Review: Awaken (Kacvinsky)

AUTHOR: Katie Kacvinsky
SERIES: Awaken, book 1
PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin
ISBN: 9780547371481
PAGES: 309
SOURCE: public library
GENRE: science fiction/dystopia
GIVE IT TO: anyone! I can’t imagine who wouldn’t love this book! I think adults will enjoy it on a completely different level from teens.

SUMMARY: Seventeen-year old Maddie lives in a world where people’s lives play out through computers. Digital schools are the only way to get an education, and online social media is the main way people communicate. Most people rarely leave their homes. But when Maddie meets Justin through a digital school chatroom, she agrees to meet him face-to-face. Justin believes people weren’t meant to interact solely through computers, and as her feelings for Justin grow, Maddie wholeheartedly agrees. Something is awakening inside Maddie, and standing up for that could cost her everything.

REVIEW: I read Isaac Asimov’s “The Fun They Had” in third grade, but I still remember it well. It’s a short story about a girl who has a robot teacher. She and her friend find an old book about a school from the past where children attended together and had a human teacher. They are fascinated with this foreign concept and wish school were still like that.

Awaken reminds me of that story.

What strikes me most about Awaken is how frighteningly POSSIBLE it all is. People everywhere today are interacting with technology instead of each other. Even as I sit writing this, I am on my laptop and my two elementary-age boys are playing a DS game. When I go to the grocery store later today, I will be wearing my headphones and listening to Pandora radio while I shop. Awaken takes today’s tech-saturated world to its next logical step. Set in the year 2060, all students in Awaken attend digital school. Media coverage of school shootings and other violence have created unprecedented fear, and politicians use that fear to curb personal freedoms and privacy rights. Lots of people do not know their neighbors at all. People are not interested in exploring nature, and even trees and grass are made of plastic. Any of that sound familiar?

As I read, I found several ways to compare Awaken to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Orwell’s 1984. For me to compare a teen dystopia to these globally important works says something huge. Dystopia has been my favorite genre since I first read Orwell in college. I did an independent study on Orwell as an undergrad. I taught Fahrenheit 451 when I taught seventh grade English. I know these works well, and Awaken complements them perfectly for teen readers.

The story is engrossing. I suffered this week because I started reading Awaken late on a Sunday night. This has been a busy week, so I didn’t finish it until Friday. I read it every chance I could, and when I wasn’t reading it, I was talking about it. Told in first-person (Maddie), the story has plenty of run-for-your-life action, a steamy romance, cool tech gadgets (I WANT that lipstick stun-gun!!!), and societal insight. It’s very quotable and would be great for read-alouds.

I loved the characters of Maddie and Justin. For once, the female protagonist isn’t annoying or constantly in-need of rescue. Maddie had stood up to society’s wrongs two years before Justin ever came into her life. She’s funny and brave and doesn’t wait for things to happen to her. Refreshing.

If I had to complain about anything, it would be the fact that Digital School seems to be running everything. Yes, school today is plenty political, but I can’t see a school system taking over an entire community to this extent. I don’t see mass numbers of people being arrested for protesting a school system. I don’t see the news media staging a fake rally in support of a school system. I don’t see a school superintendent or headmaster having the kind of political power that Maddie’s father has. It’s not a country or the government; it’s school. Kids in the story are allowed to leave the house and to have friends, so I don’t see how an online school would have so much power over the entire country.

The romance is nice and steamy, but I don’t think it’s over-the-top for most middle school readers. I can’t wait to read the sequel, Middle Ground, which I am waiting for from the public library. I guess I’m not the only one who has discovered this amazing little book.

THE BOTTOM LINE: An engrossing, action-packed dystopia with a steamy romance. It will cause readers to reflect on their own level of technological “connectedness.”

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: On order. I loved it and will talk it up, so I have no doubt it will be popular. It’s a great choice for next year’s Lone Star Reading Incentive list.

READALIKES: Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury), Brave New World (Huxley), 1984 (Orwell), “The Fun They Had” (Asimov)


  • Overall: 5/5
  • Creativity: 5/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Engrossing: 5/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Appeal to teens: 5/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5


  • Language: mild; one sh**; one a**
  • Sexuality: mild-medium; passionate vertical and horizontal kissing
  • Violence: mild; talk of killing people who rebel against the establishment; some gun violence (tranquilizer bullets)
  • Drugs/Alcohol: mild; teens drink at a club


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