Young Adult Book Review: ‘The Initiation’ by Chris Babu

Chris Babu signing "The Initiation," Photo: ©PATRICKMCMULLAN.COM

The Initiation takes place in post-apocalyptic Manhattan, now known as New America, 16-year-old Drayden has just lost his mother. She’s been exiled by the Bureau for allegedly conspiring against them. Author Chris Babu throws us right into this conflict, and so from the first few lines the tension begins and the stakes are high.

This story follows Drayden as he attempts to deal with the loss of his mother, and his certainty that the Bureau has made a terrible mistake by exiling her. Full of tender moments between family and friends, the daily struggles of being a 16-year-old living in a post-apocalyptic world, with a love triangle mixed in, The Initiation gets a lot done within 325 pages.

The most impressive aspect of this novel is the world building. Babu sets the rules for us from the very beginning so we are never confused once the real action begins. We learn the background of how New America was founded, and why, through Drayden’s history class, a creative and efficient way of getting information to the reader quickly. As we follow Drayden through his life we learn about how this society functions.

New America is supposed to be based on equality: everyone receives the same treatment. We soon see this policy is not implemented as Drayden goes days without power and is only given two eggs per year by the Bureau for his family of five. The story is relatable due to the growing inequality we currently face in America, and Babu does well in showing an extreme version of this through Drayden’s experiences.

"The Initiation" by Chris Babu
“The Initiation” by Chris Babu

After Drayden’s mother is exiled by the Bureau (which he believes to be a mistake) Drayden decides to enter the Initiation. The Initiation is a series of challenges that, if completed successfully, gives citizens the opportunity to upgrade their living conditions. An interesting premise that’s similar to The Hunger Games and Divergent, there’s a ton of drama as Drayden participates in these challenges.

Though the plot is sound, and the world is well developed, the stereotypical teenage angst depicted was a bit silly considering the serious subject matter. It made it difficult to empathize with Drayden as he found himself involved in ridiculous arguments with peers and thought more about which girl he liked more rather than the life or death situation he was in.

Overall, if you’re looking for a novel jam-packed with action and enjoy speculative fiction, this may be the book for you. It certainly keeps you guessing and the tension that’s built up through the different challenges makes it difficult to put the book down. It also touches on the issue of inequality, which is relevant to the current social climate.

Drayden is loveable, but often petty and vain, and quite honestly, a bit of a wimp. The true heart of the story is with the mother-son relationship between Drayden and his mother. From beginning to end, the bond they have is palpable, even though the mother isn’t in the story much after her exile.

A solid coming of age story, with just a bit too much irrelevant drama between characters, The Initiation is worth a read.

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