Nnnnngh. Just... nnnngh. Hungry by H.A. Swain has such an interesting concept. What would a future look like where food is irrelevant? And how would that future fall apart if its citizens started feeling hungry again? Unfortunately, I couldn't quite stomach what the author was dishing up. I guess you could say it didn't quite cut the mustard. Actually, some parts really cheesed me off. While some of the questions raised were definitely food for thought, this story just wasn't something I could sink my teeth into.
Sorry, sorry, I'm done, I promise. (I think.) But truly, Hungry was such a roller coaster ride for me that my head hurts a bit trying to put this review together. It all started with an unnecessary prologue, a dream prologue, no less. Dreams are a hard sell for me, as are prologues, so putting them together as the first introduction into the story was nearly enough to make me stop reading right there. However, once I got past that unpleasantness, I was grudgingly willing to move forward.
Thalia Apple's world is strange yet interesting. In this new world, years after the food shortages and riots that nearly destroyed civilization, the world's population lives off of inocs, medicines that provide sustenance, quench hunger, stave off illness, and regulate hormones. You're nothing but a beast without your inocs, a soon-to-be-dead-from-unfelt-starvation beast at that. This is a world where touch is considered gross, shopping is done virtually, and everyone has too-chipper Siri-type personal assistants to manage their lives. Thalia's family is near the top of the pecking order in this world. Her mom was the brains behind the inocs, and her father is the leading tech guru behind One World, the megaconglomerate agency that runs the world. It's a fascinating but scary place. I loved seeing how some technologies and ideals that already exist in our world get mutated and enlarged to fit the One World vision.
Most everyone loves the way the world is, at least in Thalia's privileged circles. Fun digital entertainment, fame and fortune, good health, what's not to like? Thalia, on the other hand, longs for life the way her grandmother used to live, with cotton fabrics and hugging and farms. I wanted to shove her down a trash compactor. I understand what the author was trying to do. As readers, we recognize from the beginning that something's wrong with Thalia's world. The lack of food and bodily functions, the regulated times to breed, the hyperconnectivity and yet intense social disconnect provided by the digital gadgets, they're all unnatural. Thalia is supposed to be the character we can relate to, the one we root for as she upsets the status quo with her clever little hacks and worn blue jeans and handcrafted pot holder handbag. She's supposed to be an "old soul." But no, what she is is a hipster snob. She's the friend who looks down on your tablet as she pecks away at her vintage typewriter, the classmate who tries to derail the professor with snotty arguments about philosophy in the middle of math class, the one who thinks she has it all figured out and pities the blind bourgeois around her. Gag.
To be fair, the author works on stripping Thalia of some of her nauseating self-conceit. Thalia meets Basil, a lower-class boy who shows her what the world is like outside of her privileged bubble. It's an eye-opening trip, one akin to the scene in WALL-E where the humans have their screens ripped away. It also shows some pretty hefty world-building on the part of H.A. Swain, as we now get to see both sides of the utopian/dystopian coin that One World has created. Unfortunately, part of this trip means Thalia the Hipster runs smack into Basil's friends, the Hippie Analogs. If there's a character type I dislike more than hipster, it's hippie. I'm sorry, but I can't take people named Kumquat and Radish seriously, especially not if they insist on communing mentally with their mystical leader. Not buying it.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="307"] Here we have Brothers Baby Carrots and Rutabaga composing a ballad in honor of creamed corn.[/caption]
Oh, oh, and while we're on character types that I hate, guess where we get to go after the hippies? That's right! A totally brainwashed, misogynistic, socially repressive commune! Hooray! Because you know I just LOVE places where the people are cut off from the outside world, the women are treated like breeding cattle, and they're all ruled by a dingbat leader with delusions of grandeur! Wait, hipsters, hippies, and communes? Ding ding ding! It's a tick-Shae-off hat trick! Congratulations, have a bunny prize.
I just... I can't. I can't. I spent the majority of the book trapped with people I loathe, be they power-grasping scientists, snobby hipsters, spacey hippies, or delusional cult followers. Even when I was able to avoid them ("them" being 99% of the cast), I was still stuck with Basil and Thalia, who were either waxing poetic over food, waxing poetic over each other, getting into completely fabricated arguments that come out of NOWHERE, or continually blowing their cover on the run by calling home to their parents. Okay, that last one was just Thalia, but still. (On The Lam 101, sweetheart. Don't call home, especially not in a house with a super-nerd dad who can totally trace your call in his sleep.)
Woof, it was nice to get all that off my chest. I could go on for much longer, but let's end with some happy things. Praise where praise is due, after all. As I said, in certain spots the world-building was aces. Also, I really liked Yaz, Thalia's BFF and frequent recipient of her hipster rants. Actually, I think the story would have been much more palatable and interesting if told from Yaz's point of view. I also enjoyed some of the more intricate contract law jargon the characters use to discuss the control One World has over the population's inocs. Some people might find it boring, but the details felt legitimate to me (not that I'm an expert in contract law), which in turn made the scenario Hungry presents more believable. And lastly, bonus points for not making Thalia lily-fair. In fact, based on the clues we're given, a good number of the characters appear to be at least partially something other than white. (Thalia is part Vietnamese and part African-American.) But none of that was enough to shake me from my rage, nausea, and boredom. If any of this sounds interesting to you (and it very well may), please feel free to give this story a test nibble. I, on the other hand, feel the need to go brush my teeth. With acid.
Points Added For: Yaz and her awesomeness, some of the world-building, the nitty-gritty contract law stuff, diverse characters.
Points Subtracted For: Hipsters, hippies, communes, evil cackling mad scientists, lack of sense of place (what CONTINENT are we on?), unnecessary prologue, dream sequences, fabricated arguments, etc.
Good For Fans Of: Communes, food, hipsters.
Notes For Parents: Language, sex (off-page), teen pregnancy.
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.(less)
STOP. Below are spoilers for Shatter Me and Destroy Me. If you haven't read either of these books, DO NOT CONTINUE. Go back, read the books, then read this review. Okay, now you may continue.(view spoiler)[
Wait, I lied. Before you continue, you need to know this as well. There are many glowing reviews of Unravel Me floating around in the blogosphere. This is not one of them. I had some major issues with this book, and I may be snarky in my explanations. If your blood pressure can't handle it, walk away. However, if you can handle it, and you'd like to know of the many things I did like about this book, keep reading.
Unravel Me does several things very, very right, and it also does (in my opinion) several things very, very wrong.
RIGHT: Juliette's regression.
I found Juliette's regression in the beginning of the book to be completely fascinating. Though safe at Omega Point, the underground bunker's constricting spaces remind her too much of the asylum. With her movements watched and restricted, she begins to feel claustrophobic and falls back on her old behaviors. Being free of one's captors doesn't mean immediate emotional and psychological release, as sufferers of PTSD can attest. I thought the fact that Juliette didn't immediately turn into Wonder Woman after the close of Shatter Me was spot on.
WRONG: Juliette is a special snowflake.
4. Keeping secrets (that blow up in her face)
5. Causing trouble
Holy guacamole. Ms. Mafi KILLS IT with the twists. I couldn't stop reading. On every page, it felt like we were learning some new vital piece of information. Just when I thought I knew everything, THERE'S MORE! This right here is the reason most reviews won't talk about the actual plot of Unravel Me. Too many twists! Well, not too many. There's no such thing.
Look! I made you another list, this time of things we learn in Unravel Me. However, I only listed some of them. There are far, far more.
Things we learn:
Why Adam can touch Juliette
Why Warner can touch Juliette
How the special people's powers work
How Juliette got her notebook
How Kenji met Castle and joined Omega Point
Warner's first name(!)
Again, this is maybe only half the list. Be prepared to hyperventilate at least once during this book.
WRONG: Purple prose, so purple like the purple-y purple of the underside of a bruise...
Like Juliette's behaviors, the purple prose in Unravel Me was just as present in Shatter Me, but it didn't bother me there. In Unravel Me, I found myself skipping entire paragraphs of purple prose. I skimmed pages! I never skim pages in review books, but I did here. I just didn't care. There were plot twists to unravel and new information to discover. I didn't have time to listen to Juliette describe the sun five different ways.
That said, the purple pose does hit the sweet spot a few times, as it does in this passage:
So I have to remember that Warner and I are 2 different words.
We are synonyms but not the same.
Synonyms know each other like old colleagues, like a set of friends who have seen the world together. They swap stories, reminisce about their origins and forget that though they are similar, they are entirely different, and though they share a certain set of attributes, one can never be the other. Because a quiet night is not the same as a silent one, a firm man is not the same as a steady one, and a bright light is not the same as a brilliant one because they wedge themselves into a sentence changes everything.
Squee, Kenji! Like Roar in Through the Ever Night, Kenji went from being a (for me) forgettable character in the first book to a beloved friend in the second. Kenji is awesome. He puts Juliette in her place and snaps her out of her funk when no one else can or will. He's funny and relaxed, but he's also very responsible and incredibly smart. I went from thinking he was annoying to freaking out whenever anyone tried to harm a hair on his precious head. (But Kenji, if you could cool it with the profanities, I would appreciate it. Much love, bro.)
Ugh, Adam. I was never a big fan of yours. I know you're supposed to be this sensitive, kind, protective hunk of perfection, but I always found you pretty bland. I think the lack of James in this book hurt you, because that's when you were the most interesting. You followed Juliette down the mopey emo path, and it was not pretty.
Clearly, not everyone will agree with me, but that's how I feel. Also, I can't say how without dipping my toe into spoilery waters, but at one point in my reading I stopped and wrote in my notes: ADAM = BELLA. And I laughed uproariously.
Okay, that's so a lie.
Warneeeeeer! I know, I know, I'm biased, but I adored seeing more of my guy in this book. After reading Destroy Me, I wanted every page to be saturated with Warner. I didn't get my wish, but you can bet I enjoyed every moment he had "on screen."
I don't remember who said it, but I was talking with Twitter friends and someone said that while Warner might not have atoned for his sins in Unravel Me, he certainly made strides toward redemption. [Whoever you are, I'm sorry I forgot! Wave your hand and I'll give you credit.] We learn so much more about Warner, and I love him to pieces. To quote Molli Moran (@CourageousGrace), in Unravel Me, Warner and Juliette have proven to be much healthier and balanced together than clingy Adam and Juliette.
Also, HE HAS DIMPLES!
WRONG: Chapter Sixty-Two (and other similar passages).
Blasphemy, I know. 99% of you will adore the infamous Chapter Sixty-Two. I, however, found that chapter and similar "sexy" passages to be a little much. I felt voyeuristic! It made me uncomfortable. I prefer emotional connection, longing looks, and deep, heartfelt talks to romps in underwear. So maybe it's not wrong and just... wrong for me.
RIGHT: That ending!
Yep, the ending is awesome. First of all, there's quality Warner time that made me sigh and swoon. Forget Chapter Sixty-Two. I want his point of view for Chapters Sixty-Nine through Seventy-Three. Also, Juliette shows real strides toward ditching her fragile special snowflake persona. And lastly, the ending sets up some major drama in the next book. Like, I-don't-think-Juliette-can-talk-her-way-out-of-this-one drama.
So here's my heart in all this. I want you all to be prepared. I want you to take the wrongs and tuck them in your pocket or throw them away as you feel like it, but I want you to know they exist. That way when you read Unravel Me, you'll be prepared. If you're prepared, you'll be able to enjoy the rights to their fullest potential.
Points Added For: Read the post.
Points Subtracted For: Read the post.
Good For Fans Of:Shatter Me, lots and lots of twists, whiny MCs, love triangles.
Notes For Parents: Language, death, heavy making out (but no actual sex)
I can't... I can't even... I am so emotionally traumatized right now, you guys don't even know. I'm horrified and overwhelmed and... Okay, let me just say right now, if you're one of those nutjob masochists who loved Code Name Verity (aka, the suckers who are my people), you'll love this book.
Ow. My feels.
From the beginning, we readers are tossed head-over-heels into the painfully sharp and murky future. Our heroine, Em, is staring at the drain in the center of her cell. We don't know who Em is or where she is or even WHEN she is. But it must be an awful place, wherever she is.
I stare at the drain in the center of the concrete floor. It was the first thing I saw when they locked me in this cell, and I've barely looked away since. At first I was just obstinate, dragging my feet in the thin prison slippers they gave me so they were forced to pull me along the hallway by both arms. But when I saw the drain, I started to scream. ... I could only conjure the most gruesome scenarios for why they'd need a drain in the floor.
It's in the drain that Em finds a note tucked inside a Ziploc bag, years old but legible and covered in her own handwriting. She has no memory of writing it, but there it sits in her hand, marking all fourteen attempts her previous selves have made to stop the world from breaking. And there, at the bottom, is line fifteen, the only uncrossed line, her last chance to save everyone and everything she has ever loved.
You have to kill him.
Guys, I had no clue what was going on at first, but I didn't care. I sat cross-legged, slowly putting pieces together. There is Em, a battle-hardened refugee and the world's last hope. There is Finn, the boy on the other side of her cell wall, a friend she hasn't been able to see in four years and her co-conspirator. There is a world outside the cell walls, a world where the US is at war with China, the government monitors your home and can drag you off in the middle of the night, and Marines stand on street corners and can question you at any time, for any reason. Also outside the cell walls but much, much closer is the doctor, the madman responsible for the broken world and the man Em must kill.
From the first, I loved Em and Finn. Both are as hard as nails in their own ways, but each goes to tremendous effort to keep up the spirits of the other, a hard task when separated by a stone wall and surrounded by violence and hopelessness. Finn will listen as Em is tortured for information and then joke after his own turn that he just stepped out for pizza. No matter what the doctor inflicts on them, they refuse to give in, because it would mean not only their own death, but the death of the other as well.
They escape together with the help of a friend and jump back in time to four years earlier, just before the doctor discovers the formula for time travel and wrecks everything for good. We as reader are thrown back with them, and boy is it disorienting. At this point, the narrative splits in two. In one, we continue to follow Em and Finn as they race to kill the doctor. In the other, we follow Marina, sixteen-year-old Em (get it? Marina, "M," Em) before her life was irrevocably altered. Unlike Em, Marina's biggest worry is how to tell her best friend James that she loves him. At least, it is until James's big brother, Congressman Nathan Shaw, is assassinated.
There's so much I CAN'T SAY because of spoilers. I mean, some things you all will probably suspect ahead of time, but I won't be the one to spill the beans. I won't! I will say, though, that this book is so intense. All Our Yesterdays is one of those books where you KNOW that everything won't turn out alright. Maybe if you cross your fingers and hold your breath, maybe the good guys will win (and even that seems in doubt at certain points), but there's no way every character will pass through unscathed. Not everyone will make it out alive. The only question is how deeply the sacrifices will cut.
This book. It's what The Loop should have been. Tension and interpersonal angst and loss and wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey craziness! Just thinking about it all hurts my head and my heart. Ms. Terrill manages such a delicate balance between the two narratives. I'm rooting for Em and Future Finn. I want them to succeed unconditionally, and I hurt for them as I imagine what it feels like to stalk your former, more innocent self, how much it must ache to realize that you can't go back. At the same time, I want to protect Marina, Past Finn, and James. I don't want them to be hurt. I want to shield them from the heartache that batters them again and again. I don't want them to lose their innocence, to become their future selves. And even as I follow both sets along, some part of my mind wheels off in a third direction, imagining the years between the past group and the future group and all the horrors that we barely get to glimpse.
All Our Yesterdays is one part Looper (the movie), one part Code Name Verity, and one whole package of awesome. If you love wibbly-wobbly time travel, shifting timelines, and/or books that make you cry and gasp in horror, this is the book for you. You'll thank me later.
Points Added For: Finn, Finn and Em's friendship, this crazy world, all the unanswered questions, Congressman Nathan Shaw
Points Subtracted For: I can't think of anything
Good For Fans Of:Terminator-esque time travel (with wibbly-wobbly consequences), sci-fi ethics, crying
Notes For Parents: Some language, sexual innuendo, two teens make out, torture, murder
**WARNING! WARNING! THE FOLLOWING REVIEW IS RIDDLED WITH Shatter Me SPOILERS! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!**
We settle in Warner's head almost immediately after he is shot by Juliette. Juliette has run away to find Adam, leaving Warner in a pool of his own blood. His men scurry around him, "led" by the ever-faithful Delalieu. Without their fearsome leader for a moment, Sector 45 is already in shambles.
In the beginning, the anti-Warner readers among us will feel right at home. He is everything we have been taught that he is. He is ruthless and self-contained. His own right-hand man quakes in his presence. He hates disorder. He hates messes. He organizes his closet by shade like a Pantone chip catalog. He hates being barefoot and showers with an almost OCD drive. His mind is a carefully cataloged room of drawers, which can be carefully wiped into a blank white when needed.
This is the Warner most people expect.
Until the simple thought of Juliette makes his knees buckle.
Warner-haters, prepare to have your world rocked. I'm not promising that you'll like him by the end of this novella. I'm not saying you'll adore him as much as I do. But you WILL be changed. At the very least, you'll have a better understanding of how Warner became what he is and why he made the choices that he made in Shatter Me.
I blink back the flood of disaster pressing against the small world I've built; I swallow hard against the fear creeping up my throat. I push the walls back, making more space in the room until I can finally breathe. Until I'm able to stand.
First of all, let me say that I love Warner's man Delalieu. You may remember him as the man who read off the charges for the guy that Warner shot. Brief, forgettable, nothing. In Destroy Me, Delalieu is the only one happy that Juliette didn't blow Warner's head off. He is also the one most likely to prompt Warner into moments of humanity.
You'll see several of those moments of humanity throughout Destroy Me. Several of Warner's more despicable moments from Shatter Me are explained. Some I had already guessed, but some made me guess. (Shooting that one guy in the head? He totally had a reason.)
But really, it's hard not to see Warner as human when compared next to his father, the Supreme Leader of the Reestablishment, a man with a black hole for a heart. The man is pure evil. He's like a less charismatic Billy Dent from I Hunt Killers, but just as bloody. Ooh! No, he's like The Commander from Defiance, except some poor woman actually had to MARRY him to give him a child (Warner).
Seriously, the man gives me shudders, which is hard to do.
However, the best part of the novella, in my opinion, is getting inside Warner's brain to find out how he really sees Juliette. How long he's really watched her, what he really thinks of her powers, and the real reason he brought her to the compound were all fascinating answers to learn. About that last bit, yes he lied about why he removed her from the asylum. You're surprised?
Personally, once I was inside Warner's head, I just wanted to scoop him up and hug him and tell him everything would be alright. Poor guy.
Whew, this review is long for such a short story. Better wrap it up. Bottom line: Read the story. If you're a pro-Warner, you'll love it. If you're anti-Warner, you'll at least know you're enemy better. And if you're simply pro-Juliette, well, you'll get to know her better, too. I promise. Now go read.(less)
***Due to me vehement opposition to recent Goodreads policy changes, I will no longer be posting full reviews to this site. TO READ MY FULL REVIEW, GO...more ***Due to me vehement opposition to recent Goodreads policy changes, I will no longer be posting full reviews to this site. TO READ MY FULL REVIEW, GO TO: http://www.shaelit.com/2013/10/review...(less)
I think Quarantine: The Loners will hold the dubious distinction of being the only book that I read, finished, reviewed, and yet refuse to rate on Goodreads.
Quarantine had me by the throat from the first page. It opens with a Hunger Games-esque scene. David, our hero, is waiting for the food drop. All around him, the gangs of McKinley High are watching the sky. The canopy opens. The pallet drops. Bloody chaos explodes as teenagers battle for survival. It was like being at the Cornucopia all over again, except instead of watching 24 tributes fight in a dystopian Panem, we're watching hundreds of high school students battle ex-friends and old enemies in the courtyard of a suburban high school.
And that's just the beginning! There's something happening on every page of this book. Literally every time you think that nothing else can happen, or that the situation just can't get any worse, or conversely that there's no way so-and-so can escape, BAM! Twist! Careening action! It's intense, I say!
So what was the problem?
To quote myself while ranting to my father, "the normalization of misogyny and depravation!" Big, preachy words. Let me explain.
The same week I read Quarantine, I also read two well-written articles almost back-to-back. One (from Crunchings and Munchings) studies the current trend of gender portrayals in YA dystopians. The other (from CBC Diversity) asks whether YA authors, editors, and the like, while accepting that YA lit has the power to do good, too readily dismiss the idea that it also has the power to do harm.
Let me start out by saying that if you like this book, I do not blame you. I do not look down on you. A lot of times when a reviewer/blogger/snotty adult sounds like he or she looks down on a book, it's very easy for fans to feel defensive. But the questions that I'm about to pose seriously messed with my ability to enjoy Quarantine and therefore, I believe, need to be discussed within the review.
Okay, so, civilization as it pertains to the kids of McKinley High has gone to pot. The kids were infected by an illegally produced virus that makes them deadly on contact to all adults, so the government barricaded them inside the school. Aside from the supply drops, the only other intervention offered is a scanner that will tell each student when the virus is beginning to phase from his or her system. At that point, the student must leave McKinley High or risk imminent death by virus (hallucinations, psychosis, blood spouting from orifices, etc.)
What this means for the students is that McKinley becomes their only world. Like the kids in Lord of the Flies, the school is their island and they are their own authority. All the adults are dead and supplies are scarce. Those with the most power control the food and everything else. The student body quickly devolves into warring factions that distinguish themselves by different color hair dye. (One of the effects of the virus was that it turned everyone's hair snow white, a very clean palette for dye.)
As with all dystopians, the group at the top of the food chain is corrupt through and through. In the case of McKinley, the group with the power is the yellow-haired Varsity (the athletes), followed closely by what can only be called their harem, the similarly dyed Pretty Ones (literally all the pretty girls in school). Led by the sadistic Sam, they have the might to hold all the other groups - the blue-haired Freaks, the black-haired Geeks, Skaters, and Nerds, and the red-haired Sluts, as well as the groupless Scraps - in complete fear and submission.
When I say the situation inside McKinley is bad, I mean it's REALLY bad. There's a fascinating portrayal of economics via the bartering between groups (each group has its own speciality), but otherwise there is zero cooperation between the gangs. Theft, rape, torture, and murder are all common. To some extent, I understand why this is. However, the more we learned about life within McKinley, the more worried I became.
The big turning point in the novel is when the hero, David, saves a former Pretty One named Lucy from being raped by a Varsity member. Each member of the Pretty Ones is assigned a "boyfriend" in Varsity; essentially, every boy gets his own concubine. When Lucy refuses her "boyfriend," she is removed from under the protection of the Pretty Ones, making her fair game for any and all males.
While David saves Lucy, the situation doesn't improve for the females of McKinley High. Women are treated like chattel. From the prettiest Pretty One down to the lowest Scrap, females are valued only from their looks and for sex. In the course of the story, pretty girls are given love interests. Ugly or fat girls are treated as objects of pity or scorn. ALL girls, even Lucy the main love interest, are described in objectifying terms. Are the pretty? Do they have perky "assets"? How are they in the sack? These are the questions that occupy the males in the novel, even the protagonists that we are suppose to admire. Personality qualities like brains, willpower, kindness, etc. might be mentioned once or twice in passing but are otherwise undervalued.
Every female. EVERY female is treated in this manner by EVERY male, both before and after the arrival of the virus. This isn't a flaw brought out in the "evil" characters by the stress of the dysfunctional environment. It's systematic treatment, a mindset, held by all of the characters and depicted as normal.
Guys, I can't believe I even have to say this, but such treatment of women is NOT NORMAL. It's not. Yes, in the book the more extreme examples of the Varsity's ownership of the Pretty Ones are depicted as wrong. That's good. And yes, teenage boys are often gross little creatures when it comes to their descriptions of their female counterparts. But this isn't a matter of boys will be boys. Not all boys are gross little creatures, nor should they be depicted as such.
Even more unsettling is the very real possibility that treating said behavior as normal or "just the way things are" teaches readers - boys and girls alike - that such behavior is okay and that there's no reason to change. I mean, yeah, sure, change when you're older and want to marry, but behave like something other than a barbaric little mouth-breather? So totally lame, dude. (I wish you all could see how hard I'm rolling my eyes right now.)
I get the struggle against censorship, and that's not what I'm suggesting. I also get that for many youth today, prolific obscenities, sex, and crass mindsets regarding females are commonplace. But just because something is status quo, does that mean we should still accept it as harmlessly neutral or even good?
I don't expect a book to preach. When David and another boy make crude remarks, I don't expect a page-long rebuttal on respecting women. When a fourteen-year-old girl routinely has sex with her senior boyfriend (something that's only mentioned in the book but still made me grimace), I don't expect the author to then punish them by making a locker fall on their sleeping bag.
But consequences of some sort would have been nice. Would it have been so terribly hard for David to feel uncomfortable about the words spewing out of his friend's mouth about the girl he admired? Would it really have been so implausible for him to say, "Hey, Lucy's a cool girl. Watch how you talk about her"? Similarly, am I expected to believe that an entire high school filled with hundreds of little rabbit students can support years of unprotected sex and not have any incidents of STDs or pregnancy? Seriously?
Quarantine is well-written. It's paced beautifully and has more breathtaking twists and turns that a roller coaster at Cedar Rapids. It also boasts a great hook and a fantastically realized case study of economics that I adored. Without all the over-the-top and unnecessary nastiness, I would have given it four out of five stars, easily. But I cannot, will not, praise a book that normalizes the attitudes and actions that systematically devalue not only women but the male characters themselves. For ultimately, passing off harmful and juvenile behavior as "boys will be boys" tells males that they are capable of nothing better.
Points Added For: Action, adventure, a really cool economic model.
Points Subtracted For: Everything else.
Good For Fans Of: I'm sorry, I can't recommend this book to anyone for any reason.
Notes For Parents: Language, violence, murder, abuse, domestic violence, underage sex, misogyny, theft, drunkenness, talk of rape (none actually shown).
Alright, your turn. What do YOU think of the issues I've brought up?
Do you think I'm overreacting? Underreacting? Right on the money? We all agree YA can do good, but do you think it can also do harm?(less)
I must admit that my expectations were not high going into this book. I don't really do afterlife books, and I certainly don't do angel/fallen angel books. They're just not my thing. The religion or lack thereof usually makes me cranky, as does the thought of angels getting goo-goo-eyed over some human, as is wont to happen.
The bad news is that I did not enjoy Level 2 as much as some people did. No raving here. However, the good news is that I liked it much better than I thought I would.
In a way, Level 2 is a dual-narrative story that alternates between dead drone Felicia in the afterlife and living girl Felicia on Earth. Thanks to the unique construction of the afterlife (drones spend their time accessing their own and others' memories), we get to relive key moments in the last year of Felicia's life as well as experience her struggle in the afterlife as she wrestles with trying to understand the rebellion growing around her.
I thought Appelhans' construction of the afterlife as we first understand it was interesting. Clearly, it didn't align with what I believe to be true, but that's why it's labeled fiction, right? The storyline takes the old cliche of your life flashing before your eyes to a whole new level. (Ha! Level. I'm funny even on accident.) People are grouped like bees into hives, each tucked into a separate chamber to watch their lives play before them for eternity. In Felicia's hive are other people like her - young females who died in accidents. Her hivemate Virginia died in a freak cheerleading accident, while another, Bekah, died in a house fire.
However, her orderly, boring afterlife is rocked when a boy breaks into her hive. And not just any boy. Julian, a dark, mysterious and distinctly untrustworthy boy from her life on Earth. Turns out that the drones are having their memory energy harvested by fallen angels (the Morati) who will then use it to break into Heaven. Cue Bruno Mars.
Of course, Felicia is the key to the rebellion. Isn't that always the way? Along for the ride with Julian are Mira (who vacillates between being witchy and being kid) and Eli (who's the boss and a straight-up scary jerk). It takes a good portion of the book to figure out what's going on, because the threesome don't seem to want to tell Felicia anything at all. Also, a great deal of time is spent in Felicia's memories on Earth.
I was expecting the memories to drag, but they really weren't bad. Yes, a few of them were a bit too on the nose (the Underground Church game memory comes to mind), but I liked getting to know Felicia. In her memories, we jump around between her time pre-exile with her family abroad where we get to meet her best friend Autumn and afterlife companion Julian and her life post-exile in the States with her gramma and perfect boy crush Neil. Pre-exile Felicia is plagued by nightmares and a bit reckless, especially when she's sneaking around with Julian behind Autumn's back. Post-exile Felicia is more cautious and even shy, especially around worship leader Neil.
A great deal of the post-exile memories center around church, either in theme or in location. I cringed at the first mention of a youth group, as most writers either portray youth group kids as snobby, holier-than-thou brats or wild-child hellions. Ms. Appelhans, I'm pleased to say, did neither. Neil is a little too perfect, yes, but the rest of the youth group, lightly sketched though they may be, were just normal kids. They go on campouts, they play games, they sing songs, they form crushes. The only thing I didn't appreciate was the more heavy-handed, antiquated behaviors Ms. Appelhans brought in near the end. Yeesh.
I think, though, that while I found the construct unique and the writing solid, I failed to truly enjoy Level 2 because of two issues: my inability to connect and my inability to suspend disbelief. I never really cared about any of the characters, not even Felicia. I don't know why. I would enjoy getting back to the book when I had a spare moment, but I can't say my heart ever started racing. Julien was too untrustworthy and one-dimensional to warrant much of my attention, while Neil was a bit more fleshed out but too perfect. Their "love triangle" was too clear-cut. Should Felicia follow her head and go for the sweet and caring Neil or follow her libido and dive after sexy Julien? Blah. Mira and Eli were barely a blip on my radar.
As for my disbelief, I kept hoping Ms. Appelhans would pull out something that would really wow me. I so despise stories where the main character is The Center of the Universe for no apparent reason. I even set about constructing a reason for myself, one that was fairly exciting and novel. I figured all would be revealed at the end and I would have a predictable yet ultimately satisfying twist. Fortunately, a reason is given for Felicia being The Center of ALL. Unfortunately, the explanation caused within me even more scoffing and disbelief. Also, when we finally learn the details of Felicia's exile, I was surprised to find an element that completely came out of left field. That said, it completely came out of left field and was never explained. Therefore, more disbelief.
So you see my dilemma. On the one hand, I didn't have high expectations. In fact, I had expected to be fighting the urge to DNF part way through. Instead, I found myself willing and even somewhat eager to return to Level 2 to see what I would learn next. However, I don't know why. The pacing was off, the characters didn't thrill me, and I found myself scratching my head/shrugging in apathy more often than not.
My suggestion? Check out a few other reviews like the ones here, here, or here to find someone who can make up their mind one way or the other. I have a feeling I'll be puzzling out this one for a while yet.
Points Added For: A non-dorky youth group, a wonderful father-daughter relationship (LOVED!), an interesting premise.
Points Subtracted For: Awkward pacing, Felicia being really slow on the uptake, characters I couldn't connect with, Felicia being The Center of All Things.
Good For Fans Of: Love triangles, afterlife stories.
Notes For Parents: Some language, making out, underage drinking.
Oh guys, we have another pokeable book on our hands. I can't settle on my final feelings for this book.
When I first started, I was excited and confused. The beginning is fantastic. How can I not like a book with the first line "They always screamed"? We're immediately tossed into Wren's world, a world where a virus causes humans (mostly children) to rise from the dead as Reboots, humanoid beings with extraordinary senses and ranges of emotions that depend on how long they were dead. As someone who had Rebooted after 178 minutes - a record - Wren is considered to be the least human and most perfect Reboot in existence.
However, much of the information comes out in jumbled pieces, hence my confusion. I couldn't get a handle on Wren's world at first. Reboots are clearly used as enforcers and foot soldiers, both the might and the fear the HARC (rulers of the United Cities of Texas) use to keep the populace in check. But it wasn't until well into the book until I could clearly grasp whether the Reboots are viewed as prized specimens or as useful freaks. (It's the latter, if you're wondering.)
As the story went on, I managed to cobble together what I needed to know and quickly became interested in Wren's story, especially as I realized what Ms. Tintera was trying to accomplish. Reboot, at its core, is a very exciting twist on a world that has been reordered after a zombie apocalypse, and its story is told by one of those zombies.
The structure of Reboots, both physically and socially, is fascinating. Any human that is infected by KDH (named after Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, where the virus originated) and dies will Reboot. Some infected die as a direct result of KDH, while others die in other ways (Wren was shot in the slums) and Reboot regardless. As someone who remained dead over 120 minutes, Wren is one of the elites and is used as both super-soldier and Reboot trainer, while her roommate Ever is an Under-60 and only good for manual labor and general soldiering. Even more interesting is how Ms. Tintera manages to work in the more rabid aspects of standard zombie lore, but I'll leave that be for the sake of avoiding spoilers.
Opposite of Wren on the spectrum is Callum, a new recruit whom Wren decides to train. Awkward, gangly, overly friendly, and totally cute, Callum is a mere 22 - human bait in the eyes of other Reboots. At first I found Callum almost annoying in his stubborn insistence to remain upbeat. He refuses to fear Wren or any of the other Reboots and seems completely oblivious to the severity of his situation. However, as the story progressed, that dang boy grew on me to the point that I jokingly threatened to hunt down Ms. Tintera should anything happen to him. (He also made my Book Boyfriends list last week.)
A good deal of the ticking clock mechanism Ms. Tintera uses to fuel the intensity of the plot centers around Callum, so I found myself engaged and invested. Unfortunately, I never connected to the book. I suspect this failing is tied to three factors. First, I never connected to Wren. While I appreciated the visual of a teeny blonde girl being the most feared individual in a warehouse of super-soldiers, I never got the swagger from her that I wanted. Also, Wren never connected with herself, so, as my narrator, how could she hope to connect with me?
Second, I didn't buy in to the key difficulty of the Reboots at all. The big sticking point with Reboots is supposed to be their lack of emotion. Supposedly, Reboots are cold, empty, subhuman creatures. Given that this is a dystopian tale, we may eye this "truth" suspiciously from the very beginning. However, there should be some element of truth to explain why all the humans so readily believed it even during the initial outbreak of the virus.
From what I could tell, Wren supposes herself to be without emotion because she doesn't outwardly express emotion. As a 22, Callum smiles, laughs, tells jokes, frowns, etc.; therefore, he feels emotion. Wren does not exhibit these behaviors; therefore, she feels nothing. And yet, from the very beginning, Wren describes the emotions she's feeling. She is irritated by humans when they scream; she sometimes feels guilt when dispatching a criminal; she is confused by Callum; she is embarrassed by his attentions. Though not smiles and giggles, these are nevertheless feelings.
Look. He's not smiling. He must be an emotionless Reboot.
I felt as though I were reading an extrovert's guide to introverts. The world is set up where those who display overt emotions - extroverts - are the default, the most human. Those who are more inhibited - introverts - are at first viewed as cold, robotic subhumans. Then, over the course of time, the good humans are slowly shown that the poor, quiet freaks are not bad, just different. Perhaps this is oversimplifying the book or portraying it in a false light, but that's how it felt to me. While a naturally gregarious person might have be snookered in to Wren's growth, I found myself crying foul from the very beginning. If I'm to realistically believe that what the characters believe, even if only for a moment, then the setup has to be credulous. Had Reboot actually shown Wren's change and growth from emotionless Reboot to a nearly human, emotional being (a la Warm Bodies), I would have been interested. But nothing in Wren supported the premise I had been promised (or thought I had been promised).
Lastly, there were just some beyond stupid moments in this book. For instance, at one point Wren learns of a super-secret Reboot camp that the HARC have been trying to destroy. She doesn't learn of this super-secret place through spying or any such thing. No, a captured rebel talks about it with his fellow (undercover) rebel right in front of her. Maybe it's just me, but if I were a rebel, I wouldn't be divulging my side's secrets right in front of the most prized, supposedly least human Reboot in the entire world. But hey, that's just me.
You know what's also just me? If I were faced with a ticking clock that demands a sense of urgency and haste, I probably wouldn't pick the middle of my desperate dash for freedom to engage in sexytimes with my love interest. I was talking about this particular point with two other bloggers (Gillian and Molli), and we all agreed that ill-timed makeout sessions are extremely annoying. If every second counts and even the smallest delay could result in death, why would it be okay to stop for no good reason and start kissing? If you have energy to kiss, you have energy to run! Also, and this is the big thing, it completely ruins both the pacing and the mood for the reader. As a reader, I can't be in the middle of RUN FOR YOUR LIIIIIVES mode and then switch to ha-cha-cha mode and believably still hold onto the sense of tension.
And they're all...
So I'm all...
The last big stupid moment was the ending. I was beyond disappointed with the ending. The story was set up for Ms. Tintera to do something totally cool and even tragic at the end. Instead of a metaphorical explosion, everything fizzled. The big action scene was over and done within a few pages. The ticking clock stopped with little-to-no to-do. La-la, skip and a jump, and we're set up with a small scene that leads into the sequel. Rather than leave me gasping for breath and begging for more, the ending left me shrugging.
Do you all see my difficulty? I wanted to love this book. I've lusted after it for months. It has a great premise, and I adore the romantic interest. On the other hand, I didn't connect with the protagonist, the premise ended up not being super-convincing, and I rolled my eyes on several occasions. It's bad to make me roll my eyes.
While I would like to shout my love to the heavens, I must instead settle with a half-shrug and a nod of my head. I will most likely check out the inevitable sequel, and I do think Reboot will appeal to certain readers. I encourage you all to check it out and decide for yourselves.
Favorite (Non-Spoilery) Quote:
"Forgive me?" he asked as he put his fists in position. His eyes were big and round, like a puppy begging for a treat.
Yes," I said with a laugh.
"Do it again," he said, bouncing up and down in happiness.
"Make you a deal. If you're able to punch me, I'll laugh.
"You're so weird."
Points Added For: Callum, Ever (oh, how I love you Ever), a great take on zombies.
Points Subtracted For: Not living up to potential, bobbling the premise concerning emotions, a dud of an ending.
Good For Fans Of: Non-traditional zombies, kick-butt chicks, viruses.
Notes For Parents: Language, violence, making out.
Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. (less)
This book appeared on my radar months ago thanks to its title and gorgeous cover. I even wrote a Wishlist Wednesday post about it and gushed for nigh on forever. Like most books that I've spent months obsessing over from afar, I was nervous that it would fail me. Some books do, you know. They just don't live up to the hype. I tried to prepare myself by reading other reviews but had to stop. I would just have to take the experience as it came.
But never fear, citizens of the web! For C.J. Redwine is the sweet yet utterly evil brain behind Defiance, and she put together a story that is now one of my favorites of the entire year.
Feelings, you guys. The theme of this review is feelings, because Defiance gave me ALL THE FEELINGS. The problem with feelings is that, when they're strong enough, I have a very difficult time translating them into intelligible sentences, but I'll try.
Let's start with Rachel. When the story opened with Rachel at the gates of the city-state Baalboden, watching as they shut and her father is unofficially declared dead, I nodded. It was a promising start, as it reminded me of Leia at the base on Hoth in Episode 5, waiting for Luke to return. (That's a Star Wars reference - educate yourself.) In those first few pages, we meet both Rachel and her grandfather, Oliver, and get our first taste of Rachel's indomitable stubbornness. Never mind that her father has been lost in the savage Wastelands for sixty days. Everyone else might think him dead, but she will never give up hope.
Rachel is precisely what I enjoy in a heroine. She's so intense in everything that any adjective I could use to describe her seems like an understatement. She's stubborn and strong-willed, hot-headed and brash, incredibly intelligent and loyal. Geez, if you thought you knew what the proverbial red-headed temper was like, you haven't seen anything yet. Sure, at times her stubbornness crossed the line into stupidity, which was a bit annoying, but she feels things so viscerally that I felt like I was Rachel. (See? Feelings.)
Her co-narrator Logan (Defiance is a dual-narrative story) is equally impressive, but for different reasons. Logan is the ying to Rachel's yang (or the peanut butter to her bacon cheeseburger, if you ask Ms. Redwine, but that's another story). Rachel leaps from one plan to another, bullying her way through with what sometimes seems like sheer willpower. Logan is quieter, methodical, always planning and thinking in Worst Case Scenarios. He's respected for his intelligence but is often otherwise underestimated, because unlike Rachel, he buries his fire deep inside himself.
You'd think that quiet Logan would be a welcome emotional respite from Rachel, but you'd be wrong. Logan might bury his fire, but it's still very much there. He may have rejected Rachel when they were younger, but he feels strongly protective of her. She, her father Jared, and Oliver are Logan's only family to speak of, and he risks everything for them again and again. Logan is also driven by his hatred for Baalboden and its leader, the Commander, and that hatred burns almost as brightly as Rachel's.
Speaking of Baalboden, that place gives off a whole 'nother bucket of feelings. Years ago, a group of explorers mined deep into the Earth and awoke a group of monsters called the Cursed Ones. The Cursed Ones, by the way, are like a mix between Smaug the dragon and the asteroid worm thing in Star Wars - big, blind, fire-breathing dragon-worms. Can you say yikes? The military was destroyed in an attempt to kill the beasts, leaving one Cursed One remaining, and the group of explorers, who alone could repel the creatures, poised to take control. The explorers built mini-empires around themselves, city-states like Baalboden and its rival, Rowensmark. Separated from others and ruled by fear of the remaining Cursed One and their own leaders, the people of Ms. Redwine's world regress.
Though the reason is never explained, women's rights in Baalboden are practically nonexistent. A woman in Baalboden is not to learn for herself (most can't read), speak for herself, or even think of herself. She is ruled by a Protector, usually a father or husband, and may not even go out in public without him. The world was so restrictive that in some parts I felt it difficult to breathe. I could feel my temper growing, my fists tightening along with Rachel's. IT JUST ISN'T FAIR.
But nothing - NOTHING - affected me like the Commander.
The Commander is the ruler of Baalboden and one of the more frightening and irritating villains I've ever read. He's the most awful combination you could ever meet - a disgusting worm of a man who acts like a demi-god and can get away with it, because within the walls of Baalboden, he is. If you cross the Commander, you die. If you speak against the Commander, you die. If you disobey one of the Commander's rules, however small, you die. If the Commander wants something from you, he'll threaten your family, they'll die, then you'll die, just because he can get away with it. He has no principles, no morals, no limit to what he might do.
Really, I spent most of my time away from the book dreaming of a scenario where I could appear and put some proper fear into that man, preferably while armed with a Samus suit and a flamethrower. Also, I'd laugh in his face, because it would make him mad... which is why I'd have the suit.
The scariest part of the Commander - of the whole book, really - is the free rein Ms. Redwine gives herself to make her characters wish they were never born. People die, y'all. Really important people! And they don't just die. They die slowly, painfully, as they watch their last hope disappear into nothingness.
It's a scary thing, flowing along with all the feelings. Ms. Redwine uses her characters - Rachel especially - to really delve into the dark side of emotions. I'm used to reading a book where the main character is hurt or angry or desperate for change. But Rachel doesn't just want change. She wants revenge. She wants those who hurt her to beg for her mercy. I struggled between wanting justice for Rachel and Logan but wanting everything to happen in a way that allowed Rachel and Logan to keep their humanity.
I'm sorry if this isn't a very coherent review. I feel like I just went on a corkscrew-filled roller coaster and I'm still trying to regain my equilibrium. I hope when I've had more practice reviewing that I'll find a way to convey the emotions that I felt while remaining clear and concise, but I'm not quite there yet.
Feeeeeeeliiiiiiiiiings. You've been warned.
Points Added For: All the feelings, the scary Cursed One, the nice blend of a past-world society and futuristic tech, realistic and fantastic fight scenes, the Switch (I want one), a nice build to the next book.
Points Subtracted For: Some suspension of disbelief (I can't believe that Rachel hadn't gotten herself killed before the beginning of the book - she's just TOO strong-willed not to draw attention to herself); the fact that Rachel is only sixteen (it skeeved me out); I could've used a bit more world-building.
Good For Fans Of: Dual narratives, headstrong protagonists, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Eowyn's "I Am No Man!" moment in LOTR, villains that make you mad.
Notes For Parents: Violence, murder, torture, a few makeout scenes, one scene where Logan notices (apparently for the first time) that Rachel does in fact have boobs.(less)
Most of you probably weren't here at the time, but Under the Never Sky (UtNS) was one of the first books I ever reviewed. It was so pretty. (The book, not my review. I still shudder when I look at my wonky formatting.) I fell in love with Perry and his world, with Aria and her feistiness, and with those darn charismatic cannibals.
I'm sorry to say that the Croven do not appear in the sequel, but many other familiar faces do return to great effect. As always, the bulk of the review is below the jump break, but let me just tell you all right now that it was good. It was ALL THE FEELS good.
Through the Ever Night (TtEN) picks right up where UtNS left off. Aria and Perry meet for the first time after Aria returns from Reverie. Though no time has passed, so much has changed. Aria is under orders from Hess to search for the Still Blue. Perry is Blood Lord of the Tides and struggling to earn their respect.
Whereas UtNS was about survival and righting wrongs, TtEN is all about burdens. Aria and Perry are barely given ten minutes to kiss hello before Perry's responsibilities interfere. Reef, head of the Six (Perry's inner circle), wants Perry to return to the Tides before the "Mole" (Aria) gets him in trouble. Perry hadn't bothered to tell his people he'd found himself a girlfriend while away.
Oh gosh, you guys. I knew what I was getting into right there. I knew this book would try me emotionally, so I wasn't caught off-guard when Aria suggests to Perry that they pretend to be merely allies in front of the Tides. But oh, the stuff they go through! THE FEELS!
Let's just say the Tides aren't all that welcoming to Aria, given that she had been a member of the same people group who had kidnapped/bought Tide children for testing. Snide remarks, name-calling, and rudeness abound, which is bad enough even if you aren't an Aud who can hear everything. I personally wanted to push Brooke (remember Brooke?) off a cliff.
Then again, they aren't all that welcoming to Perry either. Despite the crimes that Vale committed before his death, the tribe misses his steady leadership and eyes Perry distrustfully. They argue with him at every turn, pestering him to answer for the failing crops and increasing Aether storms. Even when he does the right thing, they paint him as foolhardy, brash, and unfit to lead.
Doesn't sound like much of an adventure, does it? Burdens and responsibilities tempered with infighting and cold shoulders don't usually make for a quick read. Believe me, I gobbled down TtEN in 24 hours, but it's definitely a different book than UtNS.
The first book is a quest book. They're traveling, marking miles to Marron and then to Reverie. It gives the entire story a sense of progress, as danger and excitement spring up at every turn. TtEN is more sedentary. Don't get me wrong, it's still a harrowing book. Big, intense things happen, things that left me holding my breath. (Perry and Aria both almost die in separate incidents in the first half of the book!) But not only are they spoiler-y things that I can't say much about, but they have a different feel than the big things in the first book. In some cases, yes, the stake is individual lives. (See previous parenthetical statement.) But more often the stake is power, responsibility, relationships, or collective lives. If Perry makes the wrong choice, his tribe might desert him. People in his care might die. If Aria makes the wrong choice, she could lose Perry. She could cost Perry his tribe. Talon and the other children in Reverie might die. The stakes are bigger and therefore heavier.
That's not to say there isn't some traveling. Finding the Still Blue is still the main goal, and its pursuit takes Roar and Aria to Sable's territory. Sable, in case you all don't remember, is Liv's intended. Is not was. That's right, you guys, we get to meet Liv! Unfortunately, meeting Liv involves a lot of angst and sorrow on Roar's part.
Oh, you guys, Roar. I'm such a Perry girl. I love him even though he cut off his dreadlocks. I feel for him as he rocks under the force of Aria's emotions. Ms. Rossi explores a little more of what it really means for Perry to be rendered to Aria in TtEN and it's all so intense. But ROAR. I didn't pay much attention to him in UtNS, but he completely stole the show for me in the sequel. I even found myself pondering a possibility of an Aria-Roar match. (Not that that'll happen, so simmer down. Still, they're awfully cute together.)
I usually hate middle books. They're often fraught with angst and turmoil and end in some frustrating cliffhanger that makes me want to throw my book at the wall... or the author. But not this book, no sirree. There is angst. There is turmoil. And there is a cliffhanger ending. But it's all wrapped in such careful tie-ins to the previous book, so many wonderful characters (including those I had previously sworn to hate), and such genuine feeling.
Through the Ever Night stopped my heart half a dozen times and broke it half a dozen times more. With this book, Ms. Rossi has raised the bar, and I can't wait to see how she surpasses herself in the next installment.
Points Added For: Excellent action, realistically exploring the difficulties of certain relationships, finally explaining the Aether more fully, better world-building, ROAR.
Points Subtracted For: There's a major cliffhanger ending, but that's to be expected in a middle book.
Good For Fans Of:Under the Never Sky, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, feels.
Notes For Parents: Language, violence, making out, death. (There may have been some drinking, but I don't remember.)
When I told my mom I was reviewing a YA sci-fi/dystopian retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, she was not impressed. Actually, I'd put her a bit closer to horrified. She couldn't understand why anyone would muddy such a beautiful classic with all that sci-fi/dystopian stuff.
Truth be told, I wasn't sure how well I would like FDStS either. Persuasion, with all of its romantic tension and love deferred, is a classic for a reason. Messing with it via a sci-fi retelling is one thing? But using a dystopian/post-apocalyptic bent? Meh.
But then I met Elliot and Kai.
FTDStS takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. Pre-apocalypse, genetic tampering ran rampant. Nothing - not crops, not animals, not even people - remained untainted. Then it all fell apart. The Luddites (shunners of technology, just like present-day Luddites) hid in the earth and watched as the world disintegrated into chaos. Altered crops poisoned lands. Wars raged. Those changed by genetic tampering gave birth to Reduced children - basically a race of mentally handicapped individuals unable to speak in anything more than monosyllabic words. Out of spite, the few remaining turned their technology to the sky, destroying communication and navigation by screwing with the Earth's magnetic field.
As the only group with unaffected genes, the Luddites rose from the ground and took control. They assumed their positions as the moral gatekeepers and the protectors of the "poor" Reduced. However well-intentioned, the system eventually decayed into a scenario resembling the American Antebellum South. The Luddites rule their farms (plantations!) from their upholstered parlors and control the Reduced with an iron fist. Even the birth of mentally sound Reduced children (called Children of Reduced or Post-Reductionists) does nothing to change the status quo.
Elliot, a Luddite, and Kai, a Post, have been connected to each other from birth. They and another girl, a Reduced named Ro, were all born on the same day. Kai and Ro's mothers died. Elliot's mother lived, thanks to her status as a ruling Luddite. Despite their differences in class, all three children managed to find a way to remain friends and to watch out for each other.
For me, it helped to have read Persuasion first; otherwise, I think I may have had a problem with Elliot. Actually, I did have a problem with both Elliot and Kai at first, because they were introduced to the readers through their childhood letters to each other, and I couldn't tell which was male and which was female! I'm very stubborn about not reading the synopsis again once I've started a book, and, to me, Elliot is a boy name. Curse you, male-to-female naming trend! (Yes, I know, it's a nod to Persuasion's Anne Elliot. I still think it's confusing.)
Once I untangled the identities, however, it was simple enough to keep each character separate. Ms. Peterfreund was very careful with Elliot and Kai's voices, making sure their diction reflected their educated and working-class backgrounds, respectively. They also have distinctive personalities from the get-go. Elliot is tamer, much more eager to please, and understandably naive regarding Kai's way of life. Kai, on the other hand, is eager to learn, far more reckless, and often dangerously brash.
Actually, most people would think calling Elliot "tame" is a bit of an understatement. She comes across as a walking doormat. She's cowed by her father, bullied by her sister, and, when Kai returns as successful Cloud Fleet Captain Wentforth, she lets him run roughshod over her as well! At least, so it appears. Elliot has far more spunk than even she gives herself credit for. She routinely deceives her father for the good of her Reduced in her care, and befriends Reduced and Post alike, despite it being against social conventions. Yes, she's an awful sap for Kai (or Malakai, as he's now called), but she's been in love with the boy for years, and it broke her heart when he left.
Ah, Malakai. Rude little jerk that you are, I still love you. Again, I can enjoy the dynamic between the two characters because it so closely mirrors the one in Persuasion. Kai alternates between lashing out at Elliot, ignoring her, and - on occasion - protecting her. Elliot, for her part, hides her hurt as best she can and tries to put her feelings for Kai aside with a heartsick tenacity that would make Taylor Swift proud. Okay, maybe not. She's more nuanced than the golden-haired one, but if she had a guitar, you'd be safe in betting there'd be teardrops on it. (What? I'm hip! I know pop culture!) It's the same tension that I adored between Anne and Frederick in Persuasion. Okay, yes, I did want to sock Kai in the jaw a few times, and his back-and-forth with Elliot felt more juvenile (they're a decade younger than their Persuasion counterparts, after all), but it was still so lovely.
Really, I loved all the Austen throwbacks that Ms. Peterfreund included. The Cloud Fleet Posts differentiate themselves from the somberly dressed Luddites by parading around in brightly colored clothes, with scarlet coats being their favorite article. (Get it? Redcoats!) Kai chooses the surname Wentforth, Ms. Peterfreund's obvious nod to Captain Wentworth, but also a clever play on words. Kai, after all, was the boy who left the North estate and went forth to make his way in the world. Many of the major plot points from Persuasion are reimagined rather cleverly. I especially like how she orchestrated the fall at Bath. (You Austen-lovers know what I'm talking about.) Also, the childhood letters between Kai and Elliot that are sprinkled throughout the book not only give us a sense of their forming personalities, but also echo the use of various letters in Persuasion, including The Letter. (That is, the letter from the scene that made me fall head-over-heels for Persuasion in college.)
Amid all the Austen love, much of the sci-fi falls by the wayside. Yes, various futuristic things crop up, giving us a sense that this new world is far different from our own. However, I never really got a true sense of Elliot's world. It felt like a simple stage, set with props and moving facades for the characters to act out the Persuasion tale upon. I would have preferred a world with a bit more heft to it.
For me, this was a story more about the reader's emotions than the reader's mind. If you come to this book expecting a fully realized world, intricate supporting characters, or a nuanced ending, you'll be disappointed. However, if you're willing to chuck it all aside and let yourself be swept away by the conflict between Kai and Elliot, I believe you will enjoy yourself immensely. Just try not to punch Kai. He's a good guy, I promise.
Points Added For: Austen-y awesomeness, sweet and wonderful Ro, those lovely paper gliders (really, I think the cover should have featured them instead), the conceit of the Luddite sanctuaries, making me want to watch the 2007 version of Persuasion again.
Points Subtracted For: A fail on the reimagined William Elliot character (really, he was so flat), a mediocre world (despite having an awesome premise), an ending that was just too neat and tidy, that stupid cover that looks NOTHING like Elliot. [Note: I don't know if anyone with experience with mental handicaps would find the depiction of the Reduced offensive or not. Clearly, their treatment by most Luddites is appalling, but I'd like to hear what you all thought of the "correct" worldview espoused in the end.]
Good For Fans Of:Persuasion by Jane Austen, fraught romantic relationships, angsty leading men.
Notes For Parents: Other than general bad attitudes on the part of the Luddites, I don't remember anything.(less)
Stopped on page 144 (the beginning of the 18th chapter). Am marking this as a DNF. It wasn't bad, but I wasn't interested and grew tired of perpetuall...moreStopped on page 144 (the beginning of the 18th chapter). Am marking this as a DNF. It wasn't bad, but I wasn't interested and grew tired of perpetually suspending my disbelief. To try to ignore so many unbelievable things (plus stomach gruesomeness) is exhausting, y'all. Maybe I'll come back to this book someday, maybe not, but I've got other things I want to read.(less)
Waaaay back in September, I highlighted Stormdancer in a Wishlist Wednesday post. Then reviews started trickling - and then pouring - in, uniformly laudatory and even fangirlish. And yet did I get to read it? Noooo, because my store doesn't carry it!
Finally, a copy came in at the library and I snapped it up. That was four weeks ago. For two weeks, Stormdancer stayed on the floor next to my bed, then it took me almost two more weeks to finish reading it. And you know what? I'm glad. Jay Kristoff's book is a hefty masterpiece that should NOT be rushed. Zip through your reading, and you'll miss a lot. Heck, I know I missed stuff, and taking two weeks to read a book is glacially slow for me.
I'll admit, I almost didn't make it through. When the story opens, the heroine Yukiko is running for her life from some monstrous demon things called oni. It's fast-paced, exhilarating, and made me pump my fist like a frat boy. But then Mr. Kristoff bumps the narrative back two weeks so we can watch as the shogun orders the hunt for the fabled arashitora or "thunder-tiger." Then, just as quickly, we're pushed to Yukiko's father and then back to Yukiko herself.
I was displeased. I didn't want a multi-narrative story. I wanted Yukiko's tale and no one else's. Worse, Mr. Kristoff's world is very authentic and therefore very confusing initially. Like a tourist stepping foot in a new country, I found myself reeling, buffeted on all sides by strange common nouns such as "kouka," "yakuza," "hakama," "obi," "tabi," etc. They were words that meant nothing to me, flitting around my eyes like pesky gnats. I felt lost and overwhelmed by the sheer foreignness of it all.
If you should pick up Stormdancer and find yourself lost in the kudzu of shifting narratives and unfamiliar words, don't fret. I made it, and you can, too. Go slowly, take deep breaths, and relax. Once you've settled into your new home, you'll find that Mr. Kristoff has created a fantastic world populated with some of the more memorable characters I've ever read.
Yukiko's lands are dying. Everything in the pseudo-Japanese steampunk society is powered by a plant called the blood lotus. The lotus powers the ships and is the key ingredient in nearly every industry on the isles. But lotus comes at a high price. It kills the fields where it is grown, scorching the soil. The fumes from the plants poison the air so that everyone must wear rebreathers to filter out toxins and goggles to block out the damaging rays of the blood-red sun. The animals died long ago. The people die more slowly, choked by black lung plague, lulled by intoxicating lotus fumes, or starved by crushing poverty.
Yukiko, in a small way, feels these injustices. She despises the shogun for making her father move to the capital city and away from her mountain home. She fears the Lotus Guildsmen who raise the lotus and keep the populace in check by destroying those who are deemed Impure. And yet she does nothing. What can she do? She is only a girl. So she hides her own impurities, keeps her head down, and shuffles on.
But then Yukiko meets the arashitora, the thunder-tiger she names Buruu, and everything changes.
I loved Yukiko and Buruu. Yukiko is fiery, clever, and often wrong. She feels deeply and is probably one of the more impressively fierce female protagonists I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Yukiko is also blessed with the ability to reach into the minds of animals. Through her, we are able to meet Buruu, the growling, majestic thunder-tiger. Stranded by a terrible storm and separated from the rest of the hunting party, Yukiko and Buruu form a fragile truce to survive the demon-riddled forest.
Unlike most animal buddy stories, Buruu doesn't merely distrust humans. He despises them. He calls them monkeys, pests, and despoilers. Yukiko's kind have ruined the land, plucked him from the skies, and clipped his wings. He even tries to kill Yukiko before reluctantly saving her from the oni. Distinctly unhuman, Buruu is a fully realized character who delighted me with his ferocity, his wit, his valor, and even his humor. (Page 216 made me cackle out loud.)
Buruu and his kind are part of the larger mythology that Mr. Kristoff weaves through the story. Yukiko and her father both tell stories within the narrative, and these tales were my entry into the world that previously baffled me. Some, such as the story of the great Stormdancers, were (as far as I could tell) unique to Yukiko's world, while others were reimagined versions of familiar Greco-Roman myths. All of them were beautiful.
Once the myths allowed me to gain footing, my initial culture shock quickly wore off and morphed into amazed curiosity as the parallels between our world and Yukiko's became more apparent. The blood lotus, for instance, reminded me strongly of the opium that plagued 19th century China. Of course, it's not merely enough for Mr. Kristoff to riff of history; instead, he takes the base of something familiar and continually layers on twist after horrifying twist. Let me just warn you all now, this lotus stuff is messed up.
Another parallel that was woven throughout the entire novel is the gaijin. In Yukiko's world, the gaijin are the foreigners. Barbaric and savage, their skin color and oddly shaped eyes set them apart from the shogun's people. They live across the sea in a land begging to be tamed. In fact, in the middle of the narrative explaining the current war against the gaijin, it's mentioned that the gaijin need to simply give in and let themselves "be civilized." Oh, did I mention that the gaijin are also called "round-eyes"? As someone who intellectually understands racism, it was a jolt for me to be able to truly feel it for the first time. The whole underlying thread was brilliant, and I have a feeling the gaijin will have a role to play in the next book.
I regret for possibly the first time ever that I've graduated and therefore no longer need to write analytical essays. As I said previously, Stormdancer is a tale that should be read slowly, if only so all the different threads can be unpacked. Mr. Kristoff deals with family, forgiveness, sacrificing the one for the sake of the whole, individuality and community, vengeance, and the high cost of revenge. Amid all of the deeper concerns are surface twists that will delight the reader. I can't tell you the last time I read a book that seemingly dealt me the foul hand of insta-love AND a love triangle only to subvert both tropes by the end.
Best of all is that while Stormdancer wrestles with loss and love, friendship and family, all displayed by a dazzlingly large cast, it lets each character have his or her moment to shine. I still can't spell each character's name without consulting my notes, but I know each of them the moment they reappear on the page. From the smallest beggar girl to the mightiest shogun, each character is given a life with all its heartaches and triumphs.
I look forward to Stormdancer's sequel, not merely to read the continuation of Yukiko's story, but to read the continuation of everyone's story and to enter Mr. Kristoff's vibrant world once more. Also, I think I may need to visit Japan now.
Points Added For: Excellent world-building, a great premise and execution, Yukiko and Buruu's friendship, twists, the blood lotus, the mythology, all of the many characters that I didn't have space to mention. (You're my guy, Kin!)
Points Subtracted For: Unnecessary language, confusing me in the beginning, making me cry. (We all know this is actually a sign of good writing, but crying makes me cranky.)
Good For Fans Of: Fresh dystopians, pseudo-Japanese culture, vivid mythology, kick-butt heroines.
Notes For Parents: Language, drug use, nudity via the viewpoint of a peeping Tom, incest, fade-to-black sex, genocide, murder, animal death, violence, dismemberment (in a fight scene).
For me, my issue with The Murder Complex boiled down to the fact that I had no idea what was going on. While I appreciated the author's attempt to stave off info-dumping, I felt completely adrift. What's going on? Where are we? WHEN are we? What do all these nouns mean? What about trains? Look, if I don't understand where each train leads and what happens to each one, I'm not going to care whether Meadow jumps on the right one. The world itself is very unfamiliar, despite being set in the Everglade (only a few hours from my house!), and the proper nouns run amok. Leeches, Sellouts, Pirates, Gravers, Wards, Langers—who are all these people, and how on earth am I supposed to remember their affiliations?
I love epic world-building, and I think I would have appreciated the depth and thought behind the world in The Murder Complex had it not lost me from the beginning. However, being utterly confused from the beginning does nothing to entice me to keep reading, so I chose to DNF and find a different world to occupy my mind.
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.
I've heard several different people compare this book to Hunger Games + The Bachelor. Yeah, I get that. But to me, it was more Hunger Games + The Bachelor + the story of Esther + Miss Congeniality + Zero.
In the country of Illea, citizens are categorized into numerical castes; unlike Zero, the lower the number the better. For instance, in America's world, Sixes are servants, Fives like her are poor, starving artists, and Ones are royal. Pretty interesting, huh?
I really enjoyed the hierarchy portion of the book. I find castes so interesting. To me, this hierarchy was the Hunger Games part of the equation. Ones = The Capitol. Granted, they're much nicer and don't require citizens to fight to the death, but they're oblivious to the problems of the lower castes, and there's some intimation that the rulers have been involved in some hinky, Big-Brother type dealings. Twos and Threes are like Districts One and Two - privileged snots. At the other end of the spectrum are people like America and her secret love Aspen, a bunch of people just barely scraping by. District Twelve, anyone?
The first part of The Selection spends time in America's pre-Selection life. We get to know her, to see how she lives, to meet her friends and family. This time was important, because it let me get to know America Singer and her family and Aspen and what she was fighting for. I mean, would the Hunger Games have been as powerful without meeting Gale and Prim? Nope.
Aspen - sweet, stupid, stubborn Aspen - was a joy to meet despite my dislike of his name. Actually, I wasn't too fond of America Singer's name either. It was just too... too dead-on, you know? She's an independent girl who can sing. Oh, and she has white skin, red hair, and loves to wear blue! Go figure. Anyways, I enjoyed seeing the heady, teen romance festering between the two. Very Romeo and Juliet, though thankfully they were doing smarter things than R&J, like actually discussing important things like kids and finances.
It's Aspen who pushes America to enter her name into the Selection. Prince Maxon needs a wife, and being a sweetheart of a boyfriend, Aspen believes that America deserves better than a Six. She deserves a prince. That and he's a pragmatic masochist.
Instead of dating like a normal boy, Maxon has his potential brides delivered to him in bulk. Thirty-five women are chosen based on looks, accomplishments, and connections (despite being supposedly pulled at random - yeah right!). Like any protagonist on The Bachelor or King Xerxes from the Esther story, Maxon spends time with all thirty-five girls and winnows them out one by one. The final choice for his bride is his alone. Even the king and queen don't get the final say.
I love the story of Esther, so I was excited to see how the Selection would play out, even if it meant leaving America's family and friends behind for a time.
Though the conceit of the Selection itself might be straight out of The Bachelor, the characters were straight out of Miss Congeniality. America was Sandra Bullock - stubborn, opinionated, sometimes ill-mannered, not really in the contest for the right reasons, and clearly fated to stick around til the end. Around her swarmed a consortium of supporting characters - the sweet, somewhat naive girl in the form of Marlee, the bimbos, the drama queens, the quiet ones, the ill-fated, the cannon fodder. Still, I didn't need a gaggle of thirty-five nuances characters, so the stereotypes were okay with me, though I wish a few of them (Marlee!) had been given a bit more depth.
Then we met Maxon, and everything fell apart. I kid you not, I read Maxon's opening scene and felt a sensation spread through me akin to a balloon deflating. This was it? THIS was the guy we were supposed to root for? I found him stiff, flat, and startlingly naive for someone entrusted with an entire country. The plan he and America hatch... I could only shake my head that he would so willingly trust someone he had met only recently. She had done nothing to earn his trust, nothing to earn such power. I've seen The Bachelor, I know how utterly underhanded contestants can be, and those girls weren't competing for an entire freaking country!
Let me stress the unstated: this is my opinion only. I've read other reviews where the reader fell head-over-heels for Maxon. They loved him and wanted to have his babies. I was just not impressed, personally.
The same goes with the remainder of the story's execution. I felt a teeny bit fearful as Maxon explained the modus operandi of the South's reign of terror, but otherwise wasn't compelled to worry too much about anything at all. I expected some incredibly vicious scheming between the girls, but instead we had one main "villain" and one lesser sidekick "villain", while the other girls just took up space. There was no Hamaan, no deranged former beauty queen (can't remember the villain in Miss Congeniality's name). Even when America had a fair and aboveboard way to knock a scheming contestant out in order to save Maxon the trouble, she didn't. She should've, she could've, but she didn't, much to my frustration (grow a spine, girl!). I expected America to encounter some of the pitfalls involved with reality TV life, but instead was shocked at how rarely the cameras and paparazzi made an appearance. I mean, I realize Maxon's royalty and all, but the amount of privacy the contestants received is unheard of by today's standard, much less in the future.
And this is dystopian, right? So where's the oppression? The grit? Aw, poor baby brother can't be a soccer player because he's supposed to be an artist. You say you go to bed hungry sometimes. Meh.
More than anything, there was no Big Twist. There was no epic climax. Sure, there was one twist near the end of the novel, but I expected it, so instead of feeling like a Dun-Dun-DUNNNNNN!, it felt more like a whawmp-whawmp-whaaaaaaaaaaawmp (that's the sound of a sad trombone, for those who don't know).
You know that chart we're all shown when first writing a story for class? The one with exposition, climax, and resolution? That was missing in this story. Clearly, The Selection is meant to be the first in a series, so the series itself will have an overarching pattern, of which this first book is the exposition/rising action. However, even an opening book must have the peaking pattern shown to the left. For me, The Selection failed in this regard. By the end, I still felt like I was pushing my way to reach the climax. In the overall story, I was on Chapter One, maybe Chapter Two. And that's not good, folks, because it didn't leave me craving for more. At the most, I'm slightly peckish for more, that's all.
Again, just me. Many people have read and adored this book, and you very well may also. I will probably pick up the second book when it comes out just to see if it ever reaches the climax I crave, because I feel Cass is working up to something and is simply giving herself too much time to get there. I hope the payoff is worth it.
Points Added For: A really pretty cover, an interesting premise, a ginger protagonist, America's servants, semi-mature conversations regarding future planning between America and Aspen, The South.
Points Subtracted For:/b> Lack of suspense, no legitimate climax, missed opportunities galore.
Good For Fans Of:Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, [Ummm, help me out here? I have a feeling that a contemporary choice a la The Bachelor for teens would be appropriate, but I can't think of one.]
Notes For Parents: Some language (d's and an s, as far as I remember), a couple makeout scenes, a veiled mention to a past sexual assault.(less)
SHATTER ME is a first-person narrative from Juliette, a seventeen-year-old girl from an Orwellian future, who is locked in solitary confinement to protect others from her lethal touch. Now really, if that fact alone doesn't grab you, I doubt anything in this review will convince you otherwise, but I'll try.
According to Juliette, her lethal touch (she causes excruciating pain and eventual death in whomever she touches) has been with her since she was an infant, causing a lifetime of alienation and isolation. She is treated either as a freak or a nonentity, both at home and at school, culminating in her solitary confinement after she accidentally touches and kills a stranger.
264 days later, she is given a roommate, a smokin' hot boy named Adam. Eventually, we learn that Adam is a face from her past, and it's no accident that he was placed in Juliette's cell. As the story unfolds, Mafi, through Juliette, tosses us other tantalizing details, such as descriptions of the Big Brother-esque ruling class called The Reestablishment, whose local leader, Warner, is responsible for arresting and confining Juliette.
Warner is also the one who releases Juliette (into his own custody, of course) and tries to persuade her to use her power for the good of The Reestablishment. In his own way, Warner is smokin' as well (isn't that always the way?), but he dreams of power and control, even as he seems to crave Juliette's company for her own sake and yearn for a way to show his new captive how thrilling power over others can be.
So now Juliette has to choose - Adam or Warner? Established power or rebellion? Her choice would be easier if she knew whom she could trust, including herself.
Juliette is a nutcase, and I love her for it, and I love Mafi for letting Juliette find her voice. The prose is distinctive with its stream-of-consciousness, rambling careful wording, babbling fears, and obsession with numbers. The book is her journal, her thoughts as things happen, and as quickly as the thoughts come tumbling out she goes back and carefully edits herself, allowing us a look at things her character would truly never say but would still think. These edits, as well as Juliette's fixation on numbers and counting, are her attempt to control herself and her world, or at least what little she can, as she never can control the power of her touch except through isolation. When a voice is true and consistent, I find myself thinking with that voice long after I've walked away from the book, and Juliette was in my head from start to finish.
Warner is probably the second-most fascinating character. He's the villain, the Hyde to Juliette's well-meaning Jekyll, but Mafi allows him moments of humanity that lend him a depth that Adam lacks. Optimist that I am, I would be thrilled if he found his own (at least partial) redemption by the end of the trilogy, but I will nevertheless be happy to follow him down his crooked path wherever it may lead.
Overall, Mafi receives solid marks for this story. The premise is interesting and the story is addicting, even if the ending falters into somewhat familiar territory. For those who enjoy the angsty, pathos-ridden, somewhat unrealistic romance found in Twilight, this book is for you. I am not one of them, but I will wait for the sequel with measured interest for the sake of Juliette, the fascinating little freak superhero.
UNDER THE NEVER SKY is a dystopian third-person dual narrative. To be honest, when I read the description, I wasn't very interested. I hate switching to different perspectives, the whole girl-from-a-supposed-utopia-goes-to-the-wild trope is getting a little old, and I figured I knew exactly how the relationship between the two characters was going to play out. He's a jerk, she gets feisty, aw he's a wounded soul, smoochie smoochie smoochie, the end. I was right... and I was very, very wrong.
The official description quoted above does the book a great injustice. The best taste of the book comes from my favorite quote, found on page 125:
"Do the clouds ever completely clear?" she asked. "Completely? No. Never." "What about the Aether? Does that ever go away?" "Never, Mole. The Aether never leaves." She looked up. "A world of nevers under a never sky." She fit in well then, he thought. A girl who never shut up. That's Aria, inquisitive to the point of irritation, intellectually curious, artsy, and poetic. And that's Perry, rough, blunt, and dry.
The book opens with Aria. Unfortunately, it also opens with a heaping handful of other named characters that I wasn't inclined to care about. Because of the description, I knew she was going to be exiled at some point, and seeing as the first scene is about a group of teenagers about to do something mind-boggling risky and stupid, I figured this "something" was going to be the impetus for the exile. I'm not going to put spoiler tags around that, because it's a bit of a no-brainer. And since I knew she was going to be exiled and therefore unlikely to see any of these other teenagers again, I REALLY didn't care who they were.
Luckily, Rossi finds her stride fairly quickly. The unimportant teenagers are a teensy bit important, because the lead teenager, Soren, is Aria's link to finding her mother, with whom she lost contact several days prior. What's supposed to be a fact-finding mission disguised as a rollicking good adventure in a forbidden area soon devolves into something primal and savage. Tragedy and mayhem ensues, leading to Aria's rescue by a mysterious Outsider who then disappears, and ends with Aria's banishment.
That synopsis might seem a bit dismissive, but only because it is. Aria is fine in her own right, but my heart beats for Peregrine (aka, Perry), the hunky Outsider who saves her not only in the teenage mayhem but also when he finds her exiled and trapped in the middle of an Aether storm. Despite their mutual distrust of and disgust for each other, the two reluctantly join forces to help Aria return home - Aria to clear her name and find her mother, and Peregrine to save his nephew, who was kidnapped by Dweller soldiers.
And snap diddley, does it take off from there! By switching back and forth between perspectives, each character serves as our eyes into a world we don't understand. Through Aria, the girl who finds the Aether fascinating and the fact that fingernails can grow bewildering, we learn about the world inside the pods and the Matrix-meets-Genetics-101 reality she thinks of as normal. Through Perry, younger brother of the tribe's Blood Lord, we learn about the harsh, unbending reality of the outside, where madmen and cannibals roam and a chosen few wield almost supernaturally enhanced senses. Each knows of the other world only what they've learned through legend, which can carry a shocking degree of truth amid the lies.
There were details that irritated me. The very fantasy-like Aether and its effect on Outsiders is never really explained, though the world of NEVER SKY is supposed to be a future version of our own world. Also, Rossi serves up some common stereotypes (of COURSE the heroine of the story can sing like an angel; of COURSE the hero has a rare and valuable skill set) that make me grit my teeth every time I see them in a book. However, the negatives are more than counterbalanced by the positives. Charming and charismatic cannibals that have an established reason for being cannibals? Check! A Jacob-and-baby-in-Twlight type of bond that is NOT solely romantic? Check! A character named PEREGRINE?! Check! (Although I did mumble "Fool of a Took" in certain sections.) Best of all, like other clever authors before her, Rossi shows she is unafraid to kill off a character just because it is expected that she won't.
While the story was in part predictable (the relationship model I expected between Aria and Peregrine? Yeah, it was pretty much like that), Rossi managed to avoid a purely stereotypical ending and left enough valid, compelling loose ends (both plot-wise and character-wise) that a sequel is inevitable and welcome. I look forward to meeting an ever-maturing Aria and an ever-hunky Peregrine in their next episode of their continuing adventure, as well as their array of supporting characters (I won't mention names, as I've already mentioned that she does kill off someone(s).)
Points Added For: Charismatic cannibals (I squee with joy just typing it), hunky boys who genuinely love kids, main characters older than the obligatory 16, pyromania, sensible Jacob-and-babying (here called "rendering"), characters with cool names, "fables" that actually have some truth to them.
Points Subtracted For: Unimportant minor characters (Brooke, grrrr), super-Aether in an otherwise realistic world, missing/dead/abusive parents, girls whose main claim to fame is singing.