The Farm, Emily McKay, © 2012, Berkley Books
Conflict is a good thing in a novel, but The Farm is an example of too much of a good thing. It starts out with a cool dystopian setting, teenagers held captive to give blood to feed vampires who have taken over the U.S.
Lily is one such captive who yearns to free herself and her autistic sister, Mel, from their particular blood farm. Lily loves Mel and wants to protect her, but also feels burdened by her (conflict # 1). Suddenly, Lily’s old high school crush, Carter, appears at the farm and shows a romantic interest in her, but might not be as friendly as he seems (conflict # 2).
There are all sorts of conflicting evil forces—two different types of traditional vampires who don’t get along, a third modern type of vampire with which neither type of traditional vampire gets along, and humans who imprison and bleed teenagers for the various types of vampires, yet who still don’t get along with the vampires (conflicts # 3, 4, and 5).
Lily perhaps has a superpower that will perhaps rescue humanity from all of this dystopia, although she doesn’t want the power (conflict # 6). So, Lily, Mel, Carter, and, among others, a girl Lily doesn’t like (conflict # 7) escape the farm together, bound for vampire-free Canada. Evil forces follow them, of course (conflict # 8), either hoping to kill Lily or kidnap her for her powers, depending on the evil force.
All these conflicts made for a terrific read for about 100 pages. Unfortunately, by page 300, each conflict was still going strong, and I needed the story to boil down. It didn’t happen till page 400 (of 417) when some of the conflicts resolved in hasty “telling” fashion. By then I had grown tired of the unchanging relationships and wasn’t caring much for the characters involved in them. The conflict about which evil force (if any of them) was the true enemy and whether/how Lily could defeat them was never resolved, and this was a major problem with The Farm.
The most compelling conflict was between Carter and Lily—whether he really loved her or was only interested in her power. McKay would have been better off focusing on this storyline from beginning to end and letting other conflicts flare up and die more quickly along the way. The autistic sister part should have been left out completely.
The first 300 pages were shelf-worthy, but the last hundred-odd need to be recycled, or better yet, rewritten. It’s a close call, but this one, as a whole, has to go in the bin.