Dystopian Novel Explores Gruesome Teen Journey

By Nimrah Naseer ‘18

The Culling by Steven Dos Santos isn’t the usual dystopian novel you would find in the YA section of your library full of riveting romance and a well-rounded protagonist; it’s a book that almost serves as a reality check for those type of ‘dystopian’ novels.

This book is the first of a trilogy that revolves around the sixteen year old character Lucian Spark, or “Lucky.” The book is set in a futuristic world which initially gives off The Hunger Games vibe, though it quickly wears off. The dystopian environment of this book consists of a government that believes the best way to fill the authorial position of  “Imposer” is to have five handpicked recruits compete to the death. Lucky lives in the grime and scum of the city and is unfortunately chosen as a recruit. He is separated from his only younger brother, Cole, whom he has been taking care of ever since their parents’ deaths. The most distasteful part of the “culling” – the name of the military boot camp set by the government or “Establishment” that the recruits participate in – is the consequence that comes with the failure of each trial: the death of a family member. The failure to relinquish a loved one to continue the “culling” means death for both yourself and your entire family. The trials are cruel and tiresome to complete, but losing means dying. The competition is intense and the increasing efforts of rebellion make everything all the more difficult. In efforts to avoid a negative outcome, Lucky becomes determined to pass the trials, to save both himself and Cole.

The synopsis of this novel can’t help but seem similar to those of other dystopian novels: dead parents, an overbearing government, and the underdog protagonist. In spite of this, The Culling is a thrilling novel that explains the gruesome journey of a teenager, who was once considered a nobody. The parts of the culling are explained in great detail, and overall contribute to the dark tone of this book. Each trial is already unimaginable due to its unlikelihood, but thanks to Santos’s use of imagery, it’s possible! Through the stories of both Lucky and his fellow recruits, the book highlights the uncertainties that we may face in our lives, including whether to keep going or to give up.

One of the unique things about The Culling is the romance. Though a noticeable factor in most young adult novels, this book included a gay couple. The relationship slowly blossomed between Lucky and Digory, who bonded over their wish to rebel against the Establishment. If you haven’t been exposed to LGBT writing before, there is no need to be worried. This book is the perfect introduction to such relationships, as the romance is only a small aspect of this book. Overall, if you’re a fan of both dystopian novels and romance, this is a refreshing way to become a part of the other side of the romance section.

Finally, Santos has an uncanny ability to make you bond with each character. In general, a book is enjoyable when an author is able to make you become emotionally attached to both the words you are reading and the characters; Santos did exactly that. Santos was able to make the reader extremely saddened by the deaths of certain characters, which was key in making the story interesting. In general, books are interesting when people die – especially with the dark creativity of an author like Santos.

Dystopian novels are always a fun read due to the adrenaline rush that comes with the tense situations of both the protagonist and side characters. Romance is always a nice touch, in addition to the action-packed storyline already moving forward. To summarize, The Culling by Steven Dos Santos takes all of these factors to a new level by including gore, LGBT love, and memorable rhetoric to create a piece worth reading. Feel free to read the gut-wrenching series as a means of making your life more exciting in times of boredom!

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