Rootless, Book 1
Author: Chris Howard
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Description from Goodreads:
17-year-old Banyan is a tree builder. Using scrap metal and salvaged junk, he creates forests for rich patrons who seek a reprieve from the desolate landscape. Although Banyan's never seen a real tree—they were destroyed more than a century ago—his father used to tell him stories about the Old World. But that was before his father was taken . . .
Everything changes when Banyan meets a woman with a strange tattoo—a clue to the whereabouts of the last living trees on earth, and he sets off across a wasteland from which few return. Those who make it past the pirates and poachers can't escape the locusts—the locusts that now feed on human flesh.
But Banyan isn't the only one looking for the trees, and he's running out of time. Unsure of whom to trust, he's forced to make an uneasy alliance with Alpha, an alluring, dangerous pirate with an agenda of her own. As they race towards a promised land that might only be a myth, Banyan makes shocking discoveries about his family, his past, and how far people will go to bring back the trees.
In this dazzling debut, Howard presents a disturbing world with uncanny similarities to our own. Like the forests Banyan seeks to rebuild, this visionary novel is both beautiful and haunting—full of images that will take permanent root in your mind . . . and forever change the way you think about nature.
First Sentence: "They figured me too young for a tree builder."
First off, I want to praise Chris Howard's writing to the skies. The writing is beautiful, perfectly matched to Banyan and to the world itself. Howard manages to establish that Banyan speaks in dialect with the use of words like "reckon," but keeps it to a minimum. Thus, he clearly gets across the sound of the characters without making Rootless any less readable. Dialect done wrong is a miserable reading experience, and I think Howard takes a marvelous approach.
Howard builds from a pretty standard dystopian formula with the evil corporation GenTech, but the world itself is like nothing I've ever read before. The world has gone to seed in just about every way possible. Trees and animal life (except for humans and locusts) have died out. The only remaining food source is a genetically modified corn that the locusts cannot eat, which means the locusts have to settle for the only remaining dietary option: people. Man-eating bugs are pretty much my worst nightmare. There are also pirates, and a whole lot of other unscrupulous, cutthroat folks. In Rootless, characters really do suffer, and it's not all about the romance; people die in nasty ways, just as they should in a good post-apocalyptic.
Banyan works as a tree builder. What's a tree builder?, you might ask. Well, since the trees are gone, the landscape's a tad empty. Rich folks will pay to have trees built on their landscape. Banyan, as his father taught him, crafts trees out of metal. This is a very strange concept, but one that puts such a stark mental image of this world into my head. His cast of characters is just as memorably strange as the trees built out of metal.
As I mentioned previously, the world in Rootless is one in which countless things have gone wrong. Genetic modification of foodstuffs lead to stronger locusts, which lead to no trees. A lack of trees presents its own problems. The moon also came closer to the earth, which messed with the ocean. All of the non-human animals are gone. Everything that's left is controlled by a corporation, the only institution capable of making food without cannibalism. All of this was just way too much for me to process, and I spent a lot of time confused, trying to figure out why something happened and what repercussions it would have on society.
From interviews I've seen, I'm sure Howard has done his research and put tons of thought into everything, but he lost me. Actually, I had a similar problem with The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, which is beloved of many people who understand science much better than I do. To tell you the hard truth, I was at best a mid-B range student in high school science. I know just enough to get things really wrong and muddled. Readers with more science background or less inclined to puzzle over things endlessly will likely not have this issue. Also, since Rootless is told from a first person perspective, the world building will likely become more clear as Banyan learns more.
Oh, one last thing, Howard is a HUGE Star Wars fan. It's all over his inspiration board on Pinterest, for example. His love of Star Wars really shines through. There are some very cleverly done references, which I, having been raised from a young age to be obsessed with the original trilogy (the only one that exists in my brain), loved. Watch out for those, Star Wars fans!
I highly recommend Rootless to readers who enjoy harder science fiction with a focus on world building and storytelling. Fans of Paolo Bacigalupi and Star Wars should especially take note.
"'Zion. Trees. You're talking about heaven, boy. We be heading to hell.'
'I don't know,' I said. 'Could be one's really just the same as the other.'"