Since then, I've just read a lot of non-fiction. Interesting, but nothing really all that gripping.
Flash forward to 6 weeks ago when I was "dared" by a friend to read a "silly" YA book called, "The Hunger Games." Swallowing my pride on reading such a twisted story and lowering my literary standards (yes, I'm a snob!), I caved because a) it was a dare, and even more so b) I just had to find out what happened in the love triangle! Ha ha.
I hesitated purchasing the whole trilogy at Costco since I was sure I wouldn't like the first book that much, but bought the set anyway. It ended up being a good thing, having the other books at the ready because Suzanne Collins cliff hangers made me devour the set in three days. My free time has since disappeared and I have been voraciously devouring books since. Here is my list of reviews . . . thought I would share.
Hunger Games, Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
This is a set that definitely needs to be read all together. The premise is a post-apocalytic US where a nuclear war has ravaged the country and left few districts struggling to survive under a dictatorship. To remind these districts about the price of revolting, an annual game is held where each district is forced to select two teenagers to fight--each other, the elements, and special surprises by the game makers--for survival. Last one standing wins their life (sort of ) and fame, money, and glory. I found the first book interesting and captivating. Disturbing and action packed, it had me hooked. The second one seemed even better as it started connecting dots and provided some romance and more heart-pounding action. The third book, I found was the meat of the series where all the political and emotional issues became apparent. The first hand look at war, it affects, and the use of media to propagate lies seemed to blur the lines between right and wrong.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the series. I liked the way Collins brought in current political issues and crazy media culture (watching fighting competitions as entertainment, reality shows, and reality show character "images") showing us how sick our society can become. I even read it twice and found it a great book to read aloud with Brad. I had trouble imagining why a book this gory would be on my grade three's book order list . . . without maturity to grasp the political and ethical messages, this book is only gory and shocking entertainment. My only criticisms were to have a little stronger character development (less whiny Katniss) and a little bit better writing. However, Suzanne Collins makes it work as it is told in first person and even the ending which has made many hurl the book out windows, was as it should be. I did find that after racing through three days with Hunger Games "morphling", the ending left me as a drug addict off drugs, cold turkey and I seriously spent DAYS trying to get back into life. I even had to write an alternate ending just to help with the closure! Ha ha. Good job, Collins.
In the wake of Hunger Games, I scoured the bookstores trying to find something else that would grip me and give me some political meatiness to ponder. (After all, if I am going to be reading some "children's" books there better be some redeeming qualities.
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
This dystopia occurs in a future US, mainly in Louisiana after global warming has wrecked havoc on the US landscape, and especially the ancient and currently non-existent oil industry. It follows the life of Nailer and his quest for survival in the harsh living conditions and poverty. It has a Huckleberry Finn vibe to it. Compared with Collins shocking Hunger Games, I found this so much more gritty and gory. It was definitely more for guys . . . but I think for myself it was lacking the political issues that I enjoyed from Hunger Games. (However, there is a sequel and maybe that will go into the political issues that are hinted at but never really spoken about.) Good writing, good characters . . . just not my cup of tea. Too harsh and gritty.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
I had a hard time reading Delirium based on the premise of the book. What kind of society would really believe that love is a disease that not only needs to be cured by the time someone is 18, but that those who show any kind of affection should be sniffed out and beaten to a pulp? That is the society that Lena lives in, taking place in the near future. Of course, with all science fiction a large grain of salt is usually needed. Putting that aside, I found the characters very believable. Their development and relationships between each other were right on point, and often sweet and heart breaking at once. The story line follows Lena's life the summer she graduates from high school, her last few months before her "procedure." As expected, she does end up falling in love weeks before she is scheduled to go under. No one will ever dispute Oliver's AMAZING writing. Seriously, she is up there with Dickens, Mark Twain, and even Shakespeare. I know, that's going out on a ledge, but really, her descriptions are beautiful, gorgeous even, and I had to pause several times through out to reread passages because they were just breath taking. In fact, so many of them are so pretty, but they are incredibly insightful as well and are worth pulling out of the book and using as every day quotes. Here is a snippet:
"Somewhere deeper in the city a motor is running, a distant, earthy growl, like an animal panting. In a few hours the bright blush of morning will push through all that darkness, and shapes will reassert themselves, and people will wake up and yawn and brew coffee and get ready for work, everything the same as usual. Life will go on. Something aches at the very core of me, something ancient and deep and stronger than words: the filament that joins each of us to the root of existence, that ancient thing unfurling and resisting and grappling, desperately for a foothold, a way to stay here, breathe, keep going."
Oliver's writing is poetic. It ruined me for any other author. This story was interesting, and really captured first love. But that is not all. There was love between a parent and child, the relationships between friends that grow from sweet childhood memories to the heartache of growing up. And then there are some dictatorship undertones that start rumbling louder as the book speeds to a close. Most of the story line follows a love story, so it isn't as action-packed as an arena filled with kids trying to survive and beat the pulp out of each other, but it is so well written that it holds you captive and breathless. The climatic ending stopped my heart for several minutes proving that this lady knows how to write action. I felt like I was speeding toward the end in a car chase only to have the brakes slammed on and me go flying. I wanted to let go of the book and let the momentum hurl it against a wall. But then, the prose was so beautiful, I couldn't bear to hurt the book. I looked for something else to throw . . .
The second book in the series is entitled:
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
This book obviously follows Lena and her life . . . but it is so drastically different from the first book. I will keep things vague so as not to spoil it for people, but if the first book seemed like a happy distopia viewed by someone with rose coloured glasses, this one was dark, gritty, and painful. In a good way. I personally LOVED it. Oliver even changed the format (thank goodness, because the snippets of religious, government, and cultural documents at the start of each chapter were a little distracting for me). This one is in a Now vs Then in alternating forms through out the book. Confusing? Maybe, until you start to read it. I was impressed by the foreshadowing that she was able to do with this. I was also amazed by her character development. Certainly Lena has changed but Oliver gives us a glimpse as to how those changes happened gradually. The sequel picks up on the heart-pounding ending of the first and doesn't ever slow down. I must admit, I hesitated to purchase it in the store the week before because they only had hard cover volumes available (why pay $20/book when you could get it for $10 . . . or at least $15 on amazon), but my Delirium book had a sample of chapters in the back and once I started reading them, I knew I had to pay the $20. And it was an excellent value!! It was heart-stopping, gut-wrenching, tender, hopeful, twisting and turning . . . page after page . . . taking my heart and emotions with it. Her story-telling abilities are nothing short of masterful. Perfection. The themes that come from the second book run deep and wide. So many to discuss: religion, government, regulation, prejudice, war, internal conflicts, personal growth . . . and, of course love and hatred.
I LOVE Oliver's writing. I really can't say enough about it. Here is a snippet of Pandemonium:
"I'm pushing aside the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and flame."
My only criticism . . . well, maybe I have two but I can't say one without spoiling, but the second is that I have to wait until FEBRUARY to get the third installment. And it is already written!! Oliver, what's with that?
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Every time I went in to my local bookstore asking for a Hunger Games follow up, the sales staff kept recommending this one. The reviews were great. . . some people even said they liked it better than Hunger Games. So, obviously I picked it up. I'm not sure if it was because I read this after Delirium, but I couldn't get past the poor writing. Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games was not the most eloquently written book either, but somehow it was easier to read than Divergent. I didn't like the characters much. They felt choppy and relationships felt stiff. The premise is based on a society based on segregating into five factions. Supposedly you are tested and should go to the faction that you most resemble, but that isn't always the case. This made it feel like there was a strong Harry Potter undertone, or high school/college sorority crossed with Hunger Games violence. Think Skulls (the movie/book). The violence was heavy and almost seemed unnecessary. In fact, most of the characters' dialogue felt like it was written by an 8th grader. Sorry for those who thought this was amazing. The plot line did get interesting (by page 260!!) and I will probably read the second installment . . . but since my reading stack is pretty tall, it won't be for a while. Or maybe it won't, at the pace I'm keeping these days. ;)
Unwind by Neil Shusterman
"I was never going to amount to much anyway, but now, statistically speaking, there's a better chance that some part of me will go on to greatness somewhere in the world. I'd rather be partly great than entirely useless." --Samson Ward
An interested, albeit, confusing statement. Until you know the premise for this book. The second civil war has been fought and won. The Heartland war was between those who were pro-choice and those who were pro-life. The latter won out but to appease the pro-choice supporters, the government passed the Bill of Life that banned abortions but allowed parents and guardians the option of "unwinding" children between the ages of 13-18. The act of "unwinding" is not "killing" in this society, it is merely the harvesting of body organs and parts (minimally 99.44% by law) to send on to recipients who "need" them. The thought is that since these parts are still alive on someone else, the child is not really "killed," just living divided. Chilling. I really am not sure what is worse, the premise, (the idea that some children LOOKED FORWARD to this as a religious tithe--omplete with bar mitzvah like party . . . combining "birthdays, wedding, and funeral in one", that parents feel they can dispose of troubled teens easily . . .), the realization that pro-life may not be the answer either since many unwanted babies are born and left on door steps "storked" or put into underfunded and overflowing orphanages where they end up having to be unwound anyway for "budget cuts." Maybe the worst part is that the shocking morals and ethics of this society and its government are really too close to home and our society is terrifyingly close to these kinds of rationalizations.
The first part is a bit slow/confusing, but it follows three story lines until they meet up. There are different points of view, which shift in and out according to the story line, with a few other points of view included as well. The writing isn't bad, but the characters and the plot (and sadly, the premise!) is so believable that you are hooked in. To top it off, I LOVE the way the author makes you pause, close the book and ponder ethical questions at hand. He neither pushes pro-life or pro-choice, but shows you examples of each. Where Oliver made me distracted with her bits and pieces of government articles, and religious quotes, Shusterman executes it perfectly providing the right amount of foreshadowing and thought provoking. The fact that he even brought in REAL quotes by some well respected members of our history makes the whole thing seem so much more plausible. If you thought the Hunger Games was disturbing, this one will make your stomach squirm and make your face turn green. There was a part where I could only read a few lines at a time before I was dry heaving and looking for a toilet . . . only to collect myself and open the book again. And only read another line or two and repeat the pattern. It was a challenge. Certainly not for the faint of heart. The surprising part was that this book contained little violence, no sex, alcohol, or even a tiny bit of gory details. Shusterman presents things in such little detail, but so masterfully, that my imagination had me sick to my stomach. Although suitable for older kids, this is not a "kids'" book. In fact, it almost makes Hunger Games look like child's play and deserving of being on a grade three book order.
A very excellent and meaty read. Fortunately for my family, the second installment isn't out until late August . . . or else you know I'd be reading it right now! (It sounds AMAZING by the way.)
Has anyone else read any of these books? Do you care to comment?