Cinderella. With cyborgs. That's probably the easiest way to describe this novel, but, like saying that Ender's Game is about child soldiers, that wou...moreCinderella. With cyborgs. That's probably the easiest way to describe this novel, but, like saying that Ender's Game is about child soldiers, that would be a gross oversimplification. What Meyer has done here is taken elements of the traditional fairy tale and recast them in sci-fi context, augmented with what is becoming classic YA characterization.
Set in a future era well-removed from ours (the world has resolved into a handful of super-states), Cinder's story takes place primarily in New Beijing, an interesting setting given the times. 25 years ago, amidst this country's hype for all things Asian, the location might not have been worth mentioning. In today's landscape, however, with most teen-targeted sci-fi stories being predominately set in a dystopian U.S., Cinder takes on a slightly nostalgic feel for readers of a certain age (ahem). I've seen comparisons made to Blade Runner which I don't disagree with, but the similarities are probably incidental at best. At any rate, the setting has a strong, gritty feel to it which augments the created reality without overshadowing the characters. Meyer brings in just enough details to paint the scene and give me the sense that these events could not have taken place anywhere else. For me as a reader, that's the hallmark of a good setting.
What really makes this book tick, however, are the characters. Meyer does a nice job of not simply retelling the Cinderella story, but rather cherry-picking elements of the tale which enhance the broader story she is trying to tell. There is a step-mother and a pair of step-sisters, but only two of the three play the traditional role. There is a fairy godmother figure, but he doesn't give Cinder anything to speak of save a greater knowledge of herself. And there is a prince. More than the others, I think the prince exhibits the greatest shift to modern sensibilities. While he is charming, and his affection for Cinder is obvious early on, there is a wide social and political gap between them that he does not move to overcome. He does not chase her down the steps at the story's climax because that trope would simply not suit the character or the story. Instead, Prince Kai gets caught in a storm of confused emotions and responsibilities. There is no grand sweeping gesture to find his one true princess; indeed, I'm not entirely convinced that he is in love with Cinder at the end.
As for Cinder herself, she represents another evolution in modern YA heroines. I think it safe to say that the better contemporary authors have well and truly abandoned the passive bystander model of Bella Swan. My biggest issue with Katniss Everdeen is that she allows events around her to push her into action. For all her hustle and bustle, it's not really until the last book that she begins to act independently. Cinder, by contrast, is much more proactive. The book opens with an act of defiance (albeit clandestine) towards her stepmother. While she is impacted and influenced by changing dynamics in her world, she pushes forward with a plan to run away until she is forced to change trajectories. Even then, she is not swept up in events, buffeted along by the actions of others. There is an actual choice to be made, and although there wasn't much doubt about with direction she would take, the alternative had enough plausibility to create tension. There was a story in that direction, maybe not as exciting, but a story nonetheless. Where the book fell flat for me was in my belief that Meyer didn't push Cinder self-determination far enough. For all that I have lauded, she is still a YA stereotype: the slightly disaffected (but not sociopathic) teenager with something different/special about him/her to be discovered ; this discovery will change the world. Despite being a cyborg and a renowned mechanic, there were times when she seemed a little slow on the uptake. Part of this may be the author trying to draw out suspense, but it seems that she sacrificed some of her character's integrity to do so. Perhaps those traces of the maudlin Ms. Swan haven't been totally erased after all.
This is a good, solid sci-fi novel which will also appeal to those casting about for a new series beyond The Hunger Games and Divergent. It will give most readers plenty to ponder without becoming much more than a light, fun read. I am curious to see what Meyer does with her Lunar Chronicles moving forward, as the second book, Scarlet, does not appear to be a purely linear continuation.(less)
There are some books which grab you with pace, some with situation, some with falling elephants (see under Terry Pratchett). Few do it with voice,...moreIvan
There are some books which grab you with pace, some with situation, some with falling elephants (see under Terry Pratchett). Few do it with voice, and even fewer do it with the voice of a gorilla.
I've always found voice tricky to adequately explain. This may be because it is exactly what it sounds like. Just as you can recognize people by the sound of their voice, you can recognize a good writer or narrator by the tone, the feel, of their words. For this, if for no other reason, Katherine Applegate earned her Newbery Medal. Gorilla though he may be, within pages, there is no doubt that you are listening to a story told by Ivan (the one and only).
Ivan is a silverback gorilla who lives in the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, sharing this preposterous situation with an elephant or two, a stray dog named Bob, and a smattering of other animals. Where some people might expect a gorilla narrator to run something like "Me Ivan, you Jane," Applegate's primate is articulate and emotive and sounds for all the world like an ape raised by humans, which is exactly what he is. Ivan, I suppose, is the anti-Tarzan in that respect.
"I used to be a wild gorilla, and I still look the part.
I have a gorilla's shy gaze, a gorilla's sly smile. I wear a snowy saddle of fur, the uniform of a silverback. When the sun warms my back, I cast a gorilla's majestic shadow.
In my size humans see a test of themselves. They hear fighting words on the wind, when all I'm thinking is how the late-day sun reminds me of a ripe nectarine.
I'm mightier than any human form, four hundred pounds of pure power. My body looks made for battle. My arms, outstretched, span taller than the tallest human.
My family tree spreads wide as well. I am a great ape, and you are a great ape, and so are chimpanzees and orangutans and bonobos, all of us distant and distrustful cousins.
I know this is troubling.
I too find it hard to believe there is a connection across time and space, linking me to a race of ill-mannered clowns.
Chimps. There's no excuse for them." (p. 4-5).
In passages like this, Applegate captures the peacefulness of a gorilla at rest, mixing in a humor that suits him well. There is a tension present, however, born of Ivan's environment. At first, only the reader is aware of the dissonance, but gradually Ivan's contentment is disturbed to the point of action. As he shakes off his lethargy, he attempts to grow into his hoary mantle and, to some extent, he succeeds. To really become a gorilla, though, and not just a sideshow attraction, will require a difficult cost.
The ending, when it comes, is devoid of the bittersweet flavor which almost seems a requirement with an animal main character. It's not the happy-go-lucky conclusion you might wish for Ivan and company, but it is heartfelt and real and satisfying. Throughout, the book is artfully written, full of well-balanced character development, and sometimes downright hilarious. Don't let the Newberry fool you; this is one well worth anyone's time.
P.S. Don't skip the "author's note" at the end. It'll blow your mind. (less)
An easily approachable graphic novel. The art is interesting without being overwhelming, and the influence of Bill Watterson is apparent. I like the s...moreAn easily approachable graphic novel. The art is interesting without being overwhelming, and the influence of Bill Watterson is apparent. I like the sense of mystery and was bummed to find out that the sequel is out of print. (less)
Neil Gaiman is a writer out of time. Intentionally or not, he speaks like someone from another, earlier age. Not only does he trade in stories which d...moreNeil Gaiman is a writer out of time. Intentionally or not, he speaks like someone from another, earlier age. Not only does he trade in stories which disregard the modern boundary between the fantastic and the real, but he fills his pages with a voice rich in ancient echoes. It is for precisely these reasons that, in years to come, we may consider this novel his quintessential work.
The central story is framed by the reminiscence of a middle-aged man who has returned home to Sussex, England for a funeral. After the service, he drives past his childhood home, to the bottom of the lane, to the farm and pond which stir his memory. Initially, I was a little put off by the structure, thinking the story strong enough to have stood on its own. Gaiman is not one to waste anything in his fiction, though, and uses his "Epilogue" to close the book with a sort of wistful hope. Indeed, the novel would lose a great deal of its poetry and magic if the adult story didn't serve to contrast the childhood happenings.
The lyrical efficiency of Gaiman's writing is ultimately what makes this book work. In the hands of another author, this easily could have become a Goonie-esque, kid-centered adventure. Don't get me wrong, I love The Goonies (Hey, you guuuyyys!), but The Ocean at The End of the Lane has so much say about trust and healing and hope, much more than old One-Eyed Willie could ever handle.
"I was not scared, though, and I could not have told you why I was not scared. I trusted Lettie, just as I had trusted her when we had gone in search of the flapping thing beneath the orange sky. I believed in her, and that meant I would come to no harm while I was with her. I knew it in the way I knew that grass was green, that roses had sharp, woody thorns, that breakfast cereal was sweet." (p. 115).
Gaiman's narrator speaks with the wonderful certainty of childhood, but also with the desperate confusion of having that certainty removed. Even in the most ethereal parts of the story, there is something comforting in his tone. The captured emotions represent universal truths of childhood and these surpass the particulars of the plot.
"They were not shadows any longer, not here, not in this place. They were all-too-real, and they landed in the darkness, just beyond the golden glow of the ground. They landed in the air and in trees, and they shuffled forward, as close as they could get to the golden ground of the Hempstock's farm. They were huge--each of them was much bigger than I was.
I would have been hard-pressed to describe their faces, though. I could see them, look at them, take in every feature, but the moment I looked away they were gone, and there was nothing in my mind where the hunger birds had been but tearing beaks and talons, or wriggling tentacles, or hairy, chitinous mandibles. I could not keep their true faces in my head. When I turned away the only knowledge I retained was that they had been looking directly at me, and that they were ravenous." (p. 153).
The malevolent Ursula Monkton, who appears in the main character's home and begins manipulating his family was of particular interest to me. Her supernatural origins aside, she represents the kind of outside force which can subtly unravel an otherwise peaceful (though not perfect) situation. Not only could I sympathize with the child narrator's inability to understand her power, but I also saw myself in the adults' simple-minded blindness. This book is magic and fantasy used to its greatest end. Because none of us have experienced these particular events, we can all relate to them. The sorcery at work becomes a palatable metaphor for our own lives without reducing either the novel or the reader to base pedantry.
This is a wonderful book, but make no mistake, it is dark in places. There were sections which I found difficult to read because of the brutality and callousness shown. They were not, however, without merit. As I said, Gaiman wastes nothing in his writing and these instances should not be mistaken for sensationalism. The Ocean at the End of the Lane represents a master of both fiction and storytelling (which are not the same thing) at the very height of his craft. (less)
"We are all drowning in a sea of quotations, our lungs too full of wisdom to even breathe." ~ Nick Mamatas
You know what I love about that quote? It's...more"We are all drowning in a sea of quotations, our lungs too full of wisdom to even breathe." ~ Nick Mamatas
You know what I love about that quote? It's the author of this book quoting himself in his own introduction to his book of quotes. This wonderfully amusing, slightly ridiculous level of meta irony is what has made Quirk Books so successful in recent years. I would call them the hipster publishing house, except I don't think they take themselves that seriously (and I'm not sure if they even have a beard). Like most of the other books from Quirk I've read, this slim volume edited by Mamatas undergirds a tongue-in-cheek approach with a layer of real consideration, making for a fun, worthwhile book.
Let's be honest, anyone can slap together a collection of quotes and call it wisdom. If 100 people sat down to do it, each on their own, I'd bet dollars to donuts there would be plenty of overlap in terms of sources. You'd have your Socrates, your Ben Franklin, your Buddha and Gandhi, there would be a good mix of Biblical sources, and probably a liberal sprinkling of Churchill. If you're feeling sassy, you might reach for Oscar Wilde and maybe a bit of Twain. Mamatas does more or less that, but he also mixes in more modern sources like Louis C.K., Ricky Gervais, and John Wayne. The roster of thinkers is not what makes this a good collection though, it's what the editor does with them.
Mamatas takes the time to not only discuss quotation in general, but also some of the specific sources. He gives advice on how and when to quote (including the extremely apt, "Be sparing") and provides topical context for much of the material he presents. Each chapter is preceded by a brief introduction and punctuated with other thoughts, such as the page and a half devoted to Yogi Berra. I especially appreciated Chapter 6, "They Never Said That." In this case, the editor devotes about a page each to debunking some of the most oft-used, erroneously attributed, quotations (I admit, I was a little broken up to get confirmation that Ben Franklin never said the bit about beer and God).
All in all, this is a useful little book for any guy to have on his shelf. Not only can it raise your intellectual game on a surface level, but I think it also gives you a chance to be more than an "exhaustive human database." For, as René Descartes said, "It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well." Right on, René. (less)
So, yeah, I am sooooo not the target audience for this one. All the same, I thought it was a cleverly written, enjoyable book with a low cheese-factor...moreSo, yeah, I am sooooo not the target audience for this one. All the same, I thought it was a cleverly written, enjoyable book with a low cheese-factor. Indeed, Carter's use of language kept it both light and interesting for me. Setting most of the story at a secret boarding school (and nearby town) has the potential to invoke shades of Harry Potter, but the author doesn't overwork things and succeeds in making the Gallagher Academy its own place. The characters are given a good depth without slowing things down, making each of them genuinely likable. Not quite enough true action for me, but I see why it's so popular with my middle school girls. (less)
This is one of those books that makes me wish goodreads would used half-stars; it's a solid 3.5 for me. The story is pretty straightforward YA-lit. Th...moreThis is one of those books that makes me wish goodreads would used half-stars; it's a solid 3.5 for me. The story is pretty straightforward YA-lit. The main character, a teenager, discovers she has something unique about her and she falls in with a supernatural crowd as a result. Adventure, with a bit of romance, ensues. It's a plot driven story, with little in the way of serious character development (although there is some). If you read enough of these kind of books, you won't find the twists all that surprising. That said, I was pleased that the main character was stronger than the Bella Swan-esque waif I was expecting. In fact, I thought Cassy (the character, not the author. Ahem.) walked a nice balance of being assertive while still showing her confusion over the nature of a new reality. The influences of geek culture are evident, especially Star Wars and Harry Potter, but only in the types of characters and situations presented, not in any overt sense. It's good entertainment for middle school on up. (less)
One of the things you learn early in running is this truth: there is always someone, somewhere who is slower than you and there is always someone, som...moreOne of the things you learn early in running is this truth: there is always someone, somewhere who is slower than you and there is always someone, somewhere who is faster than you. I'm a big believer that the sooner you make peace with this fact, the more you enjoy running. But, if you are one of those who knows no one can beat you, then you really need to read this book. And for the rest of us? Well, it's just too good to pass up.
A Harvard grad, Christopher McDougall spent a number of years working for the AP in Africa, covering, among other things, the Rwandan genocide. Returning to the States, he began freelancing for magazines like Outside, the New York Times Magazine, and Men's Health. It was under the auspices of this last publication that McDougall initially headed down to Mexico, searching for legendary runners.
The story he discovers, and then becomes a part of, is truly remarkable. It's unlike anything I've come across before and may well change your perspective on running and the industry it has inspired. Like all good stories (which aren't about girls), this one involves a ghost. The fabulously named Caballo Blanco is a mythic figure in the southwest. Maybe an ex-fighter, maybe a criminal, he is definitely a white man who disappeared into the Mexican Copper Canyons by choice, by running. When McDougall finally tracks him down, Caballo is just the sort of character you're probably imagining, and he leads McDougall down a rabbit hole which ends at the feet of the Tarahumara.
"My eyes popped open to see a dusty cadaver in a tattered straw hat bantering with the desk clerk. Trail dust streaked his gaunt face like fading war paint, and the shocks of sun-bleached hair sticking out from under the hat could have been trimmed with a hunting knife. He looked like a castaway on a desert island, even to the way he seemed hungry for conversation with the bored clerk."
The Tarahumara, or Rarámuri as they call themselves, are native Mexicans and probably the closest thing to mythic warriors that our world still contains. They can run and run and run, vanishing into the twisting canyons they call home even as you look at them. They are enduring phantoms when they have a mind to be. As I read the book, I pictured them as living Greek statuary, perfect ideals that few mortals could ever rival. They are not the distant stoics of an ancient past, however. If they had come upon Pheidippides (who died running from Marathon to Athens), they likely would have helped him into the shade, given him a drink, and then run clear on into Poland. When they want to, the Tarahumara know how to have a whooping good time, fueled by homemade moonshine that sounds like it would degrease your engine and your brain.
Ultimately, this book is one of those rare and perfect mixtures of an inherently great story with exactly the right teller. McDougall's prose is both journalistic and engaging from the first page. Even as he takes a rather long diversion into the history and evolution of running shoes, you are perfectly willing to go along with him. Like Caballo Blanco, you are already so hooked on the mythos of the Tarahumara that you both want to get back to story and also learn what secret wisdom they remember which the world has forgotten.
"I eased my hydration pack off my shoulders and got ready to sit down and rest. Better take a break now till we see what’s next, I thought, dropping the pack at my feet. When I looked back up, we were surrounded by half a dozen men in white skirts and pirate blouses. Between blinks, they’d materialized from the forest."
As the book rounds the half-way mark, all that you have read and learned begins to coalesce into one of the finest pieces of sports writing I have ever read. Not only do you get to see the Tarahumara in full flight, on their home turf, but it turns into one of the greatest footraces of all time. A small, motley crew of the finest modern ultra runners arrive to toe the line with these ghosts of the desert. McDougall moves seamlessly from outside observer to participant and tells the final chapters with a determination and senseless joy any runner will recognize.
If you're already a runner, this book will make you love it more. If you're not a runner, there's a good chance this book will make you one.(less)
A decent read. The dialogue was pretty good and the art was solid throughout, though not notably so. I'm always interested in a good secret society/fa...moreA decent read. The dialogue was pretty good and the art was solid throughout, though not notably so. I'm always interested in a good secret society/fairy tales are real story, but this was more of a detective yarn than anything else. In the end, I couldn't help shake the feeling that this was a bit of a Dresden Files copycat. (less)
There are times in life when things just line up. Maybe it's the stars. Maybe it's the planets. Maybe it's a herd of cats (although, I think the last...more There are times in life when things just line up. Maybe it's the stars. Maybe it's the planets. Maybe it's a herd of cats (although, I think the last one signals the beginning of Ragnarok). Call it what you will, there are just moments when the disparate parts of your life, through no effort of your own, form a perfect harmony. This is one of those moments for me.
In case the absurd effusiveness of that lead didn't make it clear enough, I am Doescher's target audience. I can't remember a time when I didn't love Star Wars, and I read Shakespeare between innings of baseball games and during football timeouts. So, after I got past my fanboy geek-out, I settled down to actually read the thing. What I found was an esoteric little tome which was a pleasure to read and not nearly so contrived as you might expect.
This has a great deal to do with Doescher's equal commitment to both sides of the mashup. Rather than simply shoehorn Lucas' script into a Shakespearian style and format, the author has imagined the film from the Bard's point of view. That's not to say that this stands up to a real Shakespearian play. One glaring difference is that the audience knows more or less the same amount as the main characters. In Shakespeare, one of his hallmarks is that the audience always knows more than any single character. This is what creates the tension or comedy, as the story requires. That said, the effect of this book is as though Shakespeare were hired for a script rewrite. He can't touch the characters or the plot, but rather has to present them in a better way. This, Doescher does convincingly.
His language was so authentic that I flagged particular lines, suspecting they were pulled whole from one play or another. Hamlet and Macbeth seemed the most likely suspects. But while there were some passages which were close, there was nothing which made me cry "plagiarism!" (or "Easter Egg!", which would have been the more likely case). I was impressed, too, with Doescher's use of asides and soliloquies. Star Wars doesn't lend itself to such reflective dramatic tools, and yet the author not only worked them in, but used them to improve the character development. For those who are relative neophytes to the movie, passages like Tarkin's reflection on Vader (II.iii.84-100, p. 61) or Luke's lament after his Aunt and Uncle's murder (II.iv.51-76, p. 64) provide a depth of understanding which only comes after countless viewings and endless debates in someone's dingy basement. After some thought, I even came to appreciate that he gave R2-D2 real lines as asides & soliloquies. After all, just throwing in the occasional "meepeth" and "beepeth" (which Doescher never does, by the way) would have been a waste of everyone's time.
In the end, reading this book was not unlike reading one of Shakespeare's history plays, say Henry IV, part I. There's plenty of action, involving memorable characters, rendered in eloquently energetic language. The further I read, the more I though, "Man! This needs to be staged!" Oh, wait...
There are just some things that make me laugh. Penguins, for one. Alec Baldwin, for another. You have them too, I imagine, things or people or charact...moreThere are just some things that make me laugh. Penguins, for one. Alec Baldwin, for another. You have them too, I imagine, things or people or characters which just make you crack up, no matter what they do. Chief among my list is Terry Pratchett's Nac Mac Feegle, the Wee Free Men. Of all the madcap characters in Discworld, these blue-skinned, red-haired riffs on Mel Gibson's Braveheart make me giggle indecorously. I mean, how can you not love a whole species of six-inch pseudo-Scots, who's guiding principle in life is this: "A Feegle liked to face enormous odds all by himself, because it meant you didn't have to look where you were hitting" (p. 77).
Even though it is geared for younger readers, this books is still classic Pratchett. He uses precise prose to weave together high fantasy with a contemporary sense of humor, making the two disparate elements seem as natural as breathing. This is the second adventure of Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men. Whereas the first book was more concerned with Tiffany's inward strength, this story sends the very clear message that those who can help others have an obligation to get on with it, regardless of how the helper is treated. Much to my surprise, the novel was tuned to one of the deepest notes of my faith.
This belief about the nature of service is the essential lesson that eleven-year-old Tiffany must learn in her training as a witch. She thinks she's off to discover secret spells and potions, magic in the traditional sense. Instead, she is almost immediately immersed in taking care of village simpletons and their mundane problems. She cleans houses, sits and listens to old people ramble on, and helps feed babies, all for very little reward. Miss Level, Tiffany's first teacher puts it like this: "You can't not help people just because they're stupid or forgetful or unpleasant. Everyone's poor around here. If I don't help them, who will?" (p. 81).
That last line is essentially Miss Level's modus operandi, and it earns high praise from the greatest witch in Discworld, Granny Weatherwax: "[Miss Level] cares about [people]. Even the stupid, mean, drooling ones, the mothers with the runny babies and no sense, the feckless and the silly and the fools who treat her like some kind of servant. Now that's what I call magic--seein' all that, dealin' with all that, and still goin' on" (p. 196). In the pantheon of Discworld characters, Granny Weatherwax is a heavy hitter. She's been around nearly since the series started, and her presence in a story moves things. She doesn't do cameos (she would see it as a waste of time), thus her words always carry weight, both in the created world and on a broader philosophical level. So, for her to call unselfish service "the soul and center" of witchcraft is a big deal. Essentially, Pratchett, through Granny, is placing an ideological flag in the ground and saying pay attention; this is important.
I find this so darn interesting because, so far as I know, Terry Pratchett is not a Christian. In his public life, he has advocated for things which I find objectionable, assisted suicide among them. And yet, in this book, he is drawing a firm line under one of the cornerstones of the Way. In one of the most poignant scenes in the New Testament, Jesus washes his disciple's feet (John 13). Afterwards, he says "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 13:15). When He called them, he said "follow me." Now, just before he leaves them, he says "like this." Jesus is acting out the point he made in Mark 10: "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many." Granny Weatherwax's "soul and center" speech I quoted part of above echoes this so much it might as well have used the same tuning fork. You want to be a great witch in Discworld? You serve. You want to be a great Christian? You serve. In both the created world and the real world there is a class of people set apart from the rest of the world. And what defines them? The symbols, the trappings associated with them? No. It's service. Unselfish, unheralded service.
This book is great fun to read. The writing is exemplary; the characters are memorable and entertaining; there is plenty of action and comedy. What elevates it to a different place, however, what makes me want to put it in the hands of kids, is a belief you just don't run across much anymore:
"You couldn't say: It's not my fault. You couldn't say: It's not my responsibility. You could say: I will deal with this. You didn't have to want to. But you had to do it. Tiffany took a deep breath and stepped into the dark cottage." (p. 204).
This isn't the scene where Tiffany faces down the immortal creature which has been trying to possess and destroy her. That comes later. Here, she is going to see an old, lonely man so she can own up to a mistake. In many ways, it is the most important scene in the book.(less)
This is one of those books that, the longer you sit and think about it, the deeper it becomes. The basic premise upon which Shusterman founds his dyst...moreThis is one of those books that, the longer you sit and think about it, the deeper it becomes. The basic premise upon which Shusterman founds his dystopian world is that a second American Civil War was fought over the pro-life/pro-choice debate. The horrible result is the compromise known as "unwinding." Essentially, life is sacrosanct until age 13, at which point kids can be broken down into their component parts for use in transplants. It is every bit as disturbing as it sounds.
When I understood the magnitude of the situation, of what this meant for a society, my initial reaction was incredulity. Surely, humanity could never arrive at such a decision. But even before the thought had finished forming, I knew it was thin. We live in a fallen, broken world, where any atrocity is possible given the right set of circumstances. Had I not grown up with the existence of nuclear bombs or the Holocaust, I might have thought those impossible too. The plain truth is that it could happen. Such a war, such an agreement could exist, which makes this novel all the more heart-rending. Like the best authors, Shusterman presents a story which inevitably leads the reader to question their own beliefs and assumptions.
This depth of field, ultimately, operates in the background of a very fine character-driven story. Connor, Risa, and Lev are fully-realized and distinctly written. They are all struggling to come to terms with the various roads which led them to unwinding, as well as the startlingly mature question of what they will become in the time they have left. There are many adults, myself included, that would likely shut down in a similar situation. The fact that Shusterman has his leads constantly evolving as people in a life of unsure length keeps his book from falling into an action-driven shallowness.
To be sure, there is plenty of action and intrigue throughout, but it acts in support of the story; it is not, in and of itself, the story. Shusterman's prose is so unobtrusive that it's nearly transparent. There are sections of the book which almost seem to appear before you, unfolding without aid of the words. This is most powerfully true in the scene in which one of the characters is actually unwound. Shusterman forces the reader through the entire process, keeping the focus tight to the unwind. Without question or hyperbole, it is the most disturbing, chilling passage I have ever read. That experience alone is worth the price of admission, but, fortunately, the book is much bigger than even this.(less)