Goodreads: What’s Left of Me
Series: The Hybrid Chronicles #1
Official Summary: Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . .
For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.
Review: What’s Left of Me is an imaginative story about what it means to be human. Here, it is to be a unique, living soul. Eva is completely trapped inside the body she shares with Addie, unable to move and unable to communicate with anyone besides her twin soul. As far as the rest of the world knows, she no longer even exists. But she does, and she, Addie, and the reader know it. Her courage, passion, determination, and kindness immediately woo this reader to her side, and there is no doubt she has the right to life as much as Addie, the “dominant” soul. The problem is in convincing Eva’s own society and government.
In their search for freedom, Eva and Addie take the reader through a whirlwind of emotions and experiences. The story is not built on life-or-death cliff hangers that will keep their audience reading through the night, but it is certainly interesting. The subtle commentary on the nature of humanity is encased in an exciting and action-packed tale and populated with a variety of characters, ranging from love interests to villains. (The love interest also raises more questions, such as how two souls in one body can ever maintain a romantic relationship. Part of an explanation is offered, but Zhang will have to delve further into the issue in the next book in order to make the success of such a situation sound practical.)
What’s Left of Me offers the things I truly love in science fiction: a unique vision, important questions, and humanity. However, the book may have been stronger if it had remained purely science fiction—a compact standalone that resolved its most important issues immediately. Instead, at the end it veers off into the typical dystopian mold with Eva and Addie seemingly poised to join a secret resistance fighting a corrupt government. The hybrid story is new, but this part is just old.
Published: September 18, 2012
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Goodreads: Oryx and Crake
Series: MaddAddam Trilogy #1
Summary: Snowman is the only human left alive, and by thus by default the caretaker of the genetically engineered Crakers. As he watches over this new species, he teaches them and reminiscences about their beginnings: Before the world ended, Crake was his genius best friend, and Oryx was their lover.
Review: Oryx and Crake is a well-written speculative fiction that follows the question “What will happen once we begin to become highly successful with genetic engineering?” to what Atwood clearly thinks is its natural end. Her answer is rather bleak: First, biotech foods will become so cheap and efficient that real foods will be a luxury only for the rich. Social classes will be based on proficiency in math and science, with geniuses receiving the best of everything. Second, someone will eventually be smart enough he thinks he can play God, and the results will be catastrophic for the earth and the human race.
So does this seem right? Atwood does strive to base her novel entirely on existing science in order to lend some realism and actual terror to the book, but I cannot say I was personally horrified. Yes, scientists are working on some of the experiments she mentions even now, so this could happen, but I think I have a bit more faith in the human race than she does. There are dissenters in Oryx and Crake, people who believe all this science and “creation” is dangerous and wrong, so Atwood does recognize the controversy, but her speculation is that the scientists will be in league with the government and too powerful for the dissenters to stop. Again, this is possible, but Atwood does not give a clear trail indicating how all this happened in the first place, which makes it a little more difficult to buy into.
As for the story itself, Atwood tends to drag things out. Much of Oryx and Crake is about Snowman’s personal life, which eventually all ties into the dystopian plot events, but the effect is often more intimate than exciting—another reason why the book is not terrifying, despite its suggestions about our near future. This is also a novel where the entire premise is that the author refuses to tell the reader what actually happened until the end.
On one hand, I appreciate building suspense. On the other hand, I am beginning to be suspect of such books. Something seems disingenuous about telling a story where the author refuses to tell the story, but instead just leaves tantalizing hints for roughly 400 pages. One begins to wonder if the story is good enough that people would care if the story were just told chronologically –or if the book is using “suspense” as a crutch. In the case of Oryx and Crake, I do think the story could stand on its own merits. Atwood seems to be building a certain type of atmosphere by withholding information, since the story is from Snowman’s POV and he has to ease into thinking about his own traumatic past. Even recognizing this artistic decision, however, I found Oryx and Crake a bit frustrating.
Oryx and Crake is an interesting and a supremely thoughtful book. After reading this and about half The Handmaid’s Tale, however, I think Atwood’s style is a little too slow and boring for my taste. This may be another case where I will be just interested enough in plot events to read the Wikipedia summary, once the third book is published.
Content Note: Atwood is quite interested in sex. Much of this book focuses on describing the pornography Snowman used to watch and Oryx’s (possible) former life as a sex slave.
Summary: Love is a disease, and so everyone must undergo an operation to rid themselves of it—and from the effects of most other emotions. Lena is looking forward to her surgery, until she meets Alex, a young man who always seems to be where she is and who understands better than anyone what happiness is. Now, as she begins to succumb to disease herself, she must decide what she will risk to have it.
Review: Delirium is a very smooth read, well-constructed and well-cast. Exactly why love is a disease remains rather vague, despite the excerpts from official government texts and the explanations of the five stages of love that eventually end in death. Oliver’s cleverness shows in that some of the first stages of infatuation or love can be similar to sickness—anxiousness, lack of appetite, inability to concentrate, etc. So when Lena begins to fall in love, it seems to her that the government is right, and she will inevitability die of it. But why society decided forgoing love was a brilliant idea is unclear. Sure, eradicating fear or depression could sound nice, and these emotions are disposed of along with love in this society…but why is love the focus?
If the reader can get past this point (or, more precisely, try to ignore the entire premise of the novel), it is rather good. The writing is wonderful. The characters, unlike in Before I Fall, are likeable. There is romance—and some of the scenes are really very sweet. There is also a mystery, which adds a bit of a political edge to the story that one can only hope will be developed in the following books.
The most beauty comes from the interspersion of completely normal moments. Here Lena is in the middle of a dystopian society, where media is censored, houses are searched, curfews are enforced, the residents are fenced in, and no one is allowed to feel too much—and she is doing things like running, tanning at the beach, or sneaking sodas from her uncle’s shop to share with her friends. This is a rare dystopian that seems so close to our own society.
The ultimate effect is that Delirium is a somewhat pleasant read, which is not necessarily what one would expect from a dystopian novel. There is no huge conflict, no urgency, no sense that everything is horrible and will never, ever be fixed. It reads very much like a romance and an adventure. What will Alex and Lena do next? Will they be able to come together in the end?
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Series: Divergent #2
SPOILERS FOR DIVERGENT
Summary: Since the Erudite took over Dauntless and invaded Abnegation, Tris and Four are on the run to Amity to rest and regroup with their allies. Neither was ranked in Dauntless’ hierarchy, but as the city becomes more and more dangerous, both find themselves at the center of preparations for the upcoming war.
Review: Insurgent is an exciting follow-up to Divergent, beginning right where the last book stopped and dropping readers right into the middle of the war with Erudite. The book has a lot of action, just on a much grander scale than Divergent as Tris and Four have left the Dauntless compound in order to explore the other faction headquarters and the rest of the city. The portrayal of the different factions is one of the novel’s strengths, as Roth gives each one unique customs and a distinct personality, ranging from the adamantly peaceful Amity to the straightforward Candor. In general, however, Roth makes sure to make clear that no faction and no individual is as one-dimensional as most of the citizens believe.
Tris and Four do get some very nice romantic moments in Insurgent, though unfortunately they spend a large portion of the book arguing. I read through a few hundred pages before I realized the book was actually putting me into a bad mood because everyone was yelling so much. Precisely why they are arguing is a little unclear. Maybe it is just stress from all the danger and battle preparations. Perhaps Roth thought she needed to “spice up” their relationship. Luckily, they get over their differences eventually, and Tris gets over all the issues that were holding her back for most of the book, and the ending gets much more exciting than the beginning.
Roth also continues to insert philosophical statements in surprising places. Tris comes to see that other people view the world in shades of grey, while she and Four tend to look at it as black and white. In the end, she stands up for absolute morality, arguing that no matter how she looks at it, controlling people’s minds has to be wrong. It’s hard to argue with that!
Insurgent is a very strong second book, and although the ending is expected rather than surprising, Roth has set up herself up well to deliver a thrilling finale where everything changes.
Published: May 1, 2012
Series: The Chemical Garden #1
Goodreads Summary: By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape–before her time runs out? Together with one of Linden’s servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?
Review: The story of Wither is built around an intriguing, disturbing premise. In the future, people die, without fail, in their early twenties, and humanity is left in a desperate race to find a cure before the entire population disappears. Readers will be drawn in from the first pages, wondering how the scenario will play out.
Most of the story, however, is not focused on this search for a miracle. Instead, it closely follows protagonist Rhine as she is sucked into the alien world of the wealthy, who are eager to spend fortunes on stunning home illusions and parties in an attempt to enjoy their lives while they last. DeStefano’s depiction of the luxurious world is imaginative and captivating, as tempting to readers as it is to Rhine. She must continuously struggle against the life that has been forced upon her, always remember that beyond the endless gardens and orange grove and course for miniature gulf, that she once had a different home, one with family if without wealth.
She begins to find, however, that it may be possible to build a different sort of family. One with her sister wives and the servants, if not with the House Governor, her husband, whom she is determined to hate. The relationships that develop between the girls are complex, sometimes strained but sometimes moving. The fact that they are in a polygamous relationship can occasionally escape the reader’s memory because they spend so much time together trying to be friends. This is doubtless the result of a concerted effort by DeStefano to soften an incredibly creepy plot aspect. Her other main endeavor to make the polygamy palatable is evident in Rhine’s consistent refusal to actually have intercourse with her husband. Nonetheless, their strange sister wife relationship to each other and to their husband is disturbing.
It may honestly be the most disturbing facet of the book. In many ways, DeStefano fails to deliver on her dystopian/post apocalyptic ideas, and her world ends up inconsistent. For instance, readers may wonder why, if women are in such high demand, they are frequently murdered. Or why women must be kidnapped to be brides. Or why only the upper classes are eager to reproduce. Or why no one bothers with education anymore if they really want to find a cure. Or even what purpose it serves to the plot for North America to be the only continent left in existence. (Perhaps this is supposed to be an easy solution to the question of how everyone in the world, including very poor countries, would have all turned to genetic engineering so quickly?) Answers are not forthcoming, and the lack of explanations makes Wither less believable and therefore less powerful.
The level of potential fear is also diminished by the fact that there is absolutely no hint as to what evil deeds Rhine’s father-in-law is supposedly up to in the basement. He is doing something—he is murderous and controlling and has corpses he of people he claims had been cremated—but without an idea of what his experiments are (besides the fact that they must evil), readers cannot be overly concerned about them. One can only imagine that the whole mystery will be cleared up later in the series, but by the ending of the Wither, it seems though an interesting plot turn will have to occur for that reveal even to happen.
Wither is unique and rather fascinating. It is filled with a cast of strong and unforgettable characters. Its most obvious characteristic, however, is its failure to live up to its own potential. The plotline, concept, and relationships are enough to lead readers to the sequel Fever—after all, who wants to leave a story without discovering whether the human race survives?—but there are so many ways by which readers could have been made even more eager to find out what happens.
*Posted for the Catch Wither Fever event hosted by The Overstuffed Bookcase and The Daily Bookmark.
Series: Awaken #1
Summary: In the year 2060, people hardly ever venture out from their homes. Increasing violence in schools led to the creation of digital school, an educational program that encourages children to stay inside in order to remain safe. In effect, almost all socializing as well as education now occurs online and few people ever meet their “friends” face-to-face. Maddie’s father created digital school and thus enjoys celebrity status, but Maddie herself remains doubtful about the effects of the program even as she enjoys the power the Internet gives her to shape and project a certain persona online. When Justin, an online acquaintance, invites her to meet in person, she therefore decides to let some of her barriers down and accept. Her new friend, however, has more in mind than socialization. He heads the movement dedicated to bringing down digital school and he wants Maddie to help. Faced with the choice of betraying her family or betraying her ideals, Maddie must decide what role she will play in the upcoming confrontation between socialization and digitalization.
Review: Awaken positions itself as a dystopian novel unique among those currently on the market because it seems as if its story has potential to actually happen—and soon. The author plays on the idea that society is moving toward an increasingly digital way of interacting and that the preciousness of communicating with others face-to-face and getting to know them on a personal basis will eventually disappear. She describes teenagers who listen to music wherever they go, failing to listen to those who talk to them; people who prefer to communicate online because they have the ability to censor what they say and thus project a certain image; schools that take place only on the computer because parents fear to send their children to a real one with all the recent violence. The examples sometimes seem extreme, but most readers can relate to at least some of this. Unfortunately, despite its promising premise, Awaken fails to address the issues it raises in a truly meaningful way, eventually spiraling down into nothing more than a bad romance.
Awaken gives a number of examples illustrating the ways in which digitalization has isolated people and allowed them to hide their vulnerabilities, thus giving few people the opportunity to truly know them. However, both the story and the characters dedicated to ending digital school fail to give a concrete solution to these problems. Instead, the narrator voice interjects occasionally to moralize about the issues presented, with the apparent reasoning that pointing out that something is wrong with people who never see the sun because they use the computer too much will somehow help this troubled world. This is really off-putting, not least because most readers are already aware that something is wrong when people go outdoors so rarely that they have never even seen their neighbors. In fact, the kinds of people reading a book in the first place probably have less of a need for this lesson than most. The author, however, speaks down to them, assuming they have not even the requisite intelligence to deduce the moral lesson from the story without her help.
The focus, however, does not stay long on the problems facing society. Inevitably it shifts to the near-perfect male protagonist— handsome, intelligent, and brave. Also old enough to be in college, which makes him a bit of an uncomfortable choice for Maddie’s boyfriend, since she remains in high school. I concede the age difference is small and will not matter once both of them are a bit older, but the fact remains that it is simply unusual for a man in college to still be interested in a girl in high school. One has a career and adult responsibilities to which to look forward; the other has prom. The reader really has to wonder what Justin can see in a girl who exhibits so little maturity. Read the rest of this entry
Series: Matched #2
Note: The summary may contain spoilers for those who have not read Matched.
Summary: The Society has sent Ky to the Outer Provinces as punishment for his daring to love Cassia Reyes, a girl matched by the computer system with a different boy as her future spouse. Cassia knows that the Society has sent him to certain death. Desperate to save him, Cassia sets out in search of Ky, hoping that she can convince him to join the resistance against the Society.
Review: Crossed is sure to please fans of Matched as Ally Condie gives readers, for the first time, a glimpse into Ky’s mind. There we find all the courage, perseverance, and sensitivity we expect from the boy who stole Cassia’s heart. In a book lacking much plot (or at least much logical plot) and focusing almost exclusively on romance, the character development and the way in which characters interact with each other and respond to their environment easily proves the most engaging part of the trilogy.
Condie, however, unfortunately switches between Ky’s perspective and that of Cassia, and the two do not have distinct narrative voices. This makes it difficult to determine the speaker during certain sections of the text when the two travel the same ground and thus experience much the same thing. Several times I found myself flipping back to the start of the chapter in order to check whose story I was reading. The inability for readers to distinguish between the two protagonists betrays a lack of personality and character for both, which surprised me immensely as I had considered Ky much more mature and knowledgeable than Cassia, who has hitherto proven mostly an infatuated schoolgirl.
The lack of sound plot also disturbed me as Cassia sets out in search of her boyfriend with no other plan than finding him. She has little strategy to start with and no designs as to what she will do once she finds him. The Society has dropped him in the middle of the wilderness, so staying out there with him does not really count as an option. Fortunately, hints of a resistance movement just happen to reach Cassia’s ears, so, on a bit of whim, she decides to join it—assuming she can find it. Maybe someone really would be desperate enough or irrational enough to do all this, but I had trouble accepting the idea that her parents and her best friend would approve and abet the wild goose chase.
I do, however, acknowledge Condie’s daring and originality in suggesting that the resistance movement, like the Society, may not be everything its members would like others to believe. In dystopian novels, whoever fights against the reigning power is usually undoubtedly good. Whether it is the ends of the resistance or their means that trouble some of the characters Condie has not yet revealed, but the final installment of the trilogy promises to be both exciting and surprising.
Series: Matched #1
Summary: Cassia Reyes lives in a Society where everything is decided for her—what clothes she wears, what food she eats, and even what man she marries. The Society informs Cassia that the computer system has chosen her childhood friend Xander as her future spouse, but when she views the digital card containing his personal information, another face flashes onto the screen: her mysterious neighbor Ky. Torn between her love for Xander and her newfound love for Ky, Cassia begins to question a life without choices and to dream of a future where she has the freedom to express herself.
Review: Even as the young adult market sees an increasing number of dystopian novels hit the shelves, Matched feels refreshing and unique. Its setting does not immediately strike the reader, or the characters, as a society gone wrong. Rather, like the culture in Lois Lowry’s The Giver, the society portrayed is supposed to be ideal. Humanity has eliminated sickness; provided everyone with jobs; and ensured that all citizens have food, clothing, and shelter. Pain has essentially been eliminated. Since citizens no longer have choices, they cannot make mistakes. They cannot marry someone with whom they are not compatible and they cannot go into a profession at which they will not excel. Society has even attempted to eliminate the suffering of aging and death by mandating that all citizens at a certain age take poison. Theoretically, if everyone knows the exact day of their deaths and of their families’, the pain generated by the surprise loss of a loved one disappears. As Cassia comes to understand the limitations imposed upon her and her society, however, she begins to wonder whether pain not be a risk worth taking in exchange for freedom.
Matched, however, may considered more properly a romance than a dystopian. Cassia only begins to question the Society when it steps between her and the boy she wants to pursue. She accepts almost unthinkingly all other aspects of the Society: its restriction on entertainment, its destruction of art and literature, its mandate that her grandfather die. Concern about such actions forms only a sidenote in her thoughts. Presumably, if the Society were to allow her to choose her own future spouse, Cassia would stop worrying about these other issues altogether. She is literally consumed by thoughts of boys and romance, and is prepared to sacrifice almost anything to be with the boy with whom she is infatuated. Read the rest of this entry
Series: Incarceron #1
Summary: See Krysta’s review for the summary.
Review: Incarceron is a creative book and an interesting read, but it falls just a little flat of expectations. The premise of a supposedly idyllic, sentient prison gone wrong and a world Outside that has tried to stop progress and live in the past is intriguing, but Fisher has failed to do them justice. To begin, the world-building is a little shoddy. The Outside world is a strange mix of the eighteenth century and a technology-savvy future, but the science behind this future is incredibly hazy. There are a number of references to “equipment”, scanning devices, listening devices, and so forth, but Fisher stops far short of explaining how any of these things might work or what they even look like. Readers will need to furnish a good deal of their own imagination to make all these mysterious “devices” really come to life. The description of Incarceron is much more thorough and definitely creepy, with glowing red eyes that watch Prisoners always and the ability to “fix” humans with the addition of metal body parts.
The characters of Incarceron, including Incarceron itself, are one of its strong points. They are diverse, consisting of the foolish Caspar, the scheming sorceress Queen Sia, the stern Warden of Incarceron, his intelligent daughter Claudia, the Starseer Finn, his oathbrother Keiro, the loyal girl Attia, and others. The downside is that few of the characters are truly likeable, barring Claudia’s tutor Jared. Claudia and Finn, the protagonists, are not wholly disagreeable, but they have learned they must sometimes be cruel if they wish to survive, and the attitude (if understandable in their world) will probably keep readers from wanting to become their best friends.
The characters are also not particularly philosophical, which is somewhat surprising considering half of them are Prisoners trying to escape a prison they were born in, uncertain that the world Outside is even real. Fisher does drop a few sentences to think about here and there, and they are pleasant finds, but the truth is that Incarceron neither asks nor answers many of the questions that it could. It is an interesting book, but not particularly deep. It tells a fun story, but ultimately fails to touch or speak to readers in any meaningful way.
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Summary: (Spoilers if you have not read the previous three books.)
After Tally Youngblood took down the Specials regime and sent the mind-rain, the world came out of its Pretty stupor quickly. But the people had no pattern on which to base their new world. Aya Fuse’s city decided to implement a reputation-based economy, where the people who are the most popular get the most things for the least amount of work, and citizens try anything to get their face rank bumped. Aya herself is a kicker, someone who looks for stories about others to publish to the feeds. She thinks her big break will come with a story about a secret clique, but she may actually have stumbled onto something much bigger—and much more dangerous.
Review: Extras is an excellent addition to the Uglies series, a book that tackles big themes but different big themes and with different characters. Westerfeld gives his readers the satisfaction of seeing what happens after the world changes, but is smart enough to tell the story from a fresh perspective—that of Aya Fuse, a fifteen-year-old Japanese girl with dreams of becoming as popular as her older brother. Society has accepted a broader definition of beauty (though what is ugly still seems to be quite clear), and the new obsession is fame. Westerfeld expertly explores the value of fame, the meaning of fame, and how far one should go to acquire it. There is a fair amount of discussion about truth and integrity in journalism, though the conclusions are a little hazy. Of course, amongst all the philosophy he gives readers action, adventure, and romance of the caliber that colored the first three books.
The one annoying element (and this is very much a matter of opinion) is the continuation of the comments about Rusties’ horrible treatment of the planet. Many readers will agree that pollution is something better avoided and that, yes, humans ought to have some respect for nature, but the characters’ constant condemnation of all the Rusties’ habits is somewhat insulting since we are the Rusties. Westerfeld (and the characters harp on the topic so much that they do eventually come across as Westerfeld’s opinions) begins to give the impression he does not like us very much. Read the rest of this entry