Goodreads: The Waning Age
Published: February 2019
Natalia Peña lives in present-day California, where children begin to lose their emotions, or “wane,” around the age of ten. Natalia waned years ago, but her younger brother Cal shows no sign of waning himself. When a pharmaceutical corporation kidnaps Cal for testing, Natalia begins preparations to save him. But, if she has no emotions, why is Natalia willing to do anything to get her brother back?
The Waning Age sounds like yet another dystopian novel, based on the summary. Natalia Peña is living in a world void of emotions and a large corporation has kidnapped her brother for their own nefarious purposes. However, it becomes clear fairly quickly that S. E. Grove is not writing a dystopian novel, but a character-driven drama. How waning started remains largely speculative and Natalia thus has no need to turn rebel and take down the system that oppresses the people. No, Natalia is concerned only with her brother. She loves him, even if she is not supposed to be able to.
The focus on family makes The Waning Age feel more reflective than the average book about emotionless societies. Even though the plot is full of action (and Natalia is pretty good at martial arts), Natalia’s love drives the story, not her fists. The plans Natalia makes to rescue her brother seem largely straight-forward and much of the action comes, not from unexpected twists, but from the enemies she makes. This leaves room for Grove to develop the history and theory of waning, and to explore various characters’ opinions on the phenomenon and their reaction to it. Natalia’s reaction in particular is very poignant. She knows her brother wants–even needs–her to respond emotionally to him, but she struggles to figure out how to do that for him.
The main weakness in the book may be the seemingly superficial theory proposed for the phenomenon of waning. (Spoilers ahead.) Though no one knows for certain why waning occurs, the leading theory seems to center around the idea that people lost empathy. Specifically, they lost empathy because they focused too much on their phones. While I agree that relationships do suffer when people are not fully present, it seems a little too easy to blame phones alone for people’s ability to disconnect. I would have like to see this idea explored more fully, not given as an almost off-hand explanation.
The Waning Age is a beautiful story about family and the love between siblings. The book’s focus on the character relationships sets this book apart from the standard YA fare. Some may be disappointed that the story does not contain more explosions or bizarre plot twists, the kind of high-stakes drama that has almost become its own trope. But the story’s avoidance of trendy writing makes me suspect this a book that could last.