The Haven – Carol Lynch Williams

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The Haven Carol Lynch WilliamsTeenager Shiloh lives at Haven Hospital and Halls where she and others like her are protected from the dangers of the world. They are Terminals and one day they will die from the Disease, but the Hospital keeps them protected, happy, and healthy for as long as they can.  While Shiloh realizes that her world is different than that of the Whole, she struggles to deal with her friend Amelia’s new outlook of their stay in the Hospital and their ability to one day be Whole.

This easily could have been yet another dystopian YA novel, but it manages to elevate itself above the tropes and cliches that have begun to litter the book stores’ shelves.  There are hallmarks of the genre – regimented schedules, little free agency or choice, and a repressive regime.  However, The Haven manages to be creepy and thrilling in its short 200 + pages, and Williams manages to yet again provide deep, well-rounded characters with fewer words.  Watching Shiloh and her transition as she begins to listen to Amelia, for instance, is fascinating as she fights the change and yet fights for her personal change as well.  Not since Matched have I seen a character who felt so realistic for having been raised in their society.

I did feel that the beginning of the book took some getting used to to really understand what was going on, and once the reveal came I had already begun to guess at what the twist to Shiloh’s story might be.  That does not lessen the reveal in any way, though.  I loved seeing how Williams took an idea that is not new and yet made it completely her own, original, and utterly terrifying in how easily we could slip into that way of thinking in the near future.

That is perhaps what is most chilling about The Haven – the realism.  While I do not want to give away the end of Shiloh’s story, Williams manages to bring up some complicated moral issues and questions that are possibly in the immediate future for the human race.  And once we begin to chip at those walls, how far will we go for our own selfish interests?

If you are looking for a new dystopian YA thriller that doesn’t involve love triangles, battles, or the tired plot lines from other books, give The Haven a read.  It’s fast-paced enough that you won’t be able to put it down until you’re done.

Rating: 8/10

Read The Haven: A Novel


The Office of Mercy – Ariel Djanikian

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The Office of MercyThe Office of Mercy follows 24 year-old Natasha Wiley, a resident of a future utopian society.  Living in an enclosed, mostly underground city, Natasha lives in America Five on the east coast of the once-United States.  She and her other civilians strive for an ethically pure society, where everyone has employment, enough to eat, free will, and the ability to simulate outdoor activities in the Pretends.  Natasha works in the Office of Mercy, where she track and ends the misery of the few Outside surviving humans known as the Tribes.  When her mentor Jeffery puts her on a team that goes Outside, she begins to question her ethical thinking and everything her society has taught her.

It is easy to look at The Office of Mercy as another in the string of dystopian novels (Hunger Games, Matched, Delirium, etc.), but it is much more than that.  While Viking Penguin are labeling it as YA, it really belongs in the emerging New Adult category, and it would be a great entry for it.  It is not too adult that it would not appeal to the same demographic, but the themes are richer and so well thought out.  I would put it on par with 1984 in theme, voice, and overall narrative power.

The Office of Mercy opens with a scene of a tribe on a beach, all hope lost.  The women and children are starving, believing that their men lost on a hunting trip in-land.  With aching bellies and cries from the children, they are overjoyed when the men return with four deer.  They build up the fire and roast one of the deer, dancing and reveling in their good fortune.  What follows next is perhaps one of the most chilling thing I have read in fiction.  From the attention-grabbing opening through to the end, I found the book incredibly hard to put down.  And when I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about the book.

The ethics of America Five balance precariously on the murdering of humans outside, with the idea that they are being killed to prevent their prolonged, inevitable suffering.  When you read the synopsis, you would think it is so easy to argue against it.  And yet, Djanikian is amazing at crafting the thinking behind the ethics.  She is thorough, keeping everything tied up neatly and easily.  Only when Natasha starts to question do you see how well Djanikian and her narrative structure have almost convinced you as the reader that, in their circumstances, America Five is doing what’s best.  Natasha’s slow awakening in this world remind me a bit of Matched, though the key event that kick-starts it makes it far less subtle.

One portion that did strike me was the descriptions of Natasha’s first time Outside.  Even though she wears a biosuit and helmet, the mention of the too-bright colors, the sun burning, and the overt smell of dirt were incredible passages.  In our societies, no one has not been outside, so for Djanikian to nail what would be apt descriptions of the changes was incredible.  I also loved her rich characters, her descriptions of the tribe’s fire and food, and what really makes human humans.  Natasha had been taught that the tribes Outside had an existence akin to animals, but her experiences allow her to question and see how similar many humans really are to each other.  The book also stresses the point of achievable peace, and the methods you would go for to gain that peace.  Djanikian’s thinking is well-rounded, so well mapped out that when you finally put down The Office of Mercy, you will find yourself reflecting on her words for days (I still am, obviously).

I have not read a book so emotionally engrossing for a long time.  With a fast-paced plot, Mercy reads fast and remains enjoyable, even with its far deeper meanings.  I cannot recommend you check it out for yourself.  

Purchase The Office of Mercy on February 21.  Actually, just go pre-order it now. <—-  Click on that link and do it.

Rating: 10/10

Reached – Ally Condie

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Reached Matched TrilogyIn the conclusion to Matched and Crossed, Cassia thinks she will finally get everything she wants, but first she and Ky must do their part for the Rising.  While she lives in the Capital and waits for news, Ky works on the outskirts.  Xander, also in the Rising, helps the rebels usher in the one thing that will make those in the Society trust them.  With narration shifting between the three main characters, will the Rising accomplish its goals and will Ky and Cassia find each other again?

One of the things that I found most intriguing about the Matched trilogy was Condie’s narrative style.  In Matched, our only narrator is Cassia.  In Crossed, the narration is shared between Cassia and Ky.  And with Reached, Xander joins the other two in the story-telling.  It’s quite poetic, the 1, 2, 3, narrators in books 1, 2, and 3.  And while I was a bit hesitant about the narration, I found it easy to tell each three apart; they all had their own unique voice.  While Cassia’s voice remains poetic and involves more thinking and less action, Ky’s is antsy, almost pessimistic.  When Xander joined in I figured he would sound a lot like Ky, but instead he is grounded, easily led, and more matter-of-fact in his telling.  It’s tricky enough to balance one voice in a novel, especially across three books, and yet Condie is able to make it with three.

In the dystopian fiction trend, you often see Hunger Games style rebellions, with those same types of consequences and fallout.  I was expecting something similar from Reached, but was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected direction of the story.  It was honest about the implications of a rebellion, and so they went with a route that provided little violence and no grand overtures – just choices.  Considering Condie’s Matched trilogy is about the importance of choice, this rebellion that provides with the people a chance to choose it or not fits right in with the theme.  I also appreciated the theme of love as a choice; Cassia chose who she fell for, who she gave her all to.  She could have easily been happy with either Xander or Ky, but she makes the choice to be happy with one of them.  This mature approach also means there’s a lack of teen love-triangle melodrama.  That is really refreshing in any Young Adult novel, and with one as popular as Matched others might follow.

Over all, Reached was not what I expected, and I loved that.  Condie managed to draw me in within sentences (I picked up the book intending to read only the first chapter and ended up reading several).  It is an engrossing conclusion to a mature trilogy.  With great technical writing and different approaches to a similar problem, Condie and Cassia manage to make you believe in the human race and their ability to choose good when they have the option.

Rating: 8/10

America Pacifica – Anna North (DNF)

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After North America has succumbed to a second Ice Age,  a lucky few immigrate to the island of America Pacifica to escape the brutal cold.  Some decades later, the island inhabitants are crowded, have to get creative with their food supplies, and are experiencing an increasing divide between rich and poor.  Darcy lives with her mother, a pearl diver, and both work long hours to eek out a small living.  When Darcy’s mother goes missing, Darcy works with a well-known grifter to find her.

I have never not finished a book for this blog, and I think there are only about two other books that I have not finished before.  But, I just could not care about anything in this book.  I picked it up originally intrigued by the ice age angle, but it was not at all what I expected.

While the technical skills in the writing were fine, Anna North needs to work on continuity in a novel.  One minute Darcy’s leg was broken and she had to be carried, the next she’s walking fine and jumping out of a window into garbage. There were other instances in the first 100 pages that did not quite fit, but that was the instance that most stuck out to me.

The main problem I had with this novel was the lack of focus on the main character.  That makes no sense, right?  On the first page, we are given a long physical and interpretative description of a small character that you don’t see again within the first 100 pages.  But if you tried to ask me what Darcy looked like, or even a small question about her personality, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.  The lack of information on Darcy makes the whole emotion in the story fall flat.  You know nothing much about your main character, she has almost no personality, so how are you supposed to connect to the events in the story, care about her finding her mother, if you don’t even care about Darcy?

This was the main problem with the entire book, really, and it’s a trend I have noticed that disturbs me a bit.  Without actual character development, you are left with a bunch of empty statements about society, love, or simply a crappy story.  I know that this happens more often in the YA market, but I could not totally put America Pacifica into that market.  I think Anna North tried to make it an adult book and wanted to make some big societal statement, but for that to resonate you need to include actual humans in your book.

Have you read America Pacifica or a book with an incredibly shallow main character?  Do you find that makes the book unenjoyable or lacking?

Rating: 2/10 (DNF)

Revolution – Pilot

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Network: NBC
Day/Time:  Mondays 10/9C
Premiere Date: Sept 17, 2012

Main Characters:

Tracy Spiridakos – Charlie Matheson
Giancarlo Esposito – Captain Neville
Billy Burke – Miles Matheson

Revolution takes place 15 years in our future, but a future in which all electricity has ceased to exist.  Without power, the world begins to crumble and lives change.  Ben Matheson might know what happened and how to fix it, but it will be up to his daughter and brother to find a way to turn the lights back on – or keep that power out of the wrong hands.

I did wonder why it took so long for the networks to jump on the dystopian bandwagon, and NBC really needs this to be a big hit.  And because they need it to be a hit, and it’s coming after the Hunger Games craziness, Revolution previews make it look very similar to some of the other dystopian fiction out there.  That being said, I also really wanted to love this show.  After all, when you throw J.J. Abrams and Jon Favreau together you’re going to get great TV, right?

So so.  There are bones there of a great mythos, some interesting characters, and a good set-up to the show, but I am not sure where it is all going.  The main problem with the pilot, without spoiling it, it amounts to whether or not they would ever want the power turned back on.  If you think about it, that means millions of cars, planes, and other machinery would work again, all of a sudden.  In a world that has been turned over to savage militias, it would be quick, unlimitless power.

As to our central characters, Charlie is the now-grown daughter of Ben and she sets off to Chicago to find her uncle Miles and try and save her young brother.  Predictable things happen in the very short journey, including an introduction to a “complicated” love interest for Charlie and a short run-in with a few bandits.  But even if you can figure out what’s coming, it really is that ending that will draw you in for the series.

The acting in the show could be better, but I was kind of surprised by Tracy Spiridakos.  There was plenty of opportunity for her to take things over the top, and instead she played it low-key.  I really liked the way she interpreted things, and I cannot quite put my finger on what I would call her approach other than portraying the utter disbelief of her young character.  Thrown in a bit of naivete and youthful idealism, and I think you have her acting style.

Giancarlo Esposito was the other standout in this show for me.  Sure, he plays the “bad guy”, but Esposito proves that even the villains can have layers.  Here was another opportunity for an over-the-top performance, but instead Esposito and the writers’ portray Captain Neville with surprising subtlety.  Neville, an insurance adjuster before the blackout, is just a man that found a way to utilize his skills and just wants to get home to his wife and bed.  Or so he would have you believe.  On the face of it, he could prove to be one of the most interesting characters in the series (which would be no surprise because of Esposito’s abilities).

Revolution is a hard one for me to review.  I like pieces of it, but overall it will take a few more episodes for me to determine if the story will start to flesh out.  It is definitely worth giving the show a shot I think, and you can check it out for yourself at NBC.com.

The Giver – Lois Lowry

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Jonas lives in a society that has achieved equality with each other, true peace in the world, and is devoid of pain.  When Jonas turns 12 and is given his work assignment, he learns he will be the new Receiver.  Working with the Giver, Jonas learns that his community exists because they willingly gave up the memories that defined their humanity.  Jonas must decide whether or not he can suffer alone as the Giver or do something to rescue the world around him.

For many in my area, The Giver was a book assigned in school.  I remember plenty of my friends discussing the book and how good it was.  However, because I took the Honors English courses (go figure), I never had The Giver on my required curriculum.  I purchased a copy of the book a few weeks ago, and sat down to absorb it in one day.

I loved this novel.  There are echos of other great novels in The Giver, notably Brave New World, but it stands well on its own.  Lowry paints with such precision that at first, we like Jonas, can see no wrong with the society in which he lives.  When scolded to use precise language, Lowry lets us in on the subtle shifts, the small avoidance of strong language and strong emotion.  This avoidance of strong emotion leads us to the main issue for Jonas as he learns more of how the world used to be – that to be the same we sacrifice what makes us all uniquely human.

One of my favorite things about the novel was that Lowry does not only focus on the negative memories that Jonas experiences, but also the depth having those trials adds to his character.  Jonas comes to the almost shocking conclusion that without pain, humans cannot experience joy.  Without loss we cannot know love.  He realizes this not long after he begins his training, and notices that of his friends and family, he is the only one who can really experience the true depth of these emotions.

Such a young boy being saddled with the weight of the world, quite literally, and seeing the real toll of sameness on society can move any reader.  In the deft hands of Lowry, you are led to these conclusions through some of the most beautiful language, the most subtle shifts, and through no sensational happenings.  There are no bombs dropped, no rousing speeches, and no wars started.  Instead, The Giver lies rooted in strong characters that move their own story along.

Rating: 8/10


Delirium – Lauren Oliver

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17 year-old Lena is more than ready to be cured of deliria, the disease we know as love.  In her dystopic society, everyone is cured of the infectious disease at 18 and their careers and spouses chosen for them.  Lena cannot wait to be cured and to move past the time in her life when she is susceptible to deliria.  That is until she meets Alex, a nineteen year-old who may not be exactly what he claims.

Delirium is a quick read and it makes you want to find out exactly how Lena will deal with the few short months she has left until her cure.  She counts down the days at first, excited about the change to come in her life, the lessening of the fear associated with the cure, and her future stability.  Lena lives with her aunt and a few cousins, since her father died when she was a baby and her mother committed suicide when her cure did not take.

In a lot of ways, the beginning of Delirium reads like Matched the protagonist does not really understand what is wrong with her controlling society, and in fact she embraces the procedure they will force upon her.  Nervous perhaps, but Lena is fully ready to rid herself of the ability to love, much like Cassia was ready to be paired off with the boy her society would dictate.

The plot of the book is an interesting concept – what would the world look like without love as part of it?  Or how would it look if only those under 18 could love, but be punished if they did love someone?  I felt that Oliver did a nice job of painting the panic that comes from a dangerous disease.  Take the bird flu, SARS, swine flu, or any other recent pandemic in the last few years.  Human beings, especially in our privileged Western world, will panic and take whatever cure is offered.  So if the government managed to convince everyone that love was really a disease that had to be cured, we might end up with a society much like Delirium.  At least, that’s what Lauren Oliver wants us to believe.

Because this is a YA novel and a book about the absence of love, of course Lena would meet someone (Alex) and slowly fall for him.  While she fights the feelings she has for him, fears for her best friend Hannah’s slightly wild ways, and just wants to be cured so she no longer has to think, Lena slowly begins to awaken to the injustice of her society.

I promise I did like this book while I was reading it, but there were a lot of opportunities that I think Oliver missed.  For one, if no one can love, they cannot really feel passionate about anything either.  That makes them the perfect citizens to control.  They will live the lives they have been given, they will do what they are told, and most of them will never once think about what they have lost.  While she touches on this a bit in the second book in the trilogy (because every dystopian novel needs to be in a trilogy now), Oliver has missed a lot of good discussion points in the first book.  And while you can argue that Delirium is the awakening and Lena has not had those thoughts yet, her progression into the forbidden territory goes a whole lot faster than say Cassia’s in Matched.  As smart as Lena is, I feel she or another character could have put the foundations for these thoughts together.

One thing that I think Oliver needed to touch on was the development of these children.  How many studies have you read that state children do better when given affection, and can suffer severely without it?  Why are not all of the teenagers in this controlled society running rampant?  Sure, they have the government to fear, the expectations for their lives drilled into their heads from day one.  But when you are not cured yourself, how does a child deal with the mother who only raises the child because the government told her she had to procreate?  Considering everything, the children inDelirium seem a lot like the kids today – a little rebellious, but for the most part well-adjusted.  Even Lena, who should be a social outcast because of the way her mother died, has found a way to deal with everything a great deal better than she should considering she has little to no real support system from an adult.  I know this feels kind of nit-picky, but I was reading this and wondering why these kids seemed so normal when they were raised by emotionally-detached parents.

While Delirium could be a bit predictable in its plot, I loved Lena as a character.  She had normal insecurities alongside those arisen from her society.  She is described as average height, average weight, and average looking.  She does not feel extraordinary, and in many ways wonders why her beautiful friend Hannah continues to spend time with her.  Their friendship is intriguing and interesting, and has more depth to it than the relationship between Lena and Alex.  You find yourself rooting for Lena because she could be just like you, but placed in an extraordinary circumstance.

While Delirium does have its shortcomings, it was a good entrant into the ever-popular YA dystopian genre.  The sequel, Pandemonium, was even better and I hope that the third in the trilogy will prove to be even better still.

Rating: 6.5/10