Are you tired of dystopian societies that categorize people by region or ability? Sick of the zombie epidemic? Still have no hope in a happy ending for society and want your fiction to reflect that? Welcome to the next wave of YA—natural apocalypses. I’m talking about Mother Nature saying “fuck this” and destroying everything in various ways, and, of course, how humans then deal with that. This new genre takes the classic man vs. nature plotline and multiplies it by a million. Bethany Wiggins’ Stung deals with the question of what would happen to society if bees went extinct.
Now there is quite a bit of data to back up this question/prompt, so much of the springboard for events in the book is hypothetical but real. Bees are responsible for pollinating about 70% of the world’s crops which in turn feed animals, people, and other plants. So without bees there would be some sort of domino effect which would have severe consequences for the world. However, there are plants that are self-pollinators, humans could do some of the work themselves, and society itself would survive somehow because there’s still water and other crops.
Wiggins seems to predict that the bees are just the precursor to a bigger disaster brought on by human nature itself. We see that the bees are in trouble and try to help so we genetically develop better, stronger bees. The issue here is that people who are stung by these GMB (Genetically Modified Bees) get sick, infect other people, and spread a flu-like disease. However, the bees were so well-created that they can’t be killed by ordinary means so the government has to drop a pesticide bomb of epic proportions which kills not only the GMBs but also plants, animals, and some humans. This leads to the setting Stung takes place in—four years in a future without bees.
Our protagonist is Fiona, or Fo, who wakes up in her childhood home that is not quite what she remembers. Everyone is missing, everything is rotted, and she is somehow not thirteen anymore. There’s also an odd tattoo on her hand with ten little marks on it that she somehow knows she has to hide no matter what. Seconds later, she’s attacked by her twin brother who is now rabid, insane, and trying to kill her. This jump starts the plot as Fo tries to figure out what kind of world she’s living in, what happened to her and the world, and how she’s going to survive when everyone wants her dead.
I think what makes the setting so strong is that it takes many of the post-apocalyptic society tropes and just melds them together in a way that makes sense. There is a heavy military aspect as the militia looks for dangerous Beasts and other threats. There is a society behind the Wall that is safe for people who are deemed useful enough to live there until they’re too old. There are Raiders who kidnap women, enslave Beasts, and wreck neighborhoods outside of the Wall. There are people who are trapped outside who live in the sewers, known as Fecs. There are fighting pits in the Wall where Beasts and Fecs fight for the entertainment of the masses. There’s a mysterious lab where Beasts go in and never come out, desperate to find a cure. And then there are the Beasts, things that were once people who are now rabid, angry, and dangerous. It takes pretty much every dystopian scenario and works them together in an almost seamless way.
Fiona makes an ideal protagonist since she doesn’t remember much about society so we learn about the world as she does. While at times her physical attributes seem overly described or paid attention to, it makes some sense in a society where there are seven men for every one woman. (It is not explained why the extinction of bees or a pesticide bomb would lead to such a severe decline in just four years). She was a musical prodigy, and even though music doesn’t play much of a part in the overall plot of the book it is an important aspect to her character. She knows how to defend herself, but is fairly useless in this new environment that she is ill-prepared to be in.
The supporting characters do a good job of filling in the setting, moving the plot forward, and helping Fiona’s character development. Arrin/Arris, a girl/boy that saves Fo’s life several times seems realistic as a Fec who survives in the sewers at any cost. Dreyden, a childhood friend of Fiona’s, is a cautious but open-minded militia member who may be a little too devoted to his job at times, but comes through in the end. Jonah, Fo’s brother, may not be mentally there for the entire book, but his physical presence and spiritual worth to his sister prove more than enough.
The characters may not be entirely well-rounded, but the plot is slick and moves forward at the speed of light. As with many YA novels of this nature, it’s a page-turner that will dazzle you while it lasts but leave you a little empty at the end. It doesn’t leave you with many questions about humanity or life itself, but it is entertaining and a good way to spend the afternoon. If you’re looking for a nature apocalypse that is mostly human in nature, a book that follows in the footsteps of Maze Runner and Divergent, or a romance that is both built up and abrupt then pick up Stung and see what the buzz is all about.