In the future, food is no longer necessary—until Thalia begins to feel something unfamiliar and uncomfortable. She’s hungry.
In Thalia’s world, there is no need for food—everyone takes medication (or “inocs”) to ward off hunger. It should mean there is no more famine, no more obesity, no more food-related illnesses, and no more war. At least that’s what her parents, who work for the company that developed the inocs, say. But when Thalia meets a boy who is part of an underground movement to bring food back, she realizes that most people live a life much different from hers. Worse, Thalia is starting to feel hunger, and so is he—the inocs aren’t working. Together they set out to find the only thing that will quell their hunger: real food.
Nnnnngh. Just… nnnngh. Hungry by H.A. Swain has such an interesting concept. What would a future look like where food is irrelevant? And how would that future fall apart if its citizens started feeling hungry again? Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite stomach what the author was dishing up. I guess you could say it didn’t quite cut the mustard. Actually, some parts really cheesed me off. While some of the questions raised were definitely food for thought, this story just wasn’t something I could sink my teeth into.
Sorry, sorry, I’m done, I promise. (I think.) But truly, Hungry was such a roller coaster ride for me that my head hurts a bit trying to put this review together. It all started with an unnecessary prologue, a dream prologue, no less. Dreams are a hard sell for me, as are prologues, so putting them together as the first introduction into the story was nearly enough to make me stop reading right there. However, once I got past that unpleasantness, I was grudgingly willing to move forward.
Thalia Apple’s world is strange yet interesting. In this new world, years after the food shortages and riots that nearly destroyed civilization, the world’s population lives off of inocs, medicines that provide sustenance, quench hunger, stave off illness, and regulate hormones. You’re nothing but a beast without your inocs, a soon-to-be-dead-from-unfelt-starvation beast at that. This is a world where touch is considered gross, shopping is done virtually, and everyone has too-chipper Siri-type personal assistants to manage their lives. Thalia’s family is near the top of the pecking order in this world. Her mom was the brains behind the inocs, and her father is the leading tech guru behind One World, the megaconglomerate agency that runs the world. It’s a fascinating but scary place. I loved seeing how some technologies and ideals that already exist in our world get mutated and enlarged to fit the One World vision.
Most everyone loves the way the world is, at least in Thalia’s privileged circles. Fun digital entertainment, fame and fortune, good health, what’s not to like? Thalia, on the other hand, longs for life the way her grandmother used to live, with cotton fabrics and hugging and farms. I wanted to shove her down a trash compactor. I understand what the author was trying to do. As readers, we recognize from the beginning that something’s wrong with Thalia’s world. The lack of food and bodily functions, the regulated times to breed, the hyperconnectivity and yet intense social disconnect provided by the digital gadgets, they’re all unnatural. Thalia is supposed to be the character we can relate to, the one we root for as she upsets the status quo with her clever little hacks and worn blue jeans and handcrafted pot holder handbag. She’s supposed to be an “old soul.” But no, what she is is a hipster snob. She’s the friend who looks down on your tablet as she pecks away at her vintage typewriter, the classmate who tries to derail the professor with snotty arguments about philosophy in the middle of math class, the one who thinks she has it all figured out and pities the blind bourgeois around her. Gag.
To be fair, the author works on stripping Thalia of some of her nauseating self-conceit. Thalia meets Basil, a lower-class boy who shows her what the world is like outside of her privileged bubble. It’s an eye-opening trip, one akin to the scene in WALL-E where the humans have their screens ripped away. It also shows some pretty hefty world-building on the part of H.A. Swain, as we now get to see both sides of the utopian/dystopian coin that One World has created. Unfortunately, part of this trip means Thalia the Hipster runs smack into Basil’s friends, the Hippie Analogs. If there’s a character type I dislike more than hipster, it’s hippie. I’m sorry, but I can’t take people named Kumquat and Radish seriously, especially not if they insist on communing mentally with their mystical leader. Not buying it.
Oh, oh, and while we’re on character types that I hate, guess where we get to go after the hippies? That’s right! A totally brainwashed, misogynistic, socially repressive commune! Hooray! Because you know I just LOVE places where the people are cut off from the outside world, the women are treated like breeding cattle, and they’re all ruled by a dingbat leader with delusions of grandeur! Wait, hipsters, hippies, and communes? Ding ding ding! It’s a tick-Shae-off hat trick! Congratulations, have a bunny prize.
I just… I can’t. I can’t. I spent the majority of the book trapped with people I loathe, be they power-grasping scientists, snobby hipsters, spacey hippies, or delusional cult followers. Even when I was able to avoid them (“them” being 99% of the cast), I was still stuck with Basil and Thalia, who were either waxing poetic over food, waxing poetic over each other, getting into completely fabricated arguments that come out of NOWHERE, or continually blowing their cover on the run by calling home to their parents. Okay, that last one was just Thalia, but still. (On The Lam 101, sweetheart. Don’t call home, especially not in a house with a super-nerd dad who can totally trace your call in his sleep.)
Woof, it was nice to get all that off my chest. I could go on for much longer, but let’s end with some happy things. Praise where praise is due, after all. As I said, in certain spots the world-building was aces. Also, I really liked Yaz, Thalia’s BFF and frequent recipient of her hipster rants. Actually, I think the story would have been much more palatable and interesting if told from Yaz’s point of view. I also enjoyed some of the more intricate contract law jargon the characters use to discuss the control One World has over the population’s inocs. Some people might find it boring, but the details felt legitimate to me (not that I’m an expert in contract law), which in turn made the scenario Hungry presents more believable. And lastly, bonus points for not making Thalia lily-fair. In fact, based on the clues we’re given, a good number of the characters appear to be at least partially something other than white. (Thalia is part Vietnamese and part African-American.) But none of that was enough to shake me from my rage, nausea, and boredom. If any of this sounds interesting to you (and it very well may), please feel free to give this story a test nibble. I, on the other hand, feel the need to go brush my teeth. With acid.
Points Added For: Yaz and her awesomeness, some of the world-building, the nitty-gritty contract law stuff, diverse characters.
Points Subtracted For: Hipsters, hippies, communes, evil cackling mad scientists, lack of sense of place (what CONTINENT are we on?), unnecessary prologue, dream sequences, fabricated arguments, etc.
Good For Fans Of: Communes, food, hipsters.
Notes For Parents: Language, sex (off-page), teen pregnancy.