Octavia Butler is one of my favorite-favorites, but this book...not her best and sadly, her last. Apparently it was the first of a planned series and...moreOctavia Butler is one of my favorite-favorites, but this book...not her best and sadly, her last. Apparently it was the first of a planned series and maybe if she had continued, the themes and characters would have been fleshed out in a more satisfactory way...unfortunately, it did not. Worth a read for fans of Butler or people looking for innovative or more literary vampire stories, but otherwise, I'd advise skipping it.(less)
Frustrating book. I alternated between finding her extremely likable to finding her exceedingly self-absorbed and annoying. This is a woman who's very...moreFrustrating book. I alternated between finding her extremely likable to finding her exceedingly self-absorbed and annoying. This is a woman who's very self-focused, so the sections where she focused on her inner turmoil and spiritual experiences were quite good. But when she tried to describe other people and places, it fell flat and annoyed the crap out of me with her need to put other people into convenient little boxes she could understand and/or cast them in supporting roles in the drama of her life.
She also reeked of Western upper middle class intellectual privilege, which she was at times aware of and at other times...not, and it was pretty gross.
This has been described as the women's version of Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance, and seeing as how I found that book equally as frustrating in its annoying combination of insightfulness, selfishness, and Orientalism, I must whole-heartedly agree. (less)
Came for the severed penises, stayed for the riveting exploration of PTSD.
I picked up this book because it was mentioned in one of those OMG THE CHLDR...moreCame for the severed penises, stayed for the riveting exploration of PTSD.
I picked up this book because it was mentioned in one of those OMG THE CHLDRENZ articles about how Young Adult literature is too dark and violent and sexual. Since I'm writing a dark and violent and sexual YA story right now, I wanted to see how far I could push it.
The Marbury Lens does have a fair share of swearing, sexual content, and violent imagery. Way less than most teens are going to be exposed to naturally (or through other forms of media) but enough to scare the people who've forgotten that teenagers live in the same world as them. But for me, the surprising darkness of it was not in content, but in theme.
One quality of YA that I've seen as the most important aspects (besides having actual teenagers in the book) is that it tends to have a hopeful tone. Don't get me wrong, writers use YA books to explore some really really dark stuff, but there is a definite lack of the cynical "gritty" doom and gloom attitude that's common in adult books. I don't think that's a bad thing or a good thing, really. I think it reflects the age group, certainly. Teenagers are more resilient than adults in many ways, and their capacity for hope is great.
But the Marbury Lens, it's dark. Jack, a 16 year old American boy, gets to spend a few weeks abroad with his best friend Connor. Right before they leave, Jack gets too drunk and wanders into a park, sick. A doctor finds him and offers to take him to a hospital. But the doctor doesn't take him to a hospital, he kidnaps Jack and ties him up in his house and tries to rape him. Jack escapes and tells his friend Connor, and then something even more violent happens. Then Jack leaves for England. When he first arrives there, a stranger gives him a pair of purple glasses. When he puts them on, he's transported to Marbury, a place ravaged by war. When he's there, he's with two other boys who know him and he has memories of a different life. In the "real world", Jack struggles to connect with his friends and keep up his budding relationship with an English girl he meets. In Marbury, Jack fights for his life, and he can't keep the two separate. Although his relationship with Nickie is a hopeful light in his life, it's not enough to shut out the horrors of what happened to him.
It's funny, before I read this book I was just discussing with a friend (Lina, dat you!) about how dystopia is a weird genre because hello, we're already kind of living in a dystopia! You don't have to make it a fantasy/futuristic setting to find those kind of horrors. (I have more complex thoughts on this, I do really love dystopia, but that's a topic to discuss later). Anyway, the Marbury Lens is kind of an answer to that. Jack's attachment to the glasses and Marbury--part of the reason he keeps putting them back on and torturing himself in this hell is that Marbury is a place he can understand. The bad guys are clearly marked, there's action and help, and the good guys are somewhere to be found. In Marbury, everything is as it seems. To Jack, it's the real world that is the real horror. It's as dark as Marbury, but you can't tell.
There's a lot of interesting stuff going on in this book and I mostly enjoyed it until the end, which I found severely lacking. Then I found out there is going to be a sequel (arrggh so tired of series, please just write standalone books guys!!), so I'll refrain from commenting on that at this moment.
The only thing that really bothered me reading it were the constant gay jokes that Connor made. I know that's how teenage boys talk, and the protaganist did not share his "gay fears" and it was a way of dealing with male platonic love blah blah blah but in a book with a lot of male sexual predators, it kind of left me uncomfortable and wondering what exactly the author was going for, if anything at all. EDIT: Upon reflection and a nice dialogue with the author, I've decided that the book does have some nice exploration of the negative effects of homophobia and a good exploraiton of how society does or doesn't teach men to relate to their sexuality. (less)
Incredibly powerful book that tells the story of the most progressive juvenile rehabilitation center in the US. And yes, it's in Texas. Shocking, righ...moreIncredibly powerful book that tells the story of the most progressive juvenile rehabilitation center in the US. And yes, it's in Texas. Shocking, right?
Giddings State School is where the worst of the worst of juvenile offenders are sent. Murderers, rapists, entrenched gang leaders...people who are "beyond help." And they help them. Their philosophy lies in the basic concept that these teenagers have, as a protective mechanism, lost the ability to empathize. Through intensive therapy and group work (called resocialization), they push them to reconnect with their past and the pain they suffered and then show them how they inflicted that same pain onto others.
Giddings doesn't look or feel like a prison. It's got beautiful open spaces, no guards carry weapons beyond pepper spray (and only a few have that), they are called "students" instead of prisoners, and everyone is treated with respect. From the outside, it looks like a pretty easy life for someone who's committed such a destructive crime. But the administrators claim that it's the "hard" way. In prison, instead of being forced to confront their lives and actions, they harden themselves and defer even more responsibility. Giddings, in constrast, is a grueling psychological experience where they are not allowed to indulge in "thinking errors" like making excuses or avoidance. While the program has drawn a lot of controversy (I mean, it's in Texas! You can imagine there are a lot of opponents.), no one care argue with the results. It works.
Last Chance in Texas follows two students, one boy and one girl. After spending years earning privileges, they get the opportunity to do the Capital Offenses group. In small groups, each member tells his or her life story over several sessions. The rest of the kids in the group draw it out, asking questions and relating from their own experiences. They they role play key scenes from the kids life. After that, they go to telling their crime stories and it culminates with them role playing their crimes, the offender taking the role of their victim. The stories that Hubner witnessed and wrote about are absolutely heartbreaking. The amount of abuse and neglect that these kids have suffered is overwhelming. And then seeing them let go of their anger to accept responsibility (and guilt) for the crimes that they committed was amazing. A kid who successfully completes this group and other required activities will not be sent to adult prison.
Other things the book touched on that made it a much more realistic and fair picture: a history of juvenile convictions (since I have a longtime interest in prison rights it was mostly familiar to me but I'm glad it was there to give context for readers who might not be as well versed), examples of students who "washed" out of the program and were passed on to their long prison sentences (although the Giddings school thinks most people can be reached, they admit the existence of true psychopaths and will remove them to protect the rest of the students), and the rights of the victim and their families.
I have always respected the ability of people (especially teenagers) to change and be layered dynamic people and I strongly support the philosophy of looking at criminal justice system as a rehabilitative place instead of a punishment factory. But sometimes it is hard to look at people who have committed such atrocities and know what to do with them. This book (and program) offers solutions and most importantly, hope. (less)
Clay Jensen gets a package in the mail of six cassette tapes. When he plays one, he hears the voice of his classmate Hannah,...moreWaffled a lot on this one.
Clay Jensen gets a package in the mail of six cassette tapes. When he plays one, he hears the voice of his classmate Hannah, who killed herself a few weeks prior. Hannah says she has a list of thirteen reasons (and thirteen people)of why she killed herself, and Clay is one of them. Clay, who had a crush on Hannah for years but was always too afraid to move on it, is baffled by his inclusion. He listens to them all in one night, following a map she made of important locations.
It's a great concept and is executed fairly well. There are some important issues addressed and Asher does a good job of keeping us sympathetic to Hannah's life but also still not making her suicide inevitable. There are some very genuine moving moments.
But, I had some problems.
1. Ultimately, I had a hard time buying Hannah. She's so self-aware, so understanding of what motivated everyone around her..I don't know. I'm not saying that suicidal people are all one way or another and I'm sure that many people saw parts of themselves in her, but it rang hollow to me sometimes. Hannah's voice just didn't work for me. I related to her experiences in certain ways but not the way she expressed herself. It reminded me of how I would talk about things NOW, not how I would have talked about them then. I just didn't have that kind of understanding of the world, and not because I didn't have the experiences but because I didn't have the context or the emotional maturity to process them that way. Her one blind spot was that she couldn't see how Clay failed her, and that was probably the most compelling part of the book...his growing realization of the extent of the part he played and then her giving him absolution. But otherwise, I couldn't connect with her fully.
2. The sexuality stuff. Hannah spends a lot of the book talking about the rumors about her being 'slutty' and deconstructing them to show that she's NOT that kind of person. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but I definitely got kind of a "Hey I'm not a slut, I'm a good girl see?" vibe instead of a "The way that people talk about teenage female sexuality is fucked up."
3. Her family. I know Hannah even addresses this towards the end, remarking that she's only telling instances, not the whole story but...it just felt like a hole. Clay remarks at one point in the book that by listening to Hannah's narration, he feels like he finally knows the real her. I did not agree. I felt like I needed to understand her more. (I did love the glimpses we saw of Clay's mom and their relationship though. See, parents in YA can be good and loving! Take that, YA teacher!)
4. And finally, Clay himself was not that interesting to me. I enjoyed the parts where he saw in himself the things that Hannah was accusing others of, but at other points his narrative intrusions were annoying. I wanted to know her, I didn't even feel that with him.
But, with all these reservations, I still enjoyed it a lot. It was a quick read and built up suspense (so much so though, that by the end it felt a bit anti-climatic and I found myself going "that's all? that's why she killed herself?" and then felt like a jerk because it's not like there's valid reasons for suicide anyway) and I really did like how he didn't give easy answers, but rather built up a very sad web of small incidences, because really, it is those things that build up and break the dams. And even though I didn't always find Hannah's awareness realistic, I *did* enjoy it anyway because hey, you tell 'em girl. (less)
Basic synopsis: Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown, a settlement where a devastating germ war with an alien race left no women and all the men can hear...moreBasic synopsis: Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown, a settlement where a devastating germ war with an alien race left no women and all the men can hear each others' thoughts all the time (called their Noise). Prentisstown is a depressing place, people either think about the women they used to know, or drink a lot, or follow the fire and brimstone teachers of their Church. (Men, right?) Todd is the youngest member of the town, the last boy. He has 30 days before he becomes a man. When his guardians send him out on an errand near the swamp, Todd and his talking dog Manchee (all the animals can talk too, one of my favorite parts of the book, as Ness doesn't cutesyfy or personify them. Manchee sounds exactly like what I'd imagine my dumbass dog sounds like <3) run into something they've never heard before: quiet. The source of that quiet, and the secrets it holds, change Todd's life forever.
Wooo this book went fast. For some reason I dragged my heels getting around to it. It just didn't "seem" like something I'd like, even though I knew nothing about it and it had come highly recommended by a trusty friend. Maybe I'm just lazy.
But once I started it, I could not put it down! It was a stay-up-until-1am kind of book, for sure. Ness writes in a delightful colloquial language, not too heavy to be distracting but visible enough to give character. It ends on a big cliffhanger, which I found exhausting. Maybe I'm just over series for now, but I will be picking up the next one eventually.
Really enjoyed this book. It had such a unique narrator, definitely a perspective I hadn't seen before that allowed the book to have one of the most i...moreReally enjoyed this book. It had such a unique narrator, definitely a perspective I hadn't seen before that allowed the book to have one of the most interesting commentaries on privilege that I've read. It starts a bit slow and detached, but keep reading! I got sucked in so subtly that by the end of one section I was shocked to find myself holding back tears. It's a very intelligent book but it's also very relatable and very visceral.
Also LOLing at all the reviewers who are like "WHY THIS YOUNG ADULT. HOW TEEN READ BOOK TEEN DUMB HOW HAPPEN." Teenagers aren't stupid, guys. ;) Well some of them are, but a lot of adults are too. This has some definite breaks with "normal" YA--the narrator starts off young and the language is a bit archaic, but it's very YA. Which is not an insult. :)(less)
I didn’t write much for Rampant, but after finishing Ascendant I think this series deserves more than a one sentence review. I am so glad that when I...moreI didn’t write much for Rampant, but after finishing Ascendant I think this series deserves more than a one sentence review. I am so glad that when I first picked up Rampant that I had no idea it was about killer unicorns. I am sure I would have skipped it, and I’d be missing out if I had. The series follows Astrid Llewellyn, a unicorn hunter descended from one of the most famous hunters of all time. In this world, unicorns are not friendly glorified ponies. They are intelligent predators that hunt and eat their prey. Women of the lineage, provided they stay virginal, draw power from the unicorns and can sense their presence. Astrid joins the Order of the Lioness, an ancient order dedicated to protecting humans from the unicorns.
It all sounds a little silly, but it works. The hunters feel like real people and their diversity of background and character is much appreciated. Peterfreund plays up the sexuality aspect of the story, which leads to some great honest conversations between the characters about sex and modern femininity. Astrid herself is a unique YA protagonist. She loves science and wants to be a physician someday, and she approaches all this magical lore with a logical and curious mind. Although she is descended from a line of famous hunters, she struggles with the role she must play. How can she be a healer if she is a hunter? How can she be a normal seventeen year old girl but also a trained killer in an ancient order?
Ascendant is a great sequel to Rampant. It doesn’t offer easy solutions to Astrid, only deeper complexities. I was really upset to see on the author’s website that she currently doesn’t have a contract to write anymore in the series. There are still so many unanswered questions! Come on HarperTeen! MAKE IT HAPPEN. (less)