Stung by Bethany Wiggins
Genre: YA Dystopian/Science Fiction
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Release date: April 2 2013
Source: e-ARC from publisher (NetGalley)
In a word: non-stop action, a deeply buried mystery, a dangerous world, gorgeously written.
The storyline of Stung feels somewhat familiar: in a future dystopian society, a teen (in this case a girl) is on the run from a group of deranged outsiders that are trying to kill her, meets a love interest who helps her survive, as they try to battle their way back to the good guys who live behind a wall of some sort that keeps the bad guys out. Even though you may think this is a rehash of other dystopians, it’s not. Stung has a gritty danger to it that kept my heart racing, and not a moment went by that I wasn’t worrying about the safety of the characters. A very interesting concept kept this story fresh for me, and it was an entirely plausible—and chilling—idea that could possible happen in the future.
Fiona (who is also referred to as “Fo,” strangely enough) wakes up in her bed one day, but something isn’t right. The room is trashed and looks like it hasn’t been lived in for years; her parents and siblings are gone; and worst of all, when she looks in the mirror, she no longer sees the thirteen-year-old she was when she fell asleep. She also has an odd, spider-like tattoo on one wrist. But she doesn’t have long to ponder her puzzling situation, because someone else is in the house, and he’s coming to get her…
The life Fiona thought she had is over, and this new life is full of confusion and danger. As she stumbles from her house into the terrifying world outside, running from a crazed creature that she knows is her brother, Fiona must adapt quickly or die. The mystery of how she ended up in this place is slowly revealed, as she starts to remember what happened to her in flashbacks. The pace of Stung is non-stop, with barely any breaks to catch your breath. Fiona is hurtled from one deadly situation to the next as she tries to understand what’s happening, and the reader is right there with her, since we don’t know either.
Wiggins’ writing is beautifully evocative, and she made this harsh futuristic world come alive for me. In a place where most of the plants and animals have died off, the author gives us glimpses of beauty to offset the ugliness:
Above my stomach hovers a tiny bird, inspecting the crimson stain on my shirt. Its wings drone like a motor and I am filled with awe. This fragile hummingbird is the first living, wild animal I have seen since waking up in this dead world. Its bright green chest and red-capped head are startlingly out-of-place.
“Where’d it come from?” I whisper, unable to take my eyes from it.
“The wall. There are hundreds of hummingbirds living inside of it. Every once in a while one gets out. It thinks your blood is a flower. It’s probably on the verge of starving to death.”
Soon after Fiona hits the streets outside her house, she meets a boy named Bowen who turns out to be a childhood friend from the neighborhood. But Bowen is older now (and apparently hot!) and she barely recognizes him. He’s also the person who has been charged with escorting her back to the lab inside the wall, an ominous place that she will most likely not survive. Bowen is terrified of Fiona because of her tattoo, which indicates she is a Level 10 and is about to transform into a deadly beast. But after only a short time, he changes his mind about her, and before you can say “insta-love,” the two are exchanging kisses and willing to die for each other. But despite his quick-change opinion of Fiona, I did like Bowen’s character, because he is conflicted in the best way: he’s attracted to Fiona and feels compelled to help her, but at the same time he believes she will become a beast and attack him. Even after he’s (very quickly) fallen in love with her, you can see that he’s still not completely sure she won’t snap.
Wiggins gives us plenty of characters to hate (in a good way!) as well. One despicable child named Arrin saves Fiona from an angry mob, but turns out to be a conniving and untrustworthy ally. And there are plenty of evil factions roaming the streets, and all of them seem to be after Fiona. There are the militia, who patrol the wall and capture “Fecs” to take back to the lab; the Fecs, who live in the sewers and try to survive outside the wall; the raiders, who are slavers and rapists and keep beasts as pets, and the black market, dubious types who buy Fecs and beasts to fight in the pit, a gladiator-like fighting arena. I really wanted to know more about the raiders, for some reason. The fact that they capture beasts and drink their blood was such a great idea, but we only get brief scenes with them.
A couple of things didn’t work for me, but overall they are small complaints. The scientific explanation of what’s happened (which involves bees, by the way), while fascinating, is finally explained about half way through the book, but it’s a rather complicated explanation that brings the action to a screeching halt. There is also a horrifying scene where Fiona accidentally shoots Bowen in the stomach, but it didn’t seem to be necessary and I felt like it was only thrown in for shock value.
But the beautiful moments Wiggins adds to her narrative outshine the negative elements: the vivid image of Bowen showing Fiona how to pollinate the flowers with a paint brush; the longing Fiona feels when she finds an abandoned grand piano; and several poignant reunions near the end that bring the story full circle. A brief epilogue at the end could suggest a sequel, and I’m hoping this is true. As dangerous as the world of Stung is, I’d happily revisit it to read more from this talented writer.
Many thanks to the publisher for a review copy. You can purchase Stung here.