Proxy by Alex London

ProxyInformation

Goodreads: Proxy
Series: Proxy #1
Source: ARC
Published: June 18, 2013

Review

Alex London has written a model dystopian.  Though not necessarily as shocking as The Hunger Games or as exhilarating as Divergent, Proxy sounds real, and that makes it powerful.  London presents a future of the United States where citizens are divided starkly into the rich and the poor, and draws on history to create a modern version of the whipping boy: the proxy.  Those with the wealth to spare can purchase the debt of an impoverished child (often a refugee from the wastelands outside the Mountain City) and then punish that child when their own does something wrong.  Sydney Carton, the proxy of a particularly obnoxious patron, does not like the system, but he has no dreams of changing it.  He simply wants to keep his head down, pay his debt, and earn his freedom.  When his patron’s antics finally earn him a death sentence, however, his escape attempt lands him in something much greater than himself.

Syd’s emotional averageness makes him a refreshingly realistic, and relatable, dystopian protagonist.  Readers have probably met the “reluctant hero” in literature before, but Syd is really, truly reluctant.  When faced with the choice of bringing down the prejudicial patron/proxy system or running away, to live his life in freedom and anonymity, Syd is a kid who runs.  And it makes a lot of sense.  Syd has a heart, but he also grew up in poverty on streets where everyone looks outs only for themselves and every nice act is a debt that needs to repaid.  Giving his life to a cause is not his first instinct, and giving thought to whether it is worth the sacrifices to become a revolutionary shows some admirable self-awareness.  Proxy makes it clear that doing the right thing is not always easy, no matter how many people it may help, and that even good people can be tempted to turn away.

The other characters also exhibit a wide range of willingness to help the Rebooters attempting to overthrow the current societal system, which deepens the theme of how difficult it can be to commit oneself to even a seemingly just cause.  However, the characters are also a diverse group in general, not only in personality but also in factors that readers look for in “diverse” literature—gender, age, race, economic status, and sexual orientation.  Proxy’s futuristic world has a society composed of exactly the types of people who can be found in the US today.  I do not think the book is unique, or even necessarily rare, in this regard, but London really emphasizes the diversity of his cast in ways that others simply do not.

The rest of the world-building is very solid, as well.  London draws clear lines between the poverty of the Valve and the wealth of the Upper City.  The characters (the rich ones) are treated to a plethora of bio-technology that can change appearance on demand, alter their moods, or heal their wounds.  Everything from cards to houses are “smart.”  Glasses or contacts that can access datastreams are common.  (The less wealthy have projectors, and things like their texts are shot directly into the air—actually a bit odd, since private texting exists today for reasonable prices, but it emphasizes the idea that everything in this society is an expensive commodity, including privacy).  The background—how this world came to be—could use a bit fleshing out, but overall London provides readers with an adequate amount of information and creates technology that seems incredibly plausible.

Proxy is a well-written dystopian and a refreshing contribution to the genre.  Though Proxy happens to be pretty cool, it does not put its focus on effects, on inventing wild technology or insane futuristic conditions.  Instead, it puts its energy into its characters and its believability, creating a world that is interesting and moving because it seems real.  Recommended.

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (ARC Review)

The Word ExchangeInformation

Goodreads: The Word Exchange
Series: None
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: April 8, 2014

Official Summary

In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but also have become so intuitive that they hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange.

Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the last edition that will ever be printed. Doug is a staunchly anti-Meme, anti-tech intellectual who fondly remembers the days when people used email (everything now is text or videoconference) to communicate—or even actually spoke to one another, for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices, leaving a single written clue: ALICE. It’s a code word he devised to signal if he ever fell into harm’s way. And thus begins Anana’s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole . . .

Joined by Bart, her bookish NADEL colleague, Anana’s search for Doug will take her into dark  basements and subterranean passageways; the stacks and reading rooms of the Mercantile Library; and secret meetings of the underground resistance, the Diachronic Society. As Anana penetrates the mystery of her father’s disappearance and a pandemic of decaying language called “word flu” spreads, The Word Exchange becomes a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology.

Review

The Word Exchange offers a captivating premise, and bibliophiles will swarm to read this book about words, their meaning, and their potential loss in the digital age.  Graedon draws on all our modern dreams of being able to sync seamlessly with information—and all our fears about the loss of “real” reading and writing when everything is being made bite-sized to fit on a screen.  The result is a novel that is one crazy ride of viruses and epidemics and conspiracies and romance.  Its execution could be better, and a little less self-aware, but most readers will be too drawn in by the concept to be deterred by the writing and structure.

The novel is written from two characters’ points-of-views: Ana’s, whose narration is quiet and reflective, and Bart’s, whose narration is smart but occasionally endearingly gruff.  At the start Graedon seems to be warming up her writing chops because the novel reads like the work of someone who is trying very hard to be clever and include “cool” things to appeal to logophiles.  There are “witty” definitions at the beginning of each chapter, and the characters employ a plethora of “advanced vocabulary.”  Yes, this can be (and is, at the very end of the book) explained by the fact that both work for a Dictionary, but the use of the words sounds forced, as if Graedon plunked them there intentionally; it does sound as if Graedon, or Ana, are people who use such words naturally.  Ana also includes footnotes, with the somewhat unsatisfactory explanation that using footnotes helps one recuperate from the word flu faster.  Again, they generally feel forced, not like information that necessitates footnotes.

The Word Exchange also features a few sections with discursive ponderings on the meaning of words and language and love and philosophy.  Sometimes these are parts from Bart’s journal; sometimes they are letters.  Often, they reminded me of the excerpts of Goldstein’s book in 1984—a means for the author to drop huge amounts of information about the plot and philosophy of the novel on the reader.  The information is important, but it can be conveyed in more compelling manners, integrated more seamlessly into the narrative.

Overall, however, the plot of The Word Exchange is exciting.  In the first place, the characters are interesting studies on their own.  My personal favorite is Bart, and I was hooked from the start by the hints of a possible romance between him and Ana.  Their relationship is not at all stereotypically swoony, but it is very moving and meaningful.   Of course, the real focus is on the “word flu” and the very real threat that all language will be lost.  This is dystopian enough on its own, but Graedon throws in some conspiracies and people trying to hunt Ana and Bart down, just for good measure.

I am still unclear on some of the logistics of the disease and the motives of those who disseminated it, even though they were extensively explained, multiple times.  The whole idea does require some suspension of disbelief, however.  One needs to accept that technology will be able to alter one’s cells and DNA and get into one’s brain and replace words with nonsense words and that the users of this technology will not even notice (and that this is somehow financially lucrative for certain people).  One must also accept that such a disease is transmittable just by speaking to someone who has it, which seems the least likely aspect of all.  (Ironically, speaking to someone without the disease is also recommended therapy for someone with the disease.)

The Word Exchange explores a fascinating concept, and one that will resonate with many readers today.  The execution of the idea could be a bit smoother (or perhaps less pretentious in some places), but the story is both fun and evocative nonetheless.  A smart choice for readers who enjoy dystopians set in the near-future and those who enjoy words and language for their own sake.

A Girl Called Fearless by Catherine Linka (ARC Review)

A Girl Called FearlessInformation

Goodreads: A Girl Called Fearless
Series: None
Source: ARC from Goodreads giveaway
Publication Date: May 6, 2014

Official Summary

Avie Reveare has the normal life of a privileged teen growing up in L.A., at least as normal as any girl’s life is these days. After a synthetic hormone in beef killed fifty million American women ten years ago, only young girls, old women, men, and boys are left to pick up the pieces. The death threat is past, but fathers still fear for their daughters’ safety, and the Paternalist Movement, begun to “protect” young women, is taking over the choices they make.Like all her friends, Avie still mourns the loss of her mother, but she’s also dreaming about college and love and what she’ll make of her life. When her dad “contracts” her to marry a rich, older man to raise money to save his struggling company, her life suddenly narrows to two choices: Be trapped in a marriage with a controlling politician, or run. Her lifelong friend, student revolutionary Yates, urges her to run to freedom across the border to Canada. As their friendship turns to passion, the decision to leave becomes harder and harder. Running away is incredibly dangerous, and it’s possible Avie will never see Yates again. But staying could mean death.Romantic, thought-provoking, and frighteningly real, A Girl Called Fearless is a story about fighting for the most important things in life—freedom and love.

Review

Note: This is half review/half discussion of the themes presented.  It will include references to some plot events, so those who dislike any type of spoilers should not read it.

A Girl Called Fearless is a bold novel, exploring women’s rights and sexuality and what it means to be free.  It will appeal to many modern young women, who are growing up in a world where the media and politicians debate some of the same issues: what women’s rights are, whether pornography and prostitution are valid ways for women to earn a living, whether women’s sexuality should be promoted or suppressed, whether there is a “war on women” and, if so, who is waging it.   However, A Girl Called Fearless is much more successful at raising questions and themes than it is at packaging them within an exciting well-executed plot.  I predict a high level of popularity for the book, but it will hinge on readers’ ignoring the fact that it is not well-written and focusing instead on the ideas it presents.

[This paragraph contains spoilers.] The premise promises readers an intriguing and dangerous dystopian world.  The summary explains that Avie Reveare lives in a future version of the United States where the political Paternalist Movement is systemically taking away women’s rights: rights to education, suffrage, money, and love.  Throughout the book readers and Avie are given hints that something even “bigger” is going on, however, and that Avie might inadvertently become involved.  Exciting, right?  Suspenseful?  Wrong.  The “big reveal”, three hundred pages in, is that (drumroll!) the Paternalists are systematically taking away women’s rights.  I repeat, the “surprise” is something readers were told since page one.  That is both immensely disappointing, and, frankly, baffling.

The entire premise is also illogical.  The Paternalist Movement began after the majority of women in the United States died from ovarian cancer from a synthetic hormone that had been injected into beef.  The Paternalists, after this tragedy, vowed to protect the women and young girls that were left.  Due to the circumstances, one would think “protecting” women would mean requiring extensive research before chemicals were approved for use in food and cosmetics.  No, instead, the Paternalists are protecting women by restricting their right to any kind of free movement or thought.  That is not a sensible response to an epidemic caused by beef.  Granted, there is one line suggesting that men need women to be oppressed so they can get them to start breeding at age fifteen and repopulate the country—but repopulation could have easily been achieved by other methods.  Example: Offer incentives for females from other countries to immigrate to the United States.  As it stands, the Paternalist Movement is ensuring that no foreign women have any desire to step foot in the country, thus lowering potential birth rates.

So, readers must ask themselves, why are the Paternalists trying to oppress women, if neither their public reason (protecting women) nor their private reason (increasing the population) makes any sense?  Are men just evil?  Do they just have some innate sadistic desire to control women?   There are a few good men in the book, generally the ones under eighteen who get to fill the role of love interests (and one priest!), but the overall depiction of the male population is bleak.  This book appears to be promoting strong female heroines at the expense of painting men as the bad guys.

If we accept that the premise of the book does not make any sense, however, and continue reading for individual scenes, things do get more interesting.  The cast of female characters is pretty diverse, for instance.  Avie and her friends are the “privileged” of the nation, girls who may have no choice in whom they marry, but who get to live “safely” in private gated communities and may have the opportunity to attend college in Canada.  Avie eventually learns that she does have some kind of luck in life (money) compared to many other girls. I most enjoyed the depiction of an escort service in Las Vegas.  Avie arrives very judgmental of the girls who live and work there, until she learns it’s the only choice some of them have, and that many of them are earning the money to buy their freedom or that of their family members (women can buy out their marriage Contracts, if they somehow manage to acquire the money).  It is noteworthy that, in spite of the “defense” of these girls and their lifestyles, Avie herself vehemently refuses to take part in it, even for a day, even for a greater cause.  Apparently even a book that wants to look kindly on escort girls knows that its protagonist will not be easily accepted by readers if she becomes one.

A Girl Called Fearless also explores a lot of family dynamics.  The interactions between fathers and daughters are a big one.  The problem: The men and the older girls all remember the world as it was when women had rights.  Naturally, this knowledge causes huge rifts (and we’re back to the question of why most men comfortably go along with the Paternalist movement, when they were raised by and married to lovely independent women, but that’s just not going to be answered).  There are also some complex relationships between those who have joined the Resistance and those they left behind.  The book asks characters and readers to decide which is more important, family or a cause, or if the two can somehow be balanced.

In the end, A Girl Called Fearless is a book of ideas.  It is packaged as a dystopian that excitingly zooms readers across a reimagined nation, from urban areas to rural, but the plot is not what holds the book up.  It’s a little too disjointed and illogical for that.  However, tons of readers are going to love it for the questions it asks—are men controlling women, why would they want to, is selling your body a form of freedom or of slavery?  From my above review, it is probably clear that I am not quite satisfied with the answers that the book hints at for many of its own questions.  However, the novel can (and doubtless will) be used as a starting point for discussions about women’s rights, both present and future.

Movie Review: Divergent

Information

Director: Neil Burger
Writers: Evan Daugherty (screenplay), Vanessa Taylor (screenplay), Veronica Roth (novel)
Release: 2014

Summary

Beatrice Prior lives in a world where everyone knows where they belong.  When individuals come of age, they choose a faction dedicated to their defining personality traits: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, or Erudite.  Beatrice’s test results, however, do not assign her to one faction, but three.  She is known as Divergent and she is a threat to the current system.  Now she and her friends must discover what makes Divergents so dangerous before she is eradicated.

Review (Spoiler Free!)

I admit (albeit hesitantly) that I thought Divergent a mediocre book and never even bothered to read the sequels.  I thus did not expect much from a movie based on the same, and which was marketed through pictures of Four’s back.  Of course, marketing does not always mean much.  Frozen, it turns out, was not actually about an annoying singing snowman.  But I thought the attempts to make Divergent seem dark, edgy, and steamy were bound to fail.  Fortunately, movie marketing misled again.  I left the movie theatre enthralled with the vision the filmmakers had created and excited for the sequels.

I do not know that I can pinpoint exactly what made the film succeed.  Perhaps, in part, it is because Roth’s prose is not the strongest and the movie was freed from that when telling the story.  It seemed to me to be a strong, streamlined plot that knew exactly where to focus.  The majority deals with Tris’s training, allowing viewers to revel in Tris’s newfound strength and freedom (strategic music choices emphasize the celebratory atmosphere of those early days), but the film knows when to move on to the bigger picture–the dystopian elements that threaten not only Tris but also the people she loves.  It proves a good balance, allowing ample character development for Tris while always keeping the end in view.

I thought that the ensemble cast was also handled well, for the most part.  A little more time with Tris’s family may have helped underscore the bond between them and I would have loved to see more of Tris’s friends–Christina in particular.  However, handling a lot of characters at once can sometimes prove tricky and Divergent managed at least to keep Tris’s allies and enemies constantly in front of viewers’ eyes, if it did sometimes fail to distinguish them.  (I really had a difficult time keeping track of Peter, Will, and Al.)  Of Four I will just say that I was pleasantly surprised.  I did not particularly like his character in the book, but Theo James works with the material he’s given and makes Four seem strong, intelligent, brave, and incredibly sympathetic.

All the actors are, in fact, fantastic.  Some may feel that the dysptopian well has finally run dry, but the actors manage to invest this plot at least with some vigor.  I was invested in their story, not because it was particularly novel or exciting, but because I came to care about the characters.  I still do not intend to read the sequels to Divergent, but I am ready already for the sequels to the film.

Krysta 64

Legend by Marie Lu

LegendInformation

Goodreads: Legend
Series: Legend #1
Source: Library
Published: 2011

Official Summary

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Full of nonstop action, suspense, and romance, this novel is sure to move readers as much as it thrills.

Review

Legend by Marie Lu is an entertaining read for those who enjoy military-based dystopians, but it ultimately fails to separate itself form the rest of the pack in terms of characterization and plot.  Basically, it is a fun story, but it is a story I have seen numerous times, and its success with individual readers will depend on how new the tale and the dystopian genre are to them.

Just from reading the jacket summary, one can see the plot line is very standard.  An elite solider in a dystopian military society gets entangled with a boy from the slums.  Romance and the revelation of the evilness of the society are revealed.  The book reminded me particularly of Reboot by Amy Tintera.  Of course, Legend was published before Reboot—but that cannot erase the fact that I feel as though I have read at least one variation of this story before.  Even more minor, individual plot elements are predictable, but I will not go into details, for the sake of those who still have to read the book.  Nothing was wrong with anything that happened, but finishing a novel when you know exactly where it is going can seem like a futile exercise.

The characters could still have saved he book and made it a more exciting ride.  Lu writes the book from the alternating points of view of June and Day—and each character even gets a different color and style of font.  (Note: Day’s font is a deep gold, and though I had no trouble with it and have seen no complaints of others, I can still imagine this being difficult for certain readers.)  However, June and Day sounded rather indistinguishable, and both of their voices were bland.  June, as someone trained for the military from a young age, has been conditioned to approach things factually, with little emotion.  And the one pleasant surprise is the little details she observes, thrown right into her narration.  Day has less of a reason to sound so detached, and, more confusingly, June repeatedly describes him as someone who is passionate with deep emotions.  I wish his own voice would portray more of that side of him.

As to their romance: it was instalove.  There is little more to say on that point.  Perhaps they were falling in love with the idea of the forbidden, as much as with each other.  I assume they stay a couple over the course of the series, but I actually think it would be fitting if they drifted apart after meeting other people.  I would love to continue reading the series if I had any guarantee of that happening because it would be a unique twist YA and would feel very right to me (if not to any other readers).

In the end, I have to emphasize that Legend is not a bad book.  There are just so many dystopians out right now that this one gets lost in the mix, and its plot is already looking cliché—even if the it is the one being copied by other dystopians.  The writing is solid and Lu has some good material to work with.  I think the series would be worth pursuing if 1) we see more character development and 2) we see more of the war between the Republic and the Colonies.  That bit of backstory was actually the most interesting thing about the novel for me, and we see very little of it because June and Day are focused first and foremost on how their society is messing with their own lives.  (Fair, since there are people out to kill them and all.)  If these two can move on and look at the larger picture in their world, there might be space and material for Lu to work with to create more original sequels.

Reached by Ally Condie

ReachedInformation

Goodreads: Reached
Series: Matched #3
Source: Library
Published: 2012

Summary

Now members of the Rising, Cassia, Ky, and Xander wait for the final push against the Society to begin.  They do not know when or how it will occur, but their trust in the Pilot keeps them blindly following orders.  Then Plague strikes and even the Rising does not have the capability to combat it.  Love has carried the three this far, but can it triumph over death?

Review

The Matched trilogy previously left me feeling conflicted.  Although its identity as a dystopian series implies a desire to comment on government, authority and choice, its focus always remained on the love life of Cassia Reyes.  The novels never convincingly demonstrated that Cassia fully understood the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Society or decided to rebel against it for reasons other than a desire to make out with a man not chosen for her by someone else.  Sometimes, like Xander, I wondered if Cassia even really loved Ky, or simply wanted him because he was forbidden.

I was able to take Reached more seriously as a dystopian novel because it broadens its focus from the personal journey of Cassia to encompass not only the journeys of Ky and Xander but also the fate of the Society as a whole.  Previously Condie expected me to believe that stealing kisses in the forest was a noble act of rebellion and not simply teenage hormones.  Now she illustrates the infrastructure of the Society crumbling under the pressure of plague and civil unrest.  Even though the tactics of the Rising never made real sense to me, I found watching them attempt to take power much more interesting than watching Cassia moon over her crush.

Despite the broadened focus, however, the other characters continue to attach undue importance to the actions of Cassia and her love interests.  While reading Matched, I found myself baffled by the willingness of Cassia’s family and friends to risk their lives in order to allow her to continue meeting her crush in secret; everyone seemed honestly convinced that conducting a forbidden love affair was the first step in taking down the government.  While reading Reached, I found myself baffled by the interest of the Pilot in Cassia and her friends.  Even though, as the leader of an uprising, he must have men and women under him who can look into suspect activities, he chooses to investigate Cassia personally.  He then chooses Cassia and her friends for a top secret mission (on which the whole fate of the Rising happens to hinge) even though one would assume that, of all the people who follow him, there must exist some more qualified for this sort of thing than three teenagers.

Reached also fails to fulfill promises to explore more in depth the nature of government, authority, and rebellion.  Condie has hinted before in the trilogy that the Rising might not be what it appears.  Events in Reached suggest that, indeed, the Rising possesses elements of corruption.  Events furthermore suggest the dangers of idolizing any one figure or movement. The characters, however, seem unfazed by these revelations, never really questioning their involvement in the Rising or learning any lessons about placing complete trust in people they barely know.  I suppose it is to their credit that they continue to believe in the inherent goodness of people and to hope for a better future, but Condie obliquely acknowledges their danger of repeating past mistakes and erecting a new Society instead of staging a true revolution.

Reached proves a fast-paced novel filled with enough action and danger to make it the most exciting book in the trilogy.  Fans will find their eyes glued to the pages as they follow Cassia, Xander, and Ky through a new adventure and see how the three grow in maturity as they are forced to go their separate ways.   An exciting plot and good character development cannot, however, completely obscure the flaws in the trilogy, and I find myself wondering what the books could have been like had they been more fleshed out and made more sense.

You Might Also Like

Matched   Crossed   The Testing

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Halloween Books Banner


ForestInformation

Goodreads: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Series: The Forest of Hands and Teeth #1
Source: Library
Published: 2009

Summary

Mary’s village lies in the middle of a forest encircled by a fence through which no one ever leaves.  Outside, the Unconsecrated prowl, hungering for human flesh.  Only the wisdom of the Sisterhood and the vigilance of the Guardians keeps the village safe.  Most people believe things have always been this way.  Mary’s mother, however, has told her stories of the ocean, stories of a world that used to be free.  Mary wants to find that world, but the Sisterhood harbors secrets and they will do just about anything to keep those secrets safe.

Review

The Forest of Hands and Teeth sounds like a zombie dystopia story.  Mary lives in a village cut off from the rest of the world by a gate that also keeps the people safe from the undead whose bites and scratches will infect them, turning them into more zombies to wreak destruction upon their friends and family.  An organization named the Sisterhood rules over the village, controlling the history, religion, and social mores they learn.  The Sisterhood, however, knows more than they tell.  Everything about the plot seems calculated to provide action, excitement, and suspense.  Except it doesn’t.

Though the page count lies just about 300, The Forest of Hands and Teeth does not read like a full-length novel, but rather the introduction to one.  Very little happens in terms of plot.  As expected, Mary starts to question the values of the Sisterhood and discovers that they sometimes lie.  As expected, (I really don’t consider this a spoiler), she finds her way out of the village.  Not as expected, that’s it.  The rest of the book is all Mary’s longings for the oceans and her love affair (highly physical) with a boy betrothed to another woman.  Not just another woman.  (This is a real spoiler. Highlight after the parentheses to read.) Her best friend.

I think I was supposed to find this forbidden affair not only romantic, but also noble and brave, an attempt to fight back against the village’s strict rules governing the place of everyone in society.  (Men and women are expected to marry to raise families, not because they feel passion for one another.)  Ryan inserts a lot of dialogue about the importance of love versus the expectation of commitment (as if love somehow is opposed to commitment and does not entail it).  She also portrays duty as something ugly and twisted.  The other characters’ dedication to doing what is good for the village rather than what they personally desire (an understandable sentiment in light of their belief that they are the last remnants of humanity about to be overrrun by zombies) makes them seem like zealots devoid of all emotion.  In fact, when people talk about this duty, their personalities even change.  People who seem sweet, caring, and maybe even admirable suddenly turn into psychotic terrors when they talk about duty.  Perhaps Ryan wants to show that constantly denying one’s feelings is unhealthy, but she goes too far.

Despite the heavy-handed messages delivered by the book, however, I was not remotely enchanted by this love affair.  By making out with a man engaged to another woman, Mary was deluding herself, hurting the other woman, and driving a wedge into that couple’s future marriage.  She talks about love, but what she was doing seems a lot like lust.   She is physically attracted to the guy, so they make out.  She later admits that she does not even know much about him–what he likes and dislikes, his hopes and his fears.  She was just using his body to make herself feel better when she felt rejected by the rest of the village.

Mary’s own hopes and dreams are also apparently supposed to make her likable, but they too make her seem selfish.  All she ever does is think about the ocean.  She’s obsessed.  She thinks it exists and she wants to go there, no matter what it costs.  She is willing to leave friends and family behind if she has to.  She is willing to sacrifice them to the Unconsecrated if she has to.  This all seems very unreasonable.  Unlike in other dystopias where the government is hiding something, the Sisterhood so far seems fairly innocuous.  Yes, they have secret rooms and stuff and have not revealed their whole history to the village, but the fact remains that the outside world is actually overrun by zombies who will relentlessly pursue you to feast on your flesh.  The Sisterhood has not lied about that.  So why Mary thinks that the ocean is still a zombie-free paradise that she can skip on over to if she can just get past the fence remains a mystery.

Frankly, I do not understand why this book became a bestseller.  The promises the plot makes about zombies and secrets all fall through.  The romance is not romantic and the protagonist is not likable.  The other characters are likable on occasion, but their personalities tend to change to fit the necessities of the plot.  If I read the second book at all, it will only be to find out if the Sisterhood actually did have some deep, horrible secret and why the zombie apocalypse started in the first place.

Fuse by Julianna Baggott

FuseInformation

Goodreads: Fuse
Series: Pure #2
Source: Library
Published: February 1, 2013

Official Summary

We want our son returned. This girl is proof that we can save you all. If you ignore our plea, we will kill our hostages one at a time.

To be a Pure is to be perfect, untouched by Detonations that scarred the earth and sheltered inside the paradise that is the Dome. But Partridge escaped to the outside world, where Wretches struggle to survive amid smoke and ash. Now, at the command of Partridge’s father, the Dome is unleashing nightmare after nightmare upon the Wretches in an effort to get him back.
At Partridge’s side is a small band of those united against the Dome: Lyda, the warrior; Bradwell, the revolutionary; El Capitan, the guard; and Pressia, the young woman whose mysterious past ties her to Partridge in way she never could have imagined. Long ago a plan was hatched that could mean the earth’s ultimate doom. Now only Partridge and Pressia can set things right.

To save millions of innocent lives, Partridge must risk his own by returning to the Dome and facing his most terrifying challenge. And Pressia, armed only with a mysterious Black Box, containing a set of cryptic clues, must travel to the very ends of the earth, to a place where no map can guide her. If they succeed, the world will be saved. But should they fail, humankind will pay a terrible price..

Review

In the sequel to Pure, Julianna Baggott once again immerses readers into her richly imagined dystopian world, one that is equal parts beauty and darkness.  As Pressia, Partridge, and their companions race to take down the Dome, they travel farther than anyone has before, taking readers with them beyond the Dustlands.  The broad scope of the geography in Fuse and the glimpses of history before the Detonations give Baggott’s world astonishing range and depth and mark the author as a master creator.  The setting alone makes this book work reading.

However, has also raised the stakes of the plot in Fuse.  Typical of dystopian novels, the protagonists have discovered some awful secret about their government and are planning to rebel against the corrupt societal system.  Yet the standard dystopian plot elements stop there.  Baggott’s plot is wild, unique, and unpredictable.  Just when the characters think they have everything figured out, new evidence comes to light and new factors into play.  Because the characters are so well-rounded and are continually developing as their journeys change them, they even surprise themselves sometimes, with the actions they are willing to take.

Baggott continues her method of writing every chapter in a different character’s point of view, choosing the character who has the most investment in the scene.  The lack of order of the multiple POVs can be initially disorienting, but ultimately the approach works and gives readers valuable insights into every character’s thought process and personality.

The unusual POV switches add to the overall memorability of Baggott’s writing.  She has a gift for writing beautiful descriptions and phrases that prompt readers to think about the world in different ways.  Her voice is confident yet pensive, and she always writes as if she believes her readers are bright and strong enough to handle anything she throws at them.

Essentially, Fuse is the perfect follow-up to Pure.  It includes all the most brilliant elements of Pure and intensifies them.  Fuse has complex world-building, a strong plot, and memorable characters.  A recommended read for those who like their books both smart and exciting.

You Might Also Like

Pure   The Night Circus   The 5th Wave

1984 by George Orwell

1984Information

Goodreads1984
Source: Borrowed
Published: 1949

Summary

In 1984, the world has been divided into three superpowers constantly waging war with each other.  Winston Smith, a member of the Party that rules the superpower Oceania, works to erase all mention of a past that might encourage the people to rebel against their masters.  In secret, however, he longs for a world that embraces beauty and truth and, slowly, he begins to stretch the boundaries of what he would dare to do in order to live free.

Review

In many ways, 1984 acts more like a platform for George Orwell’s concerns than it does as a story.  Winston Smith proves likeable enough and his predicament is certainly horrifying, but the momentum of the plot breaks just when readers might have expected it to be approaching its climax.  At this point Orwell provides his readers with whole chapters allegedly taken from the handbook of a secret society dedicated to taking down the Party.  Though a rebel handbook sounds exciting, in execution it proves nothing more than a lengthy explanation of the motivations and strategies of the Party—it is Orwell speaking, not the society.   Subsequent events likewise show the hand of the author guiding the characters, feeding them dialogue, and generally inserting himself into what otherwise might have been a much more engrossing story.

Arguably, 1984 achieves its purpose just as well—if not better—through these techniques.  Orwell clearly wants his readers to think about topics like censorship, propaganda, government oversight, and manipulation of others achieved through language, then apply it to their own world.  To create a secondary world so believable that readers lose sight of their own would cause them to miss the warnings Orwell gives about the danger in which they themselves live.  He seems to have been relatively successful, given that articles and reporters routinely reference Big Brother when talking about the current prevalence of security cameras, Internet data collection, etc.

To think about 1984 only in terms of privacy, however, is to miss the nuances of its vision.  The real horror of the book lies not in the ability of the Party to monitor every movement and utterance of its members, but in the people’s acceptance of, and even desire for, this oversight.  At the time the story takes place, readers can easily understand why the tenets of the Party have become so engrained in the characters that they can suppose themselves to be thinking autonomously—they have little to no access to outside opinions and thus have no choice but to think along Party lines.  Party control is so absolute that its methods seem to readers obvious, and thus theoretically possible to combat.  Orwell, however, clearly means to suggest that something similar is happening in his own world, and, if so, its advance is more insidious.

Though it presents a gloomy vision of the future of the world (if it continues in the course Orwell sees it following),1984 is ultimately a celebration of the beauty and power of the human spirit.  Rebellion against those who would censor free speech and stifle creativity, passion, and curiosity need not successful in order to be worthwhile.  The fact that one man in Orwell’s world dares to attempt to forge his own path means everything even when it seems to mean nothing.

You Might Also Like

Oryx and Crake  Survival in Auschwitz  Frankenstein

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

The TestingInformation

Goodreads: The Testing
Series: The Testing #1
Source: Library
Published: June 4, 2013

Official Summary

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one in the same?
The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

Review

The Testing has an interesting plot, solid pacing, and intelligent protagonists.  If I had not already encountered this plot in several other YA dystopians, I probably would have loved the book.  The opening scene is immediately reminiscent of a number of others novels.  Featuring a teenage girl going to a graduation ceremony that will determine her future in her dystopian society, it evokes scenes from at least Delirium, Matched, and Divergent.  Once Cia is chosen for the Testing, the plot is most similar to Divergent as Cia must pass a variety of tasks to move on in the completion.  Finally, the plot mirrors that of The Hunger Games, as Cia and her fellow Testing candidates are dropped off in the wilderness to fend for themselves and kill their competition if necessary. The Testing, of course, puts some unique details on the plot, but the similarities to other YA books are so strong that the story barely seems worth reading for anyone who already has read many other dystopians, particularly Divergent and The Hunger Games. 

Even the characters cannot set The Testing apart.  Cia, in my opinion, is likeable and I was totally rooting for her.  However, her defining characteristic is decency.  While this is admirable, one of the many reasons I wanted her to succeed, and a large element in the plot and themes of the novel, it simply does not make Cia the most exciting female dystopian protagonist.  Excitement, of course, is unnecessary for a book to be interesting or good, but its presence could really help a book already struggling to differentiate itself from every other book in its genre.  The Testing’s attempt to be different from books like The Hunger Game by being a little more “quiet,” emphasizing that good leaders are good people and not just good killers, may actually lead it to become lost in the crowd rather than standing out in it.

Furthermore, beyond Cia’s intelligent and mature discussions of what the ideal Testing candidate (i.e. ideal future leader of her nation) should be like, Cia and her friends are not very dynamic.  Everyone chosen for the Testing is smart, but their brilliance inevitably appears commonplace to the reader because no one is lacking in it.  In this post-apocalyptic society, it is apparently normal for teenagers to engineer innovative irrigation systems, electrical systems, new plant life, etc.  And although the Testing candidates are supposed to have a specialty, most of them appear to be good at everything, and no one is as good at everything as Cia.  If she encounters a problem, she solves it in a heartbeat.  It might take her time, say a day or two, to execute her idea, but that only involves the practical part of building her brilliant design.  The design itself comes to her, unflawed, almost instantaneously, no matter the situation.

The dystopian government of the novel also has some flaws.  After finishing the book, I am still asking myself why any of this had to happen at all.  Why does the government want candidates to die during the Testing?  As Cia observes repeatedly, the Testing committee could easily weed out the “weaklings” without having them actually die.  Right now, I, and Cia, can only assume the Testing officials are sick and voyeuristic, but (as I mentioned in my review of Nerve), I never find this type of explanation satisfying.)  I also wonder why the Resistance is interested in Cia.  So far, nothing special about her has been revealed.  Presumably it will be later in the series, but some hints should be dropped so readers do not spend the entirety of book one scratching their heads and thinking so many of the plot elements make so little sense.

The Testing is well-written and has a lot going for it thematically.  Cia tackles head-on important questions about her society, what it means it be a good person and a good leader, and what her experience during the chilling stages of the Testing should mean to her and to others.   Charbonneau is clearly a thoughtful writer who wants to provoke readers’ minds and not just their emotions; she wants to inspire in addition to stimulate.  Unfortunately, Charbonneau’s thoughtfulness is packaged in other writers’ plots.  The book would probably be incredibly enjoyable to readers just discovering the dystopian genre, but avid fans of it will recognize they have read variations of this book before.

Bottom Line: I would read more of this author’s work, but I am not interested in this particular series.

Discuss! What do you think of a dystopian novel that celebrates characters who are smart, rather than physically tough?

You Might Also Like

Divergent   Delirium   uglies1