Sixteen-year-old Laura, the journal keeping main character in The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, is a member of a punk band. She has an appalling older sister, and her parents are falling apart. Sounds pretty generic YA, doesn't it? What makes this book riveting is its setting and its main character.
Are Good Environmental Books All About Setting?
The 2015 Britain of The Carbon Diaries is one suffering from energy shortages and horrific climate problems, as is the rest of the world. Britain, however, is the first country to start carbon rationing. The book is Laura's account of her family and neighbors dealing with limited access to energy while suffering through an extreme winter, a drought, and torrential rain. Her older sister is appalling because she is bitter and angry about her gap year in America being cancelled. Her parents are falling apart because they're having trouble coping with the social change they're being hammered with. Dad, for instance, is the head of a travel and tourism school. With carbon restrictions, people can't travel. That pretty much puts an end to the tourist industry in Britain, and he loses his job.
The book isn't a cautionary tale, in my humble opinion. It's much more of a thriller. What's going to happen next and how will the characters survive it? Though Laura comments on the selfishness of others a couple of times and wants very much for the rest of the world to get on board with carbon rationing, this is not a "Let's save the planet!" story. There is no instructive message.
I'm sure many reviewers probably write about The Carbon Diaries' environmental themes. I always have trouble determining what an environmental theme would be. I've seen some writers calls The Carbon Diaries' theme "climate change." That seems more like a subject to me. I would say the theme of The Carbon Diaries involves a teenager struggling to find her place as an older person in her family and her place in society, one that is dramatically changing. Those are traditional YA themes, not environmental ones. It's the environmental setting that makes those traditional YA themes interesting and makes this book environmental.
Isn't climate fiction, fiction dealing with climate change, all about setting?
A Good Character Always Does Wonders For A Book
Laura is like an edgier, smarter Georgia Nicholson. The format of the book is even similar to the Georgia Nicholson books. It's a journal, of course, and there are several pages at the end translating British terms for American readers, which you find in Georgia's books. This is not a complaint. I like Georgia. I like Laura.
A Good Book Doesn't Have To Teach You Anything
Though The Carbon Diaries doesn't insist that readers do anything, the characters' struggle was so intense that it has an impact. I hadn't read much before I started obsessing about whether or not I'd turned the heat down at night. I freaked out a bit over that power outage in Washington earlier this week. And, yikes! They're rationing water in California!!
Very few people like to be preached at or taught. If a piece of fiction is well done, it creates a response in readers without doing either of those things.