Raven concludes her review of Truancy by Isamu Fukui.
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Now that I've finished Truancy, I have to say I hesitate to recommend it 100%. I still love the setting, this dystopian society centered around an oppressive school system (what can I say, I hated school). I was impressed with the characterization (with one exception), and I particularly liked the characters of Umasi, a pacifist who refuses to side with either the Truants or the Educators, and Zyid, leader of the student rebellion known as the Truancy. I thought they were masterfully portrayed as individuals with deeply-held beliefs, and their relationship with one another was also very well done. I liked that Isamu Fukui didn't hold back with these characters but put them in situations where their beliefs would be tested.
The story remained simple, but as I mentioned before, there were many facets to each side in the overall struggle between Truants and Educators. Neither side was portrayed as all bad or all good, although the Truants were clearly better than the Educators. But on both sides everyone had his or her own agenda, which sometimes clashed with the larger agenda. Fukui switches point of view a lot, taking readers into the heads of people on both sides (and into Umasi's head as well), so we get a rounded picture of all the action and what everyone is doing. The political and personal aspects of the story were nicely intertwined.
For most of the time I was reading the book, I was prepared to give it a solid recommendation. Granted, there were a few weak spots here and there. Fukui's narrative style includes a lot of varied dialogue tags (observed, agreed, declared) and a lot of adverbs. What I found was that during the tense moments these didn't bother me because I was so focused on the story, but during scenes with less conflict they tended to stand out and sound awkward. And certain scenes involving Tack (the main character) and his sister came across as overly peaceful and conflict-free (I don't want to say boring, because they weren't, but they were a little too rosy). However, I eventually realized what these scenes had been setting up, so I was prepared to forgive Fukui for including them.
Another thing I was prepared to forgive was the somewhat flat main character. Tack has great motivations for everything he does, and he's a good person who wants to do what's right even if he sometimes fails to do so, but ultimately he didn't quite click as a character. He was less interesting than Umasi, Zyid, or even the Mayor of the City.
But even this wouldn't have stopped me from giving Truancy a wholehearted recommendation. What changed my mind was the ending, which I found dissatisfying. Although Tack's plotline was resolved, Fukui left dangling several fascinating mysteries about Umasi and Zyid. Considering these characters' central role in the story and the way information about them had been steadily doled out as the story progressed, I felt Fukui had created an expectation that these mysteries would be resolved by the end. When they weren't, I felt cheated, especially because they had been a large part of what kept me turning the pages. It's also difficult to fully understand the story's world and these characters' motivations without knowing their complete history. A prequel called Truancy Origins will be coming out and should answer these questions, but I couldn't see any reason for Fukui not to resolve them in this book (incidentally, Fukui also has a third book planned; this information is on the Truancy website at www.thetruancy.com).
Besides this, the pacing in the last two chapters seemed to be off, and the focus shifted from the political story to one specific personal story instead of keeping them intertwined and balanced as Fukui had successfully done until then. Twenty-five pages were devoted to resolving one key relationship, and although it was an important one, I felt the other aspects of the story suffered as a result. The tone also changed, becoming more sentimental. Finally, Fukui seemed to be straining to make the point that violence isn't the answer. That conclusion didn't feel completely organic to the plot.
My ultimate verdict? I really enjoyed this book up until the last two chapters. I'll be reading Truancy Origins when it comes out. But I still have reservations about Truancy based on the ending. You've been warned.