Want wasn’t originally on my to-read list, but I was browsing books at the library and the Asian male face on the cover caught my eye because it’s so rare to see POC in the young adult genre. I’ve read Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix and while it didn’t blow me away, I love that she’s introducing something new and different to the YA genre in the form of Chinese culture (in that particular instance.) With Want, she moves away from fantasy and into a more sci-fi territory.
Want is set in near-future Taipei where the air quality has gotten so bad that the rich, the you (literally those “who have”), have purchased special suits in order to venture outdoors. Meanwhile, the mei, the common folks who can’t afford suits, are plagued with short lifespans and succumb young to various diseases because of the toll that the environment has taken on their health. Jason Zhou was orphaned at 13 when his mother passed away from pneumonia, lacking the money and good health in order to fight the disease off. Now, he and his friends have made it their mission to take down Jin Corporation, the manufacturer of the suits, in order to open the eyes of the legislators and rich to the plight of the environment, because that’s the only way change can be made.
What I love about the world of Want is that while there is a certain futuristic quality to it, with the suits and whatnot, the danger of such a toxic environment is a very real and imminent threat to everyone on Earth. The novel is set in Taipei, but as of right now, the air quality there isn’t even as bad as it is in other cities like Beijing, which makes the world of this novel so much more impactful because if Taipei is that bad, then what does Beijing look like?
Unfortunately, when it comes to the actual plot and writing itself, Want is very average for me. It feels very over-familiar and done-before, and despite the novelty of having a POC cast and non-Western setting, the actual characters and plot itself feel a lot like every other similar vaguely-sci-fi, heist-centered young adult novel I’ve read. I got some toned-down Red Rising vibes mixed in with your choice of teenage heist novel (Heist Society, perhaps? or Six of Crows?) But in writing and storytelling Want fails to distinguish itself.
It took me several chapters to get into the story and characters, and even then there would be stretches where I just was not interested in the writing or story. The writing is very visual and movie-like, but too much visual description bores me when there isn’t enough other content to give the story and writing substance. A lot of parts of the story are glossed over very superficially (things happen as if by magic) and I would’ve liked to see more nuance or complexity.
Despite my personal inability to get into the novel, I do appreciate that we’re getting more non-white characters (and writers) in the young adult pool and I like that Pon hit some very relevant (and buzzword) topics such as the environment, privacy, and income inequality. I’ll be looking out for the sequel because I want to support and encourage racially diverse YA novels as a reader, and there are a couple of loose ends that still need tying up. Also, I’m pretty convinced that even though Jason treated his connection to the rich Lee family of California very casually, there is sure to be much more to this family relationship than a photograph that he disregards with a one-sentence thought.