Stranger is a YA sci-fi novel that features the voices of five distinct teenagers living in a post-apocalyptic town called Las Enclas. The book starts on an exciting note with Ross Suarez, one of the main characters, running away from a bounty hunter who is after a book in Suarez’s possession. The primary villain, Voske, hired the mercenary to get this special book, which is described as being quite important. Although I got echoes of the Book of Eli in these scenes, I found the chase to be quite entertaining.
Without spoiling too much, Suarez finds himself in the tight-knit, structured community of Las Enclas where like every fort trying to survive in a new harsh world has citizens with specifically assigned roles: rangers, teachers, farmers, sentries, engineers, etc. Also, some people have mutant abilities due to radiation from past nuclear wars and are called Changed. An X-Men theme surfaces where a group of people dislikes the Changed and others defend them. The Changed, however, are an integral part of the town.
Aside from Ross, we get to intimately know the four local inhabitants of this city such as Mia, the incredibly intelligent but socially awkward engineer; Yuki the cool and collected ‘prince’; Felicity, the haughty, brownnosing scribe; and Jennie, the smart and strong ranger. I think it’s important to note that all of these characters are young people of color. I can’t remember the last time I read a YA science fiction novel that featured so many distinct voices from different backgrounds. And Yuki is gay, so the book scores high on diversity overall without making a big deal about it. As a person of color myself, I found it pretty refreshing.
We jump from one POV to the next as Stranger unravels the daily on goings of Las Enclas. I found the middle to be quite weak in terms of conflict and tension. I kept waiting for something to happen, which I rightly predicted would have something to do with some big confrontation with Voske, a powerful man fond of overtaking cities and putting people’s heads on spikes as a warning to outsiders.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy learning about each character individually; usually I’m all for strong character driven stories, but conflict plays an important part as well. We don’t see much happening until the final arc of the book when war breaks out between the people of Las Enclas and Voske’s army. Stranger shines in these final scenes because you care very deeply about these characters and don’t want to see them to lose.
Overall, I enjoyed Stranger, despite the lagging middle, and look forward to reading the next book in the series. However, this novel is a stand-alone. If you’re looking for a diverse book that mixes post-apocalyptic survival with X-men themes, then this book is for you.