Tag Archive: dystopian


Review: Champion by Marie Lu

champion

Champion by Marie Lu

This is the third and final book in the Legend trilogy and it does not disappoint.  June and Day have almost entirely stopped communicating with one another now that Day has his brother Eden to care for and June is busy learning to be the next leader of the Senate.  Day also is keeping his deteriorating health secret from everyone, though he is finding it harder and harder to deal with the blindingly strong headaches.  Eden may be the key to stopping a plague that threatens an invasion of the Republic by the Colonies, so June asks Day to join her in Denver without mentioning his brother.  Reunited, the two feel their connection immediately, but both are holding secrets that they don’t want to reveal.  Yet they are also the only two people who have the ability to change the course of a war where winning could be the biggest loss of all. 

Lu has written her entire series with a grand feel of cinematography behind it.  In each of the scenes, they come to life as if shown on a mental screen.  Her writing is crisp and clear, yet it also delves into murky situations that are less than clear.  The question of loyalty to a government that has hurt your own family, killing some members, grapples with dark issues.  It is this wonderful mix of action and adventure but also thoughtful questions about larger issues that make this series compellingly readable. 

The characters of Day and June have grown throughout the entire series.  Both started at very different places than they ended up, and yet the growth has been natural, with distinct reasons for the changes.  Their romance, flawed and consistently stumbling, is gut wrenching and entirely beautiful.  They are a couple that are drawn together like moths to flames and then burned, retreat and then burn themselves again.  The romance just like their character development is honest, natural and glorious.

An action filled, taut ending to an incredible series, this book also has plenty of heart, romance and wisdom.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

lord of opium

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

Released September 3, 2013.

This is the sequel to the award-winning The House of the Scorpion, which came out in 2004.  Matt, clone of the dead drug lord El Patron, is now master of the Land of Opium, his own country.  All of the problems he saw as he grew up in Opium are still there.  The eejits, people who have been made into zombies by having computer chips placed in their brains, are still required for Opium to thrive.  Making opium and selling it is still the way that everything is funded.  And everyone expects Matt to step quickly into the same brutal ways as El Patron used.  Matt desperately wants to fix everything wrong with Opium, but he comes up against many obstacles.  Matt must quickly learn who to trust in the web of lies that El Patron created. 

I was thrilled to see a new book in this series, but concerned that I would have to re-read the first one because it has been nine years.  Somehow Farmer manages to place you right back into the world without rehashing the first book.  I found myself immediately recalling the first book, probably because of the strength of Farmer’s stories and world building.  It all came rushing back with no problems.  Now that is amazing writing!

Matt is such a complex character, just as he was in the first book.  He is both indebted to Opium and yet despises it.  He loves the land and the place itself but hates the reason it exists too.  He resents the money and wealth that surrounds him yet finds himself unable to not use it.  Matt is trapped in the most complicated of moral and ethical dilemmas and there is no clear way forward at any time.  The result is a novel that is riveting thanks to those deep questions.

The setting of lush Opium is written with care and detail.  Farmer lingers over descriptions of Opium as the last green place on earth and the fact that it is probably the only salvation for the rest of the world.  Her pacing is also nicely handled.  She slows it at times to allow relationships to build but the action keeps the pace fast and the book flies past.

A worthy successor to a great first novel, this book does not suffer from any sophomore slump.  Welcome back to the world of Opium!  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

love in the time of global warming

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Released August 27, 2013.

Seventeen-year-old Pen has survived the earthquake and tsunami wave in her native Los Angeles, but all of her family and friends have disappeared.  For weeks, Pen stays in her destroyed home, living off of the canned goods that her paranoid father kept in the basement.  But when the group of men come, she flees, aided by one of them and given a van, food, water, a map, and the promise of her family being alive.  Leaving her home, Pen finds only desolation and monsters.  There are giants on the loose, stomping around and leaving piles of gleaming clean human bones behind.  When Pen meets her first giant, she blinds his last good eye and flees.  She lands in a house where everyone is high on lotus juice and meets Hex who encourages her to dally there with him.  But Pen is on a quest to find her family, hoping that they are alive in Las Vegas.  Hex joins her and soon others aid her in her journey that is filled with love, butterflies, and danger.

A retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, Pen is a modern Odysseus on her own journey home.  Block’s writing is amazing.  There are passages that are piercingly true like her description of a mall: “The mall, with its greasy smells and labyrinth of silver escalators leading nowhere, always made me hungry and tired like I needed something I could never have.”  Her phrases sing and move, illuminating the truth beyond our surface world.  Block writes of crushes and lust and love in a way that speaks to what happens in the heart and under the skin, a blistering wonder.

Pen is a curious heroine.  She is a reluctant hero, at first unable to leave her home, then blinding the giant in defense.  The book is about her transformation from normal teen girl to rocking hero willing to put it all on the line for those she loves.  She grows in confidence and skill in natural way.  But much of this book is wonderfully unnatural.  The ties to The Odyssey make for a book that is monstrous as well as beautiful.  It is a tale that is unable to be categorized thanks to its genre-bending mix of dystopian fantasy, myths, and modern reality.

Block has created another amazing read in this book.  Her fans will rejoice at a new book from her, but this is also one that will create new fans.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Henry Holt and Company at ALA.

starglass

Starglass by Phoebe North

Terra lives with her abusive, drunken father aboard the Asherah, a spaceship the size of a city.  Hers is the generation that will finally arrive at their destination planet after traveling for over 500 years in space.  Terra’s mother died of cancer, a disease completely unknown on the ship before her death, leaving Terra with her absent older brother and cruel father.  Terra is now 16 and assigned to a job, botanist, though she had wanted to be an artisan because she loves to draw.  Her father doesn’t approve of her art and Terra does not enjoy her dull work as a botanist.  Soon Terra is being courted by her father’s apprentice and is drawn into a mutinous scheme to change the hierarchy aboard the ship.  Her work as a botanist is also getting more interesting.  What more could a girl want than romance and a good job?  Terra definitely wants more, she wants answers.

Out of a standard spaceship story foundation, North has crafted something very special.  This small city-sized spaceship is filled with secrets, ones that spell freedom but also ones that can kill.  Yet the story is less about the endless travel and the claustrophobia of a closed society and much more about one young woman, her choices and the way in which an individual can impact the community around them.  It is a story of opportunities both good and bad, choices that are impossible to make, and a responsibility beyond oneself. 

North has woven Jewish traditions into the story and carefully changed them as if the passage of time had both torn at them but also strengthened parts of them.  The community on the ship is cohesive but deeply fractured.  It is this society that makes the book very compelling.  It is also Terra herself too, a young woman deeply grieving the loss of her mother and seemingly without any choices in life.  Yet she finds strength to fight back, to choose and to love on her own terms. 

Startling, beautiful and richly written, get this one into the hands of science fiction readers.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

5W FINAL COVER.indd

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The author of the Monstrumologist series returns with this riveting story of alien invasion.  The planet knew that the aliens had arrived, but the silence for days left them feeling hopeful.  Then the 1st wave took away electricity and cars.  The 2nd wave took out the coasts.  The 3rd wave brought the Red Death.  The 4th wave took away trust.  Cassie is one of the survivors of all four waves and just may be the only remaining human on earth.  She has seen her family die, her mother from the Red Death and her father killed right in front of her, but her little brother may still be alive, since he was taken to safety on a school bus.  But Cassie also knows that it is death to trust anyone at all, so she is not sure whether where Sammy was taken is safe or not.  Now she is alone, just her and her M16, trying to reach him.  Then Evan Walker enters her life, saving her from a gunshot wound.  Cassie knows to trust no one.  So how does she deal with a situation where she was to trust to heal and maybe even to save her brother.

This is one incredible novel.  The pacing is what I have to talk about first.  There are moments where I could not turn the pages fast enough, then others where I had to walk away for a bit to deal with the latest heart-shattering reveal.  This book is a dance of hope and terror, trust and knowing better.  Yancey proves quickly that he is not afraid to shock, to kill, to maim.  This book is filled with death, filled with despair, yet it is also about strength, hope and humanity.  Yancey writes this perfectly, keeping readers on a razorblade of tension throughout. 

A large piece of the success of this book are the characters and the book tells their individual stories.  Cassie is one strong heroine, who is willing to go through hell to get her little brother back.  She is not fearless but is always courageous and willing to do what has to be done.  Readers find out before Cassie herself does what happened to her little brother.  This adds to that tension, especially since one doesn’t trust Yancey not to do horrific things even to the littlest of children.  There is Zombie, a boy that Cassie went to school with, who has been trained to be a child soldier since the aliens came.  And finally, there is Evan, the farmboy heartthrob who is dangerous but delicious too.

Expect this to be one of the big books this summer.  It would be a pleasure to booktalk, since the alien invasion in waves basically sells this.  Perhaps most telling of all is that this is now the only way that I see an alien invasion happening.  It is clever, chilling and deadly.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.

Review: Slated by Teri Terry

slated

Slated by Teri Terry

Kyla is just about ready to be released from the hospital after being Slated, her memory erased after she committed a crime.  She is sent to live with a new family and in a new life, unable to find out about who she had been and what caused her to be Slated.  But Kyla is different.  She has horrible nightmares that may or may not be flashbacks to her past.  She can draw, with both hands, something that she realizes could cause problems if discovered.  She has a voice in her head, cautioning her about things and not revealing too much.  But because Kyla is different, she may also be in more danger than anyone else.  Can she continue to follow the rules and pretend to be just another happy Slated teen?  Or will the truth she discovers be too much to maintain the façade?

In her debut novel, Terry has created a dystopian science fiction future that is dangerously possible.  The setting is the United Kingdom, but one that has changed entirely to a police state where ideas that are dangerous to those in power are worthy of getting Slated.  Against that already tense background, the drama of Slated teens plays out, struggling to learn to live, to think for themselves, and to find their way.  Teens will see their own struggles here, relating quickly to the premise.

Kyla is an intriguing heroine, she realizes she is different, but has no perception as to why.  Terry allows Kyla to be a true enigma to herself and to the reader.  This makes for a compelling read, but the reveal is placed so close to the end of the book that it feels hurried.  I would have liked to see either another chapter after the final one to help with that feel or for more hints to have been given ahead of time and along the way.  But that is a minor quibble and I was happy to see that this is the first in a series.

This fascinating and dark look into a possible future is filled with foreboding and lifted by strong writing.  Fans of Hunger Games will enjoy this new heroine facing different challenges in an equally ferocious world.  Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.

stung

Stung by Bethany Wiggins

When Fiona wakes up in her bedroom, something is very wrong.  All of her clothes are faded and there is dust and trash everywhere.  The house has obviously been abandoned for some time.  When Fiona looks in the bathroom mirror, she is not looking into her own face.  Yes, those are her eyes, but she suddenly has breasts and hips, not the flat thirteen-year-old body she had been expecting to see.  She also has a strange tattoo on one hand, a black oval with ten marks around it.  Monsters are walking the city, attacking people and others have banded together to fight them off.  Fiona recognizes people she knows, but they are not friendly.  Chased through the ruined city, Fiona takes shelter in the sewers where she discovers help that comes with a price. 

Wiggins has created such a compelling scenario here.  It is a story of human hubris, the death of the honeybees, human intervention and eventually the fall of society itself.  The details of society’s collapse is told tantalizingly slowly in the novel.  Readers learn of things as Fiona’s memories return, and the pieces click into a whole background that is believable and impressive. 

Fiona herself is a heroine who will appear immensely to teen readers.  She is completely out of place in the world, but through it all shows tremendous grit and determination.  The characters around her are equally fully depicted: her romantic interest, younger brother, and various villainous characters.  They are complicated enough that it is difficult to tell hero from villain at times, adding to the thrill of the read.

The writing is solidly done with a brisk if not breakneck pacing.  This book does not slow down, it simply moves forward from one evil to the next, slowing only for romantic moments that are natural and fully developed. 

Get this into the hands of Hunger Games fans who will find the same mix of romance, horror and action here.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

drowned cities

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

Mahlia and Mouse survive in the war-torn area near the Drowned Cities, living a hunger and danger filled life dodging soldiers from both sides of the war.  But you can only hide and dodge for so long, Mouse gets caught by a wounded half-man who was bioengineered solely for war, named Tool.  Tool holds Mouse hostage until Mahlia brings drugs to heal him.  Even that is not easy, because a squad of soldier boys, injured by Tool, is there demanding the same drugs that Mahlia needs to free Mouse. Things do not go as planned.  Soon their village is in flames, Mouse is captured by the soldier boys, and Mahlia has lost everything.  Now it is up to her to decide whether she is just going to go on hiding or take an impossible chance and head for the Drowned Cities.

The book is like a strong dark current that submerges the reader, pulling you deeper and deeper into the novel.  At times, the tension and horror gets to be overwhelming, and I would have to put the book down and take some deep breaths in the sun before diving right back into the darkness.  Bacigalupi writes with an amazing clarity and strength.  Here he tackles war from the point of view of children who are caught in a situation not of their making, but who will do almost anything to survive.  The issue of child soldiers is at the heart of this story, but it also touches on war itself and the atrocities that come along with it on both sides.

Happily, there is also a golden and true heart at the center of this story.  It comes from its three main characters: Mahlia, Mouse and Tool.  All three are entwined in the war and yet somehow apart from it too.  Their story is one of dedication, friendship, and loyalty.  All things that are far too rare in the rest of this dark world.  Against that darkness, the three shine.

If you enjoyed Ship Breaker, this second book returns to the same setting but features different characters.  It’s an amazing feat to create a sequel just as good as the first, and Bacigalupi achieves that here.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Unwholly by Neal Shusterman

unwholly

Unwholly by Neal Shusterman

Unwind by Shusterman was a single book with an amazing premise: an American society where teens who were too unruly or too burdensome were unwound into parts for others to use.  Fans of the first book will be delighted that Shusterman is turning that single book into a trilogy.  Book two picks up soon after the first.  All your favorite characters who survived the first book are here.  Connor is running the Graveyard, a place of safety for over 700 teens who escaped being unwound.  Risa is at his side, working to keep the teens all healthy.  She’s in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.  Lev is working with teens to try to keep them from being unwound by their parents, forced by the courts to do this.  But wait, there are new characters too.  There is Starkey, a boy who knows that he is destined for greatness and is sure he could lead better than Connor.  There is Cam, a boy who was manmade from unwound teens, who is sure he is human though others doubt it.  There is Miracolina, raised knowing she is a tithe and will be unwound.  There is Nelson, the cop who was shamed when Connor escaped and who has not stopped chasing him.  There is rewritten history that keeps teens victims.  There is a large corporation working against them.  And that’s just the beginning.

Shusterman does an amazing job here of juggling all sorts of different perspectives while keeping each personality distinct and fascinating.  All of the characters, even the villains, have clear motivations and reasons that they see the world the way that they do.  Some are blinded by faith, others by obsession, and still others by their own view of the world itself.  His character building is well done, especially for such a large cast.

Shusterman continues to point out throughout the book how his concept is not far-fetched.  By using actual newspaper articles that point to teens being vilified, he firmly ties his fantasy world to our own.  The entire premise of the series is fraught with gray areas, ethics on both sides, and straight humanitarianism.  It is in this gray area that Shusterman does his most powerful work.

There are moments where the momentum flags and the pace drags a bit.  But that is a minor complaint and one that would never prevent me from finding out how the entire series ends.  Here’s hoping for another complex and complicated book to complete the set!  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Review: Son by Lois Lowry

son

Son by Lois Lowry

Claire gave birth to her son when she was fourteen.  As a Birthmother in the community, she wasn’t allowed to touch or even see her baby, who was whisked away immediately.  She expected to be a Vessel for some time, but something went wrong during the birth and she was considered unfit to bear more children.  So Claire was sent to work at the Fish Hatchery in the community, but as she left the birth center, she asked about her baby and whether it had survived.  That’s when she learned she had a son.  During her free time, she started to volunteer at the Nurturing Center and figured out who her son was.  But there was no way for her to really connect with the baby, this disconnected time together had to be enough.  So when her baby left the community, Claire had to follow him.  The journey would leave her stranded, desperate and completely changed.  This conclusion to The Giver Quartet ties the various threads from the other books together and will leave fans of the series satisfied and amazed.

Lowry is the first author I ever wrote a fan letter to and it was for The Giver.  At the time, dystopian fiction was not the rage and was quite unusual, especially for children.  Throughout the series, Lowry has built upon that incredible first book, startling those who thought Jonah had died when he fled, and creating an entire world that was solidly built and designed. 

This book startled me with how effortlessly it reads.  The prose has wings that shimmer and shine, illuminating the incredible world that Lowry continues to expand.  There are so many small moments in this world, from the hand-crafting of a boat to the years of practice before taking a life-risking trip.  There are small birds in cages, picked flowers on tables, and the strength of a long marriage.  Lowry weaves these together into her world, making it hearty and vibrant.

Claire is a wonderful character.  Even in her desperation she is radiant, someone who refuses to accept the world that she is placed in and continues to seek new ways.  It is through her perseverance and determination that the book works.  And it certainly does work.

A memorable ending to a ground-breaking quartet of novels, this one was breathtaking, wrenching and pure wonder.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

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