I'm relieved the Cover Gods decided to repackage this series. The "I'm gonna eat you for breakfast" model photo f...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I'm relieved the Cover Gods decided to repackage this series. The "I'm gonna eat you for breakfast" model photo from the original cover of Shatter Me was seven different kinds of wrong. The only thing I loved about that original cover was the slashed title. I do miss that and kind of wish they'd ported it over in the repackaging. And while I'm not a huge fan of the sky blue and pink they've opted for in the new covers, I applaud the general direction and the nod to some of the overarching themes of the series. Most of all, I hope it reels in new readers for Tahereh Mafi, because she (and her books) really deserve them. Not long back, I caved and read Destroy Me, the e-novella Ms. Mafi wrote from Warner's perspective. It takes place in between the first and second books, and I finished it even more crazy devoted to that crazy psycho than I was before (and that is saying something). And, of course, I've spent the last handful of months impatiently waiting to see what insanity he would perpetrate next in this the second full novel. And I can tell you now, as far as Warner goes? I was not disappointed.
I do apologize, but beyond this point there be unavoidable spoilers for the first book. Proceed with caution.
Juliette is not adjusting to Omega Point. Not even a little bit. Of course, it's pretty hard to relax and let your guard down when every single unusual inhabitant of the secret haven stares at her askance, afraid they'll accidentally brush up against her and pay the price with their lives. Her reputation, as always, precedes her. And so life at Omega Point is, in many respects, not so different from life at the compound. With Warner. No one is actively trying to kill her, and that is a definite plus. But no one is telling her anything either. And, as the days go by, even Adam grows more and more remote, preoccupied with something he won't can't tell her. The ever-boisterious Kenji tries to bridge the gap by sitting with Juliette in the cafeteria and trying to teach her a little of what they do there and why they need her to get over her inhibitions and put her unparalleled powers to work on their behalf. But she's spent 17 years distancing herself from those around her. It's going to take more than irreverent humor and overtures of friendship to break down the barriers she's erected. It's not until she's allowed out on her first mission that a crack appears in her armor. She comes face to face with Warner once more, and the resulting emotions (on both sides) are . . . not what she expected them to be. It seems he is to play a part in her life whether she likes it or not. The question is, will either of them survive the encounter, whether Warner can touch Juliette or not?
Sticks and stones keep breaking my bones but these words, these words will kill me.
My love for this book is entirely tied up in my love for Warner. This should come as no surprise to any of you. And I fully own up to my inexplicable attachment to this scary, broken antihero. I referred to him as a villain in my review of Shatter Me. But I no longer think of him as such. No, he pretty much singlehandedly slides into antihero territory in this installment. Which is exactly what I was hoping would happen and which just complicates my mess of feelings, all of which mirror Juliette's. But I'm telling you, the scenes in this book that crackle are the scenes in which Warner is in the room. That's all there is to it. It's almost as though he consciously wraps himself in the most urgent and beautiful language Ms. Mafi has at her disposal. And it works like a spell to draw Juliette (and the reader) to him and to his explosive existence. When he's not in the room, the whole thing dims a bit. One of my favorite moments comes when Juliette looks into Warner's face and realizes,
It's the kind of face no one believes in anymore.
And she's right. There's something hesitant and fine about him here and I, for one, was mesmerized. Don't get me wrong. Adam and Juliette's relationship is as sweet as ever, but I did feel as though it relied a bit too much on its portrayal in the first book. That their connection wasn't as present and tangible as it was then. Oh, who are we kidding? It's all about Warner and Juliette for me. Poor Juliette. She doesn't have an easy time of it this go round. I love her. I feel for her and the lot she's been given. Her constant internalization and self-flagellation didn't bother me as I gather it has some other readers. She felt as consistent to me as ever, and I understood and sympathized with her at every turn. Interestingly, I did miss the sweeping, throbbing language of Shatter Me. There are smatterings of it throughout, of course, but it is decidedly dialed down in this sequel. And I missed it. This is ameliorated to a degree by the added humor present in the form of Kenji. The larger-than-life rebel is a razor wit and an utterly welcome addition to the we-take-ourselves-so-seriously-we-can-barely-crack-a-smile duo of Adam and Juliette. They need him. Every nutty denizen of Omega Point needs him. And I giggled helplessly at every arrogant, hysterical word that comes out of his mouth. Humor aside, though, I was a bit bothered by a couple of key plot points, a couple of manipulative moves that took the wind out of the book's sails right when it needed the most momentum. They felt unnecessary to me, too rich for a book already wealthy with words and angst and impossibility. But where Shatter Me wound up to a crazy, out of left field ending, UNRAVEL ME kicks butt and takes names with an ending that shot me to the moon and back. No joke, chapter 62 is enough to lay you out flat. And so I'm gonna leave you with my favorite bit from that most excellent of chapters and hope it gets under your skin enough to send you running to the bookstore to get your own copy.
He's holding me like I'm made of feathers.
He's holding my face and looking at his own hands like he can't believe he's caught this bird who's always so desperate to fly away.His hands are shaking, just a little bit, just enough for me to feel the slight tremble against my skin. Gone is the boy with the guns and the skeletons in his closet. These hands holding me have never held a weapon. These hands have never touched death. These hands are perfect and kind and tender.
And he leans in, so carefully. Breathing and not breathing and hearts beating between us and he's so close, he's so close and I can't feel my legs anymore. I can't feel my fingers or the cold or the emptiness of this room because all I feel is him, everywhere, filling everything and he whispers
Honestly, it's like trying to articulate why you love your child reviewing some of these books. I don't know how...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Honestly, it's like trying to articulate why you love your child reviewing some of these books. I don't know how anyone can be expected to do them justice. But I am going to press on foolhardily, if only because this is one of the ones I never stop talking about, never stop thinking about. Originally published in 2004, HOW I LIVE NOW is Meg Rosoff's debut novel and winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. I've loved many a Printz Award winner, but this one is truly the best of the best. I remember it came in the mail, on loan from a friend who somehow knew how much it would mean to me. I slid it out of the envelope and wondered at how slim it was and at the dark cover and the quiet English village. I started it that night and my eyes did not leave the page until it was finished. I'm pretty sure I slept with it clasped to my chest. Then I woke up and read it again in one long swallow, knowing I would have to send it back and afraid to let it out of my grasp for fear it would all turn out to be just a beautiful dream. I remember pressing it into my sister's hands, incoherent in my need to share it with someone else. And I remember deciding that very morning that if I ever had a daughter her name would be Piper. Piper, after a little girl with blond hair and a gift for happiness, shining like a light in so much darkness. It's been almost a decade, and yet those visceral emotions are as close to the surface now as they were then. And, of course, now I have a little girl named Piper, with blond hair and a gift for happiness, and . . . well, I did say it was like trying to articulate why you love your child, didn't I?
Daisy has been packed off to England. At the insistence of her evil stepmother Davina, her distant-at-best father has agreed to send her to live with her cousins in the BACK OF BEYOND somewhere deep in the English countryside. And so against her express wishes, she finds herself stepping off the plane and into another world. It turns out that her cousins don't so much exist under anything so prosaic as adult supervision. Their mother, her Aunt Penn, is frequently off protesting The War, and so her four offspring (Osbert, Isaac, Edmond, and Piper) are pretty much left to their own odd devices. Odd being the key word as far as Daisy is concerned. Osbert is nominally in charge, but rarely can be bothered to take notice of his younger siblings. Isaac doesn't speak at all, except perhaps to the goats and dogs he tends, and even then they're not telling. Edmond (Isaac's twin) constantly puts Daisy on the wrong foot with his cigarette smoking and underage driving and ability to respond to things she's thought but not spoken. And Piper . . . well, Piper is lovely in every way and, as such, cannot possibly be real. But she is real. They all are. And before she realizes it, Daisy has become one of them. Somehow, with a war raging, and everything she's ever known thousands of miles away, Daisy finds a place to belong. It's not as though she really thought it might last. It's just that she never understood just how hard it would be to let go when the world creeps inside their Eden and rips it all to shreds.
There's no use trying to sugarcoat this one. It is absolutely brutal. From the stark lack of punctuation and intermittent use of capitals to the way Daisy embraces her eating disorder to the questionable shenanigans the five of them get up to with their utter lack of supervision. To say nothing of the war itself which hangs over the whole gorgeous thing just waiting for its moment to strike. And strike it does.
I was pretty far gone, but not so far gone that I thought anyone with half a toehold in reality would think what we were doing was a good idea.
Daisy's unflagging humor is what reeled me in on the very first page. Her humor saves her--it saves us--when things become unbearable. And that humor translates into barest survival when she comes to the end of her rope. I so admired Daisy. I adored Piper, loved Edmond and Isaac unreservedly, and was casually indifferent to Osbert. But my hat was off to Daisy for scraping together every bit of defiance she could in the face of certain annihilation. Her voice matures as her experience grows and Rosoff insinuates it so naturally that this evolution creates not even a ripple across the surface of the narrative.
I was dying, of course, but then we all are. Every day, in perfect increments, I was dying of loss. The only help for my condition, then as now, is that I refused to let go of what I loved. I wrote everything down, at first in choppy fragments; a sentence here, a few words there, it was the most I could handle at the time. Later I wrote more, my grief muffled but not eased by the passage of time.
When I go back over my writing now I can barely read it. The happiness is the worst. Some days I can't bring myself to remember. But I will not relinquish a single detail of the past. What remains of my life depends on what happened six years ago.
In my brain, in my limbs, in my dreams, it is still happening.
My word, how she grows. Her dogged persistence in the face of horrific obstacles left me a huddled mess of emotions, the chiefest of these being a fierce loyalty and determination to see her claim what was hers--what was left of it (or them). And to know that it would be enough, that she would hold all the jagged pieces together until they felt (or she made them) whole. Rosoff's writing matches the brutality of her story step for step, but it also manages to counter it with interludes of breathtaking beauty. These handful of scenes remain among the choicest of my reading life, and I pull them out whenever I need them, much as I imagine Daisy does. Still. And always.(less)
I know this is an almost unpardonably early review. But honestly, I waited on it as long as I possibly could before the effo...moreOriginally reviewed here.
I know this is an almost unpardonably early review. But honestly, I waited on it as long as I possibly could before the effort of holding it in caused me some sort of bodily harm. I've been anxiously looking forward to FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS for going on two years now, and the day an ARC showed up on my doorstep was just a very good day indeed. When a book you've been dying to read finally falls into your lap, do you ever just hold onto it and savor the possibilities? I do. I did with this one for a little while. Don't get me wrong, sometimes I just tear into it immediately. But sometimes I don't. Because sometimes dreaming about it while you're actually holding it in your hands is special, too. So I savored and I dreamt and I started reading and . . . I was gone. My first reaction to finishing it was a sense of complete satisfaction mingled with sadness that it was over. My second was thinking that I cannot wait to see FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS work its magic on readers far and wide. As post-apocalyptic retellings of classics go, it pretty much killed it on all levels for this devoted Austen girl.
Elliot North knows how to work hard. As a member of the elite Luddite nobility, she has a keen sense of what is expected of her, of which actions are acceptable and which ones could get you disowned and out on the streets. It is that very sense of duty that kept her from following her childhood friend Kai four years ago, when he fled servitude on her father's estate for a life of uncertainty and, just possibly, freedom. Their friendship was forbidden from the beginning, as Kai belongs to the Post-Reductionist class, and ever since the catastrophic Reduction, matters or birth and class ruthlessly define every aspect of a person's life. But now, four long years have passed, and at eighteen years old, Elliot is the only thing keeping the family lands going. As her father and sister grow further distanced from reality, the world as they know it is changing. Determined not to be left behind, Elliot convinces her family to lease the land to a group of unusual shipwrights known as Cloud Fleet. Hoping the extra income will save her home, Elliot is, well, gobsmacked when one of the renowned shipwrights turns out to be none other than her old friend--no longer playful, open Kai, but smart, remote Captain Malakai Wentforth. Elliot knows how to work hard, but even she may not be up to the task of withstanding the flood of guilt and longing that threatens to overtake her with his return. Especially given the suspicions that being to swirl in her head regarding just what he and his fleet are up to.
Everything about this book soars, from its supernal setting to the dreams its characters hold in their hearts. Having read (and adored) Persuasion for years now, it was extremely gratifying to see the massive amounts of care and thought that went into the crafting of this story inspired by Jane Austen's final novel. In fact, I felt a healthy dose of admiration for the storytelling the entire time I was reading it. But the wonderful bit is that it won me over on its own strengths entirely. The world and its sinister history, the characters and their eerily perfect names, the writing and its effortless flow--they're all so interlocked and balanced, coming together so as to make hours go by like seconds. I may have been predisposed to like Elliot, but the way my heart launched itself into my throat when hers did, the way my temper rose on her behalf, and the way I held my breath at her restraint and cheered her adamant refusal to be downtrodden . . . I more-than-liked Elliot. I more-than-liked Kai (even when I wanted to hurt him). And most of all, I more-than-liked the brilliant ending. Here is one of my favorite non-spoilery passages (taken from my uncorrected ARC), in which you get a feel for the way the writing lauds the original while extending it to support the strengths of these new characters and their spectacular world:
Elliot had had enough. "If you can't be civil to me, Miss Phoenix, I wish you'd leave me in peace. I have never done anything to you, and if you seek to punish me for past misdeeds, there is nothing you can devise that I haven't already suffered." Four years of worrying about Kai, followed by all these weeks of having him back here, but hating her. Was that not punishment enough?
"You baffle me, Miss Elliot," Andromeda replied in the same high-wrought tone. "I can't reconcile the young woman I see before me with the reports I have had."
What lies had Kai been spreading abroad? "I'm sorry to hear that, but it's none of my concern. I am the same person I've always been." She turned her face away from Andromeda, away from the crowd and from Kai. "Maybe you should ask yourself why, if I am the person you've been led to believe, someone would put their faith in me at all?"
"People are foolish when it comes to love."
Elliot hadn't been. She'd been rational, logical, reasonable, prudent. She'd been cold and cruel and disloyal and distant.
She hadn't been foolish.
She'd been the most foolish girl on the island.
Great, no? The killer thing about Elliot (have I mentioned how much I love her?) is that she has all the layers. She's the perfect blend of unmitigated strength and harbored regret. Every moment of every day she embodies dedication and resolve, all the while trying to mask the hope and the pain she lives with every moment of every single day. Here is Elliot:
No one came. Not her sister or her father, not Benedict or the Fleet Posts or even Admiral Innovation. No one appeared in the hall all afternoon but the mute, shuffling figures of the Reduced housemaids as they went about their chores. Time passed, and Elliot sat in the chair, waiting for the verdict from Felicia.
How much of her life had she spent waiting? Waiting for a plant to sprout? Waiting for her father's judgment? Waiting for another letter to appear in the knothole from Kai? Waiting for years after Kai left to feel at peace with her decision? She fed the Reduced, she did her chores, she avoided her father and her sister, and she waited. She did every duty she'd been taught as a Luddite, and she lied with every breath.
I'd say I don't know what to say, but I do. And it's this. Snatch it up the day it comes out--this beautiful book--this meticulous, breathtaking retelling of one of the greatest love stories ever penned.
SHATTER ME came across my radar purely through the blogosphere. I'm fairly certain I wrote it off initially based on the cover alone. Having read it n...moreSHATTER ME came across my radar purely through the blogosphere. I'm fairly certain I wrote it off initially based on the cover alone. Having read it now, I'm even less of a fan of the cover. In fact, I vastly prefer the plain white cover of my ARC. It retains the slashed title (which I love), but otherwise it is just a field of white. The final cover sells the book short, in my opinion, especially Juliette herself. The model, her expression, and the dress are just too froufy and faux intense for Juliette and for my taste. I feel like the story deserved a starker, more ambiguous cover. So what encouraged me to check out this debut novel was definitely not the cover, but rather the collective heart attack it seemed to be giving a slew of my favorite bloggers. I heard "beautiful writing" and "awesome dystopian" and I hoped. But I made sure to go in with carefully measured expectations, because I've had a few of those "beautiful writing awesome dystopians" lately that have just not worked for me, even if they knocked it out of the park with other readers like me. Probably says more about me than it does the books, but there it is.
Juliette counts. She counts everything, from the square footage of her cell to the number of days since she's seen the outside. By numbering the terrifyingly small confines of her world, she is able to stay somewhere in the vicinity of sane as those parameters slowly shrink around her. Locked up for a murder she did commit, Juliette has no idea what the Reestablishment plans on doing with her, or why she's in what seems to be an insane asylum and not hanging from the end of a rope. In fact, she is as haunted by the inadvertent experience as anyone. But then everything about her world is haunting these days. Nothing is as it was, and the longer she sits alone in her cell, the more it seems no one will ever come around to bothering with one lone girl whose touch is lethal. And then one day. Someone comes. Or, rather, is thrust against his will into her cell. And so now there are two. But Juliette is immediately haunted by the innumerable possibilities. Why give her a cellmate? Why now? And why this particular person? The one who has eyes she remembers, even though it's been years and years. More importantly, who is behind this sudden change and what exactly are they trying to accomplish?
Reader, I liked it from page one. And the reason is Juliette. My heart broke over her. Over and over again. She tells her story as it happens, in exquisitely close detail, and with an eye and ear attuned to the colorless vagaries of her world. Her words are full of metaphors, raining down on the reader. And I liked how the that sweeping language was balanced by the frequent strikethroughs that pervaded her thoughts. I know some readers are bothered by those, but I appreciated the way they simultaneously underscored and brought into question Juliette's take on what is going on around her. They encompassed the words she longed to say but couldn't, the thoughts passing through her head that were so horrifying they must literally be struck from the page. I will say that, while I never tired of the strikethoughs, the constant use of repetition and hyperbole did wear on me after awhile. The thing is, overall I think Tahereh Mafi does such a fine job with the language. I just thought it needed to be reined in some places so as to not tax the reader, and in order to preserve the emotional effect of those particularly devastating phrases and passages. Because when she nails it, she nails it. And when it comes to the three principal players in this novel, Ms. Mafi's words paint them in livid color. I love all three of them--Juliette, Adam, and Warner--for very different reasons. You guys, this villain, he is not kidding around. He may be my favorite aspect of the book. In fact, the strength of my love for Warner may have caused me to overlook a few places in which things happen too quickly or too easily to be credible. In retrospect, I sort of wish they'd never left the asylum. Or Warner's compound. Because those sections are incredibly tight and afterwards things get a bit nebulous, a bit uneven. But so you get a feel for what I'm talking about with the characters and the writing style, here is a scene fairly early on between Juliette and Warner (taken from my uncorrected ARC). This was the scene in which I really fell in love with them both.
Warner follows me into my room.
"You should probably sleep," he says to me. It's the first time he's spoken since we left the rooftop. "I'll have food sent up to your room, but other than that I'll make sure you're not disturbed."
"Where is Adam?" Is he safe? Is he healthy? Are you going to hurt him?
Warner flinches before finding his composure. "Why do you care?"
I've cared about Adam Kent since I was in third grade. "Isn't he supposed to be watching me? Because he's not here. Does that mean you're going to kill him, too?" I'm feeling stupid. I'm feeling brave because I'm feeling stupid. My words wear no parachutes as they fall out of my mouth.
"I only kill people if I need to."
"More than most."
I laugh a sad laugh, sharing it only with myself.
"You can have the rest of the day to yourself. Our real work will begin tomorrow. Adam will bring you to me." He holds my eyes. Suppresses a smile. "In the meantime, try not to kill anyone."
"You and I," I tell him, anger coursing through my veins, "you and I are not the same--"
"You don't really believe that."
"You think you can compare my--my disease--with your insanity--"
"Disease?" He rushes forward, abruptly impassioned, and I struggle to hold my ground. "You think you have a disease?" he shouts. "You have a gift! You have an extraordinary ability that you don't care to understand! Your potential--"
"I have no potential!"
"You're wrong." He's glaring at me. There's no other way to describe it. I could almost say he hates me in this moment. Hates me for hating myself.
"Well you're the murderer," I tell him. "So you must be right."
His smile is laced with dynamite. "Go to sleep."
"Go to hell."
He works his jaw. Walks to the door. "I'm working on it."
Dynamite is right. Call me crazy, but I love these two together. I mean Warner is a complete and utter psycho. But heaven help me, I love him. And hate him. I . . . okay. So my Warner feelings are an inexplicable and very violent hodgepodge. But I wouldn't have felt the same way about SHATTER ME without him. And I will return for the sequel because of him. And Juliette. And the love story. And the out-of-left-field ending that left me humming the theme song to X-Men.(less)
I'd been hearing lots and lots about Meredith Ann Pierce long before I ever picked up one of her books. For the longest time I associated her in my he...moreI'd been hearing lots and lots about Meredith Ann Pierce long before I ever picked up one of her books. For the longest time I associated her in my head with a book called The Woman Who Loved Reindeer. And neither the title nor the cover did anything for me. But, as is so often the case, I had several friends who highly recommended her Darkangel trilogy. And they were persistent enough and vociferous enough that I finally picked up the THE DARKANGEL (much more interesting title and premise) to give a new author and a new series a go. This was probably somewhere around ten years ago. And I'm still so glad I gave in and picked up the trilogy. That way I didn't even have to wait before diving into the second book. And this really is a series that builds upon each previous book until the final showdown is indeed something to behold. This was Ms. Pierce's first book, written when she was just 23 years old, but you would never be able to tell. It's a treasure trove of creepy ambiance, layered characterization, and suspense. First published in 1982, the entire trilogy was fairly recently rejacketed nicely and released to (hopefully) a new crop of readers.
Ariel is a slave. Accompanying her mistress on a flower-gathering expedition, Ariel is dismayed when her mistress is abducted by the terrifying Darkangel--a vampyre who is destined to only come into his full power when he acquires his fourteenth and final bride. Yes, you read that right. He's got twelve of 'em locked away in his fortress and Ariel's mistress gets to be unlucky thirteen. But not if Ariel has anything to do with it. Somewhat taciturn by nature (and life status), she sets off in pursuit of her mistress, determined to fetch her back before the Darkangel drains her all but dry of life like his other wives, finds a fourteenth, and ascends to the dizzying heights of power of a seventh son and a full vampyre. Then he will be immortal and have truly left the last of his humanity behind. Unfortunately, Ariel herself is captured on her journey, and the Darkangel forces her into servitude to his bevy of wraith-wives. Soon Ariel begins to form a plan to kill the Darkangel and set the wives free.
His hair was long and silver, and about his throat he wore a chain: on fourteen of the links hung little vials of lead.
I remember reading that line and feeling chilled, wondering just exactly what he carried inside those little vials. This is a vampyre novel of a different kind from the sort you may be used to. The mythology is woven very densely here, as the title character himself is more of a icarus-vampire hybrid than your typical broody night dweller. Everything about this dark fantasy/scifi is slightly left of what you expect it to be, and I love it for that very reason. Ariel is at times shy, furious, fearful, and bold. Her captor is coldly indifferent, with his black wings and his all-but-dead heart, but with a multitude of reasons lurking behind his violent search. And once Ariel discovers the truth of his history, his family, and his existence, she becomes determined to go on her own quest to recover the one object that might release him from his terrible fate. She makes this decision on her own, in the face of his certain disapproval and the possibility of her own annihilation. She is strong and sympathetic and her motivations never struck me as weak or dubious. The world these characters inhabit is as frigid as the Darkangel himself. Craggy and desolate, it provides an excellent backdrop for each character's isolation. Plus, it has friendly gargoyles, crafty dwarves, and one incredibly terrifying Lorelei. And this is only the beginning. It gets endlessly complicated through the course of the next two books as the reader grows fonder of both Ariel and the Icarus. I adore the entire trilogy and highly recommend it to anyone tired of the same old paranormal rigmarole. This one is different. A keeper.(less)
It's a little bit strange, but I feel as though I've grown particularly choosy when it comes to the dystopian novels I pick up lately. I'm not sure if...moreIt's a little bit strange, but I feel as though I've grown particularly choosy when it comes to the dystopian novels I pick up lately. I'm not sure if this is a result of the seemingly increased number of YA ones, in particular, being released. Or if it's merely that my taste is evolving somewhat over time. I did read several for the SciFi/Fantasy panel I served on for the Cybils this year. Some were good, some not so good, as is to be expected. But so often the substance fails to live up to the premise for me. And those are sad days, where I wonder what went wrong and if it was the book, the execution, or me. In any event, I was looking forward to the release of Julia Karr's debut novel--XVI--with a fair amount of anticipation and curiosity, hoping it would stand out among its fellows and earn a permanent spot on my shelves. I read it in the space of a single evening and have been examining my thoughts on it for a little while now.
Nina Oberon is about to turn sixteen. And in her world, this monumental occasion is about more than just a driver's license and more freedom on the dating field. So much more. At the ripe old age of sixteen, or "sexteen" as her world calls it, girls are essentially fair game for any and every boy/man/pervert that comes strolling by. Girls turn sixteen and get the infamous XVI tattoo on their wrist proclaiming their newly available status and Nina, for one, is scared. Most girls, like her hyper best friend Sandy, can't wait to achieve their new status in the world. Drunk on the wealth of male attention that will come their way and the promise of a whole new host of opportunities that will come their way, they anxiously look forward to the day they get their tattoo. Not so for Nina. Raised by her pragmatic, if romantically hapless single mother Ginnie, along with her younger sister Dee, Nina has grown up dreading what will happen when she reaches her sixteenth birthday. Her mother has trained her not to believe the rosy, inane images the media blithely shoves down young girls' throats and Nina is cautious to the point that when her longtime friend Derek begins to see her in a different light it triggers outright panic in Nina. Then her mother is brutally murdered in a back alley and, on her death bed, she reveals to Nina that her father isn't actually dead and that she must find him and keep her sister Dee safe.
Okay. Lots of potential, right? I liked the setup and I definitely liked Nina. She was strong from the start and it was a relief to read about a main character who doesn't spend the entire novel in the dark, floating around believing the garbage her society has set up as reality. However. Those were the only strong points in the book. The rest of the cast of characters felt disturbingly two-dimensional. They were good cut-outs (particularly Wei and Derek) and they could easily have developed into fully-fledged characters who I really admired and followed. But they stayed in the background, flat and chirpy, never fully inhabiting a spot on my radar. Even Nina's growing relationship with a mysterious, possibly homeless, boy named Sal never got its feet off the ground. I didn't buy Nina's too-sudden weak knees, given how adamant and self-possessed she was to begin with. And I really didn't buy Sal's too convenient interest in her, given what we learn about their interlocked past and his involvement with many things underground. There were no real reasons behind their association and I found myself fairly ambivalent toward them both. The treatment of underlying themes soon began to bother me as well. What could have been a compelling exploration of adolescent life in a terrifyingly misogynistic society quickly devolved into an oddly simplistic tale with very little to recommend it. Things moved too slowly and not far enough to provide a satisfying conclusion in which I could feel as though progress was made and character arcs developed. Rather the conclusion was anticlimactic and verging on the trite--so not in keeping with its edgy, loaded premise.(less)
I was so excited to go to my local bookstore's midnight release party for MOCKINGJAY. I hadn't been to a midnight release party for quite awhile and i...moreI was so excited to go to my local bookstore's midnight release party for MOCKINGJAY. I hadn't been to a midnight release party for quite awhile and it's such a singular experience, wandering the aisles and just soaking up the high pitched excitement and general camaraderie in the air. And this time I got to do it all with my always-up-for-a-good-time sister Liza and the lovely Holly from Book Harbinger. Together the three of us admired the radical Capitol hairstyles, watched the archery contest, and stood slack-jawed as a couple of serious fans wowed the audience with their insane knowledge of Hunger Games trivia. And when we stopped in the cafe for some drinks and snacks and saw the special offerings (Creamsicles for Team Peeta vs. Root Beer Floats for Team Gale), I just went ahead and ordered that root beer float as a last toast to the guy I thought she'd be happiest with. When I walked out of the store that night with my shiny blue copy, I could not wait to get home and start it. I was very entertained by the first book and thought (after my initial anxiety attack) that the second installment was even better than the first, full of twists and turns and awesome intensity. So I went into the third and final novel up for anything, harboring a few suspicions and fears, but certain that Suzanne Collins would bring her A-game one more time.
District 12 is no more. This is the thought Katniss Everdeen must repeatedly force through her head until it makes some sort of sense. Gale's impossible words have failed to penetrate her brain and she must see the ashy remains for herself in order to accept what has happened and move on. To the fabled District 13. Where she is expected to breathe new life into her Girl on Fire persona and rally the troops from all twelve other districts in a full scale attack on the Capitol. She is expected to do this without protest, without questioning why, without the one person by her side who made it all seem possible. As a prisoner of the repulsive President Snow, Peeta is trapped beyond her reach. And Katniss must decide where to throw her support. Outside of the arena, she's assumes a different but equally crushing load of responsibilities worrying about her mother and Prim, keeping up with her best friend Gale who is putting his considerable intelligence and skills wholeheartedly at rebel command's disposal, and maintaining her fragile connection with the other surviving tributes, including beautiful, damaged Finnick and the deceptively savvy Beetee. Hanging over it all are the sinister, yet unmistakable hints that President Snow is watching her more closely than she knows. Surrounded by a tight circle of people who call themselves her allies, but do not always act accordingly, Katniss must claw her way through an ever-widening fog of manipulation and deception if she is to settle on a course of action and truly be the Mockingjay the world of Panem so desperately needs.
Honestly, I feel a bit raw, you guys. Worked over and only sort of holding it together. Under a thin veneer of composure, I went about my day, drifting from home to work, methodically going about my responsibilities and tasks. When all the time my mind was spinning and returning over and over to the adrenaline shot that was this book. I read the first 75 pages that night and, in a carefully controlled way, closed the cover and went to sleep. I finished the last 300+ pages the following night in one headlong gulp, looking up at the end with tears in my eyes. What an incredible feat of entertainment! And how very much I loved the ending. It was perfect down to the final word and somehow that perfection and attention to detail to the bitter end made me okay with it all. Even though it is the most brutal of the three books. Even though the things we find out about the real under workings of the Capitol are so much worse than I feared. Even though there was no way these characters I loved were going to make it out unscathed. But I was okay with it--the bleakness and the alienation and the loss--because it felt real and unvarnished. And because, though I had as much fun as anyone spouting my team allegiance from the top of any available elevated location, it was never about the triangle. It was about Katniss. It was her personal, harrowing account. That is how it started and that is exactly how it ended. And if I didn't necessarily agree with a few of her choices, I absolutely understood why she was making them and, more importantly, that they were hers. I loved her when she was the flame that ignited a revolution and I loved her when she was unbearably cold and flawed. A favorite passage early on that encapsulates so much of Katniss:
By the time we get to Command, Coin, Plutarch, and all their people have already assembled. The sight of Gale raises some eyebrows, but no one throws him out. My mental notes have become too jumbled, so I ask for a piece of paper and a pencil right off. My apparent interest in the proceedings--the first I've shown since I've been here--takes them by surprise. Several looks are exchanged. Probably they had some extra-special lecture planned for me. But instead, Coin personally hands me the supplies, and everyone waits in silence while I sit at the table and scrawl out my list. Buttercup. Hunting. Peeta's immunity. Announced in public.
This is it. Probably my only chance to bargain. Think. What else do you want? I feel him, standing at my shoulder. Gale, I add to the list. I don't think I can do this without him.
The headache's coming on and my thoughts begin to tangle. I shut my eyes and start to recite silently.
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is alive. He is a traitor but alive. I have to keep him alive . . .
The list. It still seems too small. I should try to think bigger, beyond our current situation where I am of the utmost importance, to the future where I may be worth nothing. Should't I be asking for more? For my family? For the remainder of my people? My skin itches with the ashes of the dead. I feel the sickening impact of the skull against my shoe. The scent of blood and roses stings my nose.
The pencil moves across the page on its own. I open my eyes and see the wobbly letters. I KILL SNOW.
Ms. Collins most definitely brought her A-game and it shone brightest in the excellent cast of secondary characters, in the complex and painful path of introspection Katniss trod, and perhaps most of all in the expertly crafted fight to the finish. Several times I paused while reading to silently acknowledge the brilliance of a certain plot twist or to admire the way she always kept me guessing. My emotions tumbled over the edge at the most unexpected of moments. As I smiled and frowned, questioned and disagreed, and thought and thought and thought. I felt winded and yet filled to bursting with excitement for the entire 400 pages and that caliber of reading experience will never be lost on me. MOCKINGJAY assaulted all my senses and left me with not a little of my own post-traumatic stress. It made me feel and long and rage and cry and I loved every word. Finest kind.(less)
So this is the book everyone was buzzing about at BEA this year. It's name just seemed to be in the air everywhere I went. And I made it a point to si...moreSo this is the book everyone was buzzing about at BEA this year. It's name just seemed to be in the air everywhere I went. And I made it a point to sit in on the Dystopian Lit panel and the YA Buzz panel, both of which featured the delightful Ally Condie with her new novel MATCHED. And she really was delightful. One of my most memorable moments from the entire conference was listening to her describe the origins of a scene in the book, which included her chaperoning a high school prom in which a boy proposed to his girlfriend on the steps of the building. Needless to say, it was a sticky situation for the chaperons as they weren't sure whether to be happy for them or to jump in the middle and yell, "You're making a big mistake!" We in the audience had a good laugh at that one. So it was with great anticipation (and not a little fear) that I cracked open MATCHED a few nights ago. Whenever the hype surrounding a book is built up so high, I find myself afraid to start it for fear it won't measure up and then the sadness will set in and who needs that, right? But look at that cover. I mean, wow. Dutton can package a book, can't they? The truth is I was simply not up to resisting a dystopian novel with that cover.
Cassia Reyes is about to attend her Match Banquet. All her life she's waited for this evening--the night the Society would reveal her Match. This person will be her partner in every sense of the word. Over time they will be allowed to court, along approved guidelines and with proper supervision (of course), they will receive jobs in their assigned professions, they will marry and produce healthy, strong children. In the words of the Society, they will achieve optimal results in life. Cassia is giddy with anticipation. What will he look like, this face that will appear before her on the computer screen? Will she like him? Will he like her? Was the beautiful green dress she chose the right choice for the occasion? And then, suddenly, all her questions are answered (and fears allayed), when her best friend Xander's face shows up on the screen. It almost never happens--being matched with someone you know. Everyone is surprised and pleased for Cassia and her family. Such luck to already know and care about the person you will spend the rest of your nice, neat life with. Cassia is happy and so is Xander. Then she logs into her computer at home to read more information on her Match and a different face appears. A different boy in place of Xander. And she knows this boy as well. This Ky Markham, with his serious eyes and closed face. Cassia's mind is immediately sent into a spiral of panic. What has happened? Which boy is her real Match? The Society never makes mistakes. Does it?
It really is a great idea. The whole setup is absolutely full of potential and I love the world Ally Condie has created. The atmosphere is appropriately stifling, made even more chilling because none of the characters are aware they are being so clearly and methodically oppressed. I liked how I felt immediately angry on their behalf. And how I felt sick to my stomach at a few of the so-called Society's methods of creating and ensuring such idyllic lives for its citizens. But the thing is, I would have felt that way on behalf of anyone. It wasn't these characters specifically that moved me. I kept wanting more from Cassia. I know she was just barely waking up to the realities of her life and her place as a cog in the wheel, but she never felt very distinct to me. Like the fluff of the cottonwood tree, she is borne here and there on the wind. And I wanted her stronger, more vibrant. Ky was clearly supposed to be different and Cassia (and the reader) picks up on that. But, honestly, their connection never felt like it reached its potential. It felt like another case of me being told these characters were a certain way, but the reality of those "ways" never punched me in the gut the way they really have to if I'm going to care about them in any meaningful, lasting manner. In the end, it felt like I was reading a prequel to the main event. And, while there is nothing wrong with a strong setup, it does help if there is some form of crisis and action in a book--even the first book in a trilogy. See The Hunger Games. Speaking of which, that book crouched over my shoulder while I was reading this book, their similarities hard to discount. Xander the golden boy, Ky the outsider, Cassia caught in the middle. The writing itself was very clear and precise and I appreciated that to an extent. But the preponderance of short sentences actually began to wear. And I know that, too, was representative of the oppression and Society, but it felt forced to me, rather than natural. As though it was trying so hard to create an effect, but I couldn't see past the effort to the effect behind the words. I wanted to love MATCHED. But I ended up merely lukewarm in the end. Perhaps things will pick up with a vengeance in book two. But not caring about the characters themselves will prove a difficult hurdle for me to overcome. Others will not feel the same way though. And I feel certain MATCHED will find itself a loyal and appreciative readership. Just not me. MATCHED is due out November 30th.(less)
Originally published back in 2001 in the UK, NOUGHTS & CROSSES is the first book in a series by British author Malorie Blackman. I first encounter...moreOriginally published back in 2001 in the UK, NOUGHTS & CROSSES is the first book in a series by British author Malorie Blackman. I first encountered it as part of the Young Adult Reading Group (YARG) over at Readerville. It was chosen as one of our monthly selections and a dear friend of mine actually picked up copies for several of us while she was in England and mailed them out so we would have time to read them before the discussion. Those were just the kind of people that filled the YARG in those days. Sometimes I miss them all so much it hurts. But my copy came just in time to take it to Italy with me to visit my parents. And I read it while sitting on their terrace watching the waters of the Mediterranean lap the shore below. When I got back, we had a marvelous discussion and pondered as to why it hadn't been published here in the states. It took four more years for it to come out in hardback in the U.S., and I quite like the U.S. cover, even if they did change the spelling of noughts to naughts. A couple of years after that the U.S. paperback was released with a different cover and, strangely, a different title--BLACK & WHITE. Personally, I'm not a fan of the most recent cover or title. Why mess with something as awesome as NOUGHTS & CROSSES? Why talk down to American teenagers just because they might not be aware that in England Tic-Tac-Toe is known as Noughts and Crosses? It's beyond me and I'll hang onto my hardback and UK copies, thank you very much.
Sephy and Callum are best friends. As kids they don't see any problem with a girl from the privileged Cross class playing with a nought boy from the wrong side of town. And their parents let things slide for reasons (or secrets) of their own. But as growing teenagers, Callum particularly is highly aware of the differences in not only their skin tone, but their education, opportunities, and circumstances. Sephy doesn't want anything to change. She wants to go on tutoring Callum in maths, roughhousing with him on the seashore, and crossing her fingers he gets accepted to Heathcroft High and will maybe be in some of her classes. But Callum walks home everyday to his hovel of a dwelling place and watches the hope in his parents' eyes slowly die. He watches his older brother Jude grow angrier and more volatile by the day. And he watches his sister Lynnette draw farther inside of herself, so that even the family can no longer tell how much of her is left anymore. But Callum does get into Heathcroft. And he and Sephy do strive to keep their unsightly friendship alive. And things, both inside and outside of them, grow more and more complicated just as they grow more and more beautiful. Until one day the pressure becomes too much and something happens that threatens to blow the whole fragile relationship into infinitesimal, unrecognizable pieces.
Set in an alternate, present-day England, NOUGHTS & CROSSES explores what the world would look and feel like if the ruling class were black and the oppressed, subservient class white. The two main characters--Sephy and Callum--each belong to one "side" and the crux of the problem arises as they grow up and continue to reach out to each other across enemy lines. I won't lie to you--this dystopian Romeo & Juliet setup worried me in the beginning. I felt like I'd read it before, like it would come off as impossibly melodramatic and tired. But from the very first page it was apparent that such was definitely not the case. As unlikely as it may seem, everything about this story feels new and every passage seems chosen and placed carefully for proper effect as Ms. Blackman swiftly and impressively navigates the deep, gray waters of racism and adolescence amid a stifling society at large. Sephy and Callum are easy to like, their personalities are distinctive and strong, and nothing, repeat nothing is easy. But my emotions were captured instantly and held for the entire, intense and heart-palpitating read.
An early passage that, I think, highlights Callum's desperate situation:
We walked into the downstairs room. Lynette and Dad sat on the sofa. Jude sat at the dinner table poring over what looked like a map--not that I was particularly interested. Mum sat down next to Dad and I sat next to Lynette. It was a squash but a cozy squash.
I looked at my sister. "You okay?"
Lynette nodded. Then a slow-burning frown spread out over her face. And that look was back in her eyes. My heart plunged down to my shoes and bounced back up again.
Please, Lynette. Not tonight . . . not now . . .
"Lynny, d'you remember my seventh birthday?" I began desperately. "You took me to see my first film at the cinema. There was just you and me and you got annoyed with me because I wouldn't take my eyes off the screen, not for a second. D'you remember you told me that I could blink because the screen wasn't about to vanish? Lynny . . . ?"
"Why am I here?" My sister's troubled gray eyes narrowed. "I shouldn't be here. I'm not one of you. I"m a Cross."
My stomach lurched, like I was in a lift that had suddenly plunged down at least fifty stories in about five seconds flat. Every time I convinced myself that Lynette was getting better, she'd get that look on her face . . . She'd stare at us like we were all strangers and she'd insist she was one of them.
"What're you talking about? You're a naught," Jude said with scorn. "Look at your skin. You're as white as the rest of us. Whiter."
"No, I'm not."
"Jude, that's enough," said Dad.
"No, it's not. I'm fed up with this. Keeping Lynette in this house so she won't embarrass us by telling everyone she's a Cross. She's barking mad, that's what she is. And Callum's just as bad. He thinks he's better than us and as good as the Crosses, even if he doesn't say it."
"You don't know what you're talking about," I hissed.
"No? I've seen you looking up at this house when you've come back from your dagger friend. I've seen you hating it and hating us and hating yourself because you weren't born one of them," Jude spewed out. "I'm the only one of the three of us who knows what he is and accepts it."
"Now listen here, you brainless--"
Jude sprang out of his chair, but only a couple of seconds before I did.
"Come on then, if you reckon you're hard enough," Jude challenged.
I stepped forward but Dad got between the two of us before I could do little more than clench my fists.
"See?" Lynette's small, puzzled voice rang out as clear as a bell. "I don't behave like that. I can't be a naught. I just can't."
All the fight went out of me. Slowly, I sat back down again.
"Listen, Lynette . . . ," Mum began.
"Look at my skin," Lynette spoke as if Mum hadn't. "Such a beautiful color. So dark and rich and wonderful. I'm lucky. I'm a Cross--closer to God . . ." Lynette looked around at all of us and smiled. A broad, beaming, genuinely happy smile that lit every line and crease on her face and squeezed my heart.
"Stupid cow," Jude muttered.
"That's enough!" Dad shouted at him.
Jude sat, a sullen, brooding look on his face. Lynette looked down at her hands, stroking one over the other. I looked too. All I could see were pale white hands, blue veins clearly visible through the almost translucent skin. She looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back. Forced it really, but at least I tried.
"Don't you think I'm beautiful, Callum?" Lynette whispered.
"Yes," I replied truthfully. "Very."
Make no mistake. This book will wring your heart out. You'll need to breathe a few times rather deeply when you're finished and I wouldn't advise winding it up in public. But it's utterly worth it, a not-to-be-missed hidden gem from the wonderful Malorie Blackman.
So I'm working my way through all the Cybils YA Fantasy/Science Fiction nominees, when GIRL IN THE ARENA shows up on my doorstep (thank you, Bloomsbur...moreSo I'm working my way through all the Cybils YA Fantasy/Science Fiction nominees, when GIRL IN THE ARENA shows up on my doorstep (thank you, Bloomsbury!). Truthfully, I'm a little supernatural creatured out just about now and so this dystopian, neo-gladiator, fight to the death novel seemed made to order. I remember seeing it at BEA and somehow not snagging a copy. I'd read a few reviews here and there, some favorable, some middling, and I knew I loved the cover. I mean, look at that. It's awesome. Admittedly, I could do without the cheesy tagline and the "Fight to the Death!" sign in the background. And, having read the book, a certain aspect of the cover is sort of glaringly inaccurate. But somehow I was able to overlook these minor quibbles, because that's simply one sweet cover. In retrospect, I think it's a good choice as that particular inaccuracy should be part of the reading experience and not ruined by the cover art.
Lyn is known as the Daughter of Seven Gladiators. Her mother, Allison, has made a career of marrying gladiators and perfecting the persona of the perfect Glad wife. The seventh (and current) husband, Tommy G., is Lyn's favorite by far. He actually spends time with her and her little brother Thad. He's stuck by her manic mother, when no one else can stand her. He even supports Lyn's growing interest in nonviolence and listens to her read from the book she is writing--A History of the Gladiator Sports Association. But their time together is growing short as Tommy stares down the bullet of what he fears will be his last match. His next opponent, Uber, is said to be the real deal. And Thad's eerie, erratic predictions don't bode well for Tommy surviving his next episode in the arena. But when Uber stands over Tommy's body and scoops up the bracelet her stepfather wore for good luck, Lyn's world unexpectedly fragments into more pieces than she can piece together again. For it's her bracelet Uber scoops up. And Lyn knows the GSA bylaws better than anyone. The only gladiator allowed to wear that bracelet is her father . . . or her husband.
I could not put this book down. I mean it was physically difficult to tear my eyes away from the page. Yes, it's a dystopian novel about gladiators fighting to the death while thousands, millions of desensitized viewers watch live and on TV. And, yes, it features a young woman who is determined to protect her family at all cost. But there the similarities to The Hunger Games end. Where Suzanne Collins' book takes place in a futuristic post-apocalyptic chunk of North America, Lise Haines' novel is set in an all-too-familiar present-day America. I spent the entire time feeling like this kind of ultra-violent, death-as-entertainment society could be just around the corner, that today's reality shows are one step away from the bizarre rituals Lyn is privy to. Interestingly, growing up in the military, I felt a surprising kinship with Lyn, Mark, and Uber's experiences growing up in the Glad culture. I've had countless conversations over the years with other military brats who echoed my thoughts. It's simply a culture of its own, separate and unique from others and only those who are "born in," as Lyn would say, can fully understand what it's like and what it means. The writing was abrupt and choppy in just the right way, dashes in place of quotes, etc. It reminded me at times of Robin McKinley's Sunshine. A favorite passage:
--Lyn, how did you get injured? This from a tall male reporter with chopped blond hair. --People were cheering wildly for Tommy at the stadium, I say. --I think a bottle flew out of someone's hands in the excitement. --Do you think it's possible that someone aimed it at your head intentionally? I look up at the house again. Thad is pacing back and forth in front of his bedroom window now. He waves. I wave back. He motions frantically for me to come into the house. --Glad fans everywhere have shown enormous respect for my family and thought Tommy G. fought heroically. Their loyalty is helping my family through this loss. It is, however, a rough sport. People do get killed. Though I should add that Caesar's Inc. works very hard to ensure maximum safety to those who attend the competitions. Mark whispers in my ear, --You're good. --Have you met with Uber? another reporter asks. --No. Not yet. --So you plan to? --There are no plans at this time, I say. --Do you dream of becoming a Glad wife? Up in the house, Thad pleads with me to come inside. Cameramen and photographers push their equipment as close as possible now, closer. The soggy summer air presses in. And I realize that I'm right there, at the end of a perfect media moment. All I have to do is come up with something that rings with warmth, something that conveys hope to a million girls about the life of the GSA wife. Then I'll be out of here, released into our home, into Allison's mind, my brother's predictions. But there's something about this particular question. I think of the number of times Allison has been asked about any plans to become a Glad wife again. And suddenly my mind is thrown into reverse and I just toss off an answer, the first thing that comes to mind. --Sometimes I dream of becoming a gladiator.
And that's Lyn. Completely and firmly incapable of spouting crap to the media, to her family, or to herself. It's so much of why I loved her. She doesn't prevaricate, she doesn't hedge, she tells the truth. She takes her responsibilities and her heritage beyond seriously, yet she is true to herself and her growing understanding of the horrors of the society she has grown up in. She refuses to perpetuate the system that has entrapped her mother and held their lives hostage for so many years. I had waffled back and forth on whether or not to read this one, going from eager excitement to fearing it was merely a cheap Hunger Games knockoff and not wanting to risk the disappointment. I'm so glad I did because, like its protagonist, GIRL IN THE ARENA stands completely on its own feet. It's dystopian storytelling at its most honest, urgent, and very best. It's bleakness tempered by true friendships and honest interactions between human beings shoved into conditions they were never meant to withstand. The few quiet scenes between Lyn and her brother Thad, her best friend Mark, and particularly her opponent/intended Uber rang with authenticity. I freaking loved this book and it has instantly earned a spot on my Best Books of 2009 list.(less)
Well, it's only a few days away now. You can practically taste it, can't you? You know, I really hadn't planned on waiting this long to review CATCHIN...moreWell, it's only a few days away now. You can practically taste it, can't you? You know, I really hadn't planned on waiting this long to review CATCHING FIRE. Honestly, I don't know what was wrong with me. I started it over a month ago and was totally into it. I got to the halfway point and started to feel more and more anxious. Like twitchy anxious. And since gone are the days of sitting around all day doing nothing but reading a single book, I found myself moving through my regular day thinking about it constantly, worrying about the characters I care about so much that at night when I went to pick it up I COULDN'T BRING MYSELF TO DO IT. The steady building up of tension and pain that Suzanne Collins does so fiendishly well was too much and my mind skittered away from it in favor of less treacherous waters. I'm not proud of it. But there it is. On to the spoiler-free review.
Katniss and Peeta are home once more. Heralded as heroes they reluctantly take up residence in the mansions reserved for Hunger Games victors in their beleaguered District 12. Given the Capitol's idea of "enough time" to recover and lick their wounds, they must soon set off on the obligatory Victory Tour of the districts of Panem. As always, they are accompanied by their mentor--the irascible Haymitch--as well as Katniss' faithful entourage, including the savvy stylist Cinna. As always, they are under the watchful eye of President Snow. For in the interim time between Katniss' unprecedented ending of the Hunger Games and the launch of the Victory Tour, the Powers That Be have learned a thing or two about just how much of a survivor Katniss is and what and most particularly who she cares about. Knowing what they know, and without any doubt at all of what horror will rain down on her head should she set one toe out of line or let fall one word off script, Katniss herself must do what she does best and figure out a way to stay alive.
Remember how you felt the whole time you were reading The Hunger Games? Like you might never find the bottom of your stomach again? Like the tips of your fingers were permanently flattened from pressing too hard on the book? Well, multiply those feelings by ten and add to it the interminable guessing game of what will happen next and you will have the approximate effect of CATCHING FIRE. That is why I put it down halfway through. It was just too stressful! I could feel all the pain laid out neatly in a row just waiting to befall Katniss and Peeta and Gale. And honestly it made me a bit angry because it felt like I was trapped in there with them and there was nothing was going to stop the inevitable heinousness. This is not to say it's not a fabulous book. Because it is. Seriously enjoyable. I just had to stop and let my fingernails grow back a bit before I could continue on. Because when I did pick it up again I sat down and read it through to the end. Suzanne Collins brings the intensity like you can't believe. Even having read The Hunger Games, I wasn't prepared for it. And it's so much worse when you're already hurting for the characters when you open the book. But that's also the lovely thing about it and it is why I loved this one more than the first. There's more Gale (Team Gale!), more Peeta (the boy really is rather alarmingly sweet), more Haymitch (grrr), more Cinna (yay!), more Effie and Co. (hehe). You get to know them better, you care about them more, but what I loved most about this sequel is Katniss. Strong, dogged, always herself Katniss. She has moments of weakness, moments of sweetness, moments of humor, and a couple of hardcore moments when she is made of awesome. I may have punched the air once in solidarity. And then, just when you don't think you can take another shock to the system, it ends. Just like you knew it would.(less)
I'd heard so much positive feedback on this one, that I went in with fairly high expectations. Fortunately, I was uninformed as to any particulars, so...moreI'd heard so much positive feedback on this one, that I went in with fairly high expectations. Fortunately, I was uninformed as to any particulars, so the entire premise was a surprise. All I knew was that it was dystopian. And that I liked the cover.
Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12--the furthest flung of the twelve districts of Panem--in what's left of North America. Every year the Capitol (the governing city of Panem) puts on the Hunger Games. The Games are a brutal reminder of the districts' failed rebellion. Each district is forced to offer up two of their youth as a tribute. Chosen by lottery, the 24 tributes are then forced to engage in a free-for-all battle to the death on live television. The victor wins fame, glory, and food and supplies for his or her district. This bloodbath is considered the height of entertainment in the Capitol. So far, so horrifying.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss is the sole provider for her family. With a mother barely able to go through the motions after her father died, and a younger sister who looks to her for everything, Katniss's days are consumed by hunting, trading, and bartering for their lives. Her one friend, a young man named Gale, leads a similar life and the two work as a team, eking out the bare essentials of existence for themselves and their families. Until the 74th Hunger Games roll around and Katniss's little sister is chosen for the tribute. Without a second thought, Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place. And just like that, the games are on. What I loved about this book was the grim world of Panem. Katniss's unenviable life goes from bleak to awful in the blink of an eye and the horror is never cut with cream. In fact, the creep factor only escalates with time and the whole thing ratchets up to a terrifying ending that I, for one, did not anticipate. Brava, Ms. Collins! Katniss herself grew on me until, by the end, I cared very much what happened to her and no longer blamed her so much for being quite so cold. Her situation is not (and never has been) conducive to warmth.
On a side note, this book reminded me quite a bit of Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Both have heroines with Kat names. Katniss and Katsa. Both girls are forced to kill to stay alive. Both are manipulated and lied to on a regular basis and, unsurprisingly, have difficulty sorting out their emotions and figuring out who to trust. Both of them find the possibility of eventual happiness an unlikely prospect at best. Both books built up to rather killer endings and, most frustratingly of all, both are the first books in a trilogy. I'm seriously going to have to go find myself a series entirely in print to help pass the time. I am always waiting for sequels...(less)
Set in the year 2140 when the world population subsists primarily on the drug Longevity, which holds aging at bay, this dystopian novel seemed just wh...moreSet in the year 2140 when the world population subsists primarily on the drug Longevity, which holds aging at bay, this dystopian novel seemed just what the doctor ordered for a particularly stubborn reading slump. Couples are only allowed one child and any they have illegally after that are known as Surpluses. Surpluses are taken away from their parents and raised in a facility such as Grange Hall where our protagonist Surplus Anna resides. They are intended to learn how to be useful to society by serving legal humans. That or end up in a work camp or, even more likely, dead. I liked that Anna wasn't rebellious from the start. That she had been so thoroughly indoctrinated she had to be kicked and beaten into believing in something more. It made her more interesting than I originally anticipated. However. From that point on, the storyline got so predictable it was difficult to stick with it. Right up to the melodramatic ending scene which had me holding the book at arm's length in disbelief. Really? I asked it. I mean, really? I wanted to like The Declaration. I wanted to like Anna and Peter and their shadowy resistance-fighting parents. But I found myself agreeing with Diane Samuels' Guardian review. The execution just didn't live up to the promise. No matter how much I wanted it to. (less)