Sheehan, A. (2011). A Long, Long Sleep. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
Much like Beth Revis’s 2011 Across the Universe, this dystopian novel by first-time YA author Anna Sheehan features a protagonist who has been kept for years in suspended animation or, in the terms of A Long, Long Sleep, stasis or “stass.” When sixteen-year-old Rosalinda “Rose” Fitzroy emerges from stasis, she discovers she has been asleep for over sixty years. In her “absence,” the world has suffered what its inter-planetary citizens call the Dark Times, a period of disease and famine during which much of the population was killed and the survivors were left barren. Following a period of Reconstruction, the world has been populated by its first generation of those who recovered; however, Rose’s parents and her first and only love are either dead or presumed dead. Rose’s father’s “monopolic” corporation, UniCorp, would seem to be the society’s most triumphant survivor and, as her parents’ sole heir, the newly awakened Rose discovers that she is now the head of the company. Assigned guardians by the company’s executives, Rose attempts to re-integrate into a society that has changed dramatically since she left; she soon discovers, however, that a robotic assassin known as a Plastine has been assigned to find and terminate her.
While Rose’s attempts to make sense of the new world and the new threat of the Plastine provide the novel with suspense and action, it is her growing awareness of her mistreatment by her parents–who would put her into “stass” at their convenience–and her deepening relationship with an alien raised by the government that provide the novel with its emotional center. Moving backwards and forwards in time as Rose recalls her first love, a boy named Xavier who, due to the preservative nature of her bouts in stasis she was able to know throughout his childhood, the novel pieces together Rose’s backstory and compares it to the controlled and sometimes abusive childhood suffered by her new alien friend.
I wanted to like this novel more than I did and, while I did find Rose’s slowly raised consciousness about her own deprived past to be the richest content in the novel, I found the discussion of the ethics of stasis to be a bit overdone and, comparably, the ethics of the new world to be mostly uninterrogated. As a work of dystopian fiction that points strong fingers at genetically modified food (the source of the world’s scourge of barrenness) and dwells on the possibility of true freedom for those under supposedly benevolent watch (Rose, the alien), I expected more obvious social commentary. It’s not that there weren’t opportunities for this: Rose and at least one of her (human) friends made a number of offhand comments about the power wielded by Rose’s father’s company and Rose, herself, observed the stark difference between the wealthy “1%” (of which she is a part) and the rest of the world when she had an opportunity to ride public transportation; however, I expected more from the novel as an artifact of genre. That said, this book will fit neatly between the aforementioned Revis novel (the sequel, A Million Suns, was published in January of this year) as well as Ally Condie’s “Matched” books. Like these novels, A Long, Long Sleep offers some light but carefully delineated critique and (heiress status notwithstanding) an Everygirl heroine.