Dystopian fiction is everywhere at the moment – and I love it! A quote from another author of the genre, Ally Condie, reads “The beauty of Dystopia is that lets us experience future worlds – but we still have the power to change our own”. We see the reflection of the nanny state in Orwell’s 1984, the glorification of “car-crash” TV mimicked in The Hunger Games where other people’s pain is entertainment. In a similar strain, Watkins brings the topics of climate change, environmental responsibility and greed to a head in Gold Fame Citrus.
Desert dunes have spread across the southwestern states of America, burying many major cities beneath tonnes of sand. Anybody in California is stranded, subject to the basic rationing system and black market exchange. It is there we find our female protagonist, Luz, and her ‘woodsman’ saviour, ex-Army Ray, playing house in an abandoned starlet’s mansion as the dry city life rolls past them. One might think that they could stay this way indefinitely; that is, until two-year-old Ig comes into their lives. Suddenly the impetus is there – it might be worth searching for something better. They hear of a community in the desert whose leader has a natural talent for dowsing water. Do they take Ig on the journey in the hope of providing her with a better life than ration colas and black market berries?
What I loved about this text was the glorious imperfections of all the primary characters in this text. Everyone felt so gritty and real. The juxtaposition between Luz’s history as a media darling and her current status provide stark contrast to the text, even as they progress the storyline and explain motivation. Ray’s dark secret is never fully explained, yet just the fact that he has one makes him more well-rounded than just the hero archetype. Ig, toddler though she may be, houses some secrets of her own. I loved how through multiple characters the stereotypes of motherhood and manhood are explored and torn open, even if at times it felt like there was no solution to the unasked question. Ultimately that was one of the most frustrating things of the book too (although should definitely not be taken as a serious criticism) – I like all my endings tied off with a nice little bow, whereas Watkins has been very cunning with what she brings to a resolution and what she leaves undone. Much like real life in that regard I guess!
This is definitely a more grown-up dystopia – while it is likely to be placed under the umbrella of “Young Adult” fiction, I think it requires a maturity on the part of the reader to appreciate the novel fully. Even as a thirty-year-old, there was some content in the book that I felt unsettled about. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s good to be nudged out of your comfort zone, but it is something to bear in mind. If thinking about purchasing this book for a teen, I’d be looking to give it to your 17-year-old who is perhaps ageing out of ‘younger’ dystopian novels like Divergent. And then I’d steal it off their bookshelf and read it myself.