Book Review: Diverse Energies

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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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Review: Sorrow’s Knot

Sorrow's Knot

Title: Sorrow’s Knot
Author: Erin Bow
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 342
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: At the very edge of the world live the Shadowed People. And with them live the dead.

There, in the village of Westmost, Otter is born to power. She is the proud daughter of Willow, the greatest binder of the dead in generations. It will be Otter’s job someday to tie the knots of the ward, the only thing that keeps the living safe.

Kestrel is in training to be a ranger – one of the brave women who venture into the forest to gather whatever the Shadowed People can’t live without. It will be Kestrel and her sister rangers who stand against whatever dark threat might slip through the ward’s defenses.

And Cricket wants to be a storyteller – already he shows the knack, the ear – and already he knows a few dangerous secrets.

But something is very wrong at the edge of the world.

Willow’s power seems to be turning inside out. The ward is in danger of falling. And lurking in the shadows, hungry, is a White Hand – the most dangerous of the dead, whose very touch means madness, and worse. —(Summary and image from author’s site)

Review: I fell in love with this book from the second page, which is such a rare experience for me that I actually had to reread the opening scene to make sure of my feelings.

The world of Sorrow’s Knot is a fascinating and ahistorical creation that borrows from Native American, Celtic, and Japanese folklore. Erin Bow did a lot of research in order to build this world, and the effort shows in everything from the food to the houses to the descriptions of the drums and drumming. Perhaps what I love most is that Bow trusts the readers to learn from context anything that’s unfamiliar instead of assuming they won’t get it.

That allows Bow to focus on the actual prose, which is spectacular. There were times I wanted to stop and read the book aloud, just so I could hear the rhythm of the words. Stories and storytelling are of major importance in the book, and Bow wrote a book that sounds like old fairytales, if that makes any sense. (You can read an excerpt here.) This is a book where you can really luxuriate in the world and the atmosphere the author creates for you. The descriptions of the scaffolds and the dead (particularly the White Hand) are all the right sorts of eerie, and I appreciated how wide and full of unknowns the world felt.

Otter, Kestrel, and Cricket are a fantastic power trio who are all competent, intelligent, and courageous. Their banter—and Kestrel and Cricket’s romance—was adorable, and I had no trouble believing that these were friends who would break taboos or go to the end of the world for one another. The depth of their trust, love, and respect for each other made the first half of the book compelling despite the comparatively slow build of the plot. Most of the other important characters felt like people in their own right and not just accessories to the main trio.

In other books, I would probably complain about the relative lack of explicit rules for the magic, but the magic meshes well with the world and the storytelling style. While the solution to the story was a bit too simple for my tastes, I was ultimately satisfied by the characters’ trials, journeys, and sacrifices that made that solution possible.

Recommendation: Buy it now. Sorrow’s Knot was easily one of my favorite books this year. (With Christmas around the corner, there are people on my shopping list who may very well end up owning this book.) The world is rich, the characters are believable, and the prose is moving and mesmerizing. I’m definitely looking forward to future works by Erin Bow.

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Review: Proxy

proxy

Title: Proxy
Author: Alex London
Genre: Action and Adventure, Dystopia
Pages: 379
Publisher: Philomel Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher & final copy from library
Available: On shelves now
Cover image via Amazon

Review: Syd is an orphan and a proxy. He is the one to bear the physical punishment whenever Knox, his patron, breaks a rule. Unfortunately for Syd, Knox is not all that fond of following the rules.

In a nod to the middle grade novel The Whipping Boy and A Tale of Two Cities, Alex London pulls readers along on an exciting and dangerous ride in the future.

This future world is filled with greed, extreme poverty, and corruption. Knox and Syd are both used to the way their world works and have not been trying to change the system, but over the course of a few hours, they start re-evaluating their beliefs.

After Knox crashes a car and kills a girl, Syd is beaten and imprisoned. This sets in motion a chain of events that will radically change both of their lives. The pages of this book are packed with action and suspense and I did not want to put it down.

In addition to being a proxy, Syd also happens to be a gay person who describes himself as brown. These things are not the main point of the story though. This is not an issue book, but a dystopian novel that happens to have a gay main character who isn’t white. We need more stories like this.

All of this may seem very serious, but London does scatter a few doses of humor on the way. I appreciated those light moments.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you are a fan of dystopia and especially if you are a fan of The Whipping Boy with it’s humor and fast pace. If you would like to get a taste, preview the first three chapters below.

Extras:

First three chapters of Proxy

Cover reveal and first three chapters of the sequel Guardian due out May 19, 2014

Post on Diversity in YA: 4 Things I Learned (and 1 thing I didn’t) While Writing Proxy

 

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Works in Translation

I have to admit — I’m a lazy reader. I prefer books that make me laugh out loud over heavy dystopian books that make me think about the evolution of society. I want books with lots of snappy dialogue and easy-to-swallow plotlines. I wish all my books were light summer reads, even if it’s the dead of winter. It’s like how I constantly crave junk food.

Sometimes, though, I crave the kind of language you can only get through translated works.* Now, I’m not about to go back to reading translations of modernist Japanese lit (never again! okay, maybe someday). Fortunately, there’s a few translated Japanese YA lit and middle grade books out there. Here is my favorite one:

brave storyTitle: Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe

Young Wataru Mitani’s life is a mess. His father has abandoned him and his mother has been hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Desperately he searches for some way to change his life; a way to alter his fate. To achieve his goal, he must navigate the magical world of Vision, a land filled with creatures both fierce and friendly. And to complicate matters, he must outwit a merciless rival from the real world. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Brave Story is a long read, but worth every minute. It’s the sort of book that has such beautiful and detailed language that I just want to bask in the flow of words — you know, that kind of book. The intermingling of Wataru’s real life and fantasy world is gracefully done. Wataru’s adventure can be a bit puzzling at times, but if you just keep reading, it’ll all come together.

Note: Brave Story is written by Miyuki Miyabe, who is a Japanese author in Japan — not a POC written work from America, England, etc. But a change of pace is nice, isn’t it?

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Book Review: Inheritance

inheritanceTitle: Inheritance
Author: Malinda Lo
Genres: Speculative Fiction
Pages: 480
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC from NetGalley
Availability: Releases on Sept. 24

Summary: Reese and David are not normal teens—not since they were adapted with alien DNA by the Imria, an extraterrestrial race that has been secretly visiting Earth for decades. Now everyone is trying to get to them: the government, the Imria, and a mysterious corporation that would do anything for the upper hand against the aliens.

Beyond the web of conspiracies, Reese can’t reconcile her love for David with her feelings for her ex-girlfriend Amber, an Imrian. But her choice between two worlds will play a critical role in determining the future of humanity, the Imria’s place in it, and the inheritance she and David will bring to the universe. (summary from author’s webpage http://www.malindalo.com)

Review: I thought long and hard what to write for this review because there is so much to Malinda Lo’s awesome-sauce speculative fiction novel that I just don’t know where to begin, or to write without giving away spoilers. Inheritance is the sequel to Lo’s third novel, Adaptation, where high school students Reese Holloway and David Li undergo surgery where their bodies are transformed by the Imria. Adaptation is a fast paced novel that explores the changes Reese and David experience, as well as Reese coming to terms with her sexuality when she falls for a girl named Amber Gray. The novel ends right at an intense point, where I could imagine Lo fans screaming in frustration, desiring to know what happens next. Luckily for me, a mere days after I finished Adaptation, the opportunity to read the ARC of Inheritance was presented to me and I jumped at the chance.

 

 
Fans of Adaptation will not be disappointed with the conclusion of Reese’s and Amber’s and David’s story. In fact, the tension in Inheritance becomes even more intense. The conspiracies spin out of control, the danger becomes real as both Reese and David experience violence from extremists on both sides who react exactly as imagined upon learning that beings from another world exist. And the love triangle between Reese, David and Amber is handled with such delicate care that the reader really can’t choose who to root for. Lo resolves the triangle in an unconventional way that will have fans either loving the resolution or hating it. I, in fact, loved it and thought it to be a brave choice by Lo.

 

 
Inheritance begins where Adaptation left off and doesn’t slow down for a minute. While there is less physical action scenes, the novel explores the consequences of what would happen to our society if the notion of aliens visiting our planet turn out to be true. The novel also explores the idea of “fame” and the role the media plays into the daily lives of those who are thrust into the spotlight as Reese and David are. I find that these types of stories are more compelling than your regular action mystery/SciFi novel because it allows us, both the writer and the reader, to look at our society in a unique way and answer the question of “what if”. By playing with these “what if” scenarios through novels like Inheritance, we can be prepared for when the events actually occur.

 

 
I greatly enjoyed Inheritance and while the ending is left on a positive note, and definitely completes the story, there is much more to explore in Reese’s world. I hope Malinda Lo has more planned for Reese, Amber and David, because I’d really like to spend more time with them.

 

 
Recommendation: Get it now! Inheritance comes out on Sept. 24th. If you haven’t read Adaptation, buy it now and then pre-order Inheritance.

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Review: Boxers and Saints

From IndieBound: “Boxers & Saints is an innovative new graphic novel in two volumes – the parallel stories of two young people caught up on opposite sides of a violent rift. American Born Chinese author Gene Luen Yang brings his clear-eyed storytelling and trademark magical realism to the complexities of the Boxer Rebellion and lays bare the foundations of extremism, rebellion, and faith.”

boxerssaints

Title: Boxers (336pp.)
Title: Saints (176pp.)
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Genres: History, Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Publisher: First Second
Review Copy: NetGalley
Availability: September 10, 2013

Boxers Summary: China,1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.

Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers – commoners trained in kung fu who fight to free China from “foreign devils.” Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of “secondary devils” – Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.

Saints Summary: China, 1898. An unwanted fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn’t even given a proper name by her family. She finds friendship—and a name, Vibiana—in the most unlikely of places: Christianity. But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie . . . and whether she is willing to die for her faith.

Review: Gene Luen Yang brings the Boxer Rebellion to life in Boxers and Saints. Presenting the differing perspectives allows the reader to have a better understanding of the causes and motivations of the characters. These novels depict many atrocities towards men, women and children. Some of those actions are hard to take, but they do make a certain kind of sense when you see everything that led up to them including the misperceptions they have of the other culture. For the main character, Little Bao, the foreign devils are completely evil. They have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. As a result of a run in with the foreigners, his village and family have suffered greatly and the horrifying tales he hears only add to his negative opinion, so it is no surprise that he takes up arms against them. What may be harder to understand is his anger and hatred of the Chinese that follow the Christian ways. Using the multiple perspectives Yang manages to show the gray areas of this conflict. The characters themselves see everything as black and white, but the readers are given enough information to realize that the water is exceedingly muddy and many emotions and events lead others along their paths.

Boxers and Saints dealt with much more serious matters than I had expected from the opening. We are treated to scenes of fairs, Chinese opera, and see a young boy’s eagerness to learn martial arts. The art around the Chinese opera characters is stunning. The colors are vivid and the artwork is carefully detailed. Boxers soon becomes a battlefield though and much blood is spilled. In the midst of all the death and destruction, Little Bao is learning about himself and trying to align his philosophy with what he thinks he is “supposed” to believe. In addition, Four Girl, the main character in Saints, is trying to find her place in the world. She doesn’t want to just accept the place she has though. She wants to make the place that is right for her. These two young people have the same kinds of wishes that any teen might have, but their circumstances are extraordinary.

I found Boxers and Saints emotionally challenging. Witnessing man’s inhumanity to man is always draining for me. The characters feel so real that it is hard not to become involved and the scenes are intense. For readers looking for action, there is plenty of that. They may be surprised by the amount of thinking required though. I believe readers will follow the story even if they don’t have background knowledge of the Boxer rebellion, but I would imagine they will want to find out more by the time they are through. I went on a hunt for more information. Yang provides a nice bibliography at the end so readers can easily do that.

Recommendation: Buy it now – or at least get it as soon as you can. This is a beautifully illustrated and well told tale that you won’t want to miss.

Extras:
Essay by the author “The Boxer Rebellion and Pop Culture”

Book Trailer

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