Afterworlds Part 2

Before reading this read my review of the first half of the book.

One aspect of the book that I failed to mention in my first post is the importance of memory in the story. Memory is what keeps ghosts alive in Westerfeld’s world. Without people to remember their lives the ghosts fade and are lost. Spirits can only live on if they’ve had an impact on someone. I find this intriguing. We exist in the way we influence others, and pieces of us are lost when those who know us are gone. This melds well with an episode of Battlestar Gallactica where Cat is afraid to end up like the girl in the photo who no one can remember. As if dying in battle wouldn’t be so bad if she could live on through the memories of her copilots. Being an anonymous casualty on the remembrance wall is the worst possible fate for her. I think Westerfeld captures this concept better than Battlestar, especially in Mindy’s character development.

The framing story of the writer resonates with me more than the story she writes, but I wonder if teens can relate to it as well. I think this book will have a niche fan-base of literary hopefuls ages 18-30. It can be enjoyed beyond that niche but I suspect that those will be the people who connect with it the most.

I appreciated Westerfeld’s comparison of authors and psychopomps- with minor characters serving as “cannon fodder”. It brings to mind Galaxy Quest and guy’s frantic fear of death because no one knows his last and he’s just another red-shirt. Once again, being known by others saves the characters; or at least gives them a more memorable death. I think people in their early to mid twenties will appreciate Darcy’s struggle with adulthood. She often feels like an impostor, and this is something I experienced myself in every aspect of adult life. Her insecurity will connect many emerging adults with the story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Afterworlds Part 1

Halfway through the book I can’t refrain from posting a review

Scott Westerfeld masters the incredible feat of spinning the webs of two complex stories into one cohesive novel. There’s the story of the young writer, experiencing the joys and challenges of being on her own for the first time in her life. Then there’s the story she’s writing- A paranormal romance with terrorists, a serial killer, ghosts, and a schoolgirl crush on a sexy reaper inspired by Hindu legends.

In the surface story the protagonist is living her dream but learning the downfalls of being an adult. Westerfeld pokes fun at the practicalities we don’t think of when we are starting out- like the need to own a mop, and the incredible portion of your budget that goes to food and rent. Despite these tidbits of realism Darcy’s story is one of wonder. First love, networking with the authors she worships, exploring New York… It’s like a more optimistic version of the show Girls. Beautiful diction and literary jargon that will appeal to the nerd in you. Lesbian flirtation, internal debates over what constitutes virginity, and the Angelina Jolie Paradox for your other side.

There are some excellent instances of insight from Westerfeld, such as the concept of a budget “in the corner of the bar like a noisy ghost, sometimes laughing at her, sometimes shrieking and rattling its chains”  which creates a fantastic mental image, and succinctly explains the challenges of being limited by your funds when you just want to have fun with your friends.

The story within the story unfolds unlike any paranormal romance I’ve read. Lizzie’s traumatic experience in an airport is cinematic. I was engulfed in her story, picturing it effortlessly. The tale is much darker than I anticipated, having become accustomed to fluffy paranormal stories that Westerfeld himself pokes fun at in the framing narrative. I’m haunted by several images in her story. The frantic passengers pressed up against the locked gate, the tear gas lifting to reveal bodies, and the gnarled trees in the bad man’s yard- just to name a few. I would love to make a book trailer for this book, but I really don’t have the budget to do it justice- I can only picture it in my mind.

Ok back to my reading….. I’ll post my thoughts on the second half soon

Leviathan

Leviathan (Leviathan, #1)Leviathan is the fantastical historical fiction where WWII is between the Darwinist and the Clankers. I really wanted to love this book. It’s got a lot of guys reading, teacher’s excited, tons of positive things. Truth is I’m not feeling it, I’m trudging through reading a few pages at a time- forcing myself to go back to it. I just realized I’m at the halfway point, groaned and thought if it’s a chore to read I need to move on.

This is not a failure on Westerfeld’s part! It’s not that it’s a terrible book, in fact it has a lot going for it (that I’ll outline in a minute). The thing is that I don’t like war stories, and I don’t care about the mechanics of how things work. I don’t care why a car works if it does, I don’t care how a TV shows me images recorded across the world. This book is aimed at people who are interested in war and ships and the mechanics of things. People who like that, will like it.

Here’s what the book does right:

  • Strong female characters. Scott Westerfeld writes female characters the way female authors do. I love that about him. I can’t think of any male author I’ve read lately that does such a good job at portraying gender dynamics in a patriarchical society. I noticed this in the Uglies series too. 
  • Class barriers. Alek was ignorant of how the people in his country lived, just as they are ignorant of the politics his family were involved with. Can a politician do a good job without knowing the plight of the people? Can the people vote without understanding the political issues? Westerfeld makes me think about it (politics lesson potential?) My favourite quote from the book is about Alek’s disconnect from his people;

“He spoke French, English, and Hungarian fluently, and always impressed his tutors in Latin and Greek. But Prince Aleksandar of Hohenberg could barely manage the daily language of his own people well enough to buy a newspaper.”(125)

This is the kind of thing that makes me love Westerfeld, the big ideas about society.

  • Simplification of grand concepts for teens. Dr. Barlow’s recognition of the similarities between the cat, mice, bees, flowers idea and the war in Europe (195).

Here’s where he loses me

  • The Beasties: While I love animals and find the concept of genetic engineering intriguing, the beasties in this book give me the heebie-jeebies! I would be on the other side of the war, one of the close minded Monkey Luddites they make fun of in the book. I don’t think constructing living beings for our convenience is right. Being inside the living ship would creep me out to no end and I wonder how much that poor beast suffers having a crew control it? These are the good guys creating these monsters? I didn’t finish the book or the series, so maybe not in the long run.
  • The Machines: again in theory, kind of cool. In practice, I don’t want to hear that much about them.
  • The Pacing: I feel like hardly anything happened in the first half of the book. So much was put into creating the world that the action dragged. YA books are usually pretty quickly paced, this dragged for me.

Conclusion

I’m an old fuddy duddy woman who isn’t the target audience. I can see why the young guys are eating this up, and my props to Westerfeld who I can see has talent. It’s just not my thing and there are so many books I want to read in my TBR pile that I’m moving on. I really wanted to love this book 😦 but we can’t choose who or what we love.

Being Pretty doesn’t mean you can’t stay bubbly!

Scott Westerfeld, you make me bubbly! If I had body art that moved with my heart beat it would be spinning as I read Pretties (Uglies book 2).

Tally has a dream that sums up much of the plot:

“So, there was this beautiful princess.She was locked in a high tower, one whose smart walls had clever holes in them that could give her anything: food, a clique fantastic friends, wonderful clothes. And, best of all, there was this mirror on the wall, so that the princess coul look at her beautiful self all day long.The only problem with the tower was that there was no way out. The builders had forgotten to put in an elevator, even a set of stairs. She was stuck up there.”

Tally’s time as a pretty is horrifying to me, but this is as it should be. She becomes the crazy party girl, she has shallow concerns, she’s disgusted by anyone without a surgically altered face and she has an extremely limited vocabulary.

Tally and the Crims seek out ways to feel bubbly, which turns out to mean lucid more than happy. I found it interesting that hunger made them think more clearly. I’ve never noticed myself more focused when hungry, just the opposite I’d say. What did make sense to me was the adrenaline rushes. Kissing, climbing, sky diving and pulling pranks are the best way to feel alive and awake. I was amazed at how they were able to fight off the damage done by lesions without surgery.

“Living in an unspoken conspiracy filled every gesture with significance, charged every shared touch with unspoken meaning”

 The relationship between Tally and Zane was believable. He made her feel alive, and important, isn’t that what a girl really wants? He gave her both a rush and a purpose.

Westerfeld did a good job at making us think about our rustie ways (endangering the environment) and the way we fall into media traps, being told what is beautiful.

I liked the line

“spending more time looking out the window than at her own reflection, as is often the case with troublesome girls”

but only because I know he says it with the mindset that she is right to look out the window and cause trouble.

*FYI This e-book was purchased and read on my Kobo.

In My Mailbox

IMM is hosted by The Story Siren, and I’m excited to participate this week because I got some great mail

sim me and mailbox

Advanced Reader Copies for review

Simon & Schuster Canada was kind enough to send me:

thanks Michelle!

Won

From Beth Revis (they are at work I will add a picture later)

  • 2 autographed bookmarks 
  • 1 autographed postcard
  • 1 autographed sticker

I entered that contest using my library info so the bookmarks and postcards wil4 books & an ebook on my couchl go to participating teens at the library. I swiped the sticker for myself because it’s awesome and I entered the contest in my free time 😉

Purchased

At Bookingham Palace:

  • Across The Universe by Beth Revis (I put my autograph sticker in the book, this is partly why I was so impatient to buy it. Marketing strategies work a little too well on me sometimes) The cover is delightful, I like to buy beautiful books, I’m shallow that way.

From the Kobo store

  • XVI by Julia Karr this looks both horrifying and awesome. I have the e-book on my computer and my Kobo, meaning it will be my lunchbreak/out and about book not my lazy day or nighttime book, probably for the best because I think I’m going to find it disturbing (in a that’s horrible but I’m glad you wrote about it kind of way).

Both of my purchased books will count towards the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.

Borrowed

From the ORL:

  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. I’m enjoying the Uglies series so far and I’ve heard great things about this other series by Westerfeld. It appeals to boys, and I’ve been wanting to read more guy friendly YA. I believe this one will count towards the Historical Fiction Challenge (even though it has fantastical elements).

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.