Book Review: Cruel Reality

Cruel Reality
Author: C.J. Whitley
Published by: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Publication Date: 25 April 2016
Page Count: 584
Buy it at Barnes and Noble and Amazon
Source: e-book provided by author
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary

Cruel Reality is a mix of the reality TV show, Survivor, and stories like Hunger Games, Battle Royale, and The Maze Runner.  I'm sure there are others, but those are what comes to mind. It pits unknowing 'contestants' against each other in a bid for survival, and you never know who is safe. it's a suspenseful book that had me on the edge of my seat.

Mike wakes up in a ship's cargo hold along hundreds of other people from all over Britain. There are whole families as well as single adults, they don't know each other, and soon realize they've all been kidnapped and can't understand why. After being moved to a tropical forest, they are informed that they are a part of an experiment. They must learn to survive, and will be provided food and some supplies, as long as they follow the rules. The rules are simple. There are two other camps in the same forest, a German camp and a French camp. If they want to survive, they must kill opponents from the other camps. Mike becomes their unwitting leader and he strives everyday to do all he can to help his people survive. The camp members quickly become a close knit group, each taking on roles of the 'community,' living through the horrors of knowing they have to kill other innocent people just to live. Relationships form, and Mike finds himself falling in love with a girl from the camp. They struggle daily to survive and to keep their hopes up that one day they will be rescued, but will it be too late?

There is so much more I could say about the plot of this book, so much is involved, and it's easy to see that the author thoroughly researched and thought through all the complications and inner workings of such a harsh way of life.  I've never read a book quite like this one, as I said it has some familiarities to other stories, but the way they are entwined and adapted are unique to this particular story.

This was a very enjoyable read, but it didn't start off that way for me. I had misgivings at first. The story was written from two points of view: Mike, and Kay the girl he falls in love with, but it felt very sexist in the beginning. Kay's part was nothing buy musings over Mike and her growing infatuation with him, where his part barely even mentioned her in passing. It felt as if the author sees girls of only thinking about boys, even in extremely dire situations, and guys only think about fighting.  However, as the book moved on and a relationship formed between the two, their thoughts of each other evened out, and it actually showed Mike caring very deeply for Kay.

Because of this, I found myself not really liking the two main characters. Kay came off as a weak boy-crazy girl, and Mike came off as somewhat of a chauvinist and sexist because he didn't think women could fight as well as the men. He didn't think less of women, he just had it deeply ingrained that you don't hit women, don't put them in danger, protect them at all costs. As the story progressed though, his attitude changed, and his focus became more on Kay and the family he inherited.

It was also intriguing to watch the characters change and develop, most hardening to the life they were thrown into. People who were office workers, sales clerks, had cushy jobs, became killers, numb to the idea of death, seeing so much of it, and burying so many of their own. You also had the dynamics of the camp as well, not just people developing sword, knife, bow, and axe skills, but cooking and woodworking skills, nursing skills, learning to cook on an open fire. Many in the camp grew strong in these skills, other resenting the whole thing and never doing much of anything to help out. As I said before, the author, Whitley, did a lot of research and forethought to what life would be like in this new world.

There were short chapters told from a couple other points of view, one from the creator of the experiment, and some from a reporter following the disappearances of so many British (and French and German) citizens in one night. I liked glimpsing these outside views of what was going on.

The story had a few plot twists and surprises that kept the reader going, gasping or crying, never knowing what to expect.  There was enough suspense to keep you guessing, and that is something I truly enjoy when reading a good story.  I like being surprised and not knowing, I don't like knowing and being able to guess quite early on what will happen. If an author can surprise me and keep me guessing, I give them major bonus points, as C.J. Whitley did.

One Last Thought: There were quite a few grammatical errors, but nothing an extra edit can't fix. Also, in the beginning the dialog felt quite stilted, but it seemed to mellow out as the book progressed. I'm not sure if that was the intention of the author, or he just got more comfortable in his writings.

Favorite Thing About the Book: I just loved the well-thought out dynamics of the whole camp situation. The author was very thorough in his layout and thought process. There are things I wouldn't have even considered about life away from the modern world.

First Sentence: Mike's eyes opened slowly as he woke to a deafening roar.

Favorite Character: Kay, as she becomes stronger and more defined

Least Favorite Character: Rick

Taken by masked men in the night, a host of British people find themselves at the mercy of unknown abductors. They cannot guess where they are going, or why they are going there. When they find an arsenal of medieval weapons in their new prison, horrific possibilities are imagined. When the cruel reality of their fate is revealed to them, they must learn a new way of life.

Fight or die. There is nowhere to run.