Earth & Sky

cover artIn her novel Earth & Sky Megan Crewe combines adventure and philosophy. This is a thrilling story that will grip readers. When science fiction is at it’s best it doesn’t just wow us with interesting technology and exciting action, it also sheds a critical eye on humanity and society. Crewe does this with Earth & Sky by grappling the concepts of free will, colonialism, and otherness.

“It’s easy to see other people as hardly people at all when you’re watching them from a distance” (225)

Using time travel glitches to explain a character’s anxiety attacks is clever and original. The closest thing to this I’ve seen is the explanation for deja-vue in the Matrix.

This novel has a brave protagonist with interesting quirks. She is compassionate and determined.

Earth & Sky could inspire a series but works well as a stand alone. There is a great balance of fun adventure and thoughtfulness.

If you like the plot of this you may enjoy:

The butterfly effectYesterdayBattlefield Earth

If you like the writing style you may enjoy:

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!

First Day On Earth

*I received First Day On Earth  by Cecil Castellucci a submission for the YABA

This book is a shining example of how science fiction or fantasy can be down to earth. The story about a teen who believes he was abducted by aliens is actually about humanity. Abandoned by his father he looks after his alcoholic mother who suffers from debilitating depression.  Mal is a compassionate, insightful, loveable character. His outcast status at school gives him a good vantage point for analyzing the social circles from the outside. Hooper, a friend he meets in group therapy, comments on the impulsive and destructive sides of human nature in a frank way that avoids being overly preachy. It’s a gritty but quick read that will appeal to both guys and girls.  The only problem I have with the book is the title and back cover blurb, because they do not do it justice.

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.

Across The Universe

Beth Revis’ Across The Universe is nothing like the musical movie, if that’s what you’re thinking; it’s about a girl on a spaceship.

Most books marketed as science fiction for teens are more like fantasy, just set in space. I was pleasantly surprised that Across the Universe is an exception to this. It’s actually science fiction, heavy on the science, and Revis did an amazing job with making it interesting.  This was apparent from the very beginning, I expected being frozen for space travel to be like on Futurma, where they are frozen instantly and painlessly. I though Revis’ interpretation of the freezing process was both horrifying and logical.

Much of the book was terrifying to me, I hadn’t gone into it expecting to be afraid or disturbed but I was. The book has been hyped as a science fiction/ romance, but for me it was a science fiction/ horror. The terrible freezing process was only the first of many things that made me cringe, because Revis writes in such a way that it’s impossible not to put yourself in Amy’s shoes and poor Amy goes through a lot.

There were two major plot twists I predicted, but this didn’t make them any less satisfying. I was still on my toes (not literally of course) with anticipation of seeing if I was right, seeing how everything would unfold.

There is a lot of unconventional sexuality, so I would recommend this for older teens and warn librarians there will be parents who take offense, even though these scenes of sexuality are meant to be offputting to the teens.

This book counts toward the 2011 debut author challenge.

*Spoiler Alert***Spoiler Alert***Spoiler Alert****Spoiler Alert*

I was impressed with how Revis delved into the huge impact artificial hormones can have on a person. She takes it to the extremes, but it’s actually not as far-fetched as it may seem. A tiny hormonal imbalance can make you incredibly ill physically or affect your ability focus.

The effect of the drugs in this book reminded me of two other fantastic pieces of fiction. When taken in small doses the characters become “pretty-minded” like in Westerfeld’s Uglies series. Given larger amounts, the result is just like what happened with pax in the film Serenity (I wrote an essay about Serenity .) 

Harley was my favourite character and I think maybe the book should have been called little fish, or had the painting of the fish in the stars as cover art just to honour his awesomeness. Not that the current cover isn’t pretty darn awesome.

Dystopia at its best

cover art of the resistanceGemma Malley’s The Resistance is an incredible piece of literature. I think this should be studied in school, it has the potential to be the next Brave New World or 1984. The novel deals with a lot of social issues, and critiques society in a way that will have young people thinking. I have several ideas for essays I could write about this book, and it would not be difficult for a high school English teacher to create lesson plans for it.

This is the second book in the series, but I read this one first since my library doesn’t have The Declaration.  The book is successful as a stand-alone but I imagine it is even stronger if you have read the first book.

The Setting

In 2140 the world has an aging population, who are  living forever with the assistance of medication. Drastically extended life spans have resulted in overpopulation and a lack of natural resources. In response to these issues laws are made regarding procreation, which quickly becomes illegal and standard of living is reduced as they make room for progress by giving up homes for small apartments. Illegal children (called Surpluses) are kept in prisons and taught that their existence is a sin.

Plot

Peter and Anna grew up as Surpluses but they have been given legal status (this adventure was presumably the plot of the Declaration) and now they are trying to fit in among the general population. They are mistrusted and mistreated because of their youth and begin to question why they wanted to become legal. Peter takes a job at Pincent Pharma

The company is responsible for Longevity+ – a drug rumoured to reverse the ageing process. But there is more to the drug than Peter and Anna could have ever imagined

He takes the job with the intention of spying on the pharmaceutical company for the rebels, but his co-workers are persuasive about the benefits of eternal life and he loses track of his goals.

The Issues

  • Technology artificially lengthening lives
  • The importance of the circle of life, the fresh ideas of a new generation
  • Greed
  • Pharmaceutical conspiracies

Why It’s Awesome

…a few hundred years ago, many countries in the world considered slavery to be a perfectly sound way to run businesses and households. A bit like the attitude towards Surpluses now…Many people lost their lives fighting for these rights – to vote, to be free, to work, to be able to get on the same bus as someone considered their superior. And it was the next generations who embedded these changes, who came to view women as equals to men, who came to understand that skin colour his of no relevance. Young people are the future. Without them, the world stands still. ( Malley 117)

  • It recognizes that young people have potential, and encourages young readers to make the most of their lives
  • It combines the issues of dependency on technology and an aging population seamlessly
  • It is a fast-paced, action-filled novel
  • Well written
  • Compelling characters who are naive, gullible, or cocky
  • I love a book that examines human nature

Who It Will Appeal To

  • People who like dystopian science fiction
  • Young people who feel oppressed because of their age
  • Religious people (Even though I’m essentially an atheist) because it leans towards religions being right
  • Conspiracy theorists

Overall

I was fascinated! I was interested in the ideas, I thought the plot flowed nicely, I cared about the characters…basically awesome.