Sunday, July 31, 2011


Yay! A brand new, fascinatingly disturbing, but hopeful, young adult, dystopian novel! My sister-in-law and I are really into these, and we can both attest that this is a good one. Pure, by Julianna Baggott, is the first of a trilogy. If you liked the world of The Hunger Games, you will surely like this world, too, available in February 2012.

Pressia is what those inside the Dome would call a wretch. She survived the Detonations that turned the world to rubble and ash and fused people together or to the nearest objects. Pressia has a doll head for a hand because she was a child during the Detonations. Her grandfather has a fan lodged in his throat. And the boy she's just met has live birds in his back. Now, Pressia is 16, the age when you get forcefully recruited into the army, if you're not so weak that they just shoot you for practice. Pressia is on the run.

Partridge lives in the Dome. He was protected as a child from the Detonations, and instead of bearing scars and fusings, he is privileged to receive special enhancement coding. He's what the wretches call a Pure. But he believes his mother may have survived outside the Dome, so he's putting together a plan to find her, even though no one has ever left the Dome, that he knows. Partridge is on a mission.

One world is ruined. One world is too good to be true. But Pressia, Partridge, and those they come in contact with are hoping for something better. In such a world, things only change if you change them yourself.

What makes this book are its characters and the setting. It's so different, post-apocalyptic in a way unexplored before, at least not that I've come across. The mutations resemble those in The Hunger Games but are taken to a different extreme. Rather than survival of the fittest creating stronger species, the plants, animals, and humans are warped beyond redemption and left to fend for themselves however they can without a hope of reversing the effects. It's rather like a train wreck to read. You can't help but stare at the wretches in your mind's eye and read page after awful page, wondering what will become of them.

But it's beautiful, too. Pressia and the wretches feel deeply human, despite their monstrous appearance. Some of the wretches let their situation make them monsters, but there are those like Pressia who try to rise above it. They are capable of kindness. They can fall in love. They can be selfless.

The world alone makes an interesting book, but Baggott ups the stakes and creates danger around every corner. While the book doesn't bring the story to an end, it unfurls a thrilling plot, sets up what is sure to be an epic trilogy, and ends with some emotional resolution.

I've read the covers of books claiming to be the next Hunger Games. I've even tried to read some of them. Pure can actually compare and stand on its own as the next big series in post-apocalyptic, young adult science fiction. It's pure imagination.

As with The Hunger Games, this series is recommended for older teens due to mature themes and violence.

The Adjustment Bureau

I was excited to see The Adjustment Bureau because I knew it dealt with the world in a matrix-y kind of way, not that I would compare it to The Matrix at all. It's not the same, but it carried that same sense of wrongness with the world, of things being arranged beyond human control. It actually reminded me a little bit of Dark City, though it wasn't nearly as...well, dark.

I ended up being disappointed in the movie. Perhaps I wanted it to be a little darker and deeper than it was, to have a greater sense of an evil force at work controlling humankind. The "bad guys," or the world adjusters, came off as more of an angelic intervention by human-looking nonhumans who take their orders from the Chairman...or you might as well call him “the man upstairs.” The movie is never clear on who they are, so for the sake of this review's clarity, we'll call them angels from now on.

And if you've read my other reviews, you know what I think of putting angels in fiction. Normally, it doesn't work for me, and this was no exception. Though the angels were wrong sometimes, I never got a sense that what they were doing was evil, and to be honest, I wanted it to be evil. I wanted the protagonist lovers to be fighting for a good reason, other than just the right to control their own destinies.

What I really didn't like was that at the end, after the whole movie talks about the Chairman's Plan, (spoilers here) the protagonists end up following an original Plan that had previously been scrapped. So, in my opinion, they never controlled their destinies after all. They just followed the Plan that was meant to be in the first place. Disappointing. As for who they say the Chairman is, more unsatisfactory, vague, mumbo jumbo answers.

I wanted to like the movie, and I wish I could give it something. My husband liked the dialog between the main characters, but to be honest, it's already left my mind, having seen it a few days ago, and I can't tell you my personal opinion. I do remember discussing with him that we understood the man better than the woman, that we didn't really get her motivation or see why she would give everything up for this guy.

This movie is based on a short story: "Adjustment Team," by Philip K. Dick. I've seen some of the other movies made from his stories, and I enjoyed those better: The Minority Report and Paycheck. The Adjustment Bureau is an interesting portrayal of what it means to have free will, but maybe the story was lost in translation from paper to movie. Perhaps my husband will comment on why he enjoyed it a little more than I did.

But if you're looking for something with more tension and real bad guys, I think Dark City is better.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Giver

I just read The Giver, by Lois Lowry, for the first time in my life for my sister-in-law's book club. Though I'm not really surprised I never read this in school (since I come from a variety of educational backgrounds where I could have easily missed it), I was surprised by how much this book is right up my alley.

If you, like me, have never read it (it's a very recent classic written in the 1990's), here's a summary of this dystopian young adult novel. Jonas is an eleven-year-old who lives in a Community where life is perfect, regulated, ordered, predictable. He and his sister were selected, named, and given to his parents to raise to adulthood at the age of twelve. When he turns twelve, his future job will be selected for him, and he will begin training.

When the day finally arrives, everyone, especially Jonas, is surprised by the job he receives. It will change his life and, if misused, could destroy the Community.

This story takes place in a well-thought-out world and contains all the elements dystopian fiction should. Lowry thought of nearly everything, and the details are so intriguing that this short book reads in no time flat. The horror of what such a colorless world would entail creeps upon you slowly as Jonas becomes more and more aware of what's wrong with it. By the end, there's really only one option for Jonas, but it's hardly an option at all.

It's not a happy book, and I was not satisfied with the end, though it matches the tone of the book. I won't spoil it for you, but it has to do with toddler children, and as a mother of one with a baby on the way, I'm particularly affected by scenes of children suffering.

(As a side note, since I will not be reviewing it, I watched the last Harry Potter movie, which I enjoyed, but I could not keep the tears from flowing during the scenes of Harry's mother telling baby Harry she loved him before she died or baby Harry crying in the background while Snape held his dead mother. Just to think about those scenes afterward got me too choked up to even talk about it.)

So, yeah, while The Giver wasn't as visceral as Harry Potter, I was disturbed by the suffering of the innocents, particularly ones my son's age, and by the end, I had to ask myself, what was the point of Jonas's decision at the end?

Perhaps the end can be read in more than one way, but to me, it was clear, and it was not happy, no matter how much the author sugarcoated it. But I'm also of the opinion that the top never stopping spinning at the end of Inception. I tend to think pessimistically. So, read and judge for yourself.

Overall, I very much liked this 1994 Newbery Medal winner and look forward to a discussion with my fellow book club members.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

I want to say I was not impressed by the cover of this book, but I was. The title was interesting on its own: The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but oddly, by the time I finished the book, I really had to think about where they got those images, Fire and Thorns, and I didn't find them very apropos to the heroine. The book itself had the most non-telling picture of a beautiful girl on the front (so many young adult books do these days), and the back cover copy contained the most vague description that I've read in a long time. When I started, I had no idea what sort of book I was about to read, other than that the heroine was a princess on the path to fulfill her destiny. The cover copy gushed about the contents with unrevealing keywords specifically used to draw an audience in, and it compared the book to Kristin Cashore's Graceling, which I enjoyed awhile back. The letter from the editor, accompanying this advance reader's copy, was just as vague and gushed just as much as the book cover. I can't say I think it's a good cover, but it worked on me. And...I'm glad it did. Fortunately, the cover I have does not match the one pictured here. It looks like someone else knew the cover needed a make-over, too.

This book is Rae Carson's debut novel and the first in a trilogy that, I will tell you right now, I plan to buy if the other books don't show up in the advance reader's copies. I will be a better promoter of this book, however, than the cover I have was for me and tell you exactly what it's about (without giving away any spoilers, of course).

Right away within the first few pages, you discover that Elisa is a 16-year-old princess from a religious, almost Hispanic (if it weren't fantasy) kingdom, who eats too much; bears a unique, God-given jewel in her navel as a symbol that she's been chosen for an important destiny; and is about to marry the desert king of a similar culture on the verge of war. Her only appeal, besides the stone in her belly, is her quick,  learned mind. She knows all about war, in her head at least, which is good because she is quickly tested.

The story really picks up from the beginning and moves. I would compare Rae Carson to Maria V. Snyder in that Carson is always moving the story somewhere across the desert, keeping the pace strong and the plot exciting. (I happen to love Snyder's Poison Study and Glass series for their intense action and plot movement.) Carson perhaps doesn't take her story quite as far, or push the plot quite as quickly with as many competing elements, as Snyder might, but it was one of those books that I hardly wanted to put down. When I found Snyder, I was hooked, and Carson has the potential to do that to me, too.

In addition to its forward momentum, The Girl of Fire and Thorns is lovely to read, no awkward sentences, just enough elegant description. It has a very Hispanic flair, though it takes place in a fantasy world of magic. The fantasy element is very light and appears mostly in discussions of plants and in the powers the evil animagi use in battle. It's implied that the Godstone, as Elisa's jewel is called, is magical, but that doesn't come into play for most of the book.

It should be noted that this is not Christian fiction. I have no idea what the author's religious beliefs are. The religion is only partly similar to Christianity and Catholicism. There is a ceremony not entirely unlike Communion, where participants are pricked by the thorns of a rose (hence, the title, I guess), and the perfect number is five, instead of seven.

I enjoyed Elisa. She's not very attractive a character at first, eating just to console herself sometimes. She's certainly an unlikely heroine for a young adult novel, an overweight teenager who feels herself unworthy of everything. But because of the time lapse of the book, she undergoes realistic change and growth. I loved her by the end.

Another intriguing facet of the book is that Elisa ends up getting married at its beginning. She's not just promised. The author actually goes through with it, which I think most authors wouldn't do. I like it. It adds another layer of complexity, marriage to a stranger at a young age. I don't want to spoil too much here, but let me just say they don't consummate the marriage then and there, and I'll leave it at that. There is a bit of romance later in the novel, but I'm being vague on purpose here. Don't assume anything. The book is not crafted to be a romance, and if you hang your hopes on romance, they will be dashed. Still, the romance that is there is beautiful and, for the most part, satisfying. There is something I can't reveal about the end here that may make readers feel like they were cheated a bit. But that would definitely be a spoiler, and I hate to give spoilers on books I think people might actually read.

I found this novel to be completely appropriate for its target age group, with some war-related violence, but the themes are not too adult. The heroine grows past her age group, perhaps, out of necessity, but I don't think that's bad for a young adult novel.

I wasn't sure, at first, how I would feel about the Hispanic aspect of this book. I'm not trying to be racist, but typically, young adult heroines, especially in fantasy, are white and might as well have British accents. Okay, now I am stereotyping. But the borderline Hispanic language (readable if you know Spanish) and the coloring of the people offered a unique touch to the atmosphere of this book, I thought. It made me wonder if Rae Carson is Hispanic, which, again, is stereotyping. It's just so unusual of a setting twist, particularly for fantasy. (Maybe I just don't read the right books.) In fact, one evil animagus encountered in the book has white hair and blue eyes that make Elisa question how he can even see, which I found humorous.

Aside from the cover, which simply did the book no justice (but the picture of which has been changed, at least), The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a rare find, and I'm sad only that I'll have to wait so long to read the next two books of the trilogy.

This book is available in September.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Auralia's Colors

A friend of mine suggested this series, beginning with Auralia's Colors, by Jeffrey Overstreet, to me and lent me the book. It's Christian fiction, which I almost never read anymore since I get so many secular advance reader's copies and since I often have issues with the way Christianity is presented in such books, particularly in Christian fantasy. Auralia's Colors does happen to be Christian fantasy, but it's one of the good ones. It doesn't hit you over the head with a message, and if you aren't looking for it, you might not even see it: perfect.

It's the story of a world of four cities, called "Houses," but particularly House Abascar, where a queen once made it illegal to wear or own anything colorful unless you were granted the privilege. The queen disappeared, but the king keeps his subjects under her burdensome Proclamation. Those who disobey are sent to be Gatherers and live outside the house until they are pardoned, if ever. Orphans live with them, and one of these orphans is a young woman named Auralia. She has a special and dangerous talent, the ability to see all the colors of the wild and craft them into woven, seemingly magical gifts. Her masterpiece is a cloak of all the colors of the Expanse. But everything she does is forbidden, so Auralia must work in secret. Still, she believes the colors are for everyone, and she may risk everything to show House Abascar the truth.

Overstreet crafts a detailed world, perhaps more detailed than I sometimes have the patience for, but I know most fantasy is more detailed than what I read. Auralia is certainly a main character of the story, but she is not the only one. Many of the people around her have vital roles in the story and are as carefully and uniquely created and written as she is.

This is not a romance and should not be read in the hopes of finding one. I mistakenly thought there might be some romance and was disappointed in that, though the story holds its own without it.

Auralia's Colors intrigued me for its characters, its unique world, and its clean and subtle message. If you read Christian fantasy, this is not one to miss. Had it not been lent to me, I think I would have picked it up still. But the story does not end. Be prepared to read the series.