Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi, was published in 2010 by Little, Brown and Company.
In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota—and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship breached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life.
Paolo Bacigalupi shows off his worldbuilding skills in Ship Breaker, showcasing a rich, detailed world that is sketched out simply with little explanation yet still feels expansive. Rather than describe exactly how his world got the way it is (probably with lots of moralizing and/or political aspects shoved into the reader’s face), Bacigapuli merely states things as they are and leaves the reader to figure out the rest. This way, he still gets his point across but subtly, in a way that’s far more effective than blatantly stating it.
Having read a Bacigalupi book before, I was expecting this book to be good—usually authors who write adult SF/fantasy write well when they transition to young adult. And it was—the plot was tight and tense in all the right moments, the world, as I mentioned, was detailed and imaginative, and the characters were interesting. Some of the aspects were a little hard to buy, but I suppose that’s expected in this genre. I liked that Bacigalupi leaves things open-ended, a little bit, because another common theme in dystopian fiction is for the author to detail exactly how things get better at the end. Bacigalupi doesn’t do that. He’s definitely the more subtle type of author, which I appreciate.
Really, the only thing missing from this book for me is the “wow factor.” It was a good book, but I wasn’t blown away by it. It didn’t grab me and never let me go, making me want to read it over and over again (as with Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series). I thought it was a good young adult dystopian novel with a better-than-average setting that was well executed. I liked Nailer, I liked Lucky Girl, I liked Tool, I liked Pima, and I thought the conflict and character development of Nailer were great. I don’t have the desire to read Ship Breaker again, but that’s the only majorly negative thing I can say about it.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
“You’re lucky,” Pima’s mother said. “You should be dead.”
Nailer was almost too tired to respond, but he mustered a grin for the occasion. “But I’m not. I’m alive.”
Pima’s mother picked up a blade of rusted metal and held it in front of his face. “If this was even another inch into you, you would have washed into shore as body scavenge.” Sadna regarded him seriously. “You’re lucky. The Fates were holding you close today. Should have been another Jackson Boy.” She offered him the rusty shiv. “Keep that for a talisman. It wanted you. It was going for your lung.”
The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, was published in 2015 by Harper.
A deadly white mist has cloaked the earth for hundreds of years. Humanity clings to the highest mountain peaks, where the wealthy Five Families rule over the crowded slums and rambling junkyards. As the ruthless Lord Kodoc patrols the skies to enforce order, thirteen-year-old Chess and his crew scavenge in the Fog-shrouded ruins for anything they can sell to survive. Hazel is the captain of their salvage raft: bold and daring. Swedish is the pilot: suspicious and strong. Bea is the mechanic: cheerful and brilliant. And Chess is the tether boy: quiet and quick…and tougher than he looks. But Chess has a secret, one he’s kept hidden his whole life. One that lord Kodoc is desperate to exploit for his own evil plans. And even as Chess unearths the crew’s biggest treasure ever, they are running out of time.
I’m starting to realize that I’m not a fan of books that take place in our world hundreds of years later after some sort of natural disaster or pollution destroys/changes the earth. It lends to some really sloppy worldbuilding, where the writer throws in random references to things without rhyme or reason, simply because he or she thinks it would be funny. That’s the type of worldbuilding in The Fog Diver, where even though it’s been hundreds of years, Chess’s father somehow has a scrapbook of current pop culture that contains references to completely random things that aren’t connected in any way but are cobbled together for humor. Where did Chess’s father even get that information?
So, yes, the worldbuilding in The Fog Diver was not my cup of tea, to put it lightly. There also seemed many things wrong with it besides just random references, such as the fact that even though they live on mountaintops, not only do the mountaintops have green peaks (how high up does this fog go, and why is there never any description of snow at all?) but all the kids know what a camel is (because there are camels on the mountains, apparently), even though there’s no feasible reason as to why there would be camels. Are they in a mountain near a place where camels were? And if there’s camels, why aren’t there horses? Why aren’t there mentions of mountainous animals such as mountain goats, sheep, llamas, whatever? Why do they even know words like “coyote”? I get that people suddenly inhabiting mountaintops might dilute the animal population, but surely these animals would still be around because of the milk, wool, and food possibilities.
Basically, the world makes absolutely no sense; it’s as if Ross just ran with the idea of mountaintop living without actually thinking about what that would actually mean. I’m okay with the kids knowing what wheat is, since wheat can be grown on mountains, but I had shifty eyes throughout much of the book regarding most of what was revealed about the world.
In addition, the writing isn’t that great, and Chess’s angst about who he is is piled on a little too thickly. The book is also poorly paced; the beginning trudges on and by the time the end hits you realize the entire book was about one thing that the group talked about in the beginning and took the entire book to actually complete. I’m also left with zero curiosity about the Fog, any machine that may or may not control it, and anything else having to do with this world and the characters. The Fog Diver is poorly conceived and poorly explained and simply isn’t interesting enough to make up for its worldbuilding flaws.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Dystopian, Steam Punk, Middle Grade
What was going on? Were we running? From what?
I climbed my tether, hand over hand, swinging sideways as the raft turned in crazy angles. I reached the deck just in time to catch a glimpse of Bea vanishing into a hatch. At the wheel, Swedish handled the lumbering three-ballooned raft like a racing thopper, playing hide-and-seek behind white waves of Fog.
I climbed toward the crow’s nest. “What’s going—”
“Mutineers,” Hazel said without lowering her spyglass.
Eleven-year-old Nickie sees so many possibilities for her trip to Yonwood, North Carolina. Her family has just inherited an old mansion from her great-grandfather, and Nickie hopes it will become her new home. She is ready to get away from the city, where impending war has bred an environment of fear and anxiety. Perhaps Yonwood will be the place where Nickie can do a little good in the world—and maybe even fall in love. But Yonwood is not exactly the haven Nickie had imaged. A local woman has received a terrifying vision of fire and destruction, and her tormented mumblings sound like they might be instructions for avoiding the coming disaster. As the people of Yonwood scramble to make sense of the woman’s mysterious utterances, Nickie explores the oddities she finds around town—her great-grandfather’s peculiar journals and papers, a reclusive neighbor who studies the heavens, a strange boy who is fascinated with snakes—all while keeping an eye out for ways to help the world. Is this vision her chance? Or is it already too late to avoid a devastating war?
I have to confess something—I didn’t actually finish The Prophet of Yonwood (I got about halfway through before I had to stop). I don’t usually post reviews of books that I don’t finish, and the not-finishing-books-thing happens rarely in any case. Yet I thought I should post a review, anyway, since this book is part of a series that I’ve reviewed here on the blog.
The reason I didn’t finish The Prophet of Yonwood was because I found it incredibly boring and dull. It lacks the beauty of The City of Ember and doesn’t have sequel-interest like The People of Sparks. The worldbuilding was confusing and of the type I dislike: expositional, with random bits of information thrown out at you. I found myself asking over and over, “What’s that? Who’s that? How did that happen?” and not in a curious, I-want-to-know-more way, but in an “I’m really confused and this doesn’t make any sense” way.
I also found The Prophet of Yonwood an extremely unnecessary book. I never cared in The City of Ember or in The People of Sparks about how the world got that way. And The Prophet of Yonwood, with brand-new characters, expositional storytelling, and a tendency to take its dear sweet time getting anywhere important and instead going on for a few chapters about a boy and his two pet snakes, tries to make me care—and I don’t.
Also, there’s some weird science fiction/supernatural stuff going on and I’m not a fan. Sorry, DuPrau, but The Prophet of Yonwood made me not want to pick up the last book at all.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Anti-organized religion.
Genre: Dystopian, Middle Grade, Realistic
At first he thought he was imagining it, it was so faint. A light seemed to be growing behind the curtained and shuttered windows on the ground floor. IT was a bluish light, like moonlight. It gleamed very faintly around the edges of the windows, in the gaps between the shades and the frames, until a narrow, pale-bluish rectangle appeared around all the ground-floor windows. What was it? Did Hoyt have twenty televisions that went on all at once? Was he doing some weird sort of experiment? Whatever it was, it gave Grover an eerie feeling.
After enduring Vaughn’s worst, Rhine finds an unlikely ally in his brother, an eccentric inventor named Reed. She takes refuge in his dilapidated house, though the people she left behind refuse to stay in the past. While Gabriel haunts Rhine’s memories, Cecily is determined to be at Rhine’s side, even if Linden’s feelings are still caught between them. Meanwhile, Rowan’s growing involvement in an underground resistance compels Rhine to reach him before he does something that cannot be undone. But what she discovers along the way has alarming implications for her future—and about the past her parents never had the chance to explain.
One thing I couldn’t stop thinking about while reading Sever was how empty the world is. I’ve mentioned this before about a few other books and how utterly alone the protagonist and the people around her seem. It gives everything in the book a self-centered, shallow note, unfortunately—Rhine’s world literally revolves only around herself and the people who have conveniently been involved with and connected to her throughout her life, and everyone on the periphery is very quickly introduced and just as quickly put aside.
I found it a bit too unrealistic that everyone Rhine met was connected in some way or another. Vaughn, Madame, Rose…after about the third such revelation I just rolled my eyes. Can’t a stranger ever stay a stranger? Can’t there be just a carnival owner who imprisons and drugs Rhine without there having to be some grand connecting story line?
I also thought the ending was anticlimactic and disappointing. The resolution of the virus was so anticlimactic that I thought it was a trick. And once again, Gabriel shows about as much personality as a wet paper bag, and Linden, the one who Rhine continued to think about and who left much more of an impact (and the one who’s more interesting), is conveniently shoved aside (not that I really wanted Linden with Rhine either, what with the whole polygamy thing). I almost bought Gabriel and Rhine as a couple in Fever, but Sever completely destroyed that, along with the last of my enjoyment of the trilogy.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Implied sex, some graphic imagery.
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
“Can I see your plane?” I ask. “Does it fly?”
He laughs. It’s nothing like Vaughn’s laugh. There’s warmth in it. “You want to see the plane?”
“Sure,” I say. “Why not?”
“No reason not to, I suppose,” he says. “It’s just that no one’s ever asked before.”
“You have an airplane in your shed, and no one has ever asked to see it?” I say.
“Most people don’t know it’s there,” he says. “But I like you, not-Rose. So maybe tomorrow. For now, we have other things to do.”
The Wither trilogy started out promising, but very quickly fell apart in Sever as the poor worldbuilding and lacking romance unraveled the whole thing. I was annoyed with the “everyone Rhine meets is important to her life and if they’re not they’re very quickly gone never to be seen again” plot, and the resolution of the virus is so anticlimactic that I literally could not believe it and thought there was going to be another twist. A disappointing finish to an overall disappointing trilogy.
Rhine and Gabriel have escaped the mansion, but danger is never far behind. Running away brings Rhine and Gabriel right into a trap, in the form of a twisted carnival whose ringmistress keeps watch over a menagerie of girls. Just as Rhine uncovers what plans await her, her fortune turns again. With Gabriel at her side, Rhine travels through an environment as grim as the one she left a year ago—surroundings that mirror her own feelings of fear and hopelessness. The two are determined to get to Manhattan, to relative safety with Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. But the road there is long and perilous—and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and young men die at twenty-five, time is precious. Worse still, they can’t seem to elude Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, who is determined to bring Rhine back to the mansion…by any means necessary.
I really wasn’t expecting Fever to be quite so, well…literal. But yes, most of the novel is one character or another wandering around in a state of fever. The last half of the book is just Rhine being delirious and sick and making strange decisions that are either the result of her sickness or the result of her awful characterization. Girl, you need to stop blaming Cecily for trying to make the best out of a situation for which she was raised and has no experience outside of that situation. It makes you appear shallow and selfish.
So, yes, I wasn’t pleased with the plodding plot, because Rhine is sick for most of it and nothing really happens, except at the end where Rhine becomes all fatalistic and then gets the burst of inspiration she needs to continue on with her goal, blah blah blah. And the one reveal we get is meant to be surprising, but I was just confused about what it meant. Does Rhine have the virus or is it just some form of withdrawal?
Also, I didn’t think Gabriel could get even less interesting than in the first book, but I was proven wrong. He is an incredibly bland character and I don’t buy his and Rhine’s romance or even their connection. Give him some personality, please.
The good points are that the writing is still good and at least DeStefano does her hardest to sell the more incomprehensible parts of her world. And the parts where Rhine and Gabriel are traveling, and their time in Manhattan, did have a striking dystopian feel to it, so kudos there.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Drugs and drug abuse, prostitution, implied sex, some graphic imagery.
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
“So you can’t tell me where he is,” I say. It’s not a question.
“He is not as you remember him,” Annabelle says. “That is all I can tell you.”
“But he’s alive?” I say.
“I don’t see any indication that he isn’t.”
I hesitate, the next question staying on my tongue for a long time before I finally let it out. “Has he given up on me?”
Annabelle looked sympathetic. She gathers the cards back into one pile, tucks them safely away. “I am sorry,” she says. “I don’t know.”
Fever is a bit of trudge, because true to its name Rhine and Gabriel take turns being ill in some way or another and nothing much else happens. Rhine is an annoying character, because she thinks she has the right view on everything when she’s actually being selfish, and Gabriel is like an amorphous blob of a boy, so bland and personality-less that the scenes with him are more irritating than anything. I’ll still read the last book, but so far this trilogy is pretty shaky.
Thanks to modern science, every newborn has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out. When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home. But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant she is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.
Wither is one of those books where beautiful writing and thought-provoking situations mask an inconsistent world (or a world that simply doesn’t make a lot of sense). I’m glad that DeStefano clears up fairly early on some of the nature of the virus that kills people so young; the way it was described at the beginning, I thought that it just caused people to drop dead when they hit a certain age which made absolutely no sense to me. But there is variation, and that helped to lessen the unrealisticness of the whole concept even if I still don’t understand how something like that would work, or how it came to be in the first place (no doubt the purpose of the second or third book).
Speaking of unrealistic, the whole science/naturalism divide made absolutely no sense to me. I suppose it could be explained away with a breaking down of what terms mean in this dystopian world, but still, naturalism is not what Wither says it is and science often goes hand-in-hand with naturalism (naturalism uses science, for goodness sake!), so that divide was incomprehensible to me. Also incomprehensible was the reveal that only the United States exists; everything else was wiped out and is just a collection of floating bits of dirt or something. Yeah, sure. (Luckily, it’s implied that’s not true towards the end of the novel.)
And I don’t want to seem like I’m completely bashing the book, because honestly I did like it—the writing was good and there was some pretty imagery and even though the romance aspect has been done a million times before and is really boring by now, I did like that the book spent so much time on Rhine’s experience as a bride. And DeStefano did a fantastic job of setting up the tension between the brides, even if I thought Rhine was being a bit selfish and stupid at the end in terms of Cecily, and I liked the good development of the creepiness of Linden’s father (who is no doubt coming back, and probably will be revealed to have had some sort of hand in some aspect of the virus).
So, not all bad. I just didn’t understand the world, and that cut back on my enjoyment.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Polygamy, implied sex, some graphic imagery
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
“Why do you call him Governor Linden?” I ask her. During our wedding dinner Housemaster Vaughn explained to us that he was to be addressed as Housemaster, because he was the highest authority in the house. But we were expected to call our husband by his given name as a sign of familiarity.
“Because I hate him,” she says.
There’s no malice n the words, no dramatic outburst, but something in her gay eyes says she means it.
Wither has beautiful writing and imagery, and there’s a lot of interesting things to pull out of the book—but the world does make the quality of the book go way down, in my opinion, because oftentimes the world makes no sense and is outright nonsensical at points. In addition, the romance is generic and Gabriel is an empty husk of a character, ultimately forgettable.
Right around the time the Catching Fire movie came out, I reviewed all three of Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games books. Now, after Mockingjay Part 2 has been released, it’s time for me to talk about the movies! All three book reviews can be found on this blog, but I’ll link to them below for ease of access.
Spoilers for all three books and all four movies.
I’ll start out by ranking the books, since I never did that when I reviewed them.
A lot of people do not like Mockingjay, but I happen to be one of the few who love it. You can read my reviews of the books to find more of my thoughts (linked above). I did notice something interesting, though, while I was thinking about not only my ranking of the books but also my ranking of the movies: my actual, technical ranking of the books very closely matches my ranking of the movies. So, let’s rank the books again, this time taking specific scenes and events in consideration rather than just having an average ranking:
1.) The second half of Catching Fire
2.) The second half of The Hunger Games
3.) The first half of The Hunger Games
3.) The second half of Mockingjay
4.) The first half of Mockingjay
5.) The first half of Catching Fire
By breaking it up into “halves,” roughly, there’s a lot more variance in this ranking. Catching Fire is now both first and last, while the other two books make up the middle.
Before I rank the movies, I’d like to quickly say that I think the movies are some of the best film adaptations of books I’ve ever seen, and some of the most faithful as well. They included mostly everything important and most of what they put in that wasn’t in the book only added to the world. More about that when I talk about each film.
Now, let’s take a look at how I rank the movies and see if you can catch the similarity with the list above. I’ll be giving them their full title to avoid confusion with the books:
1.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
2.) The Hunger Games
3.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
4.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Let’s talk about each movie in turn, in the order I ranked them.
1.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Why is this my favorite movie of the bunch? Well, let me point out my book ranking. It’s my least favorite overall, but the second half of it is my favorite when dividing the books up into halves/sections. And the first half of the book is precisely why it’s my least favorite overall, because I absolutely despise the first half. It’s boring, it drags on and on, and it makes the pace choppy. I can’t stand rereading Catching Fire precisely because I know I have to get through that awful first half to get to the better second half, and I’m not the type of person to only read the last half of a book.
So, let’s go back to the movie now. And what the movie does that makes it not only such a great book adaptation, but also probably the best “movie” out of all of them, is that it almost completely cuts out the first half of the book. Gone are the two kids in the woods, gone is the electrified fence dilemma, gone is the interesting but tedious back-and-forth with Katniss and the Distract 12 residents. What’s kept in is minimal: Snow’s visit, Gale’s whipping, and whatever else is needed to carry the plot. What it adds is great: the intrigue behind the scenes, visual depictions of Katniss’s PTSD, more of Plutarch, who is given a life and dimensionality in the movies that is not seen in the books, and small conversations and interactions. And that’s why it’s my favorite movie, because it cuts out all the boring parts and adds important things to other scenes to keep that information in there.
Yes, the movie has its flaws. The transition from a first-person book to a third-person film means that some things are lost in translation: a truncation of the tributes’ plot, confusion over why the morphling saved Peeta (it’s never fully described how all the tributes, beyond the ones in the arena with Katniss, are in on the rebellion plot), and some other things that are best done in a book rather than in a movie. But that’s something to be expected and does not, in my opinion, cast a very large shadow over the other parts of the movie that are phenomenal.
2.) The Hunger Games
What can I say that hasn’t already been said? It’s the first movie and it’s incredibly faithful to the source material–perhaps the most faithful of all of them. It leaves almost everything in and the things it cuts is minimal. And it adds scenes with Snow and Caesar Flickerman that add to the world of Panem. It’s visually lush and beautiful, the music is great (as it is in all the movies), and the suspense is carried throughout the movie well. The shaky cam is irritating, but understandable in a movie targeted for teenagers that’s incredibly violent at heart.
My main quibble with this movie is that the transition from a first-person narrative to a third-person film completely distorts Katniss’s motives. My friend recently read the books for the first time, after seeing the movies, and told me that everything was so different when reading solely from Katniss’s perspective. It’s not just her voice that’s lost in translation, but her motivations and thus a part of her character. I’m not sure how many people understood, just from watching the movies without having read the books, that Katniss was faking her relationship with Peeta in order to get help for him, that she was playing to the audience. A vital side to Katniss’s character development is distorted, and so in a way Movie-Katniss is different from Book-Katniss. They’re not the same Katniss. And that’s okay, but it still is prominent in my mind when I watch the movie, thus spoiling my pleasure of it slightly.
3.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
This is the most brutal of all the movies; appropriately so, since Mockingjay is the most brutal of the books. Once again, the movie leaves out some things from the books, but I didn’t mind: the movies have already communicated Katniss’s PTSD well enough without having to show her descent into drug addiction. Most of what they added I also enjoyed, such as the conversation between Gale and Katniss after Prim’s death, something that was much needed in the book. Gale’s character is much more sympathetic in the movies than in the books, in my opinion, but that conversation did a lot to make viewers not necessarily feel sorry for Gale, but to feel sad at the destruction of a lifelong relationship. “I was supposed to protect your family, Katniss. I’m sorry.” Those words do a lot to make me feel more for Gale as a character than I ever did in the books (and in the first three movies, for that matter).
Other things I enjoyed from the movie: the musical cues (especially right after Coin’s death), Jennifer Lawrence’s facial acting during the scene when Coin is getting them to vote on a Capitol children Hunger Games and you can see Katniss’s realization that this woman has to go, the trust shown between Haymitch and Katniss when he agrees because he trusts her, the truncating of the epilogue (though it wasn’t really necessary; the movie could have ended on “You love me; real or not real?” “Real” and it would have been a fine ending. Movie-Katniss didn’t need the epilogue as Book-Katniss did), and the overall effect of the movie. It’s grim and brutal and it punches you in the stomach at every chance, but you are feeling what Katniss is feeling and that is immersion.
This movie’s not ranked higher because it came after the disappointing Mockingjay Part 1 and it’s simply too brutal and grim to really be a stand-out, or stand-alone, film. I would watch Catching Fire by itself; I could not watch Mockingjay Part 2 by itself without watching the first three again.
4.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
The movie makers must not have realized what a fantastic thing they did by cutting most of the first half of Catching Fire out because they decided to make the first half of Mockingjay its own movie. And unfortunately, they only highlighted the weaknesses of the first half of Mockingjay. Almost nothing suspenseful happens in the first half of Mockingjay, to the point where the film had to create its own action (by showing the rescue of Peeta) to get some conflict going. But showing the rescue of Peeta led to a completely made-up scene between Katniss and Snow, which made an already long movie drag on forever.
Speaking of “long movie,” when I saw this movie I could have sworn it was 2 1/2 hours long. I walked out of the theater and realized that it had only been about 2 hours long. That is not a good thing when a move feels half-an-hour longer than it actually is.
I did like some aspects of the movie: the cheekiness of the propaganda movies, the inclusion of the Hanging Tree song, and the shock of Peeta attacking Katniss (which is where the movie should have ended, in my opinion). But most of the movie dragged on, stretching out the little conflict there was and trying to generate more through a rescue attempt that simply made me more irritated at how Gale was being portrayed. Mockingjay Part 1 is definitely the weakest link of the film series, which is a shame because it also drags Mockingjay Part 2 down with it.
So there you have it! Those are my thoughts about the Hunger Games movies. Again, like I said at the beginning, problems aside I do think these are some of the best and most faithful film adaptations of a book/book series made today. I’m sad that they’re over, but excited that I can relive the world over and over again through both the books and the movies’ vision of the world of the books.
Once there was a time when men and women lived as equals, when girl babies were valued, and women could belong only to themselves. But that was ten generations ago. Now women are property, to be sold and owned and bred, while a strict census keeps their numbers manageable and under control. The best any girl can hope for is to end up as some man’s forever wife, but most are simply sold and resold until they’re all used up. Only in the wilderness, away from the city, can true freedom be found. Aya has spent her whole life in the mountains, looking out for her family and hiding from the world, until the day the Trackers finally catch her. Stolen from her home and being groomed for auction, Aya is desperate to escape her fate and return to her family, but her only allies are a loyal wolf she’s raised from a pup and a strange mute boy who may be her best hope for freedom…if she can truly trust him.
I was actually pretty shocked to discover that this book is a stand-alone novel. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s the trend, but I was fully expecting a cliffhanger/threads left hanging ending. However, everything was wrapped up neatly and resolved in this one book, which…was actually a little disappointing.
Now, I’m glad that Simmons did the one-off (if it turns out to be one), because YA is overflowing with trilogies and duologies to the point of tediousness, but I really felt like this book could have had more.
Much, much more could have been explored in terms of the mayor and his son and his brother; Greer was a decent villain but we didn’t see him nearly often enough to get quite the feeling that Simmons wanted us to get from him. I was fully expecting the book to end with Aya back in the hands of Greer and another book to come. But that didn’t happen, and it made that part of the book seem a little rushed.
I also thought the premise of the book was slightly heavy-handed, although dealt with well within the world as a whole. The worldbuilding and characterization were good, for the most part, but again, it felt a trifle rushed, especially at the end. I thought, “Wait, that’s it? It’s over?” Again, maybe I’m just too used to drawn-out YA series, but this book almost seemed to end too tidily. It made a few things a little unbelievable, in my opinion.
Recommended Age Range: 16+
Warnings: Violence, death, implied rape, sexual situations.
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
“Your name should be Kiran,” I tell him. “Because your eyes, they look like…” I pause. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’ve said something stupid again. The Driver, Kiran, looks over at me when I stop talking, and nods as though he wants me to continue.
“Well, what do you want me to say, Kiran?” I ask him. The name fits. I’m pleased with myself for thinking of it.
He leans back against the wall again, not understanding a word I’m saying. So I talk. Because no one has listened for a long time.
The Glass Arrow is, as far as I know, a stand-alone book, yet there were a few things in the novel that I wish had been developed further and, yes, extended in another book. A lot of Greer’s villainy was lost in the short amount of time spent on him, and I felt Aya should have spent more time in the mayor’s house than just a day. It wraps up almost too neatly for me, although maybe I’m just getting used to the way YA draws out everything over two or three or more books.
The Heir is written by Kiera Cass. It was published in 2015 by HarperTeen. It is the sequel to The One.
Princess Eadlyn has grown up hearing endless stories about how her mother and father met. Twenty years ago, America Singer entered the Selection and won the heart of Prince Maxon—and they lived happily ever after. Eadlyn has always found their fairy-tale story romantic, but she has no interest in trying to repeat it. If it were up to her, she’d put off marriage for as long as possible. But a princess’s life is never entirely her own, and Eadlyn can’t escape her very own Selection—no matter how fervently she protests. Eadlyn doesn’t expect her story to end in romance. But as the competition begins, one entry may just capture Eadlyn’s heart, showing her all the possibilities that lie in front of her…and proving that finding her own happily ever after isn’t as impossible as she’s always thought.
Cass is starting to feel like a one-trick pony. At least, that’s how I felt when I found out she was writing a fourth Selection book. At least she sort of changed things around and made her protagonist completely different from America.
I do think Cass’s writing has improved marginally from the first three books; she still can’t worldbuild and there’s this odd moment where a character talks about rebellion and uprising as if they’re completely different things, but I never had the problem I had in the first three books where I felt like I couldn’t continue reading because of the bad quality.
But the book is still not great, and there’s a whole list of reasons why, but I’ll just mention three:
By trying to make Eadlyn a “strong” female protagonist, Cass makes her selfish, shallow, and cruel. Eadlyn is not just an unreliable narrator. She’s an unreliable narrator who you will want to strangle by the end of the book because of her actions and thoughts. Towards the end, she does start to at least realize how people perceive her, but it’s difficult to get through. She manipulates and pits the boys against each other and tries to make her brother choose between her and his girlfriend. That’s not a strong protagonist, Cass. That’s an unlikeable one.
The beginning and end of the book completely contradict each other. At the beginning, Eadlyn says firmly that she doesn’t need a man in order for her to be a good ruler (or something along those lines). Yet the end of the book has people constantly telling her (and Eadlyn realizing herself) that she needs romantic love in order to be The Best Ruler She Can Be and that she should go through with the Selection. Because romantic love makes you a complete person and you’re incomplete and not at your best if you’re single. Or something. Yeah, sure. Ever hear of Queen Elizabeth I?
Besides the obvious love interest (whose relationship with Eadlyn is centered on lust), there’s the obvious rapist and the obvious violent fighter. Because of course if you stick 35 men together, at least one of them will try and assault the girl, right? And at least one will try and slap her around, right? Because men are despicable, terrible beings, right? Please. The only author I’ve read so far who has handled the issue of rape/attempted rape in a way that doesn’t seem contrived or as a way to “get rid” of that character is Melina Marchetta. Cass throws it in as an excuse to get rid of a character, which is not the way that particular issue should be treated at all.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Some sensual scenes, attempted rape (not graphic), violence.
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
“Your Highness,” he said with a comical bow. “I’ve come to sweep you off your feet.”
“Hardy har. Get in here.”
Kile walked in and surveyed my shelves. “Last time I was in your room, you had a collection of wooden ponies.”
“But not being a bossy tyrant?”
“Nope. Just like you didn’t outgrow being an insufferable bookworm.”
“Is this how you win over all your dates?”
The Heir was a tad more enjoyable, I thought, then the first three books, if only because Cass almost completely abandons worldbuilding in favor of what made her “famous” in the first place, the Selection, so I didn’t notice the terrible worldbuilding as much. There are still way too many problems with the book for it to even be considered decent, though.
Pulse is written by Patrick Carman. It was published in 2013 by Katherine Tegen. It is the first book in the Pulse trilogy.
With the help of her mysterious classmate Dylan Gilmore, Faith Daniels discovers that she can move objects with her mind. This telekinetic ability is called a “pulse,” and Dylan has the talent, too. In riveting action scenes, Faith demonstrates her ability to use her pulse against a group of telekinesis masters who are so powerful they can flatten their enemies by uprooting streetlights, throwing boulders, and changing the course of a hurtling hammer so that it becomes a deadly weapon. But even with her unusual talent, the mind—and the heart—can be difficult to control. If Faith wants to join forces with Dylan and save the world, she’ll have to harness the power of both.
I’ve read Patrick Carman’s Land of Elyon books, which is why I picked up Pulse. But reading this actually shocked me, because I didn’t remember Carman writing as badly as he writes in Pulse. Maybe’s he’s experimenting with a new style, or maybe my memory is just bad and I can’t remember the way Elyon was written, but I almost stopped reading 30 pages in.
I can’t even describe why his writing was so bad. It’s something that you have to read for yourself to understand. The viewpoint was all over the place, often switching from sentence to sentence, and the writing itself was so mechanical. There’s only so many times you can listen to descriptions like “She examined it like a scientist” before you want to go read something else. There were also way too many “Faith didn’t know it, but…” or “If Faith knew what blank was planning, she would have thought twice about blank.” Also, Carman tries way too hard to dump meaning into a single activity: “There was no doubting an artistic ability that blossomed most powerfully during times of grief. There had been a lot of grief lately, and her work had turned darker and more mature. It was sad, really, that the world had to turn so dark in order to bring out her true talent.” Yes, we get it. Just start playing the violins already.
Also, all the worldbuilding information is dumped at you in one conversation in the middle of the book, which is a really clunky way to worldbuild. Also, the summary’s description of the action scenes as “riveting” is hilarious. They’re about as riveting as watching paint dry.
Honestly, this book had me alternating from being bored to tears to wanting to never read a single word in it. It was that bad. So bad that I can’t even bring myself to give you a quote because I don’t want to subject you to the terrible prose.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Sexual situations, psychic teenagers.
Genre: Dystopian, Supernatural, Young Adult
I never want to look at this book again, or read another one in the trilogy. It’s a shame, because I like Carman’s Land of Elyon books. I don’t understand why his writing style changed so drastically (if it did at all; it’s been a while since I’ve read Elyon).