Epic musical turned teenage dystopia

Legend, by Marie Lu (2011)

Opening line: “My mother thinks I’m dead.”

Today’s post is brought to you by a student recommendation. That’s right, folks, one of my 8th graders recommended that I read this book! I love that I have students and I love that they recommend books for me to read and I love when I love the book as much as they did!

My obsession with dystopian YA lit continues in this debut novel by Marie Lu. According to the author blurb at the back, Lu was inspired to write Legend after watching Les Miserables one afternoon. As one of the many who are anxiously awaiting the soon-to-be Hugh Jackman movie version, this is an interesting bit of information to go into the story knowing.

As in Les Mis, Lu presents us with two main characters whose opposition is inherent: the criminal and the law. June is a fifteen year old military prodigy while Day is a fifteen year old vigilante. The story is set in future Los Angeles after the Republic has taken control, and although he doesn’t work with the organized revolutionary group, the Patriots, Day is actively rebelling against the military government by destroying their planes, vandalizing their offices, and stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Meanwhile, June was born into an upper-class military family and her 1500 perfect score on the Trial (a series of tests taken at age 10 to determine your future) pushed her quickly up in the ranks.

There is little reason for June and Day to meet. That is, until June’s older brother Metias is killed and Day becomes the prime suspect.

Now June is out for revenge and she’ll stop at nothing to hunt down her brother’s murderer to bring him to justice. But what if Metias’ murder isn’t quite as it seems? Or more, what if the government she has spent her life training to defend is not as respectable as she was made to believe?

Full of intrigue, nail-biting suspense, and a little bit of romance, Legend is added to my list of recommended books for readers who liked Hunger Games. It, of course, is the beginning of a series, of which the next installment, Prodigy, is due out in January.

2 stars

The Times They Are A Changin’

Time Snatchers, by Richard Ungar (2012)

I came across this debut randomly on the library shelf, and although I’d heard nothing about it, I took it for the sole reason that the back flap said the author was inspired by one of Chris Van Allsburg’s images from The Mysterious Harris Burdick, and as you already know (from my review of Chronicles of Harris Burdick), that’s a good enough reason for me.

Flash forward about 50 years to 2061 where we meet Caleb, a Time Snatcher. Orphaned at a young age, Caleb was “adopted” by a man called only Uncle, along with a handful of other kids. The children were trained to take advantage of new technology Uncle has developed that allows them to travel through time to steal famous artifacts for high-paying clients. For many years, Uncle’s group of orphans felt like a family to Caleb, but things are starting to change. America and China have entered into a partnership, and with it, Uncle sees new ways to increase business. In fact, his plans are so big, he feels the need to expand his group of Snatchers from a handful to hundreds. And to do that, the Snatchers will need to snatch more kids, even kids that have families. Throw in a big bully, the flutterings of first love, and some hefty decisions between right and wrong, and you have a coming-of-age story that will resound with many a middle-schooler of the current decade.

1.5 stars

(PS: Anybody else notice how the cover HIGHLY resembles one of the covers of Ender’s Game? Coincidence, I think not.)

My debut Debut: A dystopia, duh.

Article 5, by Kristen Simmons (2012)

Two and half months into the new year, and I have finally scratched my first debut author off my list. Only 11 to go. And I have to say, it was a good one start with. Because I think this is one people are going to be talking about.

Ember’s world fits right in with the ever-growing pile of YA dystopias out there. And I don’t know what it is about this genre, but I can’t seem to help but love every single one of these I read. Who cares if they all function around the same basic premise (Sometime after some crushing WWIII event, in what used to be America that is now run by a totalitarian or military government, a scrappy teenage female will have to conquer all sorts of external forces beating her down while simultaneously confronting her internal turmoil caused by a certain male(s) of her past/present), I’ll eat it up anyway. And so do so many other readers out there. Well, here’s another one for your pile. Find and devour accordingly:

Ember Miller lives with her single mom, somewhat under the radar of the Moral Militia, as she affectionately calls the military government. That is until officers of the MM (more officially termed the Federal Bureau of Reformation) knock on her door and drag her mother out of the house and into custody for violating Article 5 of the Moral Statutes (having a babe out of wedlock). Oh, and did I mention that one of the arresting officers was none other than dear old Chase Jennings, former best friend and flame. After this particularly traumatic encounter (all within chapter 1, mind you), Ember is carted off too, crossing state lines to be deposited in a rehabilitation center for girls taken from their homes for similar violations. Needless to say, Ember wants to spend as little time as possible at the center, as her only goal is finding her mother and getting them to safety. Unfortunately, there is little possibility of this without the help of her recent back-stabbing ex-boyfriend.

Say what you want about predictable plot-turns and generic gender roles, I really don’t care. I love a good heart-thumper, and this one fits the bill. The ending leaves plenty of space for what will likely be at least a trilogy, as they all are.

2 stars

A new trilogy to obsess over…

Divergent, by Veronica Roth (2011)

It’s another one of those dystopian, YA, chicks-rule, first love, impossible choices books.

But oh, it’s a good one.

Beatrice lives in future Chicago, which has been split into five factions, based on the most valued trait of that community. Beatrice grew up in Abnegation, where the residents are selfless above all else. Then there’s Candor (the honest ones), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the smarties), and finally, Dauntless (the courageous). But she and her brother are now sixteen and time has come for them to choose their future. At this stage in everyone’s lives they undergo a ceremony during which they choose what community they want to belong to. This choice cannot be taken lightly, because from this point on, they must commit to “faction before blood.” If Beatrice chooses anything other than Abnegation, she will never be able to go home again. And Beatrice knows that selflessness is not her strong point.

This isn’t giving much of a summary, I realize, but part of the pleasure of reading this, is that there’s a possible spoiler in just about every chapter. Gotta love that.

A lot of reviewers have compared this one to Hunger Games, and I too can see a lot of similarities, the most significant of which is the INTENSE NEED TO KEEP READING. I really couldn’t put this down. I also loved the references to Chicago landmarks (the Bean, the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, the building that “used to be called the Sears Tower”), allowing me to track her journeys across the city.

This is such a hot genre right now, and there are plenty for teens to choose from. But this will be one of the top dystopian novels that I’ll recommend, both for it’s interesting new ideas and its exciting plot twists.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this for days afterward. I haven’t returned it to the library yet, just to keep in around.

Three stars.


The greatest gift of all?

  Delirium, by Lauren Oliver (2011)

PHASE ONE: Preoccupation, difficulty focusing; dry mouth; perspiration, sweaty palms; fits of dizziness and disorientation; reduced mental awareness, racing thoughts, impaired reasoning skills

PHASE TWO: Periods of euphoria, hysterical laughter and heightened energy; periods of despair, lethargy; changes in appetite rapid weight loss or weight gain; fixation, loss of other interests; compromised reasoning skills, distortion of reality; disruption of sleep patterns, insomnia or constant fatigue; obsessive thoughts and actions; paranoia, insecurity

Any idea the disease whose symptoms I’m describing? Some sort of flu? Maybe mono? No? Let me keep going…

PHASE THREE: Difficulty breathing; pain in the chest, throat, or stomach; difficulty swallowing, refusal to eat; complete breakdown of rational faculties, erratic behavior, violent thoughts and fantasies, hallucinations and delusions

Figured it out yet?

PHASE FOUR: Emotional or physical paralysis (partial or total); death.

There’s only one disease this could be describing. Think about it. What makes all of us crazy at some point in our lives?

…. Love, of course.

Or as it is known in Lena Haloway’s society, amor deliria nervosa. Set in a future America, sixty-four years after the American President declared love to be a disease, Lena is one of many teenagers anxiously awaiting their eighteenth birthday, the day when they will receive the surgery that will cure them of the deliria forever. Following the surgery, people live content, non-threatening lives, free from any pain or heartbreak. Lena has 95 days till her surgery, and can’t think of much else but her upcoming examination which will determine her future,  including who she will be paired with for marriage. But on the morning of her examination, Hana, Lena’s gorgeous, happy-go-lucky best friend whispers something outrageous to her: “You know you can’t be happy unless you’re unhappy sometimes, right?”

Lena is horrified. Is it possible that her very best friend could be a “resistor”, someone who rebels against the government and, if caught, is executed or at the very least, thrown in the Crypts? To find out for sure, Lena follows Hana to an underground party, where illegal music is pumping, and–horror of all horrors–boys and girls are dancing, touching, laughing together. On her way out of the party, Lena runs into Alex, a strange boy she met earlier that week. Although he’s been cured–making it legal for them to spend time together–he certainly doesn’t act like it, and Lena is suspicious of his friendliness. But for some reason she can’t explain, she’s drawn to him, and when he asks her to dance, she’s unable to say no.

It doesn’t take much to figure out what happens next. Before too long, something in Lena has changed. She’s still counting down the days till her surgery, but soon it’s with dread rather than excitement. Could everything she’s ever known and wished for be one massive lie? Is her community really as peaceful as it seems? What lies beyond the gates surrounding her city? Can one person really change Lena’s life?

Fairly reminiscent of Scott Westerfeld’s The Uglies, Lena’s story joins a long line of other dystopian novels that encourage readers to imagine what our society will become, to question the norm, and to fight for what is truly important.

It took me a while to get into, but of course, once into it, I could do little else but read. More than 24 hours later, I’m still wishing there were more pages to turn. Luckily, Oliver will eventually fulfill my wish, as she completes the trilogy with two more stories about Lena.

Exciting, though sometimes predictable, 2 stars

Rereading the summer away

The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins (2008-2010)

As fun as the anticipation of preordering, waiting for, and devouring a new book in a series can be, I have to say that The Hunger Games series can be most appreciated when read consecutively as a set. I’ll admit it, when I first read the final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, I left the couch only for food and felt angry, hurt, and depressed when I finished. (You’ll notice that while I reviewed the first first one here, and touched on the second one, the third I left unspoken.) After I talked it over with a group of other readers, I felt slightly better. But I still wasn’t impressed. I mean, really horrible things happen in Mockingjay and there’s very little to smile about.

But I decided I needed to give it another chance, and so this past week, I borrowed the first two from my mom (yes, mom has two of the three, and I just have the one), and spent several hours reading all 1100+ pages. And I have to say, I felt much better. Awful terrible things still happen in Mockingjay, but the story feels stronger as a threesome and I understood the need for all the pain and suffering in a way I didn’t before. I’m once again struck by the amazing ideas and messages that are said through the dystopian genre.

Although none of them separately deserve it, as a whole, 3 stars.

And by the way, my vote’s still for Peeta. Another thing she got right.

Big Wheels Keep on Turnin

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (2001)

I just finished this book for my Literature for Children class, which is supposed to cover kid’s books from infancy through 6th grade. Mortal Engines is NOT for kids that age. I’m not sure what my professor was thinking.

I’m not even sure where to begin to explain this book. It is all over the place. But here goes.

The first of a four-book series, Mortal Engines sets the stage–a stage that is a barren, post-apocalyptic world that was destroyed by the Ancients’ nuclear Sixty Minute War, and in which most of the cities are Traction Cities, which roll around on huge tank-like tracks and devour smaller cities to accumulate resources.

Orphan Tom Natsworthy works in London (where all power is controlled by Lord Mayor Magnus Chrome) as an Apprentice Historian , whose job is to find and preserve artifacts from the Ancients, such as “seedies” and computer scraps. Tom meets his idol and Head Historian Thaddeus Valentine, and in a sudden bustle, saves him from a disfigured knife-thrusting girl, who jumps off the moving city. To Tom’s surprise, Valentine pushes him off after the girl, causing Tom and the reader to question his heroic and handsome appearance. Amazingly, both Tom and the girl, whose name is Hester Shaw, survive the fall but are now stranded in the desolate “Hunting Grounds.” Hester is on a mission though–a mission to kill Valentine, whom she says murdered her parents and left her with her scarred face–and Tom is left with no other options but to go with her.

Meanwhile, Magnus Chrome sends his man Valentine off on a secret operation and Valentine’s daughter Katherine (whom Tom has the hots for) sets out to solve the mystery of this scar-faced girl who tried to kill her dad. Katherine, who has always been on the upper crust of London society, soon learns some of the shady ways the city operates, and the golden image of her father, her best friend, comes into question.

The chapters bounce back and forth mainly between Tom’s storyline and Katherine’s storyline, with a few side jumps to Valentine, Chrome, and Shrike (a.k.a. Grike in the North American version–what’s that about?), the post-death-robot-killing-machine-but-maybe-still-has-a-heart-of-some-sort fella. Although it took me a while to follow what was happening, Reeve definitely keeps your interest by all the jumping. It was a page turner, for sure.

But a children’s book? I don’t think so. Not only did it deal with really intense apocalyptic, environmental, and imperialistic issues, but the violence is CRAZY. I think I can tell you, without ruining any plot lines, that SO MANY PEOPLE DIE IN THIS BOOK. In HORRIBLY awful ways–sword through the throat, sword through the chest, explosions, nuclear meltdown, the list goes on and on… At the end, I said out loud,  in my quiet, sunny apartment, WHAT THE…..? Like many books in series, the ending isn’t really an ending, but I’m not sure that I’ll pick up the next one. There are only so many more characters left, and I don’t really feel like watching them kick the bucket too.

1.5 stars