How Reality TV Shaped Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s Dystopian YA Novel

How Reality TV Shaped Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s Dystopian YA Novel

While it took us by surprise to learn that reality TV stars Kendall and Kylie Jenner were writing a book, it shouldn’t have. After all, we’ve just come off a weekend at BEA where such celebrity authors included Billy Idol, Jason Segel, and Lena Dunham. But what would compel Kendall and Kylie to write Rebels: City of Indra: The Story of Lex and Livia, a dystopian young adult novel? That answer also comes easily: It’s the most popular type of YA right now, and the Jenners are nothing if not on the latest trends.

Often when it comes to celebrity authors, we can’t necessarily parse out why they choose the genres they do. Why does former Disney star Hilary Duff have a thing for paranormal romance? What prompted TV writer B.J. Novak to write an extensive collection of flash fiction? But it’s different with Kendall and Kylie. Because we’ve watched these two grow up in the public eye, it’s both easier and more interesting to extrapolate the whys of their writing process.

The reality TV influence on Rebels: City of Indra: The Story of Lex and Livia (out June 3; the title doesn’t get any less ridiculous every time you say it) is even in the cover! Note how the female silhouette in the eye looks like Kendall and Kylie’s older half-sister Kim Kardashian in her husband Kanye West’s much-parodied “Bound 2” music video:

Diving into the text itself, with each egregious or unintentionally hilarious example, we break down how you know that a pair of celebutantes (and their manager, and the woman who co-wrote the Rich Kids of Instagram book) came up with this dystopian YA tale. Enjoy!

It breaks all the rules of dystopian YA

It’s worth noting that the Jenner sisters waltzed into an established subgenre that, for all its variation, follows several standard tropes; ditched them; and suffered for it. We’re definitely open to subverted tropes, so long as they tell us something new, which Rebels: City of Indra: The Story of Lex and Liviadoesn’t. But can we really be surprised, when these two grew up in the family that redefined fame? It makes sense that they wouldn’t want to play to the established tenets of slowly meting out context or featuring vulnerable, flawed protagonists. Instead, they utilize flashy action, stale quips, and Bizarrely Inconsistent Capitals to Make a Point.

Info-dump and class warfare

Aside from a vague intro whose meaning I had trouble divining, everything in Rebels: City of Indra: The Story of Lex and Livia is very on-the-nose. Again, I expect no less, when a show like Keeping Up with the Kardashians has to lay out its premise in the space of 30-second opening credits. So, here’s your poor man’s Panem: After retreating underground, humans emerged from the crust of the earth—and kept going! Now, the hoi polloi live in islands suspended in the air, while the middle class is relegated to the space between air and land, and the poor working-class souls spend their lives toiling underground. Our protagonists are:

Livia, an “airess” (I kid you not) who rebels against becoming a Proper Young Woman of Indrithian Society by riding her horse to the edge of her island and slicing at trees with her zinger (which, as far as I can tell, is a cross between a zither and a sword)

and

Lex, the hotheaded trash-turned-SpecOp-cadet from “Rock Bottom” who has a chip on her shoulder bigger than the boulders they transport underground

who rebel against their society’s class binary even as they totally buy into it: i.e., they hate each other on-sight thanks to ingrained prejudices of frivolous nobles versus hard-working plebeians (or, to use a metaphor the Jenners might better appreciate, The City‘s “uptown socials” vs. “downtown hipsters” hierarchy). Good thing Lex and Livia are well-matched for their catfights.

Which brings me to my next point…

Mary Sue alert

There’s no way around it: The twins are self-insertion characters, preternaturally gifted in looks as well as supernatural abilities that no one else seems to possess. They’re much prettier than they have any right to be—Livia doesn’t have to wear a corset as long as the other Proper Young Women because of her tiny waist; ditto for Lex, whose slim figure affords her swiftness during SpecOp training—and yet somehow don’t recognize their twinness until halfway through the book.

The moment they do is when they’re grappling and realize that they both share the same neon-green (wtf) squiggle in both of their eyes. OK, I just came off reading the entire Kushiel’s Legacy trilogy, and no one lets Phèdre get away with a fleck of blood in her eyes. I’m supposed to believe that an entire society obsessed with perfection wouldn’t have caught such an obvious flaw in two of its babies? Well, once Lex and Livia lock eyes, they both mutter the pieces of some prophecy that they share like halves of a Best Friends necklace, and that’s where the real angst starts since they hate each other. (Just like real sisters, lol!)

Then there’s the groan-inducing banter:

Livia, mentally fuming at her sister: Plenty, just as it did to you, I want to say, yet stop myself. Egotistical, pretentious little girl. You still have much to learn of our world.

Lex, rallying the troops: “If you’re really here to protect us,” I say to everyone listening, “try to keep up.”

If that’s not bad enough, we quickly learn that everything that normal Indrithian citizens aren’t supposed to do, these two can. See in the dark? Check. Read other people’s emotions and thoughts? Ditto. Overcome the brain chip that’s supposed to cripple such abilities? Child’s play.

It makes sense, really, that the Jenners could only write special-snowflake unique and all-powerful Mary Sues. They’re used to being held to a certain standard of perfection, whether by the gossip world or within their image-obsessed family, so of course their frame of reference is characters who pass every test with flying colors. Even Katniss Everdeen gets herself stung by a whole hive of tracker jackers. Flaws—like arrogance, not quirky, genetically-engineered flaws—are OK.

Dead parents

Though the twins carry different baggage regarding their orphan status—Livia grew up among retainers who wouldn’t tell her what they were actually grooming her for, whereas Lex was simply dumped in the dark caves—it’s obviously an emotional moment when they discover their parents’ legacy. I won’t go into more detail on that, though it’s interesting to note that the closest thing they have to a direct interaction is the explanation through a memory of their father’s. On Keeping Up with the Kardashians, we’ve seen Kendall and Kylie interact the most with their dad Bruce; even if they’re teasing him, it’s playful and supportive.

Everyone dies for them

A dystopian novel needs to earn its deaths—and usually they come by the third and/or final book. Sure, The Hunger Games kicked off with a bunch of brutal killings, but that novel was a game-changer. Also, Suzanne Collins ensured that readers had time to mourn Rue and even Cato by the time they bit the dust in the arena.

Not so for basically every minor character who crosses paths with Lex and Livia. Seriously, these girls are like black cats in terms of bad luck, crossed with a lemming-like power, because two riggers (those who live in-between Indra’s two class systems) sacrifice themselves in as many pages. Then, a character from Lex’s past goes down a few chapters later.

Just because these two are some genetically-gifted prophets doesn’t mean that everyone needs to lay down their bodies in front of them in some weird act of rebellion! Yet, the notion of these grand gestures as dramatic plot points must have come naturally to the Jenners, who command a combined 14 million followers on Twitter; not to mention everyone else who plays into the Kardashian media empire.

As the girls say, YOLO. But maybe don’t spend hours of your one life reading this book. For all we know, there’ll be a movie version starring Kendall and Kylie soon enough.

Natalie Zutter
Seeing as Natalie spent her childhood reading Star Wars and Tamora Pierce novels, she’s used to being the token geek at anything from celebrity websites to book websites. (Though she’s also a recent romance convert!) A graduate of NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, she stages plays about superheroes, sex robots, and Internet fandom in her spare time. As a pop culture blogger, she has written for Tor.com, Crushable, Quirk Books, BlackBook, and other outlets.

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