The tagline for Ann Aguirre's Enclave is "Welcome to the apocalypse," which gives you a pretty good idea of what it's about. Deuce, our protagonist, lives in an underground world where the living conditions are harsh, but they help keep everyone alive. When the citizens of this world are children, they're called by numbers. They're not given a name until they reach the age of maturity (fifteen) and are finally able to contribute to society by becoming either a Breeder, a Builder, or a Hunter.
On Deuce's fifteenth birthday, she's given her name and initiated as a Huntress, something she's been training for all her life. As a Huntress, it's her responsibility to not only bring back food, but also protect her community from the Freaks (think zombies) that lurk in the tunnels. Every hunter has a hunting partner, and Deuce's is Fade, the enigmatic boy (there's your love story) who showed up underground a few years ago and was adopted by the community. Fade has some strange ideas, coming from aboveground, ideas that may get him and Deuce in trouble - such as that the elders may not always be right, and the restrictive rules that they live by might just get them all killed.
Things aren't going so well for the underground world lately - the Freaks have taken out another community a few days away from Deuce's, and they're encroaching upon hers. The elders refuse to listen. Events eventually conspire to force Deuce and Fade aboveground, a fate worse than death. While the community underground is far from a utopia, aboveground is worse. Deuce does not expect to survive, but she's got Fade with her, who lived for years there before. By working together and trying to avoid the bands of savage humans that now populate the earth, they might just survive.
Enclave has a lot going for it. The world-building is excellent, something I really appreciate considering this aspect is so lacking in so many other books of the same genre. Aguirre's really got the ability to transfer us to her post-apocalyptic world and make us shiver. Deuce's underground world - both its setting and its culture - is particularly well done and is unique enough to stand out from the crowd of other post-apocalyptic settings.
Aguirre has also given us some wonderfully gray characters. She answers the question of "What would you do to survive in a world like this?" with her characters and doesn't pull any punches. At least one of the characters has done some pretty awful things, but Aguirre still manages to force some sympathy for said character on the part of the reader. Deuce is a terrific protagonist, strong but also doubting herself and in a situation that's more than a little over her head. She's kick-ass (how I like my heroines best) but also has believable weaknesses.
With so much going for the book, I'm sad to say that I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to. This dissatisfaction can be traced directly to the plot. While there is some promise when Deuce is still underground, that fades when she emerges into the wide world above. From then on, the plot is typical of any other post-apocalyptic novel: a plucky band of survivors try to to find the perhaps-mythical land where things don't suck. It's a road trip where nothing out of the ordinary happens (and by nothing out of the ordinary, I mean out of the ordinary for this genre - people trying to kill you isn't exactly ordinary for most people). I can't say a whole lot more without spoiling things, but trust me when I tell you that if I did choose to spoil it for you and you've read one or two other post-apocalyptic novels, you wouldn't be spoiled in the slightest.
You should not be surprised to hear this is the first book in a series. Unfortunately, it reads like even less than that - it's more like Part One of the first book in a series. No major revelation about the post-apocalyptic world is reached, no major character growth occurs, and the climax is so artificial and out of place I wonder if it was inserted after the book had been written. It wouldn't surprise me at all to discover that Aguirre intended her book to be a standalone and was convinced otherwise by an editor or publisher, forcing her to go back and make major edits, extending a story that was really fit for just one book into two or more books. After all, this book was originally titled Razorland. Now it's called Enclave: Razorland #1. Hmmmm.
It may sound like I'm bashing every YA dystopia and post-apocalyptic book to come along lately, but that's not really the case. When a genre has exploded as much as this one has lately, there are bound to be more duds than usual. Most of them normally still have something to recommend them, like Enclave does. I wouldn't not recommend this one, but I could probably more wholeheartedly recommend it after the second (and third?) book is out so they could be read back to back. Otherwise, it's an all too unsatisfying and incomplete read.
Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion. Enclave will be on shelves April 12.