Today I am reviewing Emily McKay’s The Farm. I read this book when it first came out in 2012 and I remember really enjoying it. I had even bought the second novel to read but in the year it took for the second book to be published, I had forgotten the details of the plot. I’m one of those people who loves to re-read books, but often don’t because I remember too much of the plot to properly enjoy them, but not enough to go on to the next in the series in case it left me ignorant of important plot points. Silly, I know. Anyway it has been 4 years and it is safe to say that I didn’t remember any of the plot beyond the basic premise. It definitely felt like picking up a book I had never read before.
The Farm follows identical twins Lily and Mel as they fight for survival after the ‘apocalypse’. The undead, Ticks, have desolated North America, resulting in the surviving teenagers being rounded up and held in camps called Farms. Farms use the teenagers’ blood to satisfy the Ticks due to the natural hormones that teenagers have being highly attractive. Inside the fences of the farms the teenagers are inevitably distrusting of each other and many have willingly turned on each other to save themselves. Lily has noticed that once you reach the age of eighteen, you are no longer the preferred food of the Ticks and so you are no longer needed. With the farms not known for their humane feeding techniques, Lily is determined to save Mel before it is too late. In order to save her sister and herself from their fate, she launches a plan to escape the farm. Emily McKay uses many tropes of horror, YA fiction and vampire lore in this novel, yet the overall novel felt very original. I don’t normally like books that have multiple narrators because of the disconnect it can sometimes cause but it did not bother me too much in this novel. It took a little bit of getting used to the switch between third and first person depending on which character was narrating, but it didn’t detract from the story. It was especially helpful to see Mel’s perspective as her place on the autistic spectrum prevents many of her thoughts being externalised.
The idea of the farms plays on a number of teenage anxieties. The betrayal of the adults, anger of the situation and fear of the zombie-like creatures outside the fences make for the perfect setting for a post-apocalyptic prison where teenagers are literally used as fodder. I especially liked the irony that places typically used as somewhere to grow, be educated and nourished became the end of the line. The Dean fulfilled his role as an authoritarian leader running a death camp rather than a protector of young people (or maybe college actually churns students out like cattle into the big bad world). One element of the farm that was interesting and I enjoyed was the conflict between the “Greens” and the “Collabs”. McKay frequently explored the ideas surrounding acceptable ways to ensure your own survival when they could put others at risk. These ideas are furthered with McKenna and Joe, Mel and Lily and also Carter and Sebastian. Although YA lit can sometimes be didactic AF, McKay managed to stay away from this by focusing more on the events of the novel rather than Lily’s epiphanies.
Lily was a very relatable character. Her flaws and her weaknesses were not frustrating to read about and only added to her development. Normally, I might find her blind bravery (or stupidity?) annoying but McKay never pushed these elements of her character too far and into the ridiculous like some authors do. It was very easy to understand her perspective. I understand why I really enjoyed the novel four years ago, and why I still enjoy it now.
Carter was the stereotypical bad boy transformed into the dystopian knight in shining armour. Although his need to keep secrets and lies was slightly annoying, I still liked his character. He did come across as a bit of a know-it-all and a tad patronising at times, but then he was also right, so what you gonna do? The development of his and Lily’s relationship was well paced and not too rushed, which I appreciated. There is definitely a lot more to explore with their dynamic and I look forward to reading about it. I really hope it doesn’t become too clichéd like in some YA fiction. Carter reminds me a lot of the leads from male authored fiction such as The Maze Runner series by James Dashner or the Gone series by Michael Grant. After a while, their hero complexes really start to grate on my nerves.
At first, I didn’t like Joe and McKenna, but by the end of the novel they were two of my highlights of the book. I may or may not have shed tears as the book progressed. I really liked the fact that Lily and McKenna were able to salvage a good friendship and loyalty out of a hard history. The bitchy relationship that girls are often portrayed as having is turned into something really sweet. Everyone in the novel, even the unlikely characters, got a chance at being heroes, adding to my love of the book.
I think McKay’s decision to include Mel as an autistic character is extremely interesting. At first, her character seemed more like an accessory to Lily’s, the main protagonist, but throughout the novel, her obvious absence from a lot of the action became a presence. Also, as the book progressed, her presence was utilised more and she became her own person in the readers’ eyes, other than a reason for Lily to fight so hard. Her perspective was partilcilarly intriguing as she didn’t narrate events in the traditional sense. However, McKay managed to make Mel’s description of things fascinating and revealing in a way Lily’s could never be. Mel and Lily’s relationship was very inspiring and sweet. At first, McKay let you believe that Lily was the protector of the pair and that Mel was a dead weight. However, through the events of the novel, the relationship becomes equal and reveals the true extent of the sisters’ dedication to each other. Even though I had read the book before, I didn’t remember the ending. I can’t wait to see how the events of the book play out in the rest of the series.
The ending of the novel did not disappoint! It left me very interested in how the McKay will eventually conclude the series. There are a couple of directions I can see the story going in, but the ending really did leave the reader unsure as to which one McKay might explore. I’m glad I have the next book ready to go.
Until next time,