarcerated, Justin made her a top priority. He and her other friends from the resistance focus on gaining access to her… gaining her freedom. To me, this proved how much she is loved, how much she is valued as a friend and lover. Her dedication to the cause of ending DS and the operation of the DCs gives her the determination and strength to stay there long enough to gather evidence of misdeeds. The power of love reunited between Maddie and Justin following her escape proves the detriment each faced while separated. Their angst became my angst. As a good storyteller, Kacvinsky drew me into the world of horrors, love, strength, freedom, and redemption.
I found myself questioning Maddie’s father’s reasoning in wanting her home knowing that her life would be in more danger there than with Justin and her friends. Afterall, she was only ever betrayed and endangered by her family. I further questioned Maddie’s struggle in the end as to whether or not to stay with Justin or to return to her parents after what they put her through. After she fought so hard to reach Justin’s heart and gain his commitment to settle down with her (as much as he could while working to change the mandatory of the DS schools), her choice should be clear… especially when the last thing she tells Justin is that she wants to be with him.
Awaken Series Book #3
Initially read September 4, 2014
2 out of 5 stars
Surprisingly, Maddie chose to go home rather than stay in Eden with Justin and her friends in the resistance. Her reasoning is to gain access to intel, especially her father’s listsrv of all the students participating in DS. Presumably, this is to create an army of resistance fighters to vote against keeping DS as a national law. Once home, Maddie agrees to have a tracker put on her arm to which her father wears the twin. They are able to track each other.
Maddie and Justin find ways of sneaking around to see one another. Out of the blue, Maddie recruits Katie, the sister of Paul… one of Maddie’s nemesis. Using Katie, Maddie connects with the resistance and Justin. Again, out of the blue, Maddie seeks out a brand new character, Jax. He is introduced as someone who was intercepted a long time ago for accessing a list of detainees of all the DCs. He is a laid back artist who doesn’t want to get involved but then changes his mind, only he no longer has access to the detainee list.
Jax attempts to help by introducing Maddie to his father who once researched the effects of continual technology on the brain. He never got the chance to turn theory to proof when his funding is cut off. Maddie mentions the possibility of finding new funding. This plot point is never developed further.
The story next takes Maddie to Scott and Molly’s, the base of operations in her hometown. While there, Maddie overhears Shawn, a fanatical district leader of the resistance, trying to push Justin into moving to the east coast for a centralized base of operations. She starts to feel a wedge forming between her and Justin so she runs off into the night by herself. She realized she was being followed and attempts to evade her dangerous pursuers which includes the tortuous head of the Detention Centers. He is looking for information as to what Maddie’s father is doing… who he working for. She is captured then immediately rescued by Justin and the local resistance. They send for Maddie’s Mom and hide them at the safehouse… Jax’s house.
The following day, Maddie and the gang go to house to look for any clues her father may have left for her before he left. She eventually finds a cryptic clue that eventually leads to critical information found in the backyard near/under a fake rosebush near the back porch. Then, Maddie uses her tracking device to search for her father, who has the twin device. When she locates him a mere 30 miles away, they decide to find him to see what he is doing.
Once they locate Maddie’s father, they see that he in trouble so they launch a rescue. The rescue soon goes south when the getaway car is forced off the road into a river.They have to wait until the car sinks to level the pressure so the doors will open. Justin tells Jax to get Maddie and Justin gets Maddie’s dad. Each pair ends up on an opposite river bank. Jax and Maddie are grabbed by the DC goons then cuffed and loaded onto a small plane. Jax manages to knock out both the evil detention master and his goon. He then finds and straps on a tandem jump parachute. He and Maddie dive to temporary safety still within the same town from which they were abducted.
They find a hotel where they could contact the team logistics guy for a pickup. He tells them that Justin and Maddie’s dad went on ahead to Portland where the vote on whether or not DS remains a national law will be held in a couple of days. Maddie and Jax are told the extraction will be the following morning. They go to the hotel food convenience machine where they scan their thumbprints for food. The next morning they are awakened by gunfire into their room. As they flee, about to be trapped, Jax goes all Rambo on the trio of shooters, and he and Maddie try to escape across an above traffic, glass walkway. As soon as they run onto the glass, it starts being shot apart right behind them.
Taking refuge in a local church, the bad guys close in on them. Luckily, the rescue team arrives there right in time. Instead of going straight to Justin and her Dad, Maddie is forced to wait until the following day to be reunited. She finally gets to the tent city and finds it difficult to get Justin’s attention. During the press concert however Justin insists on having Maddie at his side. When they turn in that night, both seem worried about the vote. Justin’s assistant interrupts needing him to handle a matter. Maddie doesn’t wait for him instead looking for a bonfire where she might find some of her friends. She sees Clare and Jax on opposite sides of the fire. She sits with Clare and Jax comes over. There is dissolution in the talk referencing the vote. Jax tells Maddie he has a plan to help drive the vote their way but makes her promise not to get mad. He chooses not to elaborate.
When approached by a national news crew the following day, Jax was asked what face-to-face schools could provide beyond what was provided by DS. He says ‘this’ then he seriously kisses Maddie. Justin misses the live feed. Ultimately the two votes per state come up just short of eliminating the national law. It is at this time, Maddie’s father address the crowd. In a heart-felt speech, he says the vote to keep the national law can’t pass without his endorsement. He tells the crowd that he refuses to endorse a national law dictating continuation of a flawed program.
Justin realizes that the corrupt police are about to arrest and/or kill Maddie’s father. so they try to reach her mom and dad. Somewhere in the rush, Maddie is separated from Justin. Suddenly Paul (police officer and Maddie’s nemesis) is standing over her with a gun to her head. Once again, Jax comes to her rescue. The getaway van pulls up driven by the tech/logistics guy, and he picks up Justin, Maddie, her brother (Joe), and lastly Maddie’s dad. During the race to elude their pursuers, Maddie realizes that her father was fatally shot. During the beginning of her grief, the chase ends violently when the van rolls.
Maddie wakes up a prisoner in a padded room. Every few days, she is brought to a small room where she gets to see Justin. They are told they are going to be executed as terrorists for their participation in the DS protest. Then suddenly Maddie’s mom shows up with the President of the US. It is revealed that her mom has been an agent working for the FBI so the President could get the evidence needed to shut down the Digital School system. Of course, she offers Justin a job that requires a move to the East Coast. He asks Maddie to come with him. She says she needs to be there for her family.
Following a magnanimous gesture on Justin’s part, Maddie chooses to get together with Jax.
I apologize for the lengthy synopsis, but there are so many plot points in this book it takes several paragraphs to cover the essentials.
I was very disappointed in this book and feel deflated after the anticipation I built up while waiting for the release. My biggest disappointment has to be the way Maddie and Justin are written completely out of character from their development in the first two books.
Short reminder of some important parts from the first two books:
**From the very beginning Maddie and Justin are captivated with one another. Justin quickly begins to take any opportunity to spend time with Maddie even spending more time in her town than usual even as he leads the DS Dropouts. After arranging her intercept after Maddie is being transported to a DC in Iowa, he spends several days with her at a safe house in California. During their stay together they draw closer and closer to each other as the walls they have built around themselves begin to crumble. Just as Justin introduces Maddie to the “real” world she introduces him to what it means to be truly human. By the time he takes her to the “unplugged” community known as Eden, they are so attuned to each other that they can feel each others presence, sense their specific energies. They are in love with each other and their connection is written to create the sense that they are soulmates.
The second book begins with Justin taking a huge leap of faith in their love when he decides to settle into a more permanent base of operations so he can be with Maddie as much as possible. When she is captured and placed in the LA Detention Center, he is devastated… spending as much time as possible nearby so he can be available to visit with her during their stolen time together. He remains faithful to being her strength and support even when she has mentally “checked out.” After he finally helps her escape, all he wants to do is protect her, help her, and be with her.**
Then along comes the third book of the trilogy. It begins with Maddie leaving Justin to go back home without so much as a goodbye or explanation- totally OUT of character. Even so, Justin trusts her motives and arranges meeting her a couple of times to be with her and try to get her to come with him. He is worried about her and her safety… very IN character for him.
Justin starts spending more time near Maddie’s hometown because she is there. This is very IN character. Maddie takes advantage of any opportunity to spend time with Justin. This is also very IN character. When the character of Shawn is introduced as a fanatically intense and bossy head of the east coast of the resistance, Justin seems to defer to him… very OUT of character. When Maddie listens in on a conversation between Shawn and Justin during which Shawn tries to pressure Justin into moving the base of operations to the east coast under his supervision, she flees rather than talking to Justin about it. Since she is a very direct person, her response is very OUT of character. This pattern is repeated throughout the book seeming to show that the two main characters suddenly became bipolar.
Perhaps the most troubling example arises when the vehicle they occupy, along with Maddie’s father and Jax, ends up sinking in the river leaving Justin with Maddie’s father on one side and Maddie and Jax on the other. When the latter duo is grabbed by the DC goons, Kacvinsky would have us believe that Justin and Maddie’s father would just leave without tearing the area apart to find Maddie instead of continuing to the rally in Portland. No matter what might be happening in Portland a few days later, there is NO WAY Justin or Maddie’s father would just abandon her to the devices of others. This is one of the most unbelievable parts of the plot and that is certainly saying something since this is the part of the book where the plot begins to completely unravel.
- Justin & Maddie’s father abandon Maddie to go to Portland
- Jax (laid back artist) reveals he is the second coming of Rambo
- The members of the resistance who come to save Maddie & Jax decide to go home for the night rather than on to Portland, even though it is supposedly important to get there as soon as possible
- When they make it to Portland the next day, neither Justin nor Maddie’s parents are anxiously awaiting to see her to visually confirm that she is fine
- Justin all but ignores Maddie instead of including her as usual
- Maddie begins to doubt her previously rock solid relationship with Justin (check the end of book #2) within the short time since she left Eden
- Maddie returns Jax’s kiss
- When Maddie’s parents are in danger from the police, her father is willing to take a stand but tells her mom to get in the cop car so she would safe (huh?)
- When Maddie & Justin see each other in custody they don’t act as concerned about each other as they should
- Maddie’s mom is an FBI agent
- She (Maddie’s mom) is friends with the President
- The President wants Justin to help set up a nation-wide face-to-face school option (how is he qualified to create a template for a nation-wide education system?)
- Despite previously wanting nothing more than to be with Justin, Maddie chooses not to go with him to the east coast when the President asks him to relocate
- Maddie says she needs to be with her family after her father’s death, but none of them seem all that upset about it
- Maddie seems to want proof that Justin will come back for her yet throws herself into Jax’s arms
I wish I had stopped at the end of book #2 (Middle Ground). I wish that Kacvinsky had as well.