It has been nearly two decades since the breakout of the Third World War, and Manhattan is now a prisoner-of-war camp ruled by island native Rolladin, who controls the city’s survivors with an iron fist. For Skyler Miller, Manhattan is a cage that keeps her from the world beyond the city’s borders. But for Sky’s younger sister, Phee, the Central Park POW camp is the only home she’d ever want.
When strangers arrive in the park, carrying a shocking message, Sky and Phee discover there’s more to Manhattan—and their family—than either of them had imagined. As disturbing secrets about the island begin to surface, Sky and Phee have no choice but to break the rules to uncover the full truth of their long-shrouded history. When their search for answers erupts into violence, the girls must flee into Manhattan’s depths, where their quest for a better future will force them to confront the island’s dark and shocking past.
Lee Kelly’s gripping debut novel is a pulse-pounding journey through a city that’s as strange as it is familiar, where nothing is black-and-white and buried secrets can haunt.
[SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT!!!!]
So, let me begin by saying that this is the first book by Lee Kelly that I have read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book but there were just some things I couldn’t get past. This is the story of two sisters in the time after war and their journey to discovering their truth about the war and their mother, Sarah. The concept had me hooked and have you seen the cover? It’s so gripping and riveting. It seemed like the package deal.
The concept of war and survival has always interested me. However, some books get too technical in terms of war. However, this book is a focus of the relationship between two sisters and how they can only trust each other. The concept was interesting enough where you don’t know what the truth is anymore. The war has long ended but Rolladin, the leader, lies that it is still going on and the Red Allies are still fighting elsewhere. The sisters and their mother live in a prisoners of war camp with others; however, I think the setting could have been grittier. It didn’t seem like a prisoner of war camp. There was none of the brutality and it all seemed a little childish at parts. I think Lee Kelly could have gone a little darker like other YA books I have read. The story still has potential but let’s see where the road takes us.
Writing/Point of View:
This book was written beautifully in dual perspectives of sisters Skyler (Sky) and Phoenix (Phee). I really got a feel of each individual voice of the sisters. I could tell when what sister was talking which is a hard feat to complete. I have read many books written in dual or multiple perspectives that all sounded the same or seemed pointless in forwarding the plot.
Sky is obviously the sensible one who thinks before she acts. She is the more sensitive of the two. Phee is the brash and impulsive one. She has the “survivor” attitude and is willing to kill if it means she will survive. Out of the two, the mother thinks Phee has the guts to pull the trigger when needed and we see this early on when Phee shoots two of Rolladin’s men.
I think Lee Kelly had a lot of potential to really develop the sisters but alas, the sisters become a mess of jealousy and hormones once the boy (a British boy) comes into the picture. They each meet him separately and already all the love and loyalty these sisters swear to have for each other goes down the drain. The romance seems to take the front seat in a story about war, survival, and the love between sisters.
Yes, sisters can sometimes be jealous of each other and they fight. Lee Kelly does a beautiful job of showing this. She shows Sky’s insecurities at being the lesser sister. Phee is the tough one. Sky is the bookworm who gets lost in the world of books and wants out of this war world. Phee, on the other hand, has come to embrace this war life.
Phee sometimes thinks her sister is too sensitive for this world and I agree at times. Sky thinks Phee is too impulsive; which she is. However, they both balance each other out. Despite these insecurities, they look out for each other. There is a perfect balance of tough and sensitive, jealousy and love. It makes the relationship between both sisters believable. However, once the boy, Ryder, enters the picture, there is an overabundance of jealousy. Instead of thinking about the secrets their mother is hiding from them and learning about life before the war, the sisters are more concerned about who Ryder likes. They JUST met him and suddenly they are acting like they are IN LOVE with the guy. It was frustrating. Sky and Phee are such amazing characters individually and apart, creating a mesmerizing dynamic but Ryder just ruins the occasion. This book could have done without the romance. The romance ruined half of the book for me but it was quickly resolved when Ryder chooses Sky. However, the immaturity of both sisters started pissing me off at one point. They both read the mom’s journal together but when tensions arise between them because of Ryder, Sky starts reading the journal by herself. What happened to that sisterly bond?
Rolladin, on the other hand, is a character I loved. She’s portrayed as this evil character who lies and enjoys others’ misery but she didn’t come off like that to me. I felt like Phee and Rolladin had a closer relationship than the mother and Phee. Rolladin has a soft spot for the family, especially Sarah (they were lovers during the war when Sarah thought her husband died) and Phee. Rolladin actually was there when Phee took birth and she was the one who named her Phoenix, the one who rises from the fire. Phee never really hated Rolladin like the others and she was often chastised by her sister. The closeness of their relationship is cemented when Phee goes running and hugs Rolladin, even though Rolladin had promised the death of them.
Sarah, the mother, was one character I didn’t necessarily like too much. We get much of her character through the journals instead of the actual story; which is quite similar. She is portrayed like the weak one, who always leaned on Mary (Rolladin’s first name). She brought up her kids but she still seemed weak to me. I feel like the parallel runs between Sarah and Sky as they both are soft for this world while Phee resembles her father and Rolladin in terms of survival and roughness.
Ryder, is a character that I didn’t want to hate because it’s not his fault but I couldn’t help but dislike him. He caused a lot of mistrust between the sisters and he probably didn’t intend too but I didn’t like him much. I don’t know if Lee Kelly intended for the mystery of who he would choose but it did seem at times like he liked both sisters. Even his love declaration seemed a little sudden. Couldn’t he just have liked neither sister? I just thought he was being nice to both but of course, the guy or girl always has to CHOOSE.
ALL IN ALL, this was still a good read. It could have been so much better without the romance. I feel like this book still has potential and I’m leaning towards reading the second book. It has so much potential but I hope Lee Kelly does a better job next time and blows my mind.
Until next time. Peace.
*Note from Ellen: By the way, Sounale’s one of our newest members here in the YA Bookish News team too! Congrats on your first post Sounale!*