4.5 stars. What a powerful story! My heart's still pounding. And I learned so much. I knew about apartheid, or thought I did. But the Soweto Riots wer4.5 stars. What a powerful story! My heart's still pounding. And I learned so much. I knew about apartheid, or thought I did. But the Soweto Riots were new to me. They happened when I was six years old, and so far this is the first thing I've ever read about them.
I loved how different the four MCs (one white, one Indian, two black) were, how they showed the life of Johannesburg and the story of the Riots from such different angles. I loved how raw and real their stories felt -- nothing too neat or predictable. How things didn't work out as they expected or planned, and sometimes they hardly knew themselves why they were making certain choices or what they would do next. It made the story feel visceral and immediate; it also made them all very believable adolescents.
The writing style is powerful too -- spare but not simplistic. It fits the profile of YA, but it could easily crossover to the adult market (and I think it should).
I've read a review which seemed mildly critical of the way Raina plunges the reader into the setting and peppers the narrative with Zulu and/or Afrikaaner slang which at first can be a bit hard for a North American reader to understand. But often the meaning of these phrases is pretty easy to infer from the context, and if not there's a perfectly fine glossary at the back and it doesn't take long to catch up. (Personally, if I could get away with saying "Thula wena" without being an obnoxious mlungu I would, because a milder version of "shut up" could be very handy.)
For parents and others wondering about "content" issues, there is certainly some violence (for obvious reasons, because it was a violent incident in South African history), but it's not excessively or gorily described -- the style is more journalistic than sensuous (which in a way makes it hit even harder, because you can imagine what's not being said). The book has three or four profanities at most, and always in Afrikaans (not that you can't guess what the word is, but it doesn't have quite the same effect as seeing it in English). No blasphemy or anti-religious content. Sexuality is minimal and of the fade-to-black variety, so less explicit than many books teens are reading in high school.
Anyway, this is a very fine book and more people should read it. I hope they do....more
This was so epic. So much bigger and more complex and messy and emotional than I ever anticipated, and I really thought I was prepared. (I was so notThis was so epic. So much bigger and more complex and messy and emotional than I ever anticipated, and I really thought I was prepared. (I was so not prepared.)
Ellie Marney writes amazing action scenes, autopsy scenes, kissing scenes, and bang-on believable teen emotions and dialogue. So unfair. I'm going to sulk now.
(Further to my note on Every Breath, this one also has a lot of swearing, but less blasphemy and more of the garden variety.)...more
[NOTE: This review is based on an Advanced Reading Copy and contains no deliberate spoilers.]
From now on, any time I hear somebody claim that YA is no[NOTE: This review is based on an Advanced Reading Copy and contains no deliberate spoilers.]
From now on, any time I hear somebody claim that YA is not complex, thoughtful or literary I am going to smack them about the head and shoulders with a copy of this book.
THE ARSONIST is literary in all the best senses of the word. Smart, searching, inventive, beautifully written and characterized, funny (as in genuinely, unexpectedly witty and sometimes straight-up hilarious, especially the sections narrated by Pepper), poignant, multilayered and fascinating. It deals with big, serious themes but doesn't get bogged down by them; it believably touches on all the standard facets of adolescent life (school, friends, romance) without limiting itself; it's a gripping Cold War drama and a psychological study (or several) and a daring adventure and a murder mystery thriller all at once without any of those elements feeling shortchanged in the process. If this weren't enough, Stephanie Oakes manages the virtuoso feat of creating not one, not even two, but three distinct first-person narrators whose voices and personalities are completely different from one another, and each of whom has an equally interesting story to tell.
If that weren't enough to recommend the book, Ibrahim "Pepper" Al-Yusef has now become one of my favorite adolescent boy characters of all time. Trust me on this one. (Also, his dog is hilarious.)
I would particularly recommend this book to high school teachers looking for strong, multifaceted teen fiction with a historical component (agh, the 1980's are history now I feel so old), big themes, and lots of scope for analysis and discussion. If I had to give a "content warning" I'd advise that there's the occasional bit of crude adolescent boy-type humour, a few swear words, and a couple of graphic descriptions of violence, but none of it was pervasive or worse than many other books teens are usually given to read in high school (if anything it's probably better).
N.B. For those interested in diversity, Molly is strongly implied to be asexual; Pepper is Kuwaiti Arab and has a service dog for his epileptic seizures; and there are several sympathetic and non-stereotypical characters with mental illnesses....more
Four stars rather than five only because I still think I love THE KING OF ATTOLIA best of this series so far and there has to be some way to show thatFour stars rather than five only because I still think I love THE KING OF ATTOLIA best of this series so far and there has to be some way to show that, but please consider this more like a 4.5 star rating at least because MWT has done it again and this book is *great*. I was feeling so smugly pleased with myself for having figured out one of the book's twists before the reveal and then... nope, still unprepared for all the other twists.
No spoilers here beyond what you can find in the flap copy, just to say that Kamet is a great character, as I thought he would be -- distinct from all the other narrators in the series so far, with his own unique strengths and weaknesses and personality traits, but sympathetic and likeable even when the reader knows he's prejudiced or misinformed or just plain flat-out wrong. And his partnership with his Attolian accomplice is also well drawn and compelling, especially how it's intertwined and paralleled with the heroic myths Kamet recites for him along the way.
As for the tidbits we get about the characters we already know and love from the other books... I won't spoil those either, but they too are powerful and moving. And as always, I'm left both wanting more and itching to reread the whole series over again looking for those tiny, delicately scattered clues that this book will surely make obvious in retrospect.