Pandemonium

cover art of pandemoniumPandemonium is the 2nd book in the trilogy that began with Delirium. If you haven’t read that, go do so before reading this.

It seems like a long time since I stepped into Lauren Oliver’s dystopian world where the book of shhh badmouths love as a disease. However, I had no trouble getting reacquainted with the setting or characters. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about how the novel jumps back and forth in time but I thought this was expertly executed. It was helpful that she used chapter breaks to jump in the timeline, because you couldn’t skim and miss that it was happening.

Oliver writes about grief in an eloquent blunt fashion that makes it impossible not to relate to the loss being experienced.

grief is like sinking, like being buried. I am in water the tawny color of kicked-up dirt. Every breath is full of choking. There is nothing to hold onto, no sides, no way to claw myself up. There is nothing to do but let go.

Let go. Feel the weight all around you, feel the squeezing of your lungs, the slow, low pressure. Let yourself go deeper. There is nothing but bottom. There is nothing but the taste of metal, and the echoes of old things, and days that look like darkness ( )

Her prose is full of imagery and powerful emotion.She spends a page describing tree fungus and concludes;

that is what hatred is. It will feed you and at the same time turn you to rot.(pg 166)

Not long after that she has a character describe midnight as smelling like paper, connecting memories of scent to present experience and highlighting the human experience that the people in her fictional world give up for a sense of safety.

Pandemonium argues our humanity is deeply linked to our emotions and attachments. When her friends receive the “treatment” separating them from that side of theirselves she considers them dead. Without the ability to love or hate they are no better than zombies in her eyes. The surgery wipes away the spark that defined them, even as they lived in fear of it.

Depression and hopelessness are explored through the passing of time;

the hours here are flat and round, disks of gray layered on top of the other. They smell sour and musky, like the breath of someone who is starving. They move slowly, at a grind, until it seems as though they are not moving at all. They are pressing down, endlessly down.(169)

This quote is deceptively bleak in a story that is filled to the brim with hope. Even when she has every reason to be disillusioned with her cause Lena tries to see from the perspectives of others and keeps her wits about her.

it occurs to me, then, that people themselves are full of tunnels: winding, dark spaces and caverns; impossible to know all the places inside of them. (276)

She understands better than many of her fellow Invalids that people are complex creatures and not easily slotted into categories such as enemy or ally.

As a bookworm I enjoyed the parts about banned books and the power of reading.
On books

some of them are webs; you can feel your way along their threads, but just barely, into strange and dark corners. Some of them are balloons bobbing up through the sky: totally self-contained, and unreachable, but beautiful to watch.
And some of them-the best ones- are doors. (172)

Pandemonium is definitely worth reading, and I can’t wait for book 3!!

All Good Children

*I received All Good Children by Catherine Austen as a submission for the YABA

This book is amazing. It’s like Gattaca meets Serenity and I love both of those movies. A must-read for fans of Dystopian fiction for teens! This novel, like so many of the classics it alludes to is a metaphor. It speaks against conformity, over-medicated children, and totalitarianism. It encourages individuality, creativity, imagination, friendship and human rights. It was heartbreaking (there were tears!) and horrifying, and yet accessible, funny and hopeful. I don’t want to say more and risk giving anything away but I think this is fantastic read with a very strong male narrator.

You need to read this to see why we voted it the best Canadian YA novel of last year!

Delirium

Delirium by Lauren Oliver is a fantastic example of a YA dystopian novel. Dystopian stories appeal to teens (and me) for a number of reasons

  • They allow for honourable rebels. Teens are notoriously rebellious and dystopia validates this by creating a justifiable rebellion.
  • By the same token, they present characters like the good-hearted bad boy, a stereotypical ideal that appeals to young female readers such as myself (hey, I’m youngish!)
  • They elaborate on the flaws that trouble us in our own society and let us think about issues from a safe distance, stories in our own time sometimes hit too close to home and are harder not to bias about
  • They have the opportunity to include action, adventure, romance, mystery and basically anything you could want in a story

Love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all things, it kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.

Delirium is a lot like Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, because there is a socially and politically mandated surgery that everyone undergoes. In both stories a piece of the personality is removed from citizens to maintain order and fix some perceived flaw in human nature. I find it interesting that in Uglies they remove intelligence and heighten emotion and in Delirium they remove feeling to focus on logic. Hyper sexuality vs. repressed sexuality but equally dystopian! Both alterations are disguised as prevention of heartbreak and loneliness but result in an irresponsible and dysfunctional population ruled by a totalitarian government.

This is a common element of dystopian novels, but Oliver does a great job of exploring the hegemony and brainwashing involved. She also create an interesting social structure that reinforces the control of those in powers.

Family history and the bond between children and their parents who have been disgraced feels incredibly real. The infatuation and the discovery of intimacy in the context of a sexually repressed society is well done. The giddiness of first love described in terms of illness is executed exquisitely. Oliver has a talent for portraying emotional connections.

There is some sneaking over an electric fence that reminds me of another great dystopian novel that’s gotten lots of attention: The Hunger Games. I don’t think she’s a copycat though, Oliver makes the novel her own with her beautiful diction and uses familiar tropes to explore a unique perspective of love.

If you like the statement “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, this is a book for you. Lauren Oliver is definitely an author to keep track of.

not so sweet XVI

XVII like conspiracy theories, I like dystopian settings, I like books about surviving complicated relationships. I think XVI by Julia Karr tries to push too many of each of these things into one novel.

“Nina Oberon’s life is pretty normal: she hangs out with her best friend, Sandy, and their crew, goes to school, plays with her little sister, Dee. But Nina is 15. And like all girls she’ll receive a Governing Council-ordered tattoo on her 16th birthday. XVI. Those three letters will be branded on her wrist, announcing to all the world—even the most predatory of men—that she is ready for sex. Considered easy prey by some, portrayed by the Media as sluts who ask for attacks, becoming a “sex-teen” is Nina’s worst fear. That is, until right before her birthday, when Nina’s mom is brutally attacked. With her dying breaths, she reveals to Nina a shocking truth about her past—one that destroys everything Nina thought she knew. Now, alone but for her sister, Nina must try to discover who she really is, all the while staying one step ahead of her mother’s killer.”

The media only tells lies and brainwashes you, there’s human trafficking, objectification of women, a caste system, vaccination scams, corrupt officials….. the world of XVI is a really really really crappy one to live in. I think this is taken a bit too far. There’s dystopian, and then there’s every possible thing gone wrong. There’s a point where it just isn’t a believable world. Especially because it seems that every teen Nina meets is anti-government. If it was so simple to fall in with the rebel crowd there would be a revolution already under way.

Another major issue I have with the book is that I don’t understand how Dee can be ignorant of Ed beating Ginnie. Ginnie was in very rough shape pretty often from the sounds of it, and Dee is old enough that she would have noticed, even if she never witnessed the violence herself. 

Nina seems to feel she is protecting Dee by not telling her about Ed’s abusive relationship with her mother, the time he kidnapped her, or how he hurt her. This is ludicrous! If you want to protect your sister from her father, don’t tell her sweetly not to go anywhere alone with him. If she doesn’t know how evil he is, she will go with him, it’s her dad. Nina fails miserably as a guardian in this respect. Sheltering kids from what’s going on in the world, and especially their homes is no way to protect them. Kids who know about the dangers are the ones who are capable of avoiding them or dealing with them. If you shelter someone completely until they’re an adult, they aren’t prepared to be an adult and experience culture shock. If you tell your kids everyone is good and friendly they may make the mistake of getting in that strange van. Come on, Nina!

I thought that Nina had a lot more reason to like Derek then Sal. He was sweet and generous, and a good friend. She falls for Sal like the sex-teens she hates, almost entirely based on appearances. I didn’t feel the chemistry between them, and he gives her a gift that I can’t imagine a guy picking out (maybe a 10-year-old girl?).

What I did like:

  • The contrasting messages teens get from the society about sex is a subject that is worth writing about. Being pushed by advertising and peer pressure to be sexy, but pressured by parents, school and religion to be chaste.
  • Wei’s tattoo
  • it makes readers think about how the media influences them
  • it makes readers question the peer pressure race to have sex
  • it paid homage to classic books, although I think Brave New World should have been mentioned and I didn’t notice that.

Overall I’m afraid I was disappointed. It felt a bit clunky and forced.

Wither

* I received this ARC from Simon & Schuster Canada

If you haven’t already; please check out my initial impressions of Wither that I wrote about 4 chapters in.

Lauren DeStefano has created a terrifying world, where at 16 a girl is considered an old maid, and no one expects to live beyond 25. Can you begin to imagine the social, economical and political repercussions of such a dramatically shorter life span that suddenly plagues what is left of the world? It’s an interesting (albeit terrifying) idea, and I’m pretty fascinated by the parts of the book that describe life outside the mansion that is essentially Rhine’s prison. It seems like I’ve been reading a lot of books where characters are in cushy prisons, with all the luxuries except freedom. Is this a commentary on our lifestyles? Slaves to our work so we can be wealthy and have no time to enjoy it? Just a thought, not that I’m anywhere near approaching wealth. I hope the other two books in the Chemical Garden Trilogy explore more of the consequences the dwindling population would have.

I began this story expecting to hate the man Rhine is forced to marry, and sure that the polygamy will make her experience as a reluctant bride even worse. Neither of these things ended up being true, DeStefano actually made Linden a surprisingly likeable character. He thoroughly flawed, but given his upbringing and circumstances a lot of his faults are understandable. He is shockingly gentle and patient, not the crude rapist I would have expected. His father is the one character who remains truly villainous in my eyes, but even his deplorable actions are working towards a goal he thinks is noble. I still think he is scum, but I like that he’s not just evil for the sake of evil as so many bad guys are in fiction.

The relationships formed between Linden’s four wives are intricate and intriguing.  Although there is some competition between them, I think there is significantly less may be expected in a polygamous family due to the fact that none of them had a choice about marrying him. They bond as prisoners, as roommates and through the shared attention of their husband. Rhine bonds with each of her sister wives in a different way, and DeStefano did such a good job with this family dynamic that I might actually read more books with polygamy, not something I’d ever expected to enjoy reading about.

Rhine’s relationship with Gabriel is not as prominent in the plot as I anticipated. At first I was disappointed by this, but since neither is free to be themselves in the mansion, it makes sense that they would not have the opportunity to be together. I like that DeStefano didn’t take the easy way out, and make the captors more sloppy with security.

Wither (Chemical Garden, #1)This was an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it for dystopian fans but my recommendation comes with the disclaimer that it contains, disturbing subjects, mature themes, polygamy, and sexually active minors, so parental discretion is advised.

Let’s talk cover-art shall we?

  1. The little circles on sticks design isn’t just cool-looking a futuristic, it draws your attention to certain areas of the cover and makes connections. Notice that her wedding ring is circled and connected to the caged bird? The bird clearly represents how Rhine is imprisoned by her marriage.
  2. The model is gorgeous and her frilly clothes do look like some of Deidre’s designs.
  3. the flowers on the back go well with my flower analysis (see my earlier post)
  4. I wish you could see her monochromatic eyes, because this feature is mentioned repeatedly in the book.

This book counts toward the debut author challenge.

I’m giving away a copy- enter the contest

First Impressions of Wither

Wither (Chemical Garden, #1)I’m about 4 chapters into Wither by Lauren DeStefano and I feel like writing a mini review for what I’ve experienced so far. More to follow of course!

The novel starts off darker and more disturbing than I expected, which I realize is naive of me having read on the blurb on the back.

“In the not-too distant future, because of genetic engineering every human is a ticking time bomb. Males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. To keep the population from dying out, girls are kidnapped and sold into polygamous marriages. “

Of course a book with that plot is going to be disturbing, but the gritty realism is almost too much for me.  The first chapter left me feeling like this should be an adult book about young characters, not a book for teens. The age of the character is often used to determine where a book is placed, but this isn’t always right. I actually think the target age group here should be emerging adults, the term I’ve heard used to describe 19-30 year olds who are still in the transition between being a teen and being an adult. Some people skip the emerging adult stage and go right into full-fledged adult hood, with their careers and kids, but there’s a big group who stay students into their mid-twenties (yea that’s me), live with their parents longer, or have  a wild party lifestyle that they plan to settle down from eventually. I think these emerging adults, who would be dead already in the world Wither presents are the ones who will be most fascinated and horrified by it. 

The way the servants are there to make the young kidnapping victims look good for their future husband/captor and spend their time fussing with her hair and clothes reminds me of the Hunger Games. Her mixed feelings for these ladies and children are reminiscent of Katniss’ view of her prep team.

I like that all of the kidnapped girls respond differently to the trauma. Becoming ill, angry or depressed are all valid, understandable responses to the situation. It makes me wonder how I would respond, and I’m sure most readers will question themselves about this.

DeStafano puts a lot of symbolism into flowers. Her use of flowers starts with

“red roses that always look rubbery or parched in the windows. They, like humanity, are chemical replicas of what they should be” (pg 10)

 and continues with the white oleanders that represent the beautiful but dangerous place she is brought to.  There are also flowers on the back cover of the book, and I’ll be on the lookout for more flowers later in the novel.

I’m both excited and afraid to see what else Wither has in store, I have a feeling Rhine’s in for a rough time.

*I received the ARC from Simon and Schuster Canada

Uglies

Note: Uglies is the first book other than the instruction manual that I’ve finished on my Kobo. I read the entire thing in airports or on planes.

“a future world in which a compulsory operation at sixteen wipes out physical differences and makes everyone pretty by conforming to an ideal standard of beauty” (from Goodreads)

Uglies (Uglies, #1)Scott Westerfeld is the insightful genius who wrote Uglies. I adored this book for a variety of reasons:

  • The entire thing is social commentary and I love to criticize
  • It’s very original and the setting is creative
  • The character development is pretty good and that’s always key for me
  • the imagery is fantabulous

Summary

Tally lives in a world where everyone receives plastic surgery to look beautiful and almost identical. She makes friends with someone who introduces her to the possibility of life beyond the shallow world of parties she has been looking forward to after her mandatory plastic surgery that she will have on her sixteenth birthday. She turns down the offer, not understanding how anyone would want to stay “ugly” but is blackmailed into going along as a spy for the Specials who enforce the falsely beautified and ditzified life of the city. Her plans to expose the rebels dissolve as she finds that individuality and aging aren’t so horrible after all.

Awesomeness

Maybe it’s the English Major in me taking over but I have to talk about the incredible microcosm Westerfeld creates in the chapter “Bug Eyes”. 

There is a breed of flowers that is gorgeous that humanity manipulated the genes so they would thrive. I knew immediately that these flowers were symbolic of the “pretties”. The genetic manipulation of the flowers creates a monoculture, and there is no biodiversity anywhere they go. This is a major problem with the “pretties”, everyone is the same and no individuality can thrive. Not even those interested in the flowers (hummingbirds) can survive if the monoculture continues. This is seen later in the “pretties” who are all made to be objectified but they have their hormones reduced so no one wants anyone the way they would have, everyone is beautiful but no one is there to really appreciate that beauty .

The flowers are described as victims of their own success. They are “so beautiful, so delicate and unthreatening but they choked everything around them”. This is like the “pretties” who are attractive with big child-like eyes but create a society where no one can develop naturally.  In case someone misses out on the obvious connection between the flowers and the people Tally is later described as “a weed” .

The rebel hideout is in the Old Grove Forest, a place that can resist the weed and has biodiversity. This biodiversity is not only seen in the plants and animals of the forest but the rebel camp, where people have different eyes, hair, bone structure and skin from one another unlike in the city.

The most memorable quote of the book is found in the chapter The Oil Plague:

“Maybe they didn’t want you to realize that every civilization has its weakness. There’s always one thing we depend on and if someone takes it away all that’s left is some story in a history class”.

Westerfeld makes a number of commentaries about our society in his novel:

  • The ideals of beauty change dramatically over time and from culture to culture. There are always people who take it too far trying to reach these ideals either through plastic surgery, anorexia, obsession with fashion….
  • Real beauty is internal and physical beauty is often in the “flaws”. We are attracted to the flaws of others but don’t accept our own. (I really love crooked smiles, and freckles. Think about how many famous people have moles or dimples that make them memorable)
  • Individuality is often washed away by mob mentality and the desire to fit in
  • We are way too reliant on fossil fuels. I love when she’s like “why didn’t they just walk?” talking about our society that is car obsessed. Everyone goes on an on about me not having a car. 90% of the time I’m glad I don’t have one, I think if I did have one I’d be even more lazy and waste fuel when I could be walking instead of only using it when I got heavy things or travelled far. We need more public transit in North America, or rather public transit that doesn’t suck.
  • Adults often forget what it’s like to be kids, forget that kids have pretty amazing minds
  • Preserving artifacts of past culture is an important function of libraries. I know not every public library can keep old materials, we don’t have room or the tools to keep them in good condition but I think more novels that go out of print should have copies available at some library. We’ve moved to providing what’s popular rather than having balanced collections. I wish we could do both! $$$

E-Book Factor

This was my first entire novel read on my Kobo. I found it to be seamless, most of the time I wasn’t aware I was reading in a different format. A couple times I accidentally skipped a page by double clicking but I’ve had print pages stick together and it wasn’t much harder to backtrack. It was a pain that I had to shut down the reader during takeoff and landing (I was reading on planes) but it was wonderfully light to lug around the airports, fit nicely in the pouch on the back of the seat in front of me, and did not hurt my eyes like a backlit screen would. 

If I was writing an essay not just reviews I would be bothered by the fact that it tells me the chapter and page within that chapter but not page within the book. The quote I gave from the Oil Plague chapter was page 13 of that chapter but I don’t know what page overall in the book. This numbering may change depending on the book or publisher so I’m not sure I can blame Kobo.