From a familiar premise arose a story so nailbitingly gripping I literally could not put it down. Though I had my suspicions that this series could turn into a Hunger Games lite, I was pleasantly surprised to find a refreshing complexity and ingenuity in the sequel that has me even more excited for the conclusion. So if you prefer your dystopia with more subterfuge than battlefields, you'll definitely enjoy the unexpected turn this series took as much as I did.
I'll admit, I didn't find Cia very engaging in the first book. She read almost too perfect and lucky for my taste. This time, however, I felt she really got the chance to show her worth. For one thing, the challenges and trials set for her were much more intellect-based, drawing us farther from not only repetition from The Testing's storyline, but also naturally distancing her from Katnis. But what I found most stimulating about Cia this time around was how much she was legitimately afraid.
It's one thing to fear threats that are right in front of you. Someone is firing a gun at you, someone is running at you with a knife: you either react correctly or you don't. Now that the preliminary Testing is over, the questions aren't simply on a page or in an arena, now Cia's entire life is under evaluation. Does she perform adequately in class? Does she socialize the proper amount? Is she making the right choices in friends? Is she feeling too much stress? Cia is completely aware of all this evaluation and knows that even one step out of line could cost her her life, and I loved feeling her fear. Her fear, her uncertainty, her anxiety all came together perfectly and made me feel for her character in a way I just didn't in the first book. So I guess sign me up for the Cia fanclub, I'm sold.
Possibly another factor that endeared Cia to me was her treatment of Tomas. Whereas Tomas was the major and obvious love interest in book one, he is nearly non-existent here. Part of that is due to Cia knowing he's hiding a major secret from her, part of that is due to them being physically separated by different studies. Regardless, I appreciated the "Main Man" not being a huge deal as far as Cia's story was concerned. Sure, he's still there and still fairly important in Cia's plans, but their relationship doesn't take precedent over the life-or-death government conspiracy Cia's mixed up in.
Which leads me straight into the meat of the book. Whereas the last book was much more action-packed, which led me to my Hunger Games comparison, this one focused instead on a more covert story. Instead of kids killing kids out in the open with knives, explosives, and crossbows, all the backstabbing now lies in puzzle-solving and information-gathering. This gave the whole plot more of a Big Brother, 1984 vibe, which I definitely appreciated. Maybe it's just me, but I kinda like the idea of toppling a big bad enemy with brains instead of who's got the biggest guns.
And speaking of big bads, what about that evil government I ranted about last time? I believe I called them completely illogical and stated that their attempts to quell rebellion were solely responsible for their citizens wanting to rebel. Well, that may still be the case, but I do have to say, they are a LOT better at their game than I gave them credit for. I mean, I thought they were kinda dumb in the first book. Powerful, sure, but pretty stupid. I sincerely rescind any and all implications that they were mentally challenged in any respect. They are terrifyingly smart, so much so that they gave me chills. I may be rooting even harder for Cia, but at the same time I'm kinda scared to tick off this fictional government.
Picking up almost exactly where the first left off, it wasn't too hard to reacquaint myself with the characters and story. But the ending, now that has me scrambling for the next book. I don't know that I would call it a cliffhanger as much as I would a complete game-changer. One big enough you'll probably want to have the last book handy for when you finish it. As far as sequels go, this far exceeded my expectations and completely changed my mind about the entire series. I'm both terrified and excited to see where the conclusion, Graduation Day will take us, and I'm eager to start in on it tomorrow.
So, overall I found Independent Study to be a riveting and game-changing continuation to what appeared to be an average dystopian trilogy. Fans of the first book should find this one refreshingly different with its covert slant on the popular dystopian formula, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking for a YA take on 1984. Much less violence this time around, but a couple deaths and general conspiracy themes have me recommending it for high-school and up. Yet another example of a series proving me wrong, Independent Study shows that you can't judge a series by its first book, so check out a copy today and experience the new twists and turns yourself.
Perhaps I've been reading too many well-written and utterly fascinating Dystopian books lately. Maybe I've grown too used to the idea that the world is doomed, humanity has all but killed itself, and the future holds nothing but torture and injustice. Or perhaps I've heard too much praise for the series. Because when it came to Uglies, I just didn't get the punch I was expecting.
The world of Uglies was both dark and fascinating. Inequality is a thing of the past because after age 16 everyone looks beautiful. If you think about it, it's kinda true. To quote from the book:
"Everyone judged everyone else based on their appearance. People who were taller got better jobs, and people even voted for some politicians because they weren't quite as ugly as everyone else." [...]
"Yeah, and people killed one another over stuff like having different skin color."
It's sad to say so, but who doesn't judge a person based on their appearance, take in that first impression? You may not always act upon that initial judgement, but it's in our mindsets. So it would seem that there are no downsides in creating a society of equality, where everyone can be gifted with equal beauty for free.
But in a world created by humans, are there such things as equality and freedom for all? Yeah, the book's labeled Dystopian: you do the math.
As far as Dystopians go, I thought this one was less relatable than most others I've read. Oftentimes I read a book and see parallels, or read a scathing social commentary that makes me want to change what I'm doing, to go out and make a difference now, before everything goes to hell. Here, though, everything is so distanced from the world today. All we see of today's culture is ruins, artifacts, and the characters can only wonder how we survived. It's as if we're seeing ourselves from an alien's perspective instead of a descendant's.
Which in turn made it less heavy-handed and much more focused on the story at hand. Because I didn't feel like I had to go stop things myself, I was able to engross myself in the world and characters more fully. On the one hand, I appreciated being able to relax and just enjoy the story, but on the other hand, I wasn't as distracted from things I didn't like...
Tally Youngblood was our eyes to this world of Uglies and Pretties, but honestly I found her a little hard to root for. A bit of a prankster, she starts off as being all about fun and excitement. She'd break the rules, but only as much as was expected, never enough to jeopardize her own future as a Pretty. But when that future is endangered by Shay, she's pretty quick to throw her under the bus.
I suppose that all added to the journey in which Tally is supposed to change. But when a good half of the book is spent with a narrator who is a shallow, disloyal, promise-breaking liar, it makes it harder to shift your thoughts and root for her when she changes. Also, other characters continually make her out to be special, when she does little-to-nothing to deserve such praise. The villain seems to think she has some great influence over people, her boyfriend thinks she's wiser and more serious than anyone else, but I never figured out why.
Still, I didn't hate Tally. I thought she was relatable, with flaws as well as kinda major brainwashing/conditioning to account for the more serious faults. And she was brave and loyal when the moment really called for it. I was put off by how often she would promise things, only to knowingly break her promises a few pages later, but I can overlook a few things for her fighting spirit and sacrifices she makes for others later down the line.
Unfortunately there's not much to say about the other characters in the book. Shay is written mainly as a plot device for Tally to act off of. She's passionate and opinionated one moment, pushing Tally to a new level of rebellion, and the next she's a shallow and jealous ex-friend because Tally stole 'her' boy. David, the romantic interest, is basically just that. He shows Tally the truth behind the government conspiracy, praises her up one side and down the other, and then serves as the guilt to drive her to action later. There were some more incidental characters, but none of them got nearly enough screen time to develop personalities of their own.
So with my feelings of partial indifference toward both romantic leads, what did I think of the romance? Well, it had it's ups and downs. Thankfully, the love triangle was squashed rather early. Yes, Shay liked David and held a grudge against Tally about it, but it was very clear that David would never reciprocate her feelings. I also liked that Tally didn't have love at first sight. In that sense, I did think she was rather mature and serious, though she did have a lot of guilt and thoughts of "How can I tell him what I did?" which got annoying after a while. Still, I approved of how the relationship developed and their treatment of one another, so I guess I'd endorse the pairing.
I'm actually surprised to have found this much to harp on. Believe it or not, I think fondly of Uglies, and am very much looking forward to continuing with the series. Perhaps it wasn't the most thought-provoking or heart-wrenching of Dystopians I've read these days, but I did find the story and characters engaging while I read, and I'm eager to see what happens next.
Now for the ending... About three-quarters through, once I started thinking about the series as a whole, I'm sorry to say that I was able to predict the ending. Thankfully, I didn't know exactly how it would come to pass, but I did get the gist correct. And if anything, it helped me prepare for the cliffhanger that was to come. Yes, there's a cliffhanger. And yes, you should have the next book handy. But while Tally's story is unfinished, her journey of growth and self-discovery comes to a satisfying conclusion (pause) at the end of this book.
Overall, Uglies was an enjoyable Dystopian. I'd recommend it to fans of YA, Dystopians, SciFi, or any combination of three with some romance on the side. Though no language or sex, there are a few fight scenes with mild violence and some character deaths, but I'd say middle school and older will enjoy reading this. With another intriguing what-if scenario, if you're wanting a change from the heavy-handed and depressing fare that the Dystopian genre has pitched to us lately, you'll definitely want to check out Uglies for yourself.
As I'm rather late in reviewing this book, I'm sorry to say that I was not completely impartial in my reading of it. I'd read less than savory things about this book/series. Now, I don't remember exactly what I'd read, nor do I want to find and read it again as I feel it's important to express my personal reactions, plus I don't want to repeat someone else's words. That being said, I admit that I went into this book expecting to hate it.
Well, there's good news, and there's bad news. The good news is that I didn't hate it. Unfortunately, I didn't much like it either.
Wither came in at an all-around "Meh" for me. I don't hate the book as a whole, but I also don't think I would have missed anything by not reading it. Ultimately, I never felt like the book knew what it was. It was kind of a romance, but Rhine and loverboy barely got any time to know each other. It sorta had a Dystopian rebellion feel, but there was never any attempt to "fix" anything, just escape it. There were bits and pieces of commentary on marriage, motherhood, sex, science, and freedom, but everything ended up buried by Rhine's personal plot.
And speaking of our main character, Rhine was whiny, passive aggressive, and completely self-absorbed. I'm sure we're supposed to notice the good things about her: that she doesn't bully the servants, that she cares about the well-being of her "sister-wives", that she's a free spirit who only wants to rejoin her brother and love whom she wishes. But all I saw was a girl who complained about everything yet never did anything about it. And what little she does do is always aided by accomplices, who then pay dearly for their part in it.
She constantly schemes about running away from the manor, escaping and finding her brother. To do this, she plays the part of a loyal and well-behaved wife so she can become the most trusted. But do her plans ever involve escaping with the other wives? Do her plans ever involve overthrowing her captors? Nope, just me, me, me, and I, I, I.
Now Jenna, one of Rhine's two sister wives, was a character worth caring about. Her real sisters were in the same van that brought her to the mansion, and now eighteen, she doesn't have much time left, so she's resigned herself to living in the luxury that's been afforded to her. But that doesn't mean she won't work as hard as she can to help her fellow wives. Selfless and experienced in more things than either of the other girls, I would have loved to see into her head as she actively worked to free Rhine. But instead she's left in the background, only surfacing when she's helping or being punished for her rebellions.
But if that weren't infuriating enough, we then have Linden Ashby: architect, husband, and glorified slave owner (NOT to be confused with the real-life actor of the same name). No, as much as I dislike Linden as a character, I loathe the author's treatment of him even more. 'It's okay to love him because he's a nice guy who cares about his wives' happiness.' 'It's okay to love him because he's naive and doesn't know what's really happening.' Ahem, excuse my language for a minute as I call BULL SHIT.
Linden supposedly thinks that his wives were brought to him from a finishing school of sorts, that they all were volunteers willing to be sister wives and have children with wealthy husbands. But if that were true, why does he keep them on a floor with locked windows, no stair access, and an elevator that only takes a keycard for use? And why does the property have a holographic forest completely obscuring the path to the gate? Even if he didn't install these measures himself (he has an evil scientist father for that), he has to realize what they're there for.
Yet the author would have us believe that he's really a saint. That Rhine would (and should) fall in love with him because he's just so kind. And he has so much depth because he can draw both beautiful and gruesome pictures. That he's a suitable crush and love-triangle member because he loves Rhine so much. Shame on you, DeStefano. Unless you were truly writing about a case of Stockholm Syndrome, there is no way to justify the 'excuses' you've written around Linden.
But if Linden was one corner of the love triangle, and Rhine another, then you would think that my favorite of the three would have to be the remaining corner. Unfortunately, Gabriel—"servant" of the manor—was hardly even there. Rhine and he share a camaraderie because they're both slaves under different names. But with a majority of their time together mentioned in passing, and his disappearance halfway through the book, it made it hard to see him as anything more than an act of defiance. It felt like Rhine was going to have a secret relationship with him because it was a freedom she was being denied. And that he reciprocated her affection was only a convenience.
So between the barely-written boy of convenience, the glorified slave owner written up to be a saint, and the completely self-absorbed woe-is-I 'heroine' of the story, I could have cared less for any one of the three in the love triangle. Put simply, the romance didn't work.
If there was any consolation for reading this book, I will say that the world was intriguing. Apparently World War 3 sank every other land mass besides North America. Clever lie to manage the populace (sadly, doubtful), or convenient way to keep outside governments from muddying up the plot, regardless it still serves as an interesting backdrop for the main story. But what really stood out to me was the naturalists vs cure-seekers.
Naturalists think that humans screwed up enough, that they should just accept their fate and get killed off, while cure-seekers are not only continuing to have children (who will die in 20/25 years) but are also conducting numerous genetic experiments on (presumably) these children. An interesting conundrum to have—to have children in order to keep humanity alive on the off-chance that they do eventually find a cure, but also subjecting them to equally short lives. But where books like The Hunger Games did the question on the morality of motherhood justice (could you subject your child to a tragically short life?), this book simply swept it under the rug in favor of Rhine and her romance.
Overall, the more I thought about it, the less I liked Wither. If you're starved for an alternative YA romance set in the dreary near-apocalypse, then you might give this a try. Though no language or violence, there were many references to sex, prostitution (though thankfully no rape), and a childbirth scene. Based on that and the heavy subject matter, I'd suggest no younger than high school pick this up. An intriguing what-if scenario, sadly overshadowed by awful characters and a failed romance, read Wither only if you've got extra time and patience on your hands.
I have no idea how I'd never heard of this book before. In the same vein as Ender's Game, this is a provocative and complex look at our society through the lens of a possible/probable future. And just like Ender's Game, I don't want to spoil too much of Unwind. It may have come out four years ago, but it is just as relevant and engaging now as it was then, and I truly think reading it is an experience that shouldn't be missed.
In the not-too-distant future, technology has enabled transplant surgery to have absolutely no failures. No rejection of foreign parts, no tissue decay, no problems. This means that nearly every medical malady, augmentation surgery, and accident-caused emergency can be solved by cutting out and replacing organs, limbs, and even parts of brains. But where do the replacements come from?
Why, unwanted children, of course.
See, the Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice issue went from heated debate to all-out war, culminating in the United States' Second Civil War. The resulting compromise of the war was that every child's life cannot be terminated from conception to age 13. Once a child reaches 13, however, their parent/guardian can choose to have them "unwound". The government is then tasked with dismantling and re-using each and every part of the child through transplant surgeries. thus enabling them to live on as parts of other people. The window of unwinding is from ages 13 to 17, for upon reaching 18 the person is considered an adult and cannot be harvested.
The book focuses on three main characters—Connor, Risa and Lev—each slated to be unwound. Connor is the typical Unwind: brash, easy to anger, prone to violence, a typical bad-boy screw-up. Risa is a ward of the state and is sent to be unwound due to less-than-spectacular grades and budget cuts. Lev is the tenth child of his very religious family, and is therefore chosen to be their offering, their 10% giving, their tithe. Each has their own story, their own issues, but it's when their lives cross that we see what they're truly capable of.
The book is told in limited 3rd person, with each of the chapters changing which POV we're reading. The book mainly focuses on our three main protagonists, but every so often a chapter will introduce another perspective. Perhaps a juvie cop on the Unwinds' trail, or another one of the Unwinds that they encounter. And this is where the book really shines. Changing perspectives could easily be a jumbled, confusing mess, especially when drawing upon so many characters, but by clearly separating them into their own chapters (some as short as 2 pages) it keeps the reader informed while still introducing us to completely new perspectives. It's one thing to have the characters encounter an enemy, it's another to put us inside the head of that enemy, even if it's only for a few moments, to see their way of thinking.
And that is where the big issues are tackled. Not only through our protagonists' experiences, but through the eyes of those who would unwind them. Is it moral? Is running a chop shop for human parts okay so long as it's only the undesirables? If a hand is transferred from an unwound person to a whole person, does that mean the original owner is still living? Is there such thing as a soul? And does that soul live in the body, or does it exist apart from it? When does a life become worth living? When does responsibility for that life transfer to the one living it? Is one life worth more than another?
All of these questions (and more!) are addressed, and differing views are presented for each and every one. But as far as answers go, this book doesn't really give any. Everything is subjective, even down to the seemingly obvious 'do not kill'. If a body part never ceases living, even in a separated state, then it follows that the original person never died. And if that part is used to save or better the life of another person, then isn't it worth the harvest? But I'm digressing into more questions again, and I could quite literally go on forever listing them, so I'll just stop now and let you discover them for yourself.
Unfortunately, if there was one issue that I feel wasn't given its real due, it was the Pro-Choice side of the debate. There is a chapter in which a young mother leaves her newborn on a doorstep. She thinks to herself that she wasn't really ready, that she's happy she doesn't have to end the life herself, and after she leaves, that she is thankful that the responsibility now falls to someone else. Since it is against the law for any mother not to give birth once she has conceived, I can see how giving a Pro-Choice example would be difficult. It's a little hard to give a woman control over her own body and still force her to give birth, right? And as this is the only view we are given of abandoning a child, it hit me as particularly one-sided against even giving the choice of parenthood. We do see other girls handling babies/motherhood, but it still never really felt like a counterweight to the abandoning mother.
One extremely effective counterweight against unwinding, however, is a chapter in which we actually experience a character being unwound. From the child's point of view. Turns out that in order to ensure a person continues living, they have to be kept awake through the entire procedure. Though slightly spoilerish (in that it might diminish the impact of reading it in the book) the video below shows pretty much what I mean.
Now, I have a bit of a phobia of needles. So in discussing the removal of my wisdom teeth a few years back, I asked that instead of having an IV and being put under, I would instead have local anesthesia and laughing gas, and be awake through it. I always get weird looks and shudders when I describe it. So you'd think I would do just fine with this scene. But trust me, it was nothing like what is described in the book (or depicted in the video). I felt sick just reading (even moreso watching) it, and I had tears by the end. With that said, watch at your own risk... Unwind Short Film But if you're okay with that level of squeamishness, then you shouldn't have any problems reading this book. Even though the surgery does take place on-screen, there is absolutely no gore described. And yet the experiences feel no less real or impactful. It may be on a few ban lists due to inflammatory content, but it shouldn't turn anyone away because of blood and violence. Which makes the book all that more recommendable.
Overall, Unwind is not be an easy book to read, and as such, it won't be an easy book to talk about. There are a lot of triggers in here—political, religious, moral—which are likely to raise questions and spark a debate. But I believe the debate is worth having, and this book provides an excellent starting point. If you need a genre distinction, it's definitely a YA scifi with dystopian elements, but I can easily recommend it for those who enjoy political thrillers as well. It does contain many complex/heavy topics, and some mild violence and references to sex, so I'd say high school and up would enjoy this the most, especially for discussion. If you're looking for an insightful and complex story that harkens back to current real-world issues, I'd suggest you go find a copy before you get unwound.
I believe I said in my review of Shatter Me that Warner was a character I hated to love. He was that k...moreAmazon
Okay, Mafi, I'll say it. You've got balls.
I believe I said in my review of Shatter Me that Warner was a character I hated to love. He was that kind of stalker boyfriend who thought he owned you and you should be grateful for his affections, but even when you made it abundantly clear you were fine without him, thank you very much, he just shrugs off your complaints as playing hard to get, being childish, or not knowing what's best for yourself. He made a great villain, someone easy to root against.
And then this novella happened.
I mean, it starts off as what you would expect. Warner is pretty pissed that he got shot and is now weakened in front of his troops. He's very military-minded, and there's no doubt that he earned his position regardless of his family standing. He's careful, planned, detail-oriented, and pretty paranoid. For wielding all his power, he knows there are just that many more people who want him dead. A little humanizing, but I still remembered all his heinous acts from the first book so I knew we weren't allowed to like him completely.
And then his father walks in. You want a villain; look no further than the Supreme Commander. Not only does he rule this dystopian world, automatically setting you against him, but the first thing he does is chastise Warner for being too soft when he shot that soldier (in book one).
"Imagine my surprise," he says, "when I heard that my son had finally done something right. That he'd finally taken some initiative and dispensed with a traitorous solider who'd been stealing from our storage compounds. I heard you shot him right in the forehead." A laugh. "I congratulated myself—told myself you'd finally come into your own, that you'd finally learned how to lead properly. I was almost proud.
"That's why it came as an even greater shock to me to hear Fletcher's family was still alive." He claps his hands together. "Shocking, of course, because you, of all people, should know the rules. Traitors come from a family of traitors, and one betrayal means death to them all." [Location 375-382 of Kindle version]
Actually, the two of them reminded me a lot of Prince Zuko and Fire Lord Ozai from Avatar: The Last Airbender (probably because I'm re-watching the series at the moment). You think the kid is messed up and irredeemable until you set him against his father and see how much worse he could be.
But the humanizing doesn't stop there. Warren finds and begins reading Juliette's notebook that she had with her in the asylum. But what begins as a journey of curiosity quickly turns into a therapy of his own soul. Not only is what he's reading horrifying, the scribblings of a mind grasping at what may very well be the last threads of sanity, but it resonates so strongly with his own mind and his own past that he sometimes can't even take it.
And then there's Chapter Fourteen. I won't spoil it, but there's no doubt it will make you completely re-evaluate your opinion of Warner.
This being a novella and all, I'll give the ending a little slack. This really is a vignette into the life of Shatter Me's villain. It isn't a full story, it isn't a full character arc, and the ending is very much a teaser for the next full-length book, Unravel Me, which I'm told goes back to Juliette's perspective. Still, I believe the story accomplishes what it sets out to, and leaves off with a major pull to continue the series.
Overall, I'm sure any fans of the first book will find Destroy Me an engaging and eye-opening continuation to a stellar series. For those who liked Warner, and especially those who hated him, this is a fairly quick read which should definitely get your mind working and your heart pounding. There are references to gunshots and medical procedures, but 'on-screen' gore and violence is non-existent, same with language and romance. Based on the series so far, I'd suggest no younger than middle school, but it's probably geared more toward high school and up. So if you're looking for a fresh perspective on a Dystopian regime delivered in a compact package, definitely give Destroy Me a read.
It probably seems cliché to compare a YA Dystopian to The Hunger Games, eh? I mean, just because there's an evil government forcing kids to fight kids in a no-holds-barred setting, does that mean it's really okay to slap the label "Hunger Games Clone" on it and call it a day? Well, no, but can you blame me for at least thinking it?
Our narrator and heroine in The Testing is Cia. Cia is smart, athletic, kind, and loyal. Oh, and trusting to a fault. Yep, her trust in others is actually a fault. Makes sense when you think about kids fighting kids. But my biggest problem with Cia was that trust seemed to be her only fault. She always knew the right answer, never was impulsive, waited to break down in a secure location, could run, shoot, climb, dodge, and fix exactly what she needed to. I liked Cia as a person, but with everything going her way all the time, I found myself not worrying about her nearly as much as I felt I should.
Cia is accompanied through most of The Testing by Tomas. For a romantic interest, I found him pretty bland. Tomas is supposed to be handsome, smart, and compassionate. Cia knows this from having grown up with him. Unfortunately the reader is only told this, all the while witnessing his actions repeatedly contradicting Cia's 'knowledge' of him. As such, I didn't find the secrets concerning him all that surprising, nor did I really care one way or the other if he and Cia were together or not.
Any other characters included were only present to further the plot, serve as conflict, or pound home the idea that The Testing is deadly. I understand the need to impress upon the heroine (and reader) the severity of the situation for tension's sake, but I wish it weren't so transparent. I never really got to know the personalities of most anyone past maybe a couple paragraph's description. And the couple that did reveal more either acted like a caricature of a good or bad person. I never felt any humanity from any of them.
Now, I'm usually strictly a character reader. Give me a great character with nothing happening around them and I'm content. Give me a great character in an intriguing setting and I'm enthralled. So given the fairly meh characters, I must have hated this book, right?
Well, actually the setting almost made up for it.
I'll admit that The Testing does have a lot of similar elements as the aforementioned book/series. Girl gets chosen by the government to participate in dangerous competition against other kids her age in order to win a highly coveted position of power and esteem. Only difference here is that death is neither an expected nor foregone conclusion.
This government is sneakier about their evilness. Set in post-apocalyptic America, the United Commonwealth is all about rebuilding the world that the wars and ensuing natural disasters devastated. Thus they entice the best and brightest children to show their stuff in The Testing in order to go to University and make a better society. And so as not to give candidates any unfair advantages, The Testing takes place in complete secrecy, concluding with mind wipes so none of the participants, successful or failed, remember what happened. Passing candidates move on to the University to continue their studies, while those who fail are given jobs in different cities. Which, of course, allows for as much evil as the government cares to accomplish.
Unfortunately, the more plausible execution of their plans doesn't make up for the completely illogical reasoning behind them.
So, in an effort to rebuild your decimated population and restore life to the wasteland, you've gathered the smartest teenaged graduates in the entire nation (over one-hundred this year) and set them to compete for 20 coveted University spots. Why on earth would you have failure result in death? Why would you enable and encourage perfectly preventable suicides, and accidental deaths, and murder? Where is the sense in killing off your second or third smartest citizens? An attempt is made to try and explain the original logic behind this asinine event:
As I eat, he tells me that the Testing process was designed years ago by Dr. Barnes's father, who believed that the Seven Stages of War occurred because world leaders did not have the correct combination of intelligence, ability to perform under pressure, and strength of leadership to lead us out of confrontations. That the only way to ensure the United Commonwealth did not repeat past mistakes was to test the future leaders of our country and make sure they had the breadth of qualities that would not only help our country flourish but keep our people safe. Over the years, several Commonwealth officials have questioned the necessity of such strong penalties for failing The Testing. Some even say that the Testers rig the outcome of the tests so that those who are too smart, too strong, and too dedicated are weeded out. For those are the ones who feel not only compelled to rebuild the Commonwealth but also to question its laws and its choices. Anyone who voices negative opinions about The Testing is either relocated to an outpost or disappears. [pg 144]
I guess I can understand wanting to root out possible bad eggs. Find out which people/kids might be psychopaths and deal with them before they gain power. I can even understand wanting to eliminate possible threats of rebellion by simply disposing of failures instead of letting spurned geniuses gain followings elsewhere. But, gee, you know why people rebel? Maybe because the government is doing stupid, evil things which aren't in the best interest of the people.
Granted, it's not confirmed that absolutely every failure of the tests is killed. But forcing the consumption of possibly poisonous plants, rigging explosives, including potentially deadly booby traps, and sanctioning the candidates to eliminate their competition by any means necessary? It doesn't take a genius to put the pieces together and realize that there are gonna be 80-some intelligent kids dead. And that's 80-some minds that aren't working on the solutions to better the planet.
And yet, despite all of that, I still managed to enjoy this book. What can I say? I like underdog stories, I like plucky heroines, and I like stories with good pacing and tension. And if I'm really being honest, The Testing had all that in spades. I'm also still curious about how exactly this government functions, given the fatal flaws the leadership obviously possesses. We know there are rebels out there, so secrecy can't be the only thing they have going in their favor. So I'll definitely be picking up the next book or two in the series because, despite my better logic, I got hooked.
So, overall I found The Testing to be an exciting start to an interesting series. It's very comparable to The Hunger Games, so if you're not already burnt out on YA Dystopians with romantic subplots, I'd say give this a try. A lot of violence and some mild kissing has me recommending it for high-school and up. While I found the villain a bit illogical and the characters lacking, I will say that if you're looking for an edge-of-your-seat story that values brains over brawn, you may want to check out The Testing.
This review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous book, The Immortal Rules, or don't mind knowing some spoilers for it. The Ete...moreThis review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous book, The Immortal Rules, or don't mind knowing some spoilers for it. The Eternity Cure, however, will remain spoiler-free.
Disclaimer: I received this ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I'm so glad I gave this series another chance. If you'll remember my review of book one, The Immortal Rules, I harped on Allie and her motivation (or lack thereof) pretty hard. Yet I was still captivated by the world and the writing style, and thus expressed my hopes for its sequel(s). So when NetGalley knocked on my door/inbox with the offer of book two, I gladly accepted.
I'll admit starting out that I had some heavy reservations against this book. I considered re-reading book one, as I like to do before moving ahead in a series, but couldn't bring myself to push through the boredom I'd already gone through once. And the beginning of this book presented me with a few cases of missed opportunities that had me worried. But after the story got going, familiar faces appeared, and the action ramped up, I found myself enjoying this more and more.
Picking up almost exactly where The Immortal Rules left off, Allie is now hunting for her sire, Kanin. Very little time has passed, maybe a couple months, but there's no doubt that Allie has changed (for the better, in my opinion). She's been exposed to the highs and lows of both humanity and vampires, and is still seeking her place among them. But her existential quandary is put on hold for the moment as her blood-tie to Kanin shows her that his time is running short, so it's road trip time for our heroine as she chases an obtainable goal.
Allie is much more fully formed here, aided in no small part by the fact that she's striving toward a location, a person, a thing. Motivation goes a long way toward characterization in my book. (Okay, I'll shut up about that now.) But on the whole she is both jaded and hopeful, realistic yet oddly optimistic, moralistic yet still demonized. She's not yet come to terms with her experiences from the last book, but is determined to find her place in the world. She's strong and street-smart, but could use a bit of help in the political department, especially when it comes to dealing with vampires.
Which is where Jackal comes in. You heard right. Jackal. The main villain and Allie's vampiric blood brother from the end of the last book. He's also feeling Kanin's psychic call for help and offers Allie help in rescuing him. Allie doesn't trust him as far as she could throw him, but accepts the help knowing there's no way she could take down Kanin's captor—a vampire even more powerful than Kanin and more psycho than Jackal—by herself.
Personally, I liked Jackal a lot. He was sarcastic, cocky, and a jackass a lot of the time, but what can I say? I really liked him as a character. He was interesting, smart, funny, and provides some great dialog. There were a couple parts where he hinted at a possible tragic backstory, telling Allie that all vampires lose to their demon eventually, like maybe he'd dealt with a loss that jaded him beyond humanity already. But I'm also a sucker for redemption story lines, so having him go from ultimate evil to chaotic good guy was perfectly acceptable in my book.
So both vampires set out to find and rescue their sire. And yet for some time I questioned Allie's pull toward Kanin. Not in its science/magic, but in its importance. Allie seems to stake everything on finding Kanin, putting him above love, revenge, and at times even her own safety. Granted, her having a goal is much better than the boredom of the last book (sorry), but I continually questioned what he meant to her.
Thankfully I wasn't alone in this quandary, and eventually Zeke asks Allie that exact same question. In the end, Allie and Zeke come to an understanding by comparing Kanin to Zeke's father, Jebbadiah. Unfortunately, I saw very little to compare. Zeke was raised with/by his father for all of his life, able to experience both the good and the bad. So even though they disagreed on morality and principles, and even though Zeke was physically abused by him, Jebbadiah was still his father and earned his love and respect. Allie, on the other hand, knew Kanin for a few weeks at most, and even in YA super-speed, that's hardly enough time to form an everlasting fatherly bond. If it's vampire magic, just say it's vampire magic. If it's stronger than that, you'd better back it up with something more.
And yes, Zeke's back. Come on, he's a main love interest, did you really think he'd be gone for long? Though I didn't fully understand the chemistry between the two (Allie being attracted to Zeke, I got, but Zeke's pull to Allie I didn't), once I kinda blindly accepted that it existed, I didn't mind the romance. Yeah, it's kinda mushy, but considering how dark the rest of the environment was, I welcomed a little lightheartedness. And that's not to say that it's out of place in this world either. They discuss and deal with a lot of tough issues, and there are times when it looks like they'll call it quits. So I found it believable, in as much as the entire premise is believable, and handled fairly well.
However, I could see the possibility of a triangle brewing. I'm not sure if there was ever one in the works and it was edited out, or if it's written intentionally vaguely, but I can see a lot of readers gravitating toward a Allie/Jackal pairing. I'm sure the whole vampire brother/sister thing is supposed to dissuade readers from thinking that way, but who knows how vampire culture works in regards to that? Jackal keeps telling Allie that they'd be a great team, that they're a lot alike, and Allie even states a couple times how Jackal's personality is rubbing off on her. Flirting or just sibling affection? I'll let you decide.
In terms of the story as a whole, I saw a lot of things coming before they were revealed. Not to say that I wasn't ever surprised, but after the story got going a bit I was able to read hints very easily and knew some 'surprises' were coming eventually. Not sure whether these were due to the story itself or due to my own reading history. Still, I found the twists enjoyable and exciting, even those I expected, and I remained engaged and entertained throughout my reading.
But as much as I enjoyed the story, the writing, the characters, and the progression as a whole, it's time for a couple things that ground my gears.
One of my biggest peeves in the entire book happened within the first couple chapters, and my rage toward it has only grown stronger with time. In one of the first cities Allie enters in the book, she stumbles across the vampire prince ruling Washington D.C., who just so happens to be female. A female vampire prince? A female who isn't a total bitch or trying to tear her head off? A female who seems diplomatic, controlled, and might actually offer some advice to Allie who is currently struggling to find her way.
Please, sir ma'am, can I have some more?!?
Haha, no, just kidding. She gets maybe 5 lines of dialog, all of which is only exposition, and then we never see or think of her again. WHY!?! Is it because Allie has to be so super special that giving even one other female to compare to might make her shine less? Heaven forbid we give anyone that our main character might relate to — no, she's got to forge her own path and be even more super special awesome than all the stupid, violent, cruel boys she's surrounded by. Ya know, except when they've got to come to the rescue in a fight. Or except when we're loving on one of them. But, yeah, girl power!
Ugh. I understand how the story is obviously already mapped out and everything, but this one wasted character was so enraging to me. To have this idea of a female vampire prince, then show how civilized she acts with her humans, and with other vampires in general, and have her be completely glossed over in a matter of two chapters was such a let-down for me. And it doubly didn't help that it came at the beginning when I was still being extra suspicious and critical of everything. So, yeah, sorry, but I'm horribly disappointed with Azura's treatment.
But I'd say my biggest disappointment was in the cure itself. I can't say too much, obviously because of spoilers, but I will say I was disappointed in the staging of the cure. The cure comes into being completely off screen. And as such it seemed like more of a plot convenience or deus ex machina than an actual integral plot point. I appreciate that the timing was kept brisk for the story as a whole, but I felt that something as HUGE as this cure could have been integrated a bit more cleverly.
So this brings me to one of my biggest questions before, during, and after reading The Eternity Cure...can you, or should you in fact, read this without reading its predecessor, The Immortal Rules? Honestly, I think it could be done, but probably shouldn't. If there's one thing that The Immortal Rules did well, it was setting up the world for these characters. The grit, the terror, the despair, and so much of the pre-apocalyptic history was covered so well in book one, that book two's short recaps to boost your memory just don't do them justice. The Eternity Cure builds off of The Immortal Rules just as a sequel should; taking the elements that were good and amping up the stakes so that we're on the edge of our seats throughout and eager to pick up book three. So while a lot didn't work for me in book one, I'm glad I experienced it before tackling book two.
Overall I found The Eternity Cure an exciting and well executed installment in what is turning into a gripping series. I'd highly recommend it for those who enjoyed (or managed to get through) The Immortal Rules, or those who are interested in a gritty YA romance with a lot of bloody vampire action. There were three F-bombs and a fair amount of violence and gore, so I'd rank this appropriate for high-school and older. The Blood of Eden series might have had a rough start (for me), but its second journey proved to be even more gripping than the first. So if you're looking for a vampire thriller that has more than a little bite to it, then you'll definitely want to pick up The Eternity Cure.
I don't really know what I thought going into this. I guess I knew it was pretty popular, and it was about a society where love was 'cured' and that the main character was bound to rise up and fight the system, but I didn't really have any other expectations. And I think that perhaps that was best.
Lena, our main character and narrator, is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to YA heroines these days. Starting off, she's the typical ho-hum, average-looks, bookish-but-not-nerdy, orphaned, straight-laced, late-teenaged girl. Knowing our YA tropes (and having read the book jacket), we know she's going to undergo some radical change in the story and fight the system, but I was actually pretty surprised and impressed with how much time and effort was put into her character pre-shift. Getting to know just how indoctrinated Lena, and by extension the society as a whole, was into this 'Love Is A Disease, Government Knows Best' mentality was not only integral to the storyline but also getting us invested in her as a person pre- and post-shift.
But enough about Lena as a main character, what about Lena as a person? She's generally kind, studious, and straight-laced, as I said before. Most of her life has been dominated by her mother's death and trying to distance herself from it. Others see her as predisposed to infection by amor deliria nervosa, see it as running in the family, using her mother's suicide as an example of how the love disease can kill. This has both terrified and strengthened Lena to the point where she is both self-deprecating/self-conscious but also thick-skinned against others' opinions. This leads her to seek out the truth, even it means breaking the rules or facing the judgement of others.
One of the most endearing traits that got me hooked to Lena was her distaste towards children. I know, I know, I'm a horrible person, and so is she. But really, it's not that she is cruel to kids, or that she hates them outright, she just doesn't find them easy to connect with and so would much rather avoid them. Now, you could go all psychologist on this and say that it stems to her troubled memories of her mother, or being bullied by other kids after her mother's death, but personally I saw it as an interesting (and completely believable) aspect for a female teen romance character to have.
Hana, Lena's best friend and confidant, was also a great hook for me. While most of the YA I've read has the main character's BFF either fighting them on the change or playing a supportive but greatly lesser role, Hana actually spurred Lena's shift in thought. Even through their fights and disagreements, their feelings toward each other don't change. It's refreshing to not see a 10(+)-year friendship suddenly blow up just because of one fight. I can only hope to see more Hana-like characters make appearances in other books.
Which brings us to the only other important character, the main love interest, Alex. I'm always drawn to a sense of humor, so Alex was instantly appealing as a romantic interest. But even with the humor, he always felt mature and laden with responsibility. Perhaps the fact that he was older helped portray his maturity, but as the seriousness of things started ramping up, it was nice to feel like he wasn't just some love-sick kid doing things off the top of his head. Even as the romance got pretty lovey-dovey, you still got the sense that he'd thought things through and had escape plans ready. Yes, he was in love, but he was still rational about the situation they were in.
As far as romance goes, this book had a lot more than I expected. There's no sex (it's still YA after all), but there is a lot of pining, yearning, kissing, and general angst. You hear about this dystopian society where love is illegal and you know there's bound to be some love, but also a rebellion. Well in the battle of Romance vs Dystopian, I'd say book one of the Delirium trilogy definitely fell on the side of Romance. Not that the world is underdeveloped in terms of the dystopian society, but the plot is focused on Lena and her discovery that Love isn't bad moreso than overthrowing the love-destroying government. And considering we're dealing with only book one, I'd say that's not a bad thing, just something to take into consideration if you're not a fan of romance novels.
In terms of the world-building, I was completely hooked. In case you didn't know, Love is seen as a disease (amor deliria nervosa) which causes anxiety, heart palpitations, violence, suicide, and all kinds of other problems. So the US government has created and mandated a cure, much like the chicken pox vaccine, which must be administered ASAP after you turn 18. Because everyone post-cure is so placated, there's no competition, no drive for advancement, so marriages, jobs, and general happiness are assigned by the government as well. Essentially, without love there is no hate, no ambition, no conflict, no fear of abandonment, no pain. Sounds like Utopia, right?
I'll admit I was continually thrown every time they mentioned living in Portland (Maine) and visiting the beach, as I live in Portland, Oregon and it is not by the ocean. But besides that little personal twitch, I could not get enough of the functionality, the history, and even the politics of this society. The rationalization of destroying love was so well crafted that it was terrifying to find myself agreeing with some of it. Having the world be so similar to our own only made it that much more chilling to envision.
But my favorite glimpses of the world came from each of the chapter starts. Before the start of each chapter Oliver included an 'excerpt' from a reference book, pamphlet, or the Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook (Book of Shhh) about something concerning amor deliria nervosa or its cure. Most fascinating for me were the re-writings of biblical passages like this one of Genesis:
The devil stole into the Garden of Eden. He carried with him the disease —amor deliria nervosa— in the form of a seed. It grew and flowered into a magnificent apple tree, which bore apples as bright as blood. —From Genesis: A Complete History of the World and the Known Universe, by Steven Horace, PhD, Harvard University [pg 24]
It was not only informative but also a little chilling to read all the propagandized writings that were created to serve this new government's needs. Really drove the point home about how much they were about complete control.
Which brings me to my main question about the world... Why did they even bother imprisoning criminals/rebels? I understand allowing the insane or minor miscreants to serve time as a warning, but why keep the 'lifers' alive at all? It seemed kinda stupid to me in terms of a dystopian government and really nothing more than a plot contrivance. Don't worry if you/your love is captured because they'll just be thrown in jail. As of the end of this book, I really don't see any logic behind holding rebels in jail as opposed to silent executions. Perhaps it will be explored further in the sequels.
As the start of a series, Delirium did exactly what it was supposed to. It introduced the setting, the rules, the conflict, the goal, and gave us characters we can root for. That being said, I wouldn't say it's quite fleshed out enough to be a stand-alone novel. There are many hints at events or plot points in future books, a few too many loose ends, and a major cliffhanger that would only satisfy a fan of Shakespeare. So if you think you're going to enjoy this book, you'd best have Pandemonium and Requiem handy upon completion.
Overall, Delirium presented a fascinating but chilling look into a world where Love is not only a disease, but a crime. I'd highly recommend it to fans of romance or dystopian YA, or those who are looking for a good starting place for either genre and like well-developed heroines. There is some language (including the F-bomb), clean teen romance, and some violence involving police raids, so on the whole I'd recommend this for high school and older. I don't know where or when Love will find me, but after reading this book I'm just grateful that it's still out there to find. So if you're looking for a new book to love, definitely give Delirium a try.
This was another offer NetGalley was kind enough to e-mail me about. I've heard so much about Kagawa's Iron Fey series (though I haven't read them yet) that I was eager for a chance to finally read her work. And it starred vampires, for crying out loud. Why wouldn't I jump at the chance?
Perhaps it was so much hype going in, but this book never clicked for me.
The book starts out with Allie, our narrator, living in the slums of a vampire city. She's tough but kind, realistic yet idealistic, and intelligent without knowing too much. Your typical street-rat/diamond-in-the-rough character.
Oh, and she's human.
Yeah, that introduction (above) from the book cover? We haven't gotten there yet. So I spent all of Part I waiting. Sure, I got to read about the city, learned a little bit of history, listened to rants about the evil vampires, but the whole time I knew that something was gonna go wrong and she was gonna end up a vamp. I mean, you can tell from the cover picture! I found it tedious.
And then we get to Part II...which was nothing but one long lesson. Allie's finally a vampire, now she has to learn the real history, how to fight, how to eat, and the ways of the vampire. But rather than getting to experiment on her own, make some discoveries or mistakes, she's given an all-knowing teacher to guide her through everything. Granted, she doesn't listen all the time, but even those parts are fleeting. In short, this is all setup so we know the world and, to some extent, the characters we'll be dealing with.
185 pages (36%) through and we're finally to the good stuff; the end of the exposition! That's right, the main story doesn't begin until Part III. All that stuff before was, in essence, a prologue—a telling of Allie's tragic backstory. Really?
But now it's time for the good stuff, right? Allie's finally allowed to venture out on her own. Unfortunately, she's a completely blank slate. That's right, by the time Part III rolls around, Allie's past has completely resolved itself. She's a vampire now, so all her human aspirations (Part I) are defunct, and she doesn't have to interact with all-knowing teacher (Part II) because she's on her own. She has absolutely no clue what she's 'living' for. Except she doesn't want to be a monster...which is the definition of what she is.
This is the crux of my problem with Allie. Like I said earlier, Allie is made up of cliché contradictions, things we know every strong female character will be, and honestly, I didn't find anything unique about her. I never understood her motivations, what she really believed in, and thus all her decisions felt half-assed. Like she could take them back if things didn't work out right. It wasn't until well into Part IV that I actually felt some conviction behind her actions. Which is great for the sequels, but for this book I felt cheated out of a character.
So that's the main character, what about the supporting cast? Well, they're pretty much vampire chow. Okay, actually I'll divide them into three groups: annoying, somewhat sympathetic, or integral to shaping Allie's story. You have the teacher, the antagonist, the villain, the love interest, and that basically sums it up. Because, see, Allie's a monster and can't get too close to anyone, so we never learn much about anyone, and thus I didn't care about anyone.
Okay, there is Zeke, the story's love interest. You can tell from his first scene that he's important because Allie actually seems interested. Zeke was quite possibly the strongest character of the story (though that's not saying much). He's got a tortured past (but who doesn't in this story?), yet he still has hope for himself and the world in general, and he's willing to fight for it. Finally, a character with some conviction! In terms of romance he was kinda bland, but then again so was his partner.
Blandness seems to be the reoccurring theme of this review. The writing as a whole just seemed that way. I looked at what was there, all the elements, and just wondered why Kagawa had chosen to write it that way. I wanted to love the story, I wanted something new and innovative, I wanted to be wowed and enchanted, but all I got was blah. The characters never popped, the dialogue was stiff, and the world was interesting but nothing I hadn't seen before.
On the bright side, I could picture everything happening. It was a very clear, visual read. But that only made me think of it as a movie. Or a novelization of a movie. That it's already been optioned as a movie only makes sense—the screenplay's practically already written. And really, I think it worked well as a movie—given the right actors and director, I'd pay to see it. But as a near-500-page book, I wanted more than what I could see.
But I feel like I've harped on the book a lot. Here are a few things I did genuinely like.
The vampires were really awesome. They were gritty, tough, non-sparkly— they weren't romanticized, which I loved. Even the 'good' vampires were demons in their own right. The Hunger was completely non-negotiable, and if they went too long without human blood (accept no substitutes) it would make them kill. I did take some issue with the physics of speaking, the fact that if you wanted to speak you'd have to take a breath to do so, yet vampire breathing was something so rare it had to be pointed out every single time, but never in speaking. But really, other than that, the vampires were believable, detailed, and deadly.
The whole apocalyptic story line, with the plague, the rabids, and the vampire uprising, was great, too. I do wish a little bit more explanation of the rabid disease had been present—like what, if anything, made them different from vampires, other than insanity. But the Red Lung disease thining out humanity, making it easier for vampires to take control, was well thought-out and explained, making a plausible backdrop for Allie's story.
Also, I loved the ending. No, not that way. Obviously, I can't go into it too much, but let me just say this ending made me excited to pick up the next book, despite all the things I hated. I finally feel like Allie has some experience and conviction under her belt, so now she can go be the character I always wanted her to be. And, for a book that is so filled with darkness, doubt, and hopelessness, the ending gave me a tiny bit of hope.
Ultimately, I'm a character-driven reader, and this book just didn't give me the character I needed. I thought the story was interesting, but I couldn't find anyone to latch onto to make me care. This is an origin story, but because I never connected to any of the characters, it felt more like one huge prologue. Now that Allie is motivated (read: fully-formed), I'm eager to find out what the next books have in store, so I guess this wasn't a total loss. I just wish I hadn't had to struggle through nearly 500 pages to get here.
Overall I found The Immortal Rules to be an interesting concept but kinda forgettable in the scheme of things. I'd recommend it for those with a lot of patience and who enjoy YA angst with some bloody vampire action. There is a good amount of violence and gore, so I'd rank this appropriate for high-school and older, despite the absence of language or sex. This first installment wasn't my favorite, but now that introductions are out of the way, I think the Blood of Eden series has a lot of potential to be great. So if you're looking to add a little more fang to your collection, you might give The Immortal Rules a try.
Approximate Reading Time: 9.5 hours
Disclaimer: I received this ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.(less)
When I first picked this up, all I knew was on the front cover: Tahereh Mafi had written it (one of the first bloggers I started following) and it apparently featured a female whose touch is lethal power. Not much to go off of, but I wanted to be surprised.
What surprised me the most was that 5 chapters had passed in a noisy bookstore (not my typical reading environment) and I wanted to keep reading. I was completely hooked.
The story starts out with Juliette having been locked up for the last three years. And not just locked up in prison or a mental institution, no she's been in total solitude that whole time. Well, if she wasn't nuts when she got there, surely she's nuts by now. And her narration pretty much supports that.
Here and again are lines that are crossed out. Thoughts she wants to unthink, words she won't let herself say, and feelings she can't let herself feel. She's broken, shattered if you will, into what she's been taught to think and what she dares to think. There's a stream-of-consciousness narrative at times that breaks that barrier between character and reader and it's... powerful, to say the least.
And really that's what Juliette is. Powerful. You wouldn't think someone so broken, battered, and tortured could be as brave, stubborn, or empathic as Juliette turns out to be. Even in the beginning, her crossed out thoughts reveal a defiance she just can't keep off the page—she knows she shouldn't can't be thinking these things, but still she does. It was a joy to follow her growth throughout the story, especially in her dealings with the main villain.
Warner was a villain I hated to love, but I sorta kinda did. Don't get me wrong; 99.9% of the time, I absolutely hate the stalker. But...this one time, I actually really liked him. He cared about Juliette, loved her, wanted to empower her, tried dearly to get her to love him. Yeah, he was the villain, but if his methods (and megalomania) were turned down a bit I could see him as a romance-triangle contender. ...Maybe not so much. But I still didn't completely hate him.
And perhaps that was due in part to my constant suspicions towards the main romantic interest, Adam. I'm always leery of the too-good-to-be-true love interest, and when he's placed inside a plot filled with lies, I'm doubly untrusting. What can I say? I gotta look out for my girl (regardless of not being able to talk her out of bad choices). So with the narrative in Juliette's hands and Adam being super sneaky at all times, I was always on-edge for Adam's double-cross.
Which made all the romantic scenes particularly uncomfortable for me. They were gorgeous, poetic, and sensual, despite never quite getting to second base. Again, I didn't read anything about this book beforehand besides the front cover, which means I didn't see Lauren Kate's endorsement on the back cover:
"Addictive, intense, and oozing with romance. I'm envious. I couldn't put it down."
So yeah, there was quite a bit more romance than I initially expected. Which isn't to say I disliked it. It was quite sweet after I got past my own reservations about Adam. And even though the actions never went past PG, the sensual side got rather steamy at times. Definitely a must-read for romance fans.
Quite a surprise, considering the overarching dystopian theme. Okay, the only other dystopian books I have to go off of are The Hunger Games, which were horrifying and depressing to me. But despite the world this story's set in—one of impoverished masses controlled by a super-elite government hoarding the failing natural resources—I never felt disheartened. There was always hope for Juliette, for Adam, for...
Yeah, there's a noticeable character dump at the end of the book. It started small a little over halfway through, just one here and one there. Then we hit the bump where, if you didn't know this was the beginning of a series/trilogy, you do now, cause suddenly here's a whole slew of characters that are super-interesting and I'm dying to know more about them but...there's only 20 pages left! I've already picked out my favorite, and, if you're reading this, Tahereh, you'd better not kill him off! Don't rob me of my Rodney Skinner replacement!!!
Ahem. Anyway, back to the series talk. Shatter Me is the start of what is currently drafted as a trilogy (though I always hold out hope for changes like the Hitchhiker's Guide, The Mortal Instruments, and Inheritance 'trilogies'), and I can't wait to see what Ms. Mafi has in store for us. I could make comparisons or references, but I'm sure you'll make your own once you've read the book. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more.
Overall, I found Shatter Me an intoxicating read that I could not put down. It's a romantic dystopian, edging on sci-fi, tucked safely within YA boundaries. How often do you get a chance at that? Language is comprised of 2 minor swears, sex remains sensual, but there is some off-screen violence and on-screen gunfire, so I'd say it's targeted toward high school and above. Do not let Shatter Me slip by. You never know if yesterday was your last chance...
This is still pretty raw, but I'll try my best to be tactful and sincere in my review.
If you've read the trilogy so far, you'll no doubt have connecte...moreThis is still pretty raw, but I'll try my best to be tactful and sincere in my review.
If you've read the trilogy so far, you'll no doubt have connected with Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, or any of the other characters. I doubt you would have continued this far otherwise. After all, the subject material isn't exactly inviting.
I'm happy to say that Katniss and crew are as evocative as ever. Our narrator is a bit less fiery in this book, but considering all she's been through I found her believable. The others, new and old, are all handled with such finesse that, no matter how long you've known them, have a firm grip of your heartstrings throughout. If I had one complaint, it was that I could have used a character glossary, as some names would disappear for 100 pages and then pop back in without any recap.
The pacing was much the same. Chapter breaks weren't really breaks in the action (sleep always came in the middle of chapters rather than the end of them) and I was always desperate for what happened next. However, for the first time in this series, I did stop at chapter breaks and put the book down for a rest period. Not that this book was any less exciting—I was always eager to pick it back up—but the events and emotions got a little overwhelming at times.
And now down to the hard stuff. This final book doesn't pull any punches. It's a war, and there's absolutely nothing hiding that fact. People are hurt, killed, tortured, sacrificed... And yet, others keep going. I feel like there needed to be a sticker on the front with one of those warnings, like at the beginning of House and Bones:
Reader Discretion Is Advised Warning: Some of the situations in this novel may be disturbing to some people.
I've read some reviews from people who were disappointed in this finale (I'm sorry but if you've only been reading these for the Peeta vs Gale romance debacle, I have no sympathy for your disappointment). I wasn't disappointed in anything except that the reality this book draws from is our own. Situations, strategies, politics... I'm sorry to say that sometimes we humans know how to screw things up royally.
As for recommendations, once again I'm not sure how to. For staring young characters, I'm unsure if I should hand these to Young Adults. They have politics, they have war, they have death, they have survivors... If you have aversions to any of this, you're probably better off reading notes on Wikipedia. I'm afraid even the movies might be hard to handle, especially for those who've read the books. If, however, you are set on reading this cannot recommend discussion groups highly enough. Again, you will want someone to talk to/cry with after you're done.
Bottom line is I haven't cried this hard since perhaps Half-Blood Prince. I was able to keep it together until the end, but then I had a good hard cry followed immediately by some cookies and comedies to cool-down. Perhaps it's because of following these characters through three books, perhaps it's Collins' evocative prose, or perhaps it's just a human reaction.
I don't plan on ever reading The Hunger Games trilogy again. I have no wish to revisit that place, replay those events, reconnect with those characters. Regardless, these books will stay with me. And I think that's about the best thing I can say about any book.(less)
Katniss and Peeta have won the Hunger Games. For the first time in its 74 runnings, two tributes were allowed to winto survive. They thought the wors...moreKatniss and Peeta have won the Hunger Games. For the first time in its 74 runnings, two tributes were allowed to winto survive. They thought the worst of it was over.
Who knew so much could be triggered by a handful of berries?
It's time for the annual Victory Tour, where the winners are to visit each District and deliver inspiring speeches about their triumph in the Games. It's a time of celebration masking dread as the masses are reminded that they're half-a-year closer to another reaping. But with these tributes' victory hinging on an act of love (or possibly defiance), the Districts are teetering on the edge of rebellion.
When President Snow stops by for a chat, you know you're in trouble.
Katniss is already dealing with an internal war of her own. Gale, her best friend since forever, has made it clear that he wants to be something more. Peeta, on the other hand, has been something more, but how much of that was real and how much was just to survive? But before she's able to sort out her feelings for either, President Snow hands her an ultimatum: Convince the masses that she's still madly in love with Peeta, or Gale dies.
Quite the send off.
Determined not to have any more lives ended by her actions, Katniss prepares herself for a long tour. District 11, the home of her fallen friend, Rue, is the first stop, which brings up a whole slew of other emotions. But when even a small gesture of gratitude and honesty can spark a rebellion, Katniss will have to keep her emotions in check if she wants to keep those around her safe.
Then again, perhaps her emotions are just what the nation needs...
Equally brutal, but for different reasons. Where the first book was mainly about a horrifying competition, the second shows the beginnings of war. From the disparity between the empowered few and the enslaved massesparties where guests fill their stomachs then vomit to do it again and again versus families starving to deathto the Capitol's attempts to control any dissidentsmainly through fear and violencethis book definitely has a darker tone about it. And you thought kids killing each other on live TV was dark...
I think what hit me hardest about this book were the similarities to our world. This may be an extreme case of Proletariat and Bourgeoisie, but I kept seeing examples of things we have going on now. And not just in the case of technology or landscape (since it's based in the future US), but in the disparities between the rich and poor, and the few controlling the many. But perhaps that is best left for a discussion, rather than a review.
Katniss is as strong a narrator as ever. With her return from the traumatic Hunger Games, her emotions are still pretty raw, but her personality and her sense of morality are unchanged. There's no doubt in your mind that she's strong, and yet she is still vulnerable when it comes to her friends and family. She'll do anything to save them, even if it means making herself unhappy or putting her in danger. And rather than adopting a holier-than-thou attitude, or an I'm-not-worthy one, she is extremely level-headed when it comes to her own abilities.
The secondary characters rely a lot on their previous introductions from the first book. There's a little growth here and there, but many of them are the same as before. Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing; if you loved them before, you'll love them still. Even the memories of charactersRue especiallywere powerful enough to make me cry. And it takes a lot for a book to make me cry.
Peeta, however, grated on my nerves. It annoys me that he's portrayed as a simpleton 90% of the timelike when he doesn't understand Katniss's actingand yet he shows these flashes of brilliancepicking up on the slightest hint in a conversation that he needs to cover up somethingthat it makes me wonder how he can be so blind! I'm not sure if this is an intentional part of his character, or an unintended inconsistency.
I also found it frustrating how the book takes a huge turn half-way through. On the one hand, I'd connected to the characters and so their surprise and rage was mirrored in myself, but on the other I honestly wanted to keep exploring the initial storyline. Not to mention it made it really difficult to write a teaser...
But parts 2 and 3 of Catching Fire honestly did nothing for me. There were times where I was really excited, because of all the possibilities that arose...but they all kept passing by... I almost feel like the initial story was delayed in order to make a third book. Off of a cliffhanger, no less. I guess I'll just have to read Mockingjay and see how I feel.
Overall, if you're invested in Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, and the rest you'll probably want to check this one out. However, if you're only in it for the romance you should probably turn back now. It's definitely grimmer, and the initial themes explored only intensify, so it is still probably best as a discussion book. You will want to talk about it.
At 16 years old, Katniss Everdeen has to admit that the odds have never been in her favor. With her father dead and her mother in a near-catatonic sta...moreAt 16 years old, Katniss Everdeen has to admit that the odds have never been in her favor. With her father dead and her mother in a near-catatonic state, it's been up to her to keep the family alive these past five years. Sure, it's been tough caring for her sister and mother, but between hunting, foraging, and making sacrifices she's managed it alright so far.
But in the span of one breath everything changes.
The Hunger Games are an annual competition waged between the 12 Districts of Panem. Part retribution for their failed rebellion, part entertainment spectacle, the Capitol forces each District to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to compete on live TV. The winner gains wealth and glory, not only for themselves but for their entire district. The rest are killed in the process.
In District 12, the poorest district, tributes are chosen primarily by lottery. But when her sister's name is called, Katniss steps up as a volunteer.
Now the odds are truly stacking against her. Her handler for the competition is an idiot and her mentor is a drunk. One of those she is pitted against is strikingly similar to her sister, while another was her one-time savior. As her life is pitted against other youths with more resources and more training, she doubts that her meager hunting skills will prove useful.
Still, one's luck has got to turn sometime, and who knows, Katniss may prove to be more of a contender than she thinks.
Going into this, you know it's going to be a tough book. I mean, the main premise is kids, as young as twelve, being picked out in a lottery (called "the reaping") and set to kill each other for the country's enjoyment. It's not even a scenario where it's an accident that erodes the kids' psyches over time. No, it's a government running the show and using this gory spectacle to keep their subjects in line.
Now, I've definitely not led a pampered life, but I won't say I haven't been sheltered as well. Comparing it to the 12 Districts of Panem, I'd probably say I lived in the mid-to-poor sections of Districts 1 or 2. Not bathing in the lap of luxury, but definitely not dealing with the black market or digging in trash. I'm not street savvy, and I've not had much, if any, experience with sickness or death.
Suffice it to say, this book was a very brutal read for me.
That you get to know these characters, even though some were only introduced a few pages ago, and build a relationship with them...only to have them killed, in some cases violently, wasn't easy by any stretch of the imagination. Add to that the fact these horrific killings and deaths are being done by kids...only a few years younger than myself...and I'm not sure how to recommend this book.
That's not to say I didn't (gosh I feel horrible saying this) enjoy parts of it. Katniss herself was a superbly crafted character. Here you have a heroine who, though everything's thrown at her, excels in an impossible situation, holds onto her personality, and maintains a rebellious mentality, and yet does it believably. Though you don't know exactly how she'll react to situations, her actions ring true; her backstory and upbringing support them. And this believability only aides the realism, the punch that the book delivers as a whole.
The other characters acted similarly real, from the prim and prissy Effie (pampered and raised in the Capitol), to the subtly intelligent Haymitch (District 12's past winner of The Hunger Games), to the scheming Gamekeepers (Capitol-loyal "Dungeon Masters" of the Games' arena), to the other kids in the competition. Each of them acted true-to-character, no matter how easy it might have been to twist them for plot's sake. Even down to the Capitol/government itself, this story is 100% character-driven.
Building off of that, I'm not completely certain how to handle the romance. If you've heard anything of this book, you've no doubt seen or heard the Team Peeta vs Team Gale debate. Personally, I didn't care for it at all. To me, it's simply another weapon of rebellion against the government. Unfortunately, this blade seems to be double-edged and I can already see the complications that it has, and is going to cause. I'd have preferred things stayed at friend-levels, instead of having a romance brought on or influenced by traumatic situations. But it's a Young Adult novel, and so hormones will rage. I'm not saying I'm completely unsympathetic to the emotions, just that they're not my preference. Then again, you need something to lighten the tone...
Or do you? Frankly, I don't mean to be disrespectful or anything, but I found the events and themes in this book eerily similar to tales of the holocaust. Yes, it's a book featuring and aimed at Young Adults, but if not for the romantic sequences, I feel this could sit comfortably beside Eli Wiesel's Night or William Golding's Lord of the Flies in attitude and emotions.
For interested younger teens, this might make a better book for discussion with a group (or at least a parent) than an independent read. And I think it makes a great discussion book for older teens/readers as well. I know I'm looking forward to discussing it with my group and other venues as well.
Bottom line is this is a serious and deceptively deep book that may hit you hard and resonate for some time. While it has become somewhat masked in the "What Boy Will She Pick?!" debate (no doubt in hopes of drawing in Twilight-obsessed teens), don't mistake this as a fluffy YA read. The strong characters, intriguing setting, and masterful pacing will draw you in and make it nearly impossible to put this down. However, I can't promise you'll feel content at the end, nor that you will like where it takes you.