Review: Future Shock

futureTitle: Future Shock
Author: Elizabeth Briggs
Genres: Science fiction, thriller
Pages: 272
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Review Copy: Received an e-ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
Availability: Available now

Summary: Elena Martinez has hidden her eidetic memory all her life–or so she thinks. When powerful tech giant Aether Corporation selects her for a top-secret project, she can’t say no. All she has to do is participate in a trip to the future to bring back data, and she’ll be set for life.

Elena joins a team of four other teens with special skills, including Adam, a science prodigy with his own reason for being there. But when the time travelers arrive in the future, something goes wrong and they break the only rule they were given: do not look into their own fates.

Now they have twenty-four hours to get back to the present and find a way to stop a seemingly inevitable future from unfolding. With time running out and deadly secrets uncovered, Elena must use her eidetic memory, street smarts, and a growing trust in Adam to save her new friends and herself.

Review: I wish I liked this book more than I did. There are some points in Future Shock’s favor, but several significant stumbling points (or, perhaps, personal pet peeves) kept the book from fulfilling its potential.

I’ve seen several people praise Future Shock for its diverse cast, but there were a few not-insignificant moments where I felt that representation was misguided or problematic. Chris’s introduction, for instance, involves him menacing Adam, the love interest, in his first line, and the text mentions Chris’s size three times (“the biggest guy in the room gets right up in [Adam’s] face,” “the first guy has to be double [Adam’s] size,” and “‘I know your type,’ the big guy says”) before describing his race. And if you happened to guess those things meant Chris was black, you probably would have sighed as much as I did when that was confirmed (right before a fourth mention of his size—“large, muscular arms”—and all before revealing Chris’s name). While Chris does gain more depth beyond the Scary Black Man stereotype, this introduction casts a long, sour shadow over his character, particularly every time he gets into a fight with another character. And anyone who has been following LGBTQIA representation in television in the last month or so won’t be surprised at all by Zoe’s fate.

While I think short timelines are wonderful for thrillers as they can help keep a story focused, the romance between Elena and Adam suffered greatly for it. I simply could not believe that these two fell for each other within, roughly, two days. The romance was distracting—I was far more interested in the deadly mysteries the present and the future had for them than whether or not the two of them were going to get together. I honestly wish that the time spent on the romance had been spent on developing Chris, Zoe, and Trent’s relationships with Elena instead, especially since those four were the ones at risk.

Elena was an engaging narrator whose initial “real-world” hurdles easily paved the way for her science-fiction adventure. As her fears about the future transitioned from ageing out of foster care to staying alive when her death was around the corner, I empathized with her fear, frustration, and desperation. While I didn’t find the ultimate mystery that difficult to solve as a reader, I did understand why Elena and the rest of her group would have struggled with it.

Recommendation: Just skip it. While the premise and the heroine are engaging, Future Shock falls short of what it could have been and features some questionable representation choices.

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Review: The Girl from Everywhere

girl fromTitle: The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere #1)
Author: Heidi Heilig
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 464
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Review copy: Library
Availability: February 16th, 2016

Summary: Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination. As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day. Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence. For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters. She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love. Or she could disappear. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: When I first read the premise of The Girl From Everywhere, I was at once intrigued and baffled. Sailing across the centuries? Mythical lands? Time travel? That’s an awful lot going on. Given my love of fantasy and myth, I was more than ready to give it a try, even so.

The whole ‘sailing through the centuries to possibly mythical lands’ business works, once you decide to go with the flow and accept it — which is admittedly a little difficult, given that the book jumps into Nix’s seafaring, time-traveling life with very little explanation. But when you do get with the program, it’s a fun ride. Nix and her father’s ship crew sail to lands both real and mystical in a variety of times. The colorful descriptions of each place — little details such as the spread of New York food — bring each destination to life.

The casual interweaving of the mythical with the realistic is definitely one of the story’s strengths. The storytelling does take on a flowing, lyrical tone — which might or might not be your thing. At certain points, though, this takes an unfortunate turn as the vivid, descriptive style of the book manages to skip over actual, crucial plot details and set-up. There were several times when I was left flipping back through the book, baffled at a plot development that came out of nowhere. To be fair, I may not have been paying attention enough.

Though the novel’s perspective is that of the heroine, Nix, sometimes it didn’t feel like it. This may have been why several plot points seemed to come out of nowhere. As things happen and Nix makes crucial decisions, her thought process was occasionally left out of the equation. Even though Nix is surrounded by a cast of fascinating characters — diverse in their backgrounds, ethnicity, and sexuality — it was hard to get a sense of who they were. The varying settings of the story outshone the characters — all except Kashmir, ship crew member and one corner of Nix’s love triangle. He was a lot of fun, and his moments with Nix were pretty cute.

The one thing about the many locales of The Girl From Everywhere that I enjoyed the most was its honesty. While it definitely did not go into Colonialism 101 (if only), certain truths weren’t avoided — such as the destruction of Hawaii’s sovereignty in the past and other historical injustices. This, more than anything else, won me over. I’d love to see more unflinching looks at history in YA lit.

The premise alone makes The Girl From Everywhere worth reading. If you’re a big fan of adventures on the high seas and time travel, then check this book out!

Recommendation: Get it soon if you’re into the premise of time travel via sailing. Otherwise, maybe just borrow it someday.

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Book Review: On the Edge of Gone

goneTitle: On the Edge of Gone
Author: Corinne Duyvis
Genres:  Speculative Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 456
Publisher: Amulet Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one.

Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter outside their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

A last-minute meeting leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship, scheduled to leave Earth behind to colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But everyone on the ship has been chosen because of their usefulness. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?

Review: I was talking to a co-worker about The Walking Dead and why he doesn’t watch it, and he remarked that he hates to read/see stories that has our worlds in ruins, that it hurts him, It was in that conversation I realized just why I was so sad about Corinne Duyvis’s new novel. It’s not that the novel was bad (because it wasn’t) or that it wasn’t a page turner (because it was) but what made me so sad was that it was the story of the destruction of our world, and having that knowledge made me really sad. In books like Hunger Games, where the dystopian future is man made, you root for the hero to overcome systematic oppression. In On the Edge of Gone, the disaster is a natural one and our hero, Denise, is just trying to survive in a brand new dangerous world, and that is what made me so sad. Which is, in a sense, a bit ironic because I’ve always wanted a book that dealt with the disaster in the moment, not years later, which I got, but it also broke me.

Let’s look at the first line shall we, “The first time my future vanished was July 19, 2034.”  Talk about a punch to the gut from the start; and the novel never lets up. It opens with Denise’s reaction to the announcement about the comet, and then fast-forwards to the day of, specifically 30 minutes before the comet is supposed to hit. Denise and her mother have not left the house yet, and it will take them about 45 minutes to get to the shelter. Logically, I knew that Iris would survive the blast, however, Duyvis writes Denise so well that I felt her panic, and frustration at her mother’s lack of urgency to get to safety. I wanted to scream at her mother as well. In fact, there were many times I was frustrated with a number of characters, but when your world is ending how rational is one really going to act? When it comes to matters of survival, won’t we often look out for our own?

And that is the main question that Denise faces throughout the book as she tries to get a spot on the generation ship for not just herself, but for her mother and her sister. She struggles with trying to help others survive, yet look out for her family as well. I love that Duyvis explores Denise’s guilt and turmoil over the desire to save her family versus her desire to help others because the inner conflict made the novel very true. Denise is a caring person, evident in her love of cats so much that she works at a animal shelter, but yet is learning how to deal with others in the worst scenario possible. Denise’s world, er everyone’s world, has been shattered and Denise must work a little harder, due to her autism, to adjust to life after the comet.  Denise is fully aware of how she can be perceived (which also hurt when Duyvis didn’t hold back on the micro aggressions Denise faced) yet she makes an active effort to adjust her behavior to be accepted on board the generation ship. Denise uses this opportunity to prove, not only to everyone else, but mainly to herself what she is truly capable of.  And in the end, well, I don’t want to give it away, but Denise does find that her future vanished as she knew it on July 19, 2034, but she got a new one by learning more about herself, and her ability to survive, than she ever thought possible.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

P.S. While we here at Rich in Color focus on characters of color, I’m glad that Duyvis wrote a character who, in addition to being bi-racial, is autistic. I’ve had, and currently have autistic students and love that there is a book where they can see themselves reflected in a novel, where they get to be the hero. Many people think there is only one type of way a person with autism interacts with the world (a micro aggression that Duyvis brings into the book) and those of us who work with students who have autism know that they are completely different and unique in how they perceive the world. Denise is a perfect example of the broadness of the autism spectrum and how a person with autism’s mind works.

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Review: The Memory Key

17697565Title: The Memory Key
Author: Liana Liu
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 244
Publisher: HarperTeen
Availability: October 16th, 2015

Summary: Lora Mint is determined not to forget. Though her mother’s been dead for five years, Lora struggles to remember every detail about her—most importantly, the specific events that occurred the night she sped off in her car, never to return. But in a world ravaged by Vergets disease, a viral form of Alzheimer’s, that isn’t easy. Usually Lora is aided by her memory key, a standard-issue chip embedded in her brain that preserves memories just the way a human brain would. Then a minor accident damages Lora’s key, and her memories go haywire. Suddenly Lora remembers a moment from the night of her mother’s disappearance that indicates her death was no accident. Can she trust these formerly forgotten memories? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ve been trying my hand at reading more science fiction, so coming upon The Memory Key was a happy accident. The premise — a world hit by a forgetting disease that sounds like Alzheimer’s and the resulting emergence of ‘memory keys’ to treat this issue – is just close enough to real life to be an accessible and fascinating story.

Memory keys that preserve, well, memories are planted in nearly everyone after Vergets disease sweeps the nation several decades previous. When Lora Mint’s memory key is damaged, she starts to remember things that throw her whole life — and her mother’s death — into doubt. The weaving of memories insistently resurfacing with Lora’s struggle to discover the truth is well-executed. Sleuthing-via-memories was fascinating to read.

The presence of a variety of characters — friends, family, random adults — lent realism to the world. Lora certainly doesn’t live in the mysteriously adult-free world that quite a few YA books seem to be set in. Unfortunately, the resemblance to real life goes a little too far. In a futuristic world where chips can be implanted in your brain, every other technology is curiously non-futuristic, more like the good ol’ 90s than anything. It was hard to get a real grasp of place.

Similarly, figuring out who Lora was, despite being inside her head for a good portion of the book, proved difficult. Her personality came out the strongest in her forays into romance — I admit, despite being a little squicked out by the end game. The high point of Lora’s character and the story comes through in Lora’s search for the truth about her mother. That was enough to pull me in and make me invested in the story.

The Memory Key is a solid, accessible science-fiction YA book. I especially recommend it for anyone looking to get into science fiction but is wary of getting in over their head. It’s definitely a page-turner!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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Review: The Hunted

hunted
Title: The Hunted (The Living #2)
Author: Matt de la Peña
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 384
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller, Action/Adventure
Availability: May 12, 2015
Review Copy: ARC from publisher

Summary: When the Big One hit, Shy was at sea in style. The Paradise Cruise luxury liner he worked on was a hulking specimen of the best money could buy. And now it’s at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, along with almost all of its passengers.

Shy wasn’t the only one to survive, though. Addie, the rich blond daughter of a mysterious businessman, was on the dinghy he pulled himself into. But as soon as they found the rest of the survivors, she disappeared.

The only thing that filled the strange void of losing her was finding Carmen, his hot coworker, and discovering a way to get back home. But Shy’s luck hasn’t turned. Not yet.

Back on the dinghy, Addie told him a secret. It’s a secret that people would kill for-have killed for-and she has the piece that could turn everything on its ear. The problem? Shy has no idea where Addie is. Back home in California seems logical, but there are more ways to die back home then Shy could ever have guessed.

And thanks to what Shy now knows, he’s a moving target.

Review: Sometimes series books can be read out of order. I would not recommend that in this case. A reader would likely understand most of the book, but there would be way too much backstory missing without the first book. If you haven’t read The Living yet, it’s probably best you stop reading this review and go do that first. It was one of my favorite books of 2013 (review here).

This second book picks up right where the first left off. Shy and his companions are on the run. They’re trying to get away from some people, but they are also running for another purpose. Because of the intrigue, it’s difficult to talk about plot without giving things away, but there are many life-threatening events and stressful circumstances that have to be faced as they move closer and closer to their intended destination.

The Hunted moves at an even faster pace than The Living. Chase scenes and violence are sprinkled throughout. This is definitely an action book, but the characters begin to gain more depth too. We find out that Shy’s friend Marcus isn’t what he seemed to be back on the cruise ship. Shy learns about himself and sees he’s capable of more than he expected. The characters also get a small glimpse into Shoeshine’s past.

Shoeshine is an interesting part of both books. He is inscrutable and also has amazing strength, wisdom and prescience. Even in seemingly impossible situations, he is likely to save the day often at great risk to himself. The phrase magical negro kept popping into my mind. Usually that trope has the character subordinate to a white person, but here Shoeshine is saving and guiding a Latino protagonist so it’s not exactly the same.

Lest you think it is all seriousness, there are still moments of lightness. Shy, Marcus and Carmen joke and jab at each other once in a while and there is good news on occasion. Readers get to smile sometimes. I especially liked the scenes with a young brother and sister they meet along the way. The playful wrestling and teasing were a lot of fun.

I enjoyed both of the books in this series, but they had quite different textures. This first book was more about the intrigue and the second felt like a race. Thankfully, the second one wasn’t just a revamping of the first. It was something new. I don’t know when the next book is scheduled to be published, but I’m eager to get it into my hands.

Recommendation: Buy it soon if you enjoyed the first installment. This second book is another wild ride. If you haven’t read The Living, get it now.

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Review: Of Dreams and Rust

23309705Title: Of Dreams and Rust (Of Metal and Wishes #2)
Author: Sarah Fine
Genres: romance, steampunk
Pages: 288
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Availability: August 4th, 2015

Summary: In the year since the collapse of the slaughterhouse where Wen worked as her father’s medical assistant, she’s held all her secrets close. She works in the clinic at the weapons factory and sneaks away to nurse Bo, once the Ghost, now a boy determined to transform himself into a living machine. Their strange, fragile friendship soothes some of the ache of missing Melik, the strong-willed Noor who walked away from Wen all those months ago—but it can’t quell her fears for him.

The Noor are waging a rebellion in the west. When she overhears plans to crush Melik’s people with the powerful war machines created at the factory, Wen makes the painful decision to leave behind all she has known—including Bo—to warn them. But the farther she journeys into the warzone, the more confusing things become. A year of brutality seems to have changed Melik, and Wen has a decision to make about him and his people: How much is she willing to sacrifice to save them from complete annihilation? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review:  Of Dreams and Rust is the sequel to Of Metal and Wishes — if you haven’t read that, what are you doing here? Go read it first, or check out RIC’s review of it! Okay, moving on…

Of Dreams and Rust is a solid follow-up to its predecessor. At first, the book falls into the classic pitfall of sequels — a slow, drawn-out beginning that introduces the essential plot points of the first book. But, once I got past that, I was drawn into the story to the point that I was a weeping mess by the end.

The plot of Of Metal and Wishes covers the rebellion of the Noor people against their oppressors. The book’s characters occasionally take a backseat in favor of the progression of the plot. Fortunately, the main character Wen’s narration prevents the book from feeling too plot-driven.

As with the first book, Of Dreams and Rust’s strength is its gorgeous language and worldbuilding. While more melancholy than Of Metal and Wishes, the writing in Of Dreams and Rust is a pleasure to read. The worldbuilding and conflict were believable and detailed. Plus, I’m a sucker for steampunk robot spiders and machines. In that regard, the book can do no wrong.

If you enjoyed Of Dreams and Rust, this book is a must-read… and if you’re at all interested in a book inspired by Phantom of the Opera with gorgeous worldbuilding, then Of Dreams and Rust is the book for you, and once you read that, check out the sequel! I thoroughly enjoyed the sequel, and can’t wait to read Sarah Fine’s next book.

Recommendation: Get it soon! This is a wonderful sequel to Of Metal and Wishes.

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