If you take a novel like The Hunger Games and boil it down, reduce it to its elements, sand off all the paint, you end up with something like this. Pa...moreIf you take a novel like The Hunger Games and boil it down, reduce it to its elements, sand off all the paint, you end up with something like this. Panic. Because if you think about it, Panic is The Hunger Games, reverse engineered. Gone is the elaborate make-up and ridiculous hair. Gone are the high concepts of political rebellion and wealth inequality, the elaborate clockwork of machinations designed to strip individuals of their human bond – all these constructs become false, burdensome, over-elaborate metaphor. The Hunger Games is Panic which is, at its heart, a novel about young adults who have nothing, who expect nothing, and who know the world is designed to benefit people whom they will never meet but who most assuredly have more: more opportunity, more wealth, more chances. Panic is a story about us. About bored kids. Broke kids. Broke kids in love, for that matter, whose efforts toward romance are as unsteady as their steps into adulthood. And reading this makes us embarrassed for so loving the unnecessary drama that most YA allows. Because we are Katniss Everdeen only insofar as she is Heather. We shouldn't need so much dressing around the idea that we are a country at a loss of what to do with itself. That we have created so much distance between the possibility of change and its achievement that a game like Panic seems not plausible, but outright familiar. These are memories instead of fantasies, and Panic is a wonderful, brilliant novel with one simple ambition: to remind us who we are. We are the broke kids. The bored kids. Kids trying to feel. Oliver has never needed science fiction to explain how we work. We are more fantastic and flawed and aflame in our small ambitions toward happiness than the rules of science fiction could ever allow. (less)
Loyalty to family and love of place are, for Kate Connolly and Sean Kendrick, reasons enough to work their lives on their island of Thisby. But Thisby...moreLoyalty to family and love of place are, for Kate Connolly and Sean Kendrick, reasons enough to work their lives on their island of Thisby. But Thisby breeds a smallness of opportunity, and the sea encircling it, home to the water horses, is something too large to be crossed with false dreams and ungrounded hope. But there are the Scorpio Races, and there is the slow discovery, between Kate and Sean, of one another, and the stakes that encompass both. This is a wonderfully written novel, without saccharine or easy sentiment. It’s a romance for people who have seen too little of it and know its cost. The Scorpio Races is an amazing book.(less)
A slow starter, but The Mark rises to meet its interesting premise as a modern retelling of the myth of Cassandra. The discussions on philosophy add a...moreA slow starter, but The Mark rises to meet its interesting premise as a modern retelling of the myth of Cassandra. The discussions on philosophy add a contemplative air to Cassandra's gift, giving readers room to imagine themselves in her shoes. Overall, a great beginning to this new series.(less)
As with her previous novel, Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver has created a story for young adults rich with emotional depth and a sincerity that never rin...moreAs with her previous novel, Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver has created a story for young adults rich with emotional depth and a sincerity that never rings false or feels falsely promoted. Whether detailing the friendship between two young women or narrator Lena's unfolding to romantic love, Oliver takes her time to ensure that the scenes arrive with vivid description and an emotional truth. Her recreation of Portland, Maine is detailed enough to inspire readers to scan maps for street names and landmarks, while her take on a future that surgically manipulates the emotional capacity of adults is all too plausible. Delirium may not feel as wrenching as Before I Fall, but it misses none of its depth of craft or obvious love for character.(less)
As with Lauren Oliver's other books, Pandemonium is emotionally rich and evocatively written, surpassing in quality and sincerity more popular YA nove...moreAs with Lauren Oliver's other books, Pandemonium is emotionally rich and evocatively written, surpassing in quality and sincerity more popular YA novels, including the successful but at times confusing The Hunger Games. Lena's struggle to forget her lover, and her surprise to meet others sympathetic to her plight, tells a story that would be wrenching in any setting, but the futuristic surroundings here serve to alienate readers and characters alike from anything familiar. Alone with Lena, then, the reader discovers that love, so forbidden in the Delirium series, is the only familiar thing to find. That Lena struggles primarily on her own to find acceptance from strangers and a path from grief speaks volumes to her quality, and to her value outside of her relationships with men. The upside-down world that Oliver has created is more believable, more honest, and more valuable to readers than a dozen books that share its dystopian setting. There are lines to read aloud and enough of the intensely personal in Lena's struggles that the empathetic reader may also want to keep a little of it to himself. Incredible.(less)
The perfect conclusion to a Young Adult trilogy that very rarely feels as if it were designed solely for young adults. The triangle is resolved, some...moreThe perfect conclusion to a Young Adult trilogy that very rarely feels as if it were designed solely for young adults. The triangle is resolved, some relationships reach their natural conclusions, and the novel ends with a perfectly wry concluding line. The Hunger Games are a brilliant set of books for any reader.(less)
However unnecessary to making The Hunger Games enjoyable as a stand alone novel, Catching Fire manages to be a sequel that visits familiar territory w...moreHowever unnecessary to making The Hunger Games enjoyable as a stand alone novel, Catching Fire manages to be a sequel that visits familiar territory while creating entirely new appeal. Existing characters are given greater depth, while new ones are vivid and believable. Even scenarios designed to mirror certain events in the first book are recreated here in a way that sacrifices none of the tension for the repetition. I would not have thought a sequel could be as satisfying as its predecessor, but Catching Fire, though dependent on The Hunger Games, is an addition that mirrors the original while revealing more intricately cut sides to its evolving storyline. Brilliant.(less)
A phenomenal Young Adult novel that treads the long-lost genre of Books for Boys and emerges from that wasteland to create an adventure that should li...moreA phenomenal Young Adult novel that treads the long-lost genre of Books for Boys and emerges from that wasteland to create an adventure that should live beside favorites like Z for Zachariah and the short story The Most Dangerous Game as an engaging, frightening, and completely immersive novel, with powers to lure young male readers to books in ways the current girl-centric, vampire-saturated YA market has all but abandoned. And this is not to say the book holds no value for young women, as Ashfall is filled with strong-willed, independent and independently minded female characters, not the least of whom is the original and wholly authentic "tomboy" Darla, whose skills with machinery, farm life, and general survival make her the perfect companion to narrator Alex, whose strengths lie in martial arts and willful tenacity. Boys are in such need of exciting, well-written male-narrated YA novels that portray females respectfully and realistically -- and the market is so spare of just that -- that it makes Ashfall doubly easy to recommend: It fills a dire need for male readers, but the story's spark and accomplishment will entertain all. Fantastic stuff.(less)
This third novel in the Horsemen series feels, in places, as strong in character and message as the first and best of the group, Hunger. William Balla...moreThis third novel in the Horsemen series feels, in places, as strong in character and message as the first and best of the group, Hunger. William Ballard's struggles against bullying, and later with the reins of his powers as Pestilence, are vivid moments that give the book its structure and weight, and reveal best the influences of the X-Factor comic books that author Kessler had written that she had loved. But the Alzheimer's subplot, dream-like sequences written /in the White/, and a passing introduction to Robin Hood scatter the story's focus while lacking enough weight individually to feel essential. The result is an uneven book that reminds us what made Hunger such a gripping read, and Rage an excellent follow-up. Here's hoping the last and perhaps most important novel of the series -- on Death -- finds its center quickly and keeps its form throughout.(less)
Compared to the first book Twilight series, Marked, seems worlds more realistic for a book that is still ultimately about teen-aged vampyres and the m...moreCompared to the first book Twilight series, Marked, seems worlds more realistic for a book that is still ultimately about teen-aged vampyres and the more commonly known life of school-related dramas. Rather than push an unknowable relationship between two questionably motivated people, this book by the mother and daughter team of Casts, uses friendship and trust as harbors for its central development, emphasizing the importance of one's chosen family over those to whom we and bound by birth or circumstance. This book is also much more realistic about the physical desires of teens (and vampyres, I suppose), isn't afraid to talk about blow jobs and homosexuality, and is generally all the better for it -- again, as far as books about teen-aged vampyres go. An enjoyable start to a rapidly growing series, I don't know if I'll read more than Marked, but I didn't mind getting through this one.(less)
A strong continuation of the premise set forth in Hunger, introducing the incarnations of War and Pestilence. Death disguised as Kurt Cobain continues...moreA strong continuation of the premise set forth in Hunger, introducing the incarnations of War and Pestilence. Death disguised as Kurt Cobain continues here, as well, with some interesting romantic possibilities raised between certain characters. It's easy to imagine where the series goes from here -- two books for each of the two remaining Horsemen. But since we've had two books now to explore the world created by author Kessler, my hope is that a larger story might appear -- one that goes beyond embodying contemporary teen issues as Horsemen, and that explores how these young women and men work while facing larger internal and external threats, or deal with particulars of their assignments. It's to Kessler's credit that she has invented such an original cast. Hopefully she'll unearth a more expansive storyline to match.(less)
The premise of Hunger says it all: a 17-year-old-anorexic girl is cast as Famine, Horseman of the Apocalypse. If that weren't enough, Death bears a mo...moreThe premise of Hunger says it all: a 17-year-old-anorexic girl is cast as Famine, Horseman of the Apocalypse. If that weren't enough, Death bears a more than passing resemblance to dead rocker Kurt Cobain. From there, the only fear is whether Jackie Kessler can sustain the promise of her set-up. Fortunately for us, the book not only lives up to its potential, but clears the way for a fresh and fantastical Young Adult series that deftly connects its own mystique to very serious teen realities.
Hunger is like the perfect Young Adult mix of Stephen King's fantastic novel Thinner and Piers Anthony's On a Pale Horse, but while similar to these stories (and to the Marvel comic book series "X-Factor" that inspired the author), Kessler creates her own superbly unique mythology. The perfectly named Lisabeth Lewis becomes -- in a very short span within a very thin novel -- a wholly believable voice that the reader craves more of by the story's end.
This novel took two hours to read, from purchase to finish. Highly recommended.(less)
A very enjoyable, vampire-free novel about Dani Callanzo's coming to terms with her parents' divorce, mostly by distracting herself with the strange b...moreA very enjoyable, vampire-free novel about Dani Callanzo's coming to terms with her parents' divorce, mostly by distracting herself with the strange behavior of her town's teen-aged film projectionist. With so many distractions available to them in other media, I wonder if teenagers will ever again have a believable appreciation of Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner as Dani does here, but Nova Ren Suma makes small-town life and its minor dramas both realistic and enjoyable for as long as the ride lasts.(less)
This loosely structured novel uses lots of slang, non sequiturs, and some outrageous imagery -- all from the tongue of twenty-something narrator Ahlem...moreThis loosely structured novel uses lots of slang, non sequiturs, and some outrageous imagery -- all from the tongue of twenty-something narrator Ahleme -- to illuminate the adaptation of struggling Algerians to their new lives in France. Woven between Ahleme's criticisms of the boys she meets to date, the friends whose spending outpaces her income, and the family she struggles to help adapt to their lives in Paris' outskirts, are subtle reminders of the xenophobia and outright prejudice that confront immigrants in a world still focused on a nebulously defined 'War on Terror.' The heavier aspects of "Some Dream for Fools," however, easily give way to more accessible stories of family loyalty and economic struggle.
In fact, the novel succeeds because it is much more a universal coming of age story than it is an attempt to write a political novel. Ahleme shares a voice with a long literary line of questionably educated but wholly spirited, angst-ridden young adults struggling, as Holden Caufield did in "Cather in the Rye," with the phonies and frauds that can seem the only representatives of an uncaring and insincere adult world.
"Some Dream for Fools" has a freshness to its voice, an easy and enjoyable humor, and an unvarnished sincerity in Ahleme's narration that may not quite elevate the novel to literature, but certainly create an engaging world that is accessible, enjoyable, and eye-opening to those whose existence the reader might otherwise ignore. (less)
Brilliantly suspenseful, though of course not nearly as violent or as satiric as, say, Battle Royale. The characters are vivid, sympathetic, and for t...moreBrilliantly suspenseful, though of course not nearly as violent or as satiric as, say, Battle Royale. The characters are vivid, sympathetic, and for the most part honestly drawn, though the humanity of the Careers seems coldly distant. The novel's story is set in a world that is believable enough without becoming a futuristic caricature that distracts from the Games themselves and Katniss, Peeta, Prim, and Gale deserve to be permanent fixtures in any reader's collection. The only portion of this book that played flat for me was the set-up for a sequel, which felt, coming at the end of a survival novel, wholly unnecessarily. YA is apparently written in threes. (less)
Beasts of No Nation encapsulates, in narrator Agu’s voice, the mixture of formative development at the mercy of war with the already muddled journey t...moreBeasts of No Nation encapsulates, in narrator Agu’s voice, the mixture of formative development at the mercy of war with the already muddled journey to adulthood that has a boy comparing, still, all the women he meets to his mother. Unapologetically graphic, and clearly sympathetic, Iweala’s book is a strong shot to swallow rather than a novel one might expect to sip. Its effectiveness may come in exposing Western readers to a world they often do not see, or wish to notice, but the language is sharp and stands as a good contemporary counterpoint to benefit students of classic Western war novels such as "All Quiet On the Western Front."
(Some reviewers question Iweala’s authenticity in writing a narrative involving a boy soldier without his having first-hand experience of the job. Requiring first-hand experience in authorship is a bizarre standard to set and would, if applied to others, eliminate about 80% of novels published. Are we all so unimaginative?) (less)
On the second read, Name of the Wind is still a brilliant first novel, a highly enjoyable and nearly perfectly drawn prelude for the series. Kvothe ha...moreOn the second read, Name of the Wind is still a brilliant first novel, a highly enjoyable and nearly perfectly drawn prelude for the series. Kvothe has all the real arrogance of youth and overconfident swagger of a young man who we know will clearly, in some way, be broken.
First Read: October 19, 2008. One of the best written, most precisely plotted and engaging Fantasy novels I've read. Very strongly recommended.(less)
Peace Like a River, Enger's first novel, had simple, elegant writing and a believable, suspenseful plot that set the author loping comfortably between...morePeace Like a River, Enger's first novel, had simple, elegant writing and a believable, suspenseful plot that set the author loping comfortably between the literary buttes of Larry McMurtry and John Steinbeck. River felt like a classic before you were halfway through the book. So Brave, Young, and Handsome is set at the same pace, and holds to the same style of writing, and if that process seems now too easily reproduced, or too wash worn to stun us at second sight, the casualness of this appearance holds only until you strike upon a sentence remarkable for its strong characterization, and gracefully evocative of its captured time and place.
If River was a book about faith, So Brave is a novel of family. But themes center also on that great western trope of identity, as defined by family, by action, by location, happenstance, and also by lie. Characters are carefully cast and perfectly named: Hood Roberts, Jack Waits, and Glendon Hale are born in the mind the moment you hear their names. The heart of the novel lay, as with all great stories, with its women, and though held to the perimeter for much of the story, is the their presence - Blue's, Susannah Becket's - that casts a horizon toward which all the men march.
The only regret you'll have is that there are too few pages for characters so rich. But thankfully books like this are not chocolate; they are not a taste from which a person really ever grows sick.(less)
Sometimes you just want a story of simplicity. You want to go to a place that reminds you of things about how you grew up and who you grew up among. Y...moreSometimes you just want a story of simplicity. You want to go to a place that reminds you of things about how you grew up and who you grew up among. You want a more recognizable time, even if the recognition is emotional rather than experiential. Maybe you just want a story that is a little less alienating than the one you find yourself in.
The Whistling Season is a lovely book of this kind of unapologetic simplicity: the issues are of character and growth, the characters are quirky and complex, and, like Case Histories’s Olivia Land there is a portrait of affectionate, innocent childhood in sweet Toby Milliron.
This book about the one room schoolhouse is so much more. (less)