Book Review: The Living

the livingTitle: The Living
Author: Matt de la Peña
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genres: Dystopian, Action/Adventure
Pages: 320
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he’ll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all.

But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy’s  only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed.

The earthquake is only the first disaster. Suddenly it’s a fight to survive for those left living. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

Review: On the surface, The Living appears to be a typical survival story with the possibility of a romance, but there are intriguing layers to this story that the reader can catch glimpses of along the way. Matt de la Peña is an excellent storyteller, but aside from the action and suspence, he is also tackling both race and class issues. Yes, there is an earthquake and shark infested waters, but those aren’t the only things Shy will need to navigate.

A summer job on a cruise ship sounds glamorous, but for Shy it’s like any other summer job. Shy is a Mexican American from a working class single parent home. He is trying to earn enough money to help out his mom and grandma and have a little left over for himself. He has fun with his co-workers and has fairly light  responsibilities. Occasionally he must deal with obnoxious wealthy people, but it’s not a hard job. Life gets complicated very quickly though. On his first cruise out, Shy witnesses something that inspires nightmares and brings a man in black to follow him around.

This mystery takes second place though when a huge earthquake and the subsequent chain reaction of disasters hit. Shy is in a fight for his life and for those around him. The man against nature portion of this book is excellent and Matt de la Peña really created a believable character in Shy. He is a good kid and tries to follow the disaster procedures for his job, but he is in over his head in more ways than one. I felt like I was right there witnessing the disaster first-hand through his eyes feeling all of his fear and frustration.

Beyond the fight with nature, there are dangers among the people around him too. It’s difficult to discuss without revealing too much, but this book deals with race, class, and ethics on a scale that I was not anticipating. Matt de la Peña discussed a little bit about this in his interview with NPR.

Recommendation: Buy it now. This is a fantastic read for entertainment purposes, but it also provides a lot to think about. I am very eager to see what de la Peña has in store for us in the sequel.

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December Releases

On Mondays we usually post New Releases for the coming week, but to allow for a brief break, today I’m posting all of the releases that we know of for the rest of the month. We will resume our regular New Release posting schedule in January. Watch for these upcoming titles throughout the month.

CyCy in Chains by David L. Dudley
Clarion Books

Release Date: Dec. 17th

Summary: Cy Williams, thirteen, has always known that he and the other black folks on Strong’s plantation have to obey white men, no question. Sure, he’s free, as black people have been since his grandfather’s day, but in rural Georgia, that means they’re free to be whipped, abused, even killed. Almost four years later, Cy yearns for that freedom, such as it was. Now he’s a chain gang laborer, forced to do backbreaking work, penned in and shackled like an animal, brutalized, beaten, and humiliated by the boss of the camp and his hired overseers. For Cy and the boys he’s chained to, there’s no way out, no way back. And then hope begins to grow in him, along with strength and courage he didn’t know he had. Cy is sure that a chance at freedom is worth any risk, any sacrifice. This powerful, moving story opens a window on a painful chapter in the history of race relations. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

ControlControl by Lydia Kang
Dial/Penguin

Release Date: Dec. 26th

When a crash kills their father and leaves them orphaned, Zel knows she needs to protect her sister, Dyl. But before Zel has a plan, Dyl is taken by strangers using bizarre sensory weapons, and Zel finds herself in a safe house for teens who aren’t like any she’s ever seen before—teens who shouldn’t even exist. Using broken-down technology, her new friends’ peculiar gifts, and her own grit, Zel must find a way to get her sister back from the kidnappers who think a powerful secret is encoded in Dyl’s DNA.

A spiraling, intense, romantic story set in 2150—in a world of automatic cars, nightclubs with auditory ecstasy drugs, and guys with four arms—this is about the human genetic “mistakes” that society wants to forget, and the way that outcasts can turn out to be heroes. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

warriorWarrior by Ellen Oh
Harper Teen

Release Date: Dec. 31st

Warrior (Kira, the yellow-eyed demon slayer who protected her kingdom in Prophecy, is back . . . and her dramatic quest is far from over. After finishing Ellen’s first novel, Prophecy, School Library Journal said they were “ready for a sequel.” Well, here it is Filled with ancient lore and fast-paced excitement, this page-turning series is perfect for fantasy and action fans.

Kira has valiantly protected her kingdom–and the crown prince–and is certain she will find the second treasure needed to fulfill the Dragon King’s prophecy. Warrior boasts a strong female hero, romantic intrigue, and mythical creatures such as a nine-tailed fox demon, a goblin army, and a hungry dragon with a snarky attitude. — cover and summary via Indiebound

real as it getsReal As It Gets by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
K-Teen

Release Date: Dec. 31st

She can uncover the biggest celebrity secrets. But now Maya Morgan’s hottest story ever is way too up-close-and-personal . . .

For once, everything in Maya’s life is falling perfectly into place. She’s getting serious media cred uncovering the source of a new designer drug doing major glitterati damage. And the new man in her life is giving Maya all the cool bling and attention she craves off-camera. But the truth behind her scoop is about to cut too close to home–and put Maya and her family in the crosshairs. Soon, she’ll have to decide just how far she can afford to go to save her family, her career. . .and herself. — Cover image via IndieBound & summary via Amazon

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Book Review: Diverse Energies

diverse
Title: Diverse Energies
Edited By: Tobias S. Buckell & Joe Monti
Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction
Pages: 314
Publisher: Tu Books an imprint of Lee and Low
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On Shelves Now

Summary:  In a world gone wrong, heroes and villains are not always easy to distinguish and every individual has the ability to contribute something powerful.

In this stunning collection of original and rediscovered stories of tragedy and hope, the stars are a diverse group of students, street kids, good girls, kidnappers, and child laborers pitted against their environments, their governments, differing cultures, and sometimes one another as they seek answers in their dystopian worlds. Take a journey through time from a nuclear nightmare of the past to society’s far future beyond Earth with these eleven stories by masters of speculative fiction. Includes stories by Paolo Bacigalupi, Ursula K. Le Guin, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, Daniel H. Wilson, and more. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: I was excited to get my hands on Diverse Energies. Dystopia is an area of young adult literature that has been flourishing over the past few years especially following the release of The Hunger Games, but there is still a need for more works featuring protagonists from diverse backgrounds. To spell it out more clearly, it would be great to see more young adult dystopias with protagonists that are something other than straight white teens. With Diverse Energies, the editors and contributors were hoping to help fill this need and create change in the landscape of young adult science fiction.

Before the stories begin, readers find a quote from John F. Kennedy: “The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.” This demonstrates the spirit of this book. There is a high value placed on diversity. The stories shared here reveal the strength and beauty of that diversity even in the midst of chaos.

Dystopian stories typically have a corrupt entity taking unfair advantage of the masses often after war or another apocalyptic event. Since that is a fairly standard storyline, I was wondering how unique these short stories could be. It turns out that the voices were distinct and each one has a different storyline with its own particular  flavor. There are stories of war, rebellious robots, child slavery, extreme economic disparity, time travel, among others.

Most of the stories manage to end with a bit of hope, but like many dystopians, they are all pretty bleak so they do tug on emotions. In the very first story by Ellen Oh, the pain took me by surprise. I didn’t expect so much intensity right away. These authors meant business. The very next story, Freshee’s Frogurt by Daniel H. Wilson, is told in a lighter tone though the subject matter is also intense. I appreciated hearing the stories told in radically different ways.

An anthology for me is like an appetizer sampler. The variety almost ensures that there will be something to appeal to everyone. Also, there isn’t such a large investment required of the reader when stories are so brief. I was happy to meet some new authors through this book and will be seeking out more of their works.

Recommendation: Dystopian fans buy it now and even if you aren’t a dystopian fan, I would recommend you read it soon. The worlds and characters are rich and it is amazing to see what the authors have imagined into being within just a few pages.

Extras: 
A Chat with Diverse Energies Authors
Joe Monti Discusses Diverse Energies and Book Covers
Excerpt from Diverse Energies

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Book Review: Champion

Title: Ch14290364ampion
Author: Marie Lu
Genres: Dystopian, SciFi
Pages: 369
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers
Review Copy: Target!
Availability: On Shelves now

Review: I wish I could write gushing praise for Champion. I really wanted to say that I loved the novel and everyone needs to run out and buy it right now. I wish I could say a lot of things, but what I truly wish for is a different ending to the book. For me, I might enjoy 80-90% of a book, tv, or movie, but if the ending is not done well, then I usually end up disappointed with the entire product. Unfortunately, I did not like the ending to Champion and it has sullied my entire enjoyment of the novel. I will not say why I didn’t like the book because I’m not one to ruin someone’s reading pleasure and give away the end of the book, so you’ll just have to read it for yourselves.

The rest of the novel, with the exception of the last 20 pages, was tense with almost non-stop action. After all, the entire book encompasses a very short time period (a week, I think) where Day and June are literally fighting for their lives, for the lives of the people of the Republic, as well as trying to find a cure for the new plague. This makes for some very intense moments where Day and June have to make adult decisions that will effect their entire nation. That is a lot of responsibility for teenagers, but as established in Legend and Prodigy, Day and June are not ordinary teenagers. Their relationship begins strained at the beginning of the novel, but they eventually come together and the scene where they finally admit how they feel for each other is one of the best in the book. I cheered for them and hoped against hoped that Day and June would be able to have their happy ending. At that point in the story, it really didn’t look like that was going to happen, so much Kudos to Marie Lu for keeping the reader in such suspense.

One aspect of Champion that I really loved was learning more about the world that Day and June live in. In my copy there was a map of the world that showed how the melting of the glaciers affected the entire globe. We learn that Africa is a superpower and that Antarctica is a thriving continent, with a wonderful super-charged technology advanced city and even has their own language. This attention to world building detail thrilled me and I even wondered what the Antarctican language sounded like and where it’s roots where. While Prodigy explained more of what happened to the United States, Champion gives more information as to how the world changed and the former US’s status among the world’s governments. To me, the world that Lu created feels very real and I can imagine our future turning into Day and June’s familiar world.

Overall, maybe my disappointment comes from having Day and June’s story come to an end. I seriously loved Legend and Prodigy, and was eagerly anticipating Champion. Day and June, for me, are one-of-a-kind characters and I grew to really care for them. I cared for each of their individual stories, their heartaches, and I cared for them as a couple. I felt they were a realistic portrayal of a couple who pushes and challenges the other to be better, while at the same time can work together as a team. That type of relationship is uncommon in Young Adult fiction these days, but I hope that more publishers take note on the popularity of Lu’s series and publish more novels where the teens are equals to each other instead of a lopsided relationship.

Marie Lu, thank you for giving us Day and June. I will miss them greatly.

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Nostalgia trip: The House of the Scorpion

house of the scorpionTitle: The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 380
Publisher: Atheneum Book
Review Copy: the library
Availability: January 1, 2002

Summary: Matteo Alacrán was not born; He was harvested. His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium — a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt’s first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster — except for El Patrón. As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patrón’s power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn’t even suspect. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

The House of tlord of opiumhe Scorpion is one of those books from my childhood that I remember oh-so-fondly — it was terrifying and fascinating, and a great introduction to both the dystopian and science fiction genre. It had everything: Clones! Adventure! Political conflict! The worldbuilding was complex yet incredibly easy to fall into. The House of the Scorpion was my first Nancy Farmer book and it led me to read every other Nancy Farmer book I could get my hands on. Reading the book again as an adult did not diminish the experience. If anything, being older lets me truly appreciate the incredible storytelling and sense of adventure in the The House of the Scorpion.

When The Lord of Opium came out a month ago, I’d nearly forgotten about this childhood favorite. Now that the long-awaited sequel is out, I am ready to reread everything Nancy Farmer again.

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Review: Killer of Enemies

killer of enemiesTitle: Killer of Enemies
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Genres: Dystopia/Post-apocalypse, Steampunk, Action/Adventure
Pages: 358
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: Received ARC from publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Years ago, seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen and her family lived in a world of haves and have-nots. There were the Ones—people so augmented with technology and genetic enhancements that they were barely human—and there was everyone else who served them.

Then the Cloud came, and everything changed. Tech stopped working. The world plunged back into a new steam age. The Ones’ pets—genetically engineered monsters—turned on them and are now loose on the world.

Lozen was not one of the lucky ones pre-C, but fate has given her a unique set of survival skills and magical abilities. She hunts monsters for the Ones who survived the apocalyptic events of the Cloud, which ensures the safety of her kidnapped family. But with every monster she takes down, Lozen’s powers grow, and she connects those powers to an ancient legend of her people. It soon becomes clear to Lozen that she is not just a hired gun.

As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero. —(Summary and image provided by publisher)

Review: There are few things I find as sexy as competence in fictional characters, and Lozen has an abundance of competence. It was ridiculously enjoyable to read about Lozen hunting and taking down genetically engineered monsters—each one more dangerous than the one before—and so utterly satisfying. The monsters were mad-scientist worthy creations, and Lozen had to put her intelligence as well as her physical (and magical!) abilities to the test in order to survive. Every time she took one of the monsters down, I cheered.

The post-apocalyptic/dystopian world Lozen inhabits is a mishmash of high- and low-tech that took a while for me to get used to. For example, Kevlar still exists (and Lozen gets to wear it), but they no longer have the ability to manufacture it, and Haven (Lozen’s community) is essentially stripped back to a walking-only society thanks to lack of tech/fuel, a superbug that wiped out horses several years ago, and a local population of giant birds that enjoy snacking on bicyclists. It is a fascinating world, especially when you throw in hints of magic and elements from Apache folklore. (Of particular note is the unknown figure whose voice Lozen can “hear” in her mind but hasn’t seen.)

Lozen’s commentary on the pre-Cloud world is interesting from a “look how far we’ve fallen” point, and there are some great passages where she clinically lays out some of the more terrible ways people died as the world fell apart. I really enjoyed that aspect of Lozen—she’s a complicated character who has constructed an unlikeable (or at least unapproachable) façade out of the twin desires not to be seen as a threat to the Ones and to keep others at bay so they can’t be used against her like her family is. I’m not sure I would be friends with Lozen if she were real, but I loved reading about her.

I’d estimate a good 50% of the book is Lozen on her own, either hunting down monsters or making preparations for breaking her family out of Haven. Aside from her family, one sort-of-friend/mentor, and one sort-of-love-interest, Lozen’s interactions with the survivors in Haven are decidedly negative. There are some pretty despicable people who survived the end of the world, and that’s not even counting the half-mad Ones (who are delightfully evil and unhinged) who run Haven and are holding Lozen’s family hostage against her good behavior/monster killing.

I didn’t have any major complaints about the book, though this is one of the few times I wished that the romance got more screen time. As it is, I didn’t root for Lozen’s sort-of-relationship with Hussein as much as I wanted to, even if I do think they had a good foundation for the start of a romance. (Who can resist a gardener with a gentle disposition and a penchant for playing subversive songs on his guitar?) I also wished the book had spent more time developing Lozen’s magical abilities. Sometimes I was rather confused about how her skills were supposed to fit into the mythology of the world or the extent of her skill with them. However, I fully acknowledge that this lack of detail didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if the idea of a monster hunt through a post-apocalyptic landscape makes you giddy. The book is a fun, quick read, and the unique world-building makes it a distinctive addition to the dystopian genre.

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