Veronica Roth, Allegiant

Typography, Joel Tippie; http://www.harpercollins.com/book/index.aspx?isbn=9780062024060Dear Readers,

I finally got to read Allegiant, the third book in the Divergent Trilogy (thanks, public library!). Although the first two books are excellent, Roth expands her scope of human behavior and nature vs nurture in Allegiant; if anything, the first two books were merely ripples in the pool of good and evil in the final story.

Instead of writing a separate review for Allegiant for this week, please check out the updated “Veronica Roth, Divergent Trilogy” for my thoughts/conclusions. (Hint: It’s no wonder this trilogy was a bestseller…)

Happy reading!

Veronica Roth, Divergent Trilogy

Typography, Joel Tippie; http://www.harpercollins.com/book/index.aspx?isbn=9780062024022In a gray, derelict Chicago set far in the future, humans have divided themselves into five groups: Candor (honesty), Amity (kindness), Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (bravery) and Erudite (intelligence). Each has its own focus, its own culture, its own social standards. Brewing beneath the carefully organized groups, however, is a brilliant mind, a hunger for power, a need for control driven by mercilessness. Only one set of people – the Divergent, those who cannot be pigeonholed into one faction – have the ability to fight for freedom from conformity. That is, if they can survive.

Plot Overview:Dystopia, Identity and Self-Actualization

In Divergent, each 16-year-old Typography, Joel Tippie; http://www.harpercollins.com/book/index.aspx?isbn=9780062024046undergoes an assessment to determine which faction is most suitable before the “Choosing Ceremony.” Beatrice Prior, a member of Abnegation, is told that her tests are inconclusive. Shocked, puzzled, Beatrice learns that not only is she Divergent, but she also fits into an unprecedented three factions: Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite. On the day of the ceremony, she hesitates before impulsively dedicating herself to Dauntless. As she undergoes initiation, Beatrice, newly christened “Tris,” tests her courage, her abilities and her strength – and, with help from her enigmatic instructor, Four, slowly wades into the fearsome deep waters of intimacy.

In Insurgent, Tris, Four and their friends (i.e. those who survived initiation) find themselves fleeing after a calculated takeover by Erudite that resulted in the deaths of hundreds. Determined to avenge her mother and father, Tris makes her through Amity, through Candor, to find the truth and shove justice, an element missing from the neat and cold world of factions, into the forefront.

In Allegiant, Evelyn, Four’s mother, has taken control of the closed society, but a newly formed rebel group, Allegiant, is planning an uprising to reinstate the factions. Tris, Four and their allies hatch a plan to escape the city to discover what really lies behind the boundaries of the city. In the process, relationships will fall apart, lives will be lost, but freedom and choice are, and always will be, the priority.

Criticisms and Compliments

Typography, Joel Tippie; http://www.harpercollins.com/book/index.aspx?isbn=9780062024060It’s time to call it at this point: vampires are out, dystopian futures are in. Whether she intended to or not, Roth has tapped into the fantastic new trend among young adult readers: teenagers trapped in oppressive societies in a crumbling, corrupt U.S. where divisions are clear, free thought is dangerous, and strategy is the only means of survival (in all fairness, however, this trend started long ago with The Giver). Tris, like Katniss of The Hunger Games Trilogy, is other, an outsider who struggles to maintain her inner thoughts and stay balanced in her tightly controlled world (not so different from teens enduring high school, right?). Add lust, romance and teenage hormones (though the Divergent series is refreshingly without a love triangle), and the resulting reads are impossible to put down.

Although reviewers have pointed out flaws in Roth’s logic, her trilogy is creative and provocative. The only aspect that doesn’t ring true is Tris’ continued wavering on selfishness and selflessness; though she’s designed to be complex – she is Divergent – her inner dialogue between the value of human life, her guilt and her need to sacrifice, even if it’s really for her own emotional needs, can be frustrating for Roth’s (older) readers; perhaps the younger readers, her target audience, can better relate to Tris’ confusion. Four, or Tobias, however, makes up for Tris’ frequent ruminations on the meaning of life and her identity. He is Roth’s most intriguing character, and given that the Divergent Trilogy is written in first person, he remains a mystery. Fascinating.

UPDATE: After completing the third novel, I have to give Roth credit for including the enigmatic Tobias’ thoughts, feelings and motivations (Allegiant alternates between Tris and Tobias’ first-person narratives). What’s most fascinating about the concluding novel, however, is Roth’s depiction of genetically pure vs. genetically damaged. In many ways, this division could be racial or ethnic or sexual, but it taps into a part of U.S. history long forgotten: eugenics. Jodi Picoult explored the topic not long ago in Second Glances, and it’s interesting to see it pop up again in such a trilogy. If anything, the study of good genes and bad, what makes a person good and evil, only further delineates how choices and nature determine a person’s identity. It’s (surely) not just one or the other. Tris doesn’t think so.

Overall, the Divergent Trilogy is aimed at young adult readers, but, like The Hunger Games, it can be enjoyed by all readers, particularly as Roth explores classic archetypes man vs. nature and man vs. self. Additionally, the pacing is fast, the action is high, and the reader always has to wonder: which faction am I?

Source:

  • Roth, Veronica. Divergent. Katherine Tegen Books, 2013 ISBN 9780062278784

Stephen King, “11/22/63″

Design, Erich Hobbing; http://books.simonandschuster.com/11-22-63/Stephen-King/9781451627299If you had the power to go back in time, to right a wrong, would you? What if righting the wrong involved cold-blooded murder? Would you, could you still correct history’s mistake? It would be easy to rationalize: the end justifies the mean, the murder has extenuating circumstances, saving many lives is worth the taking of one life. But then fate enters the equation. What if history is not meant to be fixed or repaired or patched? If the threads of time are fine and fragile, a single rip in the fabric could lead to a massive snarl in the future. How do you reconcile the death of innocent people, the lack of justice for wrong-doers with fate, destiny or preordained actions?

Plot Overview: History, Assassinations and Time Travel

In 2011 Jake Epping is a high school English teacher who takes on the extra responsibility of preparing adult students for the GED exam. One of his students, “Hoptoad” Harry, the school’s janitor who walks with a limp, writes a stunning (and error-filled) essay about the Halloween night his father took a hammer to his mother, his two brothers and his sister. Harry was the only survivor.

Jake gives Harry an A plus and treats his student to lunch at his friend, Al Templeton’s, diner. Days later, Al, whose health has rapidly deteriorated, confides in Jake that there is a set of invisible steps in his drying shed that lead to the year 1958. Jake is skeptical, but follows Al’s instructions, and finds himself in Lisbon Falls, Maine, on September 9, 1958. Stunned, Jake explores the world of the late ‘50s, its friendly, trusting citizens, delicious root beers and overwhelming cigarette smoke. When he returns to 2011, Al tells him that he must return to 1958 and live there until 1963 so he can stop the assassination of JFK. Jake puzzles over Al’s idea, but Al tells him that every trip is a reset, every trip only takes two minutes in present time.

Jake agrees to take a preliminary trip back in time, not to stop the assassination, but to stop Harry’s father from murdering the family. The problem is, when he returns to Al to get the instructions on JFK’s assassination, time resets, and Jake must try to stop Harry’s father a second time. Violence can beget violence, and murder can beget murder, but Jake is determined to do the right thing.

Once settled in 1958, Jake assumes the identity of George Amberson and sets out on a journey across time, history and the U.S. What he encounters – suspicion, danger, racism, poverty, domestic abuse – changes the man he was. When he meets Sadie Dunhill, George, as he is then, falls in love. Unfortunately, love may be the one thing that can stop him from completing his mission. So what does George choose? The future of the United States or the love of his life?

Criticisms and Compliments

Stephen King is regarded as the master of horror, the creator of all things that go bump in the night, but his more conventional stories (e.g. The Long Walk, The Green Mile, Misery) are the really fantastic reads. True to his English-teaching background, King’s storytelling style is simple and straightforward (nary an adverb to be found!), and the worlds he creates are complex and fascinating. 11/22/63, a massive piece of work at almost 900 pages, is one of his most gripping stories yet. Despite its heft, 11/22/63 clips along at a fast pace, and Jake Epping/George Amberson is a complicated protagonist who not only develops as a result of his time-traveling experiences, but he also learns the weight of consequences – even when he believes he’s doing the world a favor.

The rules with time travel, like with any science fiction world or fantasy creature, are flexible, and different writers have different interpretations. In Stephen King’s world, time travel involves wormholes to the past; each visit resets the past. But something – someone – is in charge of cleaning up the movements of the time travelers, of people like Jake/George and Al, because each trip leaves residue. The butterfly effect is always in play, though not in a way obvious to the people involved. Every choice, every decision leads to a different outcome, one that irrevocably shapes history. The past is firm and obdurate, as Jake/George observes, and everything, it seems, works out the way it’s supposed to. What an intriguing concept.

11/22/63 is a much lauded book, and for good reason. Read it as soon as possible – though carve out a good chunk of time.

Source:

  • King, Stephen. 11/22/63. Gallery Books, 2012 ISBN 9781451627299

Lois Lowry, “The Giver”

Houghton Mifflin Company; http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/The-Giver/978054799 5663#sthash.zHknls58.dpbsIt’s a constant debate: safety versus freedom. The two are not mutually exclusive, and rarely can a person, a family, a nation have one with the other. While a life can be safe (i.e. financially, emotionally, physically stable), it cannot be free. Life is bound by the nature of safety, of the rules and regulations that ensure its existence. Freedom, however, is chaotic and unpredictable and completely without any governance or guidelines. Who is to say which is better? Is safety better than freedom or vice versa? What if a group has prioritized safety to the point that the concept of freedom doesn’t exist? Is it possible to miss what you’ve never known?

Plot Overview: Sameness, Safety and Freedom

Jonas lives in a world of Sameness. There are no colors, no races, no obvious physical differences that set Jonas apart from his peers – except the light color of his eyes. Blue. But in his society, it is rude to point out that which makes one different, so his childhood is relatively free of uncomfortable attention. Instead, he lives what appears to be an idyllic childhood with his mother, who works in the justice department, and his father, a pediatrician. He also has a spunky little sister named Lily. It’s the perfect family unit.

At the ceremony of Twelve, the day when all eleven-year-olds reach their twelfth birthday (regardless of the day of their actual birth), professions are assigned, and schooling becomes specialized. Jonas and his friends, Fiona and Asher, are eager to hear what their assignments will be; they’ve been expecting the announcements and have been aware of the eyes watching them, assessing them. When Jonas’s turn arrives, however, he is mysteriously skipped over. Anxious, baffled, Jonas finds he is to be the new Receiver of Memories.

Jonas’s profession is to receive the painful memories of the past from the Giver, a man who, more than anyone in the community, bears the weight of human weakness. Although the Giver sends happy memories (snow, sledding, sunshine) to Jonas slowly and gently, he must also pass to Jonas memories of pain that Jonas cannot comprehend. Emotional pain, physical pain, war, famine, death. The sheltered boy struggles to understand what he’s receiving – and what he’s been missing: love and freedom.

Stunned by the spectrum of emotions he experiences and angered by the ignorance of his parents and his peers, Jonas decides to teach them a lesson, to release the memories to make his community more knowledgeable, more compassionate. More human. But when his father brings home baby Gabe, another child with blue eyes, Jonas and the Giver’s plan takes a startling turn.

Criticisms and Compliments

The Giver, like The Host, could be considered “gentle science fiction.” There isn’t a lot of violence (other than the ritual deaths – or “releasing” – of old people and those who make egregious mistakes) nor does the story take place on another planet, in another world or among an alien population. It is, rather, set in the United States, in a utopian future, where kids are kids, adults are adults, and pain and suffering are in the distant past. Although the reader – children in this case, though The Giver is an interesting, if simple read for any age – is immersed in the community, there needs not be a great deal of backstory and explanation for the setting. It is soft immersion.

The Giver has also frequently been compared to other utopian-based science fiction novels (Brave New World, for example); while it does draw on the generalities of utopias (safety, equality, control), The Giver is more of a coming-of-age story. Jonas is a boy confronted with complex emotions, sexuality and self-awareness. His developments make for a deep and controversial story, one that sparks conversation and debate – the sign of a good book. Which The Giver is.

Source:

  • Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993 ISBN 9780395645662

Stephanie Meyer, “The Host”

Book design, Meryl Sussman Levavi; http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/stephenie-meyer/the-host/9780316218504/When the Souls took over Earth, they didn’t do so violently or ignorantly or mercilessly. Rather, the benevolent race inserted themselves one by one into the bodies of humans, gently taking over each host’s thoughts and memories. It should have been an operation like any other, and it was certainly not the Souls’ first time invading a planet. But, not to be underestimated, the humans fought back – in mind, body and spirit – leaving the Souls, like Wanderer, baffled. And then sympathetic.

Plot Overview: Love, Acceptance and the Enemy

When Wanderer – so named for her inability to settle on a particular species on a particular planet – is inserted into Melanie Stryder, she expects the process to be like the others she’s experienced. She will assume the shell completely, and any dregs of the previous owner’s conscious will melt away. But Melanie won’t go away.

Confused, Wanderer tries to negotiate with Melanie, tries to understand her anger and frustration. The two fight against each other, but Melanie’s memories seep into Wanderer’s present. The two eventually come to terms, especially after Wanderer begins to develop feelings for those Melanie loves, especially Jamie, her little brother, and Jared, her boyfriend.

United, Wanderer and Melanie try to find Jamie and save him from being implanted with another Soul. They manage to track him down, as well as Melanie’s Uncle Jeb, who crafted a series of caves and tunnels beneath the surface of Arizona years before the invasion. Now the underground dwellings are home to a band of human rebels.

The rebels are wary, loath to accept Wanderer. Her compassion and her nurturing nature win some of them over – especially Ian, a man with whom Wanderer begins to feel a special connection – but she remains an outsider, a witness to the emotionally destructive nature of the Souls. Deciding to make the ultimate sacrifice, to reunite Melanie with Jared, Wanderer agrees to teach Doc, another rebel, how to perform an extraction. And she wants it done on herself.

Criticisms and Compliments

To give credit where credit is due, Stephanie Meyer knows how to write an absorbing story. Sure, the Twilight Series isn’t the best written work, and neither is The Host (though it is an improvement on Twilight), but Meyer manages to keep the reader glued to her pages. Like the books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, it’s almost a disappointment when The Host ends. Such is the magic of sci-fi/fantasy/romance fiction.

That said, the prologue and first chapter of The Host are an ineffective cold open; it’s not until the reader gets to the meat of the story that who and what Wanderer and the Souls are begin to make sense. Overall, the story could have been better had Meyer given more background or explanation; it’s generally a cardinal rule not to start a novel with a flashback, and in The Host’s case, that rule holds true.

Still, The Host is captivating, and Wanderer is a terrific protagonist, warm and curious and good-hearted (if a worm-like creature can have a good heart). And it is guaranteed that when the movie version is released in March 2013, Saoirse Ronan will do the role of Wanderer/Melanie justice. The Host (both the movie and the book) may not be a must see/must read, but it is engaging entertainment.

Source:

  • Meyer, Stephanie. The Host. Little, Brown and Company (Reprint edition), 2011 ISBN 9780316043045

Deborah Harkness, “A Discovery of Witches”

Design, Francesca Belanger; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780143119685,00.html?A_Discovery_of_Witches_Deborah_HarknessWithin the stacks at Oxford Library, tucked into a desk with piles of aged manuscripts, eyes focused on text and hands flying across her computer keyboard sits Diana Bishop. Scholar, historian, academician. Single woman. Witch. Diana has refused her natural inclinations, her powers, in favor of a simpler life, a human life. Magic, however, sneaks in occasionally, most notably when she calls an alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, from the dregs of the library. Not only has the manuscript been charmed, but it is also a palimpsest. At the touch of her hand, the manuscript opens – and an army of vampires, witches and demons sets its sights on Diana; only a seductive, persuasive vampire, Matthew Clermont, can help.

Plot Overview: Magic, Love and Creation

Diana has constructed a shell behind which she lives. Her magic is closely guarded and rarely used, but as the daughter of two powerful witches – both of whom were murdered in Africa when she was seven years old – her skills and talents can’t be denied or contained. So when she stumbles across Ashmole 782 and easily, naturally unlocks its mysteries, she becomes a target.

Matthew Clermont, a 1500-year-old vampire, has his own desire to see the manuscript; rumor has it that the document contains the secrets to how and why vampires, demons and witches were created. As the vampire population is slowly dying out, Matthew, a scientist, is desperate to save his race and to understand his own beginnings.

Although reluctant at first, Matthew and Diana develop a friendship, one that eventually blossoms into a romance. The two, it seems, are fated to be together, despite being two different species. Vampires nor witches nor family members nor fate can keep the two apart. But as their passion grows, so does the danger surrounding them, leaving them with one option: escape.

Criticisms and Compliments

At first glance, A Discovery of Witches is Harry Potter or Twilight for adults, an indulgence into the vampire-witch-werewolf trend. Past the first chapter, however, A Discovery of Witches finds its footing with a pseudo-academic treatment of alchemy and the supernatural. Diana’s devotion to academia, her enthusiastic absorption in ancient texts makes history come alive; with Matthew’s personal experiences – he is almost two millennia old – history, the Crusades, the inventions and creations of man, the origin of creatures (man, demon, witch, vampire) are that much more fascinating. A Discovery of Witches is not just fluff, it’s smart, intriguing fluff.

While Diana and Matthew’s love story and their desire to understand Ashmole 782 are interesting, Harkness could have pared down the plot. The interspecies romance between a vampire and a witch is cliché, and the development of Diana and Matthew’s relationship drags on with surprisingly little depth. As individuals, Diana and Matthew are complex, each searching for answers as to why and who they are the way they are; as a couple, they veer towards shallow – at least for the first two-thirds of the book.

The real problem with A Discovery of Witches, though it has its delightful moments, is the length, the amount of dialogue and backstory. Had Harkness eliminated the unnecessary and scaled her almost 600-page novel back to 300 pages, A Discovery of Witches would’ve been fantastic. It’s still not bad, but the ending is rather sudden.

Despite its length and wordiness, A Discovery of Witches is a good read; hopefully, its follow-up, Shadow of Night, will be cleaner and more concise and delve deeper into the history of Ashmole 782.

Source:

  • Harkness, Deborah. A Discovery of Witches. Penguin, 2011 ISBN 9780143119685

Dean Koontz, “The Eyes of Darkness”

Since the death of her son, Danny, in a freak accident a year ago, Tina Evans is just starting to make sense of life again. She has moved on from her divorce, and her career as a producer in Vegas is thriving; her new 10-million-dollar show, Magyck!, an extraordinary mix of magic acts, acrobatics and song and dance, is the new “It” show in the sparkly city. What doesn’t make sense in her life, however, is the strange presence in her house, the one that repeatedly writes “Not Dead” on Danny’s play chalkboard.

Plot Overview: Vegas, Love and Science Fiction

New Year’s Eve is the perfect time to be in Las Vegas; the glittery lights of the desert city give the holiday that extra dose of hope and shine and extravagance. Tina Evans, a veteran of the Vegas stage, knows that timing is everything, and for her multi-million dollar production, New Year’s Eve is the ideal premiere date.

The days leading up to December 31 are busy and stressful, so much so that Tina is rarely at home and rarely notices the bizarre happenings around her house. The temperature dips, door knobs ice over, the airplanes in her son’s room begin to fly, the radio turns on. Most disturbingly, the message “Not Dead” is scrawled on various surfaces.

Tina’s son, Danny, died a year earlier, and, caught up in the whirlwind of dress rehearsals and last-minute production changes, Tina is too distracted to dwell on her loss anymore. She reconciles – sort of – with her selfish and self-centered ex-husband, and she starts a relationship with widower and lawyer Eliot Stryker. The two mesh in every way, and when Tina begins to piece together the strange messages she believes she’s receiving from her dead son, Eliot is at her side, prepared to help her untangle the increasingly peculiar and dangerous mystery.

Criticisms and Compliments

The Eyes of Darkness, despite being one of Koontz’s earlier novels, is well-written. The haunting of Tina’s house is effectively spooky, and at first glance, this novel is more of a ghost story than pure science fiction. A word of warning, however: Koontz’s descriptions are so accurate, so eerie, that The Eyes of Darkness is best for the daytime, unless the reader is a fan of horror or psychological thrillers.

The buildup to the story’s climax – the truth behind Danny’s death and the mysterious communications Tina receives from him – is deliciously suspenseful. The chemistry between Tina and her handy love interest, Stryker, powers the plot forward, and the two make a great team, evading seemingly omnipotent “bad guys” and generally being sneaky and stealthy. After they discover Danny, however, and the whos, whats, wheres, whys and hows are explained, the plot fizzles. Still, for a science fiction novel that takes place in Las Vegas, with the main character a former showgirl whose boyfriend is former Army intelligence, The Eyes of Darkness is a good book.

Source:

  • Koontz, Dean. The Eyes of Darkness. Berkley Trade, 2011 ISBN 9780425240403

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games Trilogy

Note: This book review contains some spoilers.

In a dystopian future, North America has been ravaged by war and famine. Carved out of the remains is Panem, a country of 13 districts and a capital city. Each district specializes in a certain industry, providing luxurious living for the members of the Capitol. And the Capitol, in return, reminds each district – of which there are now 12 – of their past transgressions by selecting one boy and one girl to compete in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death with only one victor. When Katniss Everdeen, tribute from District 12, enters the arena, she has no intention of inciting a rebellion, making an enemy of the Capitol’s president and changing the face of Panem; she only means to survive.

Plot Overview: Blood, Rebellion and Love

In The Hunger Games, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen’s wants and needs are few. She hunts, both to keep her family from starving and for her own emotional well-being. Her hunting partner, Gale, is her best friend and confidant – for now. When her beloved sister, Primrose, is chosen as a tribute for the Hunger Games, Katniss immediately steps in to volunteer, prepared to sacrifice herself and her future for her family. While she expects to die, she doesn’t anticipate her friendship with Peeta, the other tribute from District 12. He embodies goodness, and his persistence in loving Katniss opens a chink in her heart that she will never be able to repair.

Book design, Elizabeth B. Parisi; http://www.scholastic.com/thehungergames/After the 74th Hunger Games has ended, Katniss and Peeta return to District 12, hoping for a return to normality in Catching Fire. But whatever was normal and peaceful before is elusive, especially as whispers of revolution spread from district to district. With the Quarter Quell coming up, Katniss finds that she has never left the Hunger Games. She may have physically left the arena, but emotionally she is still a victim of the Capitol and President Snow. Once again, Katniss must sacrifice to save those she loves most.

At the end of the Quarter Quell, Katniss, along with some of her tribute allies, has been rescued and brought to District 13 in Mockingjay. Long believed to be destroyed, District 13 has been moved underground. The district’s citizens and refugees must adhere to a strict regimen, but Katniss chafes at the severe rules and regulations. She longs to be back in District 12, which has been decimated by Capitol bombs, and she is desperate to be with Peeta, who has been taken by President Snow. Although her mental state is shaky, she agrees to be the “Mockingjay,” the symbol of the revolution for each of the districts. And with the power and fame of being a hero, Katniss is determined to fight in the civil war and kill one more person: President Snow.

Criticisms and Compliments

Book design, Elizabeth B. Parisi; http://www.scholastic.com/thehungergames/The Hunger Games Trilogy is not unlike other dystopian or utopian furturistic novels – Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and most stories by Ray Bradbury, especially Fahrenheit 451, immediately come to mind. What makes this trilogy stand out from the other young adult sci-fi/fantasy novels, however, is its raw imagery. It is a bloody, gruesome set of books that not only exposes the inhumanity and selfishness that thrives within the privileged and powerful, but it also reveals the horrific depths of so-called entertainment. Not unlike reality television, the Hunger Games is a kill-or-be-killed, real-life scenario played out and, in the case of each district, forced upon viewers. Could TV watchers, and Capitol citizens, really become so desensitized to violence that they crave the blood and gore of innocent teenagers killing one another? The idea is repugnant – but it keeps the pages of the trilogy turning.

Katniss Everdeen, the vulnerable, naïve tribute from District 12, makes for the perfect anti-hero, the unintentional foil to a depraved government that embraces retribution and materialism. She is impulsive and prickly, more home in the woods with her bow and arrow than with other people. Her heart, while tender, only opens up enough to allow in her mother and sister, her erstwhile hunting partner but forever friend, Gale, and Peeta, the supposed love of her life. Her role is more of a pawn than a leader; she is easily manipulated by her mentor, Haymitch, President Snow and the rebels, but she stands for hope. And hope is really all anyone can ask for after living under the thumb of the Capitol.

The Hunger Games trilogy lives up to its hype, and unlike other popular fantasy series, especially the Twilight series, it is well written and engaging. With experience in writing plays, Suzanne Collins, who holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing, structures each book with three cleverly plotted acts. The pacing is even, the suspense is high, and the love triangle is compelling. The Hunger Games is a true page-turner. Read it as soon as possible – and then please watch the film, The Hunger Games, which is a relatively close adaption of the first novel.

Source:

  • Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games Trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay). Scholastic, 2008 ISBN 9780545265355

Jodi Picoult, “Second Glance”

For the people of Comtostook, the recently sold town property is merely that – property. But when the local Abenaki tribe claims that the land is home to an ancient burial ground, some people, namely invincible ghost hunter Ross Wakeman, take notice. What happens next is unexplainable, impossible. The sky rains roses, spots of the ground are frozen solid despite it being August, water stops boiling. And yet, people continue on with their daily routines. Second Glance, a story of love, of longing, of death and of the miraculous, takes a close look at emotional pain and the faith needed to survive life.

Plot Overview: Love, Longing and Injustice

Ross Wakeman is a man who just can’t die. No matter how many times he’s struck by lightning, or how many car crashes he experiences, death eludes him. For him, death is his only desire, his only solution to reunite with his fiancée, who was killed in an accident years before. Until that day when he can be with her again, Ross works as a ghost hunter, searching for her spirit. He is quickly disillusioned with ghost hunting and the con artists who claim to speak with the dead, but he agrees to observe the Abenaki property to see if any ghost is present.

Lia Beaumont, the only person Ross meets on the property, is straddling two worlds, though she is unaware of her connection to the past and the present. She is depressed and suicidal, searching for independence and her own identity. For Ross, she is a new woman to love; for her husband, she is a precious child that must be constantly monitored. Lia, however, decides on one final act, one that allows her true freedom, even if it takes her away from the men she loves.

Ross’s sister, Shelby, a librarian in Comtostook, lives her life by the moment. She has dealt with her brother’s multiple suicide attempts, the abandonment of her husband, and now her son, Ethan’s, disease, which prevents him from being in sunlight. Ethan, a precocious 11 year old, is aware that he is dying and that nothing can cure him. So he lives at night, skateboarding in the dark and hunting ghosts with his uncle. It is only when a woman and her psychic daughter come to town that both Ethan and his mother begin to learn about living.

Criticisms and Compliments

Second Glance is a beautifully written novel, one that is more poetic than Picoult’s other novels, like Change of Heart. In following her tradition, Picoult picks a philosophical issue that involves life, death and faith, and she explores it from a variety of perspectives. For some, death is wish; for others, a fear. And like most of her flirtations with controversial issues, Picoult never takes a specific stand. Rather, she puts forth ideas and circumstances designed to question, not answer. For this reason, Second Glance is worth a read, just for the quality of the story telling and the depth of the issue presented.

Picoult also brings up the history of eugenics and its place within 1920s and 1930s Vermont society. From a present-day perspective, eugenics, the study of positive and negative genetic traits, seems almost like planned genocide, the weeding of society. Those prone to crime, rage and mental disabilities should be plucked and tossed; those inclined towards ethics, literacy and controlled behavior should be nurtured. And, in what is a pivotal point in Second Glance, those who exhibit negative traits are never white, but always of another race.

In Second Glance, Picoult’s story of life and death and the mysterious in-between is fascinating and tragic. It is, also, spooky; readers are warned, Second Glance is not a novel to be read at home, alone, at night. It is a lovely book, but it is best suited for daytime reading.

Source:

  • Picoult, Jodi. Second Glance. Atria Books, 2003 ISBN 9780743454506

Kazuo Ishiguro, “Never Let Me Go”

Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of Remains of the Day, crafts a poignant tale of friendship and self-awareness in Never Let Me Go. A calm and sensitive narrator, Kathy H. describes her dynamic relationship with fellow students Ruth and Tommy and their time spent at Hailsham, a boarding school in the Cotswolds. Kathy’s reminiscence is deceptively serene; although she and her friends appear to cope with traditional adolescent hormones and complex social standards, they are a unique – and segregated – part of society. With the clarity of adulthood, Kathy reflects on the carefully meted out clues to the reason for their existence.

Plot Overview: Friendship, Love and Life

As a 31-year-old “carer,” Kathy spends a great deal of time on the road, driving between hospitals. It is during these periods that she contemplates her life and the fabric of her friendship with Tommy and Ruth.

At Hailsham, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy live a sheltered, peaceful life. Never venturing beyond the borders of the school, the trio, along with their classmates, are content to explore the nuances of teenage relationships. With an education focusing on their physical well-being and artistic talent, the students learn the perils of smoking and the importance of healthy behavior, especially with sex – even though they cannot reproduce. Their best artworks are also routinely picked up by the quiet and seemingly fearful Madame to be placed in her gallery. Yet, when one teacher, Miss Lucy, lets slip a few comments on the secrecy surrounding the school, Kathy and Tommy realize that they are “different.”

After graduating from Hailsham, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy move to The Cottages. Living with students from various schools around the country, the trio’s relationship begins to shift, especially with Ruth and Tommy as a couple. When the trust between the three starts to disintegrate, and they push beyond the shaky borders of The Cottages, their friendship becomes deeply damaged.

Criticisms and Compliments

Never Let Me Go is a frustrating, yet beautiful read. Ishiguro is careful not to reveal the truth behind Kathy, Ruth and Tommy’s existence, effectively creating a relationship between writer and reader parallel to that between teacher and student at Hailsham. Ishiguro provides information bit by bit, almost as an afterthought; as Kathy gradually learns about herself and her reason for living, so does the reader. Both audiences are, as Kathy puts it, “told but not told.”

Complementing the mystery of Never Let Me Go is Ishiguro’s narrative. He easily captures the voice of a young woman and the disjointed nature of storytelling. As a result, Never Let Me Go is a charming set of snapshots of innocent life in the countryside – with ominous undertones. This juxtaposition of naïveté and a harsh reality makes Never Let Me Go a tender, provocative novel that examines the compassion, or lack thereof, towards the value of human life.

Source:

  • Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. Vintage (Mti Edition), 2010 ISBN 9780307740991