The Girl with all the Gifts starts with a very intriguing and scandalous premise. A bunch of kids are waiting in their individual cells for something....moreThe Girl with all the Gifts starts with a very intriguing and scandalous premise. A bunch of kids are waiting in their individual cells for something. Pretty soon, some soldiers walk in to each kid's cell, with one pointing his gun at the kid's head, and couple of other soldiers strapping the kid to a chair. Hands strapped, legs strapped, even the kid's neck is strapped so tight that there is no room for movement in any direction. Once everyone is happy with the arrangement, the kid is wheeled into a classroom, into which more kids will be brought soon, using the same routine. Then class starts.
That was just the weirdest beginning to a book I had read in recent times and I had to know what the deal was with all the mystery and security. There is some hinting of a breakdown that happened a few years back and the current location having some scientists who are busy trying to do some research. There is also plenty of mention of zombie-like creatures, called hungry in this book, because of their insane appetite for humans. (Seriously, that sounds just like zombie to me, and the word hungry took a lot of getting used to.) But the full picture isn't revealed immediately - the story is slowly told in layers, leaving enough mystery to have you reading through to the end.
About a quarter of my way in, I did start comparing this to other zombie novels. There is only so much variety in this department, just like in many of the paranormal books. I was quite bugged by it. I am not one for reading the same kind of books - I like my books to be fun, quirky, and innovative, not steeped in conventions. Luckily, a little after that, things started becoming more obviously different. The titular girl in this book is one of the cell-girls, Melanie. She has quite an inquisitive mind and absorbs a lot of what happens around her. She doesn't quite question why she is being imprisoned though - having grown up like that, she has just taken it for granted. But something happens shortly that soon sends her into denial.
Very early on, I knew what Melanie was. But what intrigued me more was how she could be so different from others of her kind. Now that's where this story takes a completely less treaded path. You don't really learn much about it, until the very end but there is enough suspense to go on till then.
It is a good thing that the story was very intriguing. Because the writing wasn't. The author started off very well, but much of the last three-quarters of the book could have done with a thorough editing. There is a lot of repetition and focus on irrelevant stuff. I also thought that a single narrator would have worked better for this book. The different narrators were focused on with different levels on intimacy - some talked mostly about what they were doing, some others talked mostly about what they were thinking. This inconsistency meant that by the end, I didn't really know anyone well.
If you read a book without knowing who the author was, would you be able to guess the gender of the author? I had no idea who M. R. Carey was and learned later that it is a pen name for Mike Carey. But even without knowing that, I could have told you that this book was written by a male. There is plenty of sex talk in the narratives of the male characters and zilch of that when female protagonists take the floor. There are also lots and lots of military talk in here, which is to be expected considering one of the main characters is a soldier. I don't want to say that's how males write, and females write something opposite, but I like to think that there are some things men like to focus on, and other things women like to focus on. There is also a lot of biology talk in here, and funnily, that is where I generally began to get a little queasy. If you have read the book, you will probably understand what I mean.
Ultimately, when I read books like this, it is the ending I am most interested in. This is a dystopian world after all, and how the author chooses to end is as important as how the author builds the world. Does it end positively? Does it reverse the dystopia? Does it end up revealing something laughably funny just to end the story? Or does it send the world into more dystopia? I thought it was a mix of positive ending and more dystopia, with a little bit of that silly big reveal at the end. It's hard to explain, and it does make some sense, but I did wish for a different ending.
Ultimately, this book is worth reading for the ride and the suspense. The writing isn't great, but it doesn't ruin the reading experience. You can glaze over some of the technical stuff - you will get the gist of it. And while some parts of the book did leave me a bit meh, the sum of it all left a positive feel in my head.(less)
Finally this series is over. And I say that with a relief. I don't know why I read it if I knew I wasn't going to enjoy it, but it's a series and it's...moreFinally this series is over. And I say that with a relief. I don't know why I read it if I knew I wasn't going to enjoy it, but it's a series and it's hard abandoning something in the middle. I found both the previous books of this series, Divergent and Insurgent, very immature and insubstantial, but with a good world-building and a somewhat intriguing plot. The world that Tris inhabits has been divided into five factions, each favoring a certain trait in people (fearlessness, honesty, peace-loving, selflessness and knowledge). Of course, too much of one trait does have some other consequences.
In Divergent, one faction leader turns evil and tries to take control of all the factions. In Insurgent, the factionless (i.e., those without factions) take control from the evil faction leader. And finally, in Allegiant, another faction leader tries to get back all that control from whoever last had it. That's the story in a nutshell - Everybody fighting for control. Against that backdrop, they all find out that there is an outside world and other people like them and for some unknown reason, the people of these five factions and the factionless have been boxed into a community.
Of the three, I liked Allegiant best, but only by a small margin. Allegiant finally made sense of the world that author Veronica Roth created without much initial explanation. I didn't like how the first two books seemed to not give any hint of what is the deal with these people and all of a sudden, there is this whole mystery and scandal behind, revealed in the third book. But at least it all made sense to me, even if it was all too convenient. The writing in this one is just as unwieldy and the dialogues very sappy. It surprised me initially when I found that this book alternated between two characters - Tris and her boyfriend Tobias, even though the previous two books were from Tris' perspective alone. The third book is a little too late in the game to start switching narration styles, so I figured there was something more to that kind of decision. Which, when I found out, I didn't appreciate at all.
Anyways, long griping made short, this is a good series for a quick fun read, so long as you don't read too much between the lines. I feel there are more meaty series' out there that are more entertaining and logical. With better dialogues. If you haven't yet started this series, then you probably are not missing much.(less)
Unwholly starts about a year after Unwind. We have our same three protagonists from Unwind, tasking themselves with some crucial responsibilities this...moreUnwholly starts about a year after Unwind. We have our same three protagonists from Unwind, tasking themselves with some crucial responsibilities this time, in their continuing fight against the practice of unwinding (whereby parents opt to donate their child's body parts - alive, so that other people can benefit from them). Connor is in charge of a salvaged aircraft yard where hundreds of teenagers are kept safe from the juvenile authority. Risa, crippled in an accident at the end of Unwind takes care of medical matters, while Lev is on probation and is being monitored 24x7 by the authorities.
In addition to the three, we have three new interesting characters. Starkey is a stork (his biological mother abandoned him at someone's doorstep who would become his foster parents) who is about to be unwound but is rescued by Connor and a few others on a rescue mission. Starkey is also not used to yielding to authority and happens to be one hell of a manipulative character. Miracolina is a tithe (a sacrifice to God via unwinding and tithes love being tithes) who has just been rescued, except she didn't want to be rescued and causes much trouble to her rescuers and to Lev. And then there's Cam, the guy on the cover, the most astounding consequence of unwinding.
I'm deliberately leaving a lot out from the plot because 1. Cam's story is a lovely surprise that's best left out and 2. this is a sequel so I don't want to spoil anything. I read Unwind a few months back and found out about Unwholly just a few weeks back. Unwind was a absolutely wonderful and thrilling read so I was hoping to get more of that from Unwholly. This second book of a trilogy wasn't as excitingly paced as its prequel but it still packed plenty of twists and turns.
I liked the addition of the three new characters - Starkey and Miracolina were infuriating enough in different ways. Starkey was a complete douche - he was the perfect example of how a rift can form in a group whose members start with the same goal. Even with everyone at the yard having the same goal of staying alive until seventeen (the age beyond which one cannot be unwound) and fighting in their own harmless way against unwinding, Starkey manages to create a stork club and show how the storks need preferential treatment and be above everyone else. So much like real world - where peace is the first goal and then each sect wants its own state/country/special rules. Cam was the character I expected to hate, but funnily he had one of the most humane personalities in the book. His story raises the same questions that a lot of our medical technologies raise, on the ground of ethics but his is a story that succeeded against these opponents and while there are still plenty of naysayers, there is more acceptance.
There was one thing that I especially liked in this book - Unwholly expresses well how something that is taken for granted today could have been an alien concept at some point in the past. The very idea of unwinding was one such and to kids like Connor, they grew up in a world that accepted unwinding, so any other world was impossible to fathom. The author demonstrated how the public can be swayed easily to accept something they've been revolting against, and how time can change the perception of a lot of things.
Unfortunately, this book suffered from a lackluster writing. The captivating writing style from Unwind was nowhere to be seen here. If the plot wasn't intriguing enough, I may not have bothered with reading this book. Despite the poor writing, this is a trilogy that I would happily recommend to anyone. I don't usually enjoy YA books, primarily because I've read very few of them whose plot rings sensible to me. Since I like my books on the side of reality even in a dystopian world, this trilogy seems to be really working for me.(less)
Beatrice is nervous. She has a test coming up soon. The test. The test that will determine her future. On a particular day each year, all sixteen-year...moreBeatrice is nervous. She has a test coming up soon. The test. The test that will determine her future. On a particular day each year, all sixteen-year olds have to take a test that will find the dominant quality they possess and thus find the faction that best suits them. A day after the test, they have to make their choice. If they choose a different faction from the one they were born in, they cannot return back or meet their parents. Beatrice's test doesn't go as expected, forcing her to keep a secret, and she ends up making a choice that surprises everyone. However, when she begins to hear hints of a growing conflict, her secret becomes suddenly life-threatening and she has to do something to save herself.
Finally, the review I've been writing in my head for two months but have been really reluctant to translate that to paper (or bytes). I almost feel like I'm standing among a sparse group of people on one side of the fence facing a huge fanbase who loved this book. Honestly, I found just one other person on my Goodreads friends' list who rated this book at 2 stars, everyone else gave it 4 or 5. I'm bordering at 3. You see, I didn't get the appeal of this series. At all. And that was quite disappointing because it is being touted as the next Hunger Games phenomenon, and I loved the Hunger Games series! Just recently, soon after the release of the first HG book, someone in the publishing industry was asked what next after the entire HG movies were released. And he pointed at the Divergent trilogy. I could only look down disappointed. (I wish I had noted down who said this, but right now you only have my word here and it's true.)
Divergent is the first book in yet another YA dystopian trilogy in a market that now seems saturated with them. I love me some good dystopia. I love watching dystopian movies and I like imagining all the possible ways the world can reach a state of utter chaos and mismanagement. (That makes me better appreciate today's world as we know it.) Divergent is actually good. It invests in the concept of a test to determine one's true calling but hides that behind the idea that the individual always has choice in the matter. Quite unlike The Giver, in which what you were deemed good at becomes your job for life, but still not too different for me to not raise my eyebrows. There are five factions in Divergent - each valuing a particular trait - truth, insane daredevilry bravery, selflessness, knowledge, peace. Obviously, there are people who do not fit in either. They become the homeless who have to live on other people's kindness (usually those of the Abnegation faction). And then there are people who spoiler... mumble ... spoiler. As our heroine of this trilogy is.
My big issue with the book is that I felt the author was trying too hard to create the dystopian world. Unlike many other utopian and dystopian lit I have come across, this world never quite felt natural to me. A lot of the elements felt too convenient, and so much goes unexplained, violating the 'Show, Don't Tell' adage. I was reminded of too many other books while reading this one. I am by no means saying that the idea isn't original. It is, to a limit. I just felt that I had read other better similar books, especially The Giver and The Hunger Games. I ended up feeling that the world was standing on some weak stilts. Even the conflict at the end felt artificial and its motivation felt very weak. Although there were very vague hints of some impending danger, the conflict felt to me to have come out of nowhere - without sufficient buildup and anticipation. I guess I could say that it felt more like a terrorist attack than a planned war. But at the same time, knowing something about the coming conflict, spoiled the element of surprise that terrorism usually brings.
As is customary now in YA dystopia, there is some romance too. Actually, cross that. There is just a little more romance than I felt comfortable with. Which is okay. I've never enjoyed the fixation with romance in YA books, but its presence didn't really bother me because I expected it. What did bother me was how lame it all sounded. There is an unapproachable guy who is up to his forehead full of secrets and we have a heroine who is feeling somewhat attracted to that image. Ring a bell, anyone? At one point, the romance felt too sugary and eye-rubbing for me to even enjoy it.
I did like (a little) Beatrice's character. I didn't care for any of the other characters - almost all of them felt very flat to me. I initially felt guilty that I was again being too demanding of strong characters before I remembered that there are other YA books with strong characters. I liked Beatrice because of the reason I like a woman/girl character - she is independent, thinks for herself, can protect herself. I also liked the whole training session in the book - there are skills to be learned and the competitors are ranked by their performance. A little game in any book is always welcome.
I should probably end my review now, lest I get some tomatoes hauled at my face. If you haven't read this book yet, you may not need to take my opinion here. There are PLENTY of readers who loved it, which makes me the oddball, something that rarely happens with dystopia. Last weekend, I went and picked up Insurgent (the second book in the trilogy), because that's how confused I am about my reading choices, but I am yet to open a page of that book. I am thinking it is something I could read over the weekend in a couple of sittings, just to know what happens, but unless Insurgent does the Divergent formula a little better, I may not find my thoughts on that book any different.(less)
In Huxley's utopian (or dystopian, depending on how you look at it) future, a capitalist civilization has been carefully constructed on the principles...moreIn Huxley's utopian (or dystopian, depending on how you look at it) future, a capitalist civilization has been carefully constructed on the principles of stability. New life is literally manufactured in an assembly line process where the fertilized eggs of to-be-top citizens (called Alphas and Betas) are cultured without much treatment, while those of to-be-the-dregs-of-the-society (such as Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons) go through a lot of processing to make them stunted and intellectually challenged. A lot of these low-class citizens are twins. As in, one fertilized egg made to divide so many times, that you have 40-80 identical people staring at you. Creepy? Through the growing years, all the citizens are conditioned (or brainwashed in their sleep) to believe a bunch of tenets that the government has drawn up. Nobody questions their existence or revolts against what they do. Everyone grows up knowing what they will become when they are old enough. They are trained not to fall in love or have any sort of emotional connection with anyone. Since no one is conceived in the traditional manner, the idea of a mother or father is repulsive. Worse, people have sex on a regular basis with different people and even encourage their friends to "have" this woman that they slept with last night, because she is fabulous in bed.
Repulsive? I nearly puked my way through the pages.
In trying to create a utopia that has no violence, no negative sentiments, no conflicts, no individual above a group, no poverty, no famine, and no dearth of anything, Huxley invents a world that has no humanity either. The ideas for his utopia are derived from the world as he knew it in the 1930s - the increasing dependence on machines, the industrial revolution, the wars, the arrival of capitalism. Of course, there are no computers in his book, because computers weren't invented then.
Most of the characters in the book are conditioned into the new world way of thinking - "Dating" the same person for long was considered improper, the act of birthing a child is a very obscene act that when they have their controlled "history" lessons, people cringe at the mention of the words "mother" or "father", and when people wanted a break, they took a drug called "soma" to get them high and take them on a dream-holiday. You can say that soma is something like pot, except the government encourages its citizens to have it, but in limited quantities. However, a man named Bernard isn't entirely in agreement with the system, but only because even though he is an Alpha, he doesn't look like one, probably because something messed up his cells during his fabrication, as I like to call it. When he goes with his current "girlfriend" to a Savage reservation, which houses the few natives who aren't yet civilized, he comes across a boy named John born of a once-civilized-woman. Bernard then proceeds to bring John to the civilization.
I thought Huxley did a fabulous job of creating a world that stood on its own, all just for stability. All through the book, I had my arguments against a lot of things that are done, but they are all from the humane perspective. In one chapter, the World Controller (something like a President) manages to dismiss all my questions. Despite what I thought about the book having been written well, I didn't really like Brave New World. In creating a world as different as possible from the one we live in, Huxley spends a big part of the book talking about sex and his characters' fascination with it. Young kids were even encouraged to play erotic games - all part of their conditioning. All of it makes the reader uncomfortable - that is definitely his intention, but there were a lot of other aspects of the world that he could focus on than just on individual characters recommending their date of last night to their best friend because she is "pneumatic" or having curves, and how the kids playing those games kept popping up on every other scene.
Then there is the fact that a lot of the low-status citizens are Negros or Senegalese or Dravidians - again meant to make the reader uncomfortable, but I couldn't see the point of explicitly mentioning certain races, especially races that are traditionally biased against. I also found this book a mashup of a Shakespearean novel and the arrival of capitalism. The ending is almost entirely inspired by Shakespeare, and I found it very comic rather than tragic. I went in expecting something huge and moving to happen at the end - I wanted to feel inspired to not let the world we live in get to that end, but I only felt disappointed by what happened. Of course, I should note that this book was written in 1932, and the themes were probably more relevant then - with all the uncertainty about where the world was heading, still the ending felt to be from a totally different book, and not fitting in with the rest of the story. I found the writing very hard to get through occasionally - that meant I had to read past the first page before I could get myself invested in the story. Sometimes, he stated the same thing so often that I wanted to say, alright, let's move on, please. But there were also times when the book made for wonderful reading.
So that's a lot of whines, but I was disappointed. I did expect a lot, and while I enjoyed the book at some level, I found more issues with it than things to praise. I do not however think that this book should be kept away from young adults, because there are a lot of things to learn from this book, most importantly whether stability is more important than humanity. I know many of you have read this (and loved it), so I would love to hear what you thought of it!(less)