Everything changes when Banyan meets a mysterious woman with a strange tattoo--a map to 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 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.
As happens from time to time, I've read a book that is wonderful, but that does not work perfectly for the kind of reader that I am. Rootless by Chris Howard is a true dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel set in a nightmare landscape. The writing is beautiful and the characters are unique. I definitely like Rootless and I'm very impressed by Howard's debut, but I'm too easily confused by science for it to be the perfect book for me.
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.
What Left Me Wanting More:
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.
What Left Me Squeeing:
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!
The Final Verdict:
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.
Just about everything. Howard emerges as a compelling new voice in the dystopian genre with his debut ROOTLESS. I hardly know where to start praising this book. The world building is incredible. I was immediately sucked into this post-apocalyptic world in which society has rebuilt itself in a world with no trees and no crop except genetically-altered corn. I loved that I could FEEL the dust and the desperation. I also loved that every corner of this world feels fully realized. From the poachers who try to steal the corn, to the pirates who trade humans to slavers, to the huge divide between the rich and the poor, Howard did a masterful job of fleshing out this book so that every piece of it comes to life.
I also loved the characters, especially Banyan, the narrator. I really appreciated that we were given a diverse cast of characters, and that each felt so distinct. I liked having characters I couldn't trust, and the shifting alliances within the novel kept me on my toes. One alliance that never shifted, however, was my absolute adoration of the narrator. Banyan has a voice that is different from any other voice I've read. Perceptive, intelligent, under-educated, street-savvy, and deeply principled in a quiet, fierce way that in the end, affects not only those who've chosen to travel with him, but the entire world. He's the quiet one no one sees coming. The hero who rises to the occasion because it's the right thing to do and no one else is there to do it. I loved that the entire narrative has such a distinctive cadence, and I think other readers--both boys and girls--will love it, too.
What Left Me Wanting More:
There really isn't much to pick apart in ROOTLESS. My only wish would be for a bit more scene blocking descriptions during action scenes because a few times I lost my bearings just a bit. But none of that interfered with my wholehearted enjoyment of this incredible book.
ROOTLESS is a compelling story that dares the reader to examine whether the ends ever justify the means, whether experimenting with our food supply and our global environment is progress to be proud of, and what it truly means to cling to our humanity in a world where humans are all but lost. I highly recommend the book and can't wait for the next installment.
It sounded like my kind of crazy.
I normally leave the reviewing up to the other YABC staff reviewers, since I'm usually too busy managing YABC from behind the scenes, but after a few pages of ROOTLESS, I wasn't about to let this one out of my hands.
Howard plunges the reader into Banyan's world from page one - no lengthy backstory, no council meetings catching us up to speed. Banyan's story moves at a rapid pace, and I was sucked in immediately. Turn after turn, twist after twist, we follow Banyan on a psychedelic journey across an American landscape we hardly recognize. Without trees to clean the air, people find it hard to breathe and some suffer from damaged lungs. Without roots to hold the soil in place, the coasts have eroded away into surging seas. And did I mention there were man-eating locusts plaguing the GMO cornfields of what was once the Midwest?
ROOTLESS is one intoxicating, crazy thrill ride. Although I did see a few minor twists coming regarding characters, I never knew where Banyan's journey would lead him next. Howard has created a trippy, freak show of a world, and I mean that in the best possible way. After the ending (which I never once saw coming), I couldn't stop talking about Banyan's story for days. ROOTLESS is a book that sinks its hooks into your brain and won't let go. It demands to be read.
For those who like a bit of romance in your YA, ROOTLESS has a satisfying amount, although it's not the main focus of the story. Banyan and Alpha share a uniquely respectful relationship that I haven't found too often in YA books. Banyan is a unique character as well -- he has a deep respect for all women and regards them as equals in every way. As a woman, I really appreciated this addition of Howard's. We need more YA boys like Banyan!
This book is rated for ages 14 and up. There's a little bit of everything: drugs, sex, and rock and roll. But it's a great combination for most teens (and adults!).
“Rootless” follows Banyan, a 17 year-old boy who builds trees from scrap metal. After trees have been decimated by a ravenous species of locusts, scrap metal trees are all that people can hope for in terms of nature. When Banyan sees a picture of his father chained to a real tree, he knows that someone is hiding the location of actual nature from the people of Earth. “Rootless” is Banyan’s journey as he tries to find his dad and the real forests that he knows in his heart exist.
The beauty of “Rootless” is that the main character is not the trees. Things like “FernGully” and “The Lorax” are all about the trees, the trees, but let’s be honest, it’s hard to connect with a tree as a character. While I appreciate their beauty and what they offer to our planet, I ain’t about to root for an emotionless tree to beat the bad guy. I am, however, able to connect to a protagonist who laments never being able to experience firsthand the wonders nature can provide. I am able to connect with a kid who feels he’s been cheated from what his planet was meant to offer. “Rootless” makes the people the focus of the environmental message and what they are losing with an environment that has been decimated. Again, please don’t think I am lacking in an emotional connection to nature, it’s just that it’s so much more intriguing when I get to follow a person rather than a plant. Big thanks to Chris Howard for giving the environmental genre what it has been seriously lacking.
Beautiful forests that are completely made of metal.
A take on a futuristic world that doesn't seem tired.