Tag Archives: Survival

‘The Age Of Miracles’ Is Upon Us

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

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Plot: 12/20

An ordinary girl. An ordinary boy. An invisible catastrophe.

When the Earth’s rotation starts to slow, longer days and nights are the least of the world’s worries as the Earth, as they know it, irrevocably changes. In the chaos, Julia and Seth find their very own unknown. I should start by saying that I generally hate end-of-the-world/apocalypse/eco-disaster books. I read the synopsis and dread the thoughts of reading them but this one surprised me. Cleverly crafted, the Earth’s rotation might be the driving force of the book but it’s the effects it has on Julia and her community that are foregrounded. The “slowing” feels unnecessary though and the ending is unsatisfying. The story focuses on the breakdown of relationships and coming together (in other instances) but the ending does not deal with the can of worms it opens. Furthermore, I feel as though an explanation of why scientists didn’t see this coming might have given the premise more weight.

Narration: 16/20

Julia narrates the story, framing it in an adolescent’s viewpoint, describing everything in poetic detail and relaying the events proceeding the first news broadcast. I love her observations and perception of her changing world:

  • “I heard the click and creak of the liquor cabinet, the clinking of ice in a glass.”
  • “Bouquets of fine wrinkles fanned out from her eyes.”

She exhibits flashes of humour:

  • “There was a lot to learn about the care of hair and skin. There was a proper way to hold a cigarette. A girl wasn’t born knowing how to give a handjob.”

She can ratchet up the tension:

  • “We were driving a silver station wagon, although the police report would later describe it as blue.”

Despite all of these good points, I feel as though Julia could have demonstrated more of her character in her observations. In a crowded market, the narration is sharp but with a character infusion, it could have really set it apart from the competition.

Character: 14/20

I like the cast of characters. Julia’s voice, like many of the others, definitely could have been pushed even further. She’s an observer; something of a fly-on-the-wall but I feel as though she could be much more. I find the mother and father believable. I’m particularly intrigued by the father. He seems to be one thing one minute, but he changes dramatically when the “slowing” occurs.

Quality of Writing: 18/20

The writing is beautiful and evocative. There’s not much more to say except maybe give a few examples:

  • “I missed Hanna like a phantom limb.”
  • “Every morning officials announced the minutes gained overnight, like raindrops collected in pans.”

Setting: 10/10

Set in a suburb in California, it’s the subtle ways that Walker shows this that make it an easy read:

“A familiar breeze was blowing in from the direction of the sea… The eucalyptus trees were fluttering like sea anemones in the wind…”

And how Walker weaves the evolution of Julia’s world into the everyday relationships and happenings of her community. We get an image of the fairgrounds and in particular, the description of the Ferris wheel stands out, its last remaining bucket likened to the last red leave before autumn.

Comparative Literature: 6/10

It’s difficult to compare this to other YA books as it’s a more subtle story, combining a dystopian element with romance, relationships and human nature. The dystopian element is simplistic but it works for this story that it comes across as wholly unnecessary. It lacks the complexity of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. The dystopian elements of these stories are pivotal to their plots. That’s not really the case with The Age of Miracles. It’s the breakdown of relations and the exploration of human behaviour that fascinates me and the “slowing” serves as nothing more than a backdrop that is never properly dealt with.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Funny and gripping observations that ratchet up the tension
  • An interesting dystopian concept though one that does not deal with the can of worms that it opens
  • An coming-of-age story that contrasts the coming together of family with the breakdown of relationships

Overall Score: 76/100

Books You May Also Like:

Wonder by R. J. Palacio – a heart-warming story with memorable characters that will resonate with a universal audience

Gone by Michael Grant – the disappearance of adults and development of supernatural powers sets the backdrop for this story about struggle, loyalty and friendship

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – a story about community and the struggles and secrets that threaten it

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January 28, 2015 · 12:37 pm

Gayle Forman Strikes Gold With ‘I Was Here’

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Plot: 20/20

When Cody’s best friend, Meg, takes her own life, Cody is left with a hole that she’s unable to fill. She is consumed by her friend’s death. In a nutshell: the beginning hooks you; the middle won’t let you go and the ending will have you waiting with bated breath to see how it all goes down. The plot is P-E-R-F-E-C-T-I-O-N.

Narration: 20/20

Cody narrates the story, feeding us little bits about Meg and her life while simultaneously chronicling her own grief and how she processes it. I love the personality we get with Cody’s voice and what’s more, I feel like I’m reading a journal, something so real and tangible like I was there when it unfolded. It’s nothing short of a beautiful, authentic narrative and here’s one of my favourite moments:

“I used to spend so much time at Meg’s house that I could tell what kind of mood Sue was in by what I smelled when I walked through the door. Butter meant baking, which meant she was melancholy and needed cheering. Spicy meant she was happy and making hot Mexican food, for Joe, even though it hurt her stomach. Popcorn meant that she was in bed, in the dark, not cooking anything, and Meg and Scottie were left to their own devices…”

Character: 20/20

Cody carries the story and that’s OK. Her voice is so strong and it sticks with you long after you read it. Ben is spot-on as the romantic element though he doesn’t come off as unnecessary. He feels like a central part of the story. Alice, Stoner Richard, Scottie, the Garcias – Forman knows how to craft and create characters that fit in perfectly with her world.

Quality of Writing: 20/20

I devoured this book. It’s a compulsive read. I loved everything about this book but especially, that the sentences Forman strings together are quotable and memorable:

Setting: 10/10

Forman anchors the reader in physical places like Tacoma, Washington but also manages to infuse them with personality and captures a communal atmosphere that it resonates with this reader

Comparative Literature: 10/10

When I first read the synopsis, I wondered if it was just another author jumping on the suicide bandwagon (much like what’s happened to dystopian fiction in recent years). But I was wrong. This is an emotional and striking story about the search for redemption. Cody is as strong (if not, a stronger,) narrator than John Green’s Hazel Grace in The Fault in Our Stars. The plot is a lot more sound too. It grips you and takes you on Cody’s rollercoaster journey in the way Jay Asher does in 13 Reasons Why. It goes beyond just being a story of suicide, instead looking at redemption, much in the way Cat Clarke’s Undone does, with revenge. I Was Here is poignant and tragic. It will make you laugh and possibly make you cry but one thing’s for sure, this story will stick with you. Having recently read If I Stay and Where She Went, this might be Forman’s best work; a sheer master class in storytelling. A must-read for 2015.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Cody brings the story to life, building on the present and telling us about her past with a dry, sarcastic personality
  • An expertly-woven world with a real sense of community
  • A story with layers that does not focus solely on suicide and deals with this issue instead of dismissing it like so many other YA novels

Overall Score: 100/100

Books You May Also Like:

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – a haunting story of a young girl’s suicide, told through tapes to the thirteen people that led her to her fate

If I Stay by Gayle Forman – a good read though it’s easier to gel with Cody as a narrator than with Mia

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – the story of a terminal, cancer patient and her newfound lease on life

Undone by Cat Clarke – a tragic story of a teenager’s suicide and his friend’s quest for vengeance against those who caused it

 

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January 16, 2015 · 12:11 pm

Maybe One Day But Not Today, Or Tomorrow, Or Any Time In The Forseeable Future

Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor

9780007544240

Plot: 5/20

The plot isn’t really a plot more than an idea. It’s the idea of a terminally-ill girl and her friend. There’s no real sense of progress towards anything really. The obstacles that Zoe faces don’t challenge or change her. She seems the same on page one and she does on page three-hundred. The last twenty pages are really well-written, with an emotional suckerpunch to the heart but this is a fraction of the novel and not a good indication of the beginning and middle sections of what is a less-than-average delivery.

Narration: 4/20

Zoe’s first-person perspective is off. She gets so consumed by clinical detailing that it becomes more about what everything looks like than dealing with the issues on any deep, or even emotive level. Cancer is the main theme of the story and it serves as a continual crutch in respect of character and plot. But the issue is never properly dealt with. Zoe takes everything in but she doesn’t interpret and process what’s happening. Her voice is generic, at best, a hollowed-out husk that has about as much personality as a bag of chips. Her shift between “Olivia”, “Livvie” and “Livs” is a bit strange too. It feels like the author is more worried about using the same word over and over (even if it is a name), rather than focusing on creating a voice the reader can either relate to, or enjoy.

Character: 4/20

What character? Calvin is initially introduced as a bit of a player/jock. He turns out to be a really sweet guy more because we are told than shown. Zoe shows very little emotional depth. She uses the same old stock habits. Crying. Laughter. It gets a bit mundane before you even get to the one-quarter mark. I felt nothing for Olivia. Kantor does a lousy job at making me empathize with her. I don’t believe she’s a real character. She reads like a caricature, as do all the characters. They’re American stereotypes that cannot process and emote what’s happening around them (particularly Zoe).

Quality of Writing: 3/20

The writing style is  shocking. It’s derivative, monotonous, full of clichés and lacking any memorable phrases. If you can’t make me feel sorry for, or become emotionally involved in the plot, about a terminal girl (with cancer) who’s afraid of dying, then you really have failed spectacularly.

There are some nice analogies that give a glimpse into what Zoe’s characters might be:

  • “I might as well try to cross the Atlantic Ocean on an empty refrigerator box.”
  • “Making out with Calvin Taylor was like one of those car ads: zero to ninety in sixty seconds.”

But these are usually tarnished by moments that are trivial and juvenile for the characterization or too damn long that they take you completely out of the moment and fail to draw you into the story:

  • “I put my hands on my hips and glared at him, and it was like all those times that I managed to contain my anger–all those annoying seat belts and bathroom locks and too-hot Frappucinos that I’d been tolerating for the past several weeks–just exploded.” This comes after Zoe finds out about Olivia’s leukaemia.
  • “”You look like a prom queen,” I told her. “I’m all ‘Take me to your leader.’’” I have big eyes, which I’d always known but which I hadn’t fully appreciated were quite so enormous until I got my pixie cut. I looked exactly like a cartoon drawing of an alien.”

Setting: 3/10

I knew where I was at all times but this is because the author provides pages and pages of scene-setting. It’s unnecessary and it demonstrates the lack of writing and creative ability and highlights a novice writer. The detail needed to be trimmed back and there needed to be more show and less tell.

Comparative Literature: 1/10

There’s nothing special about this story. It feels like any other story. Kantor focuses too much on description and clinical scene-setting that she loses her narrative voice and jeopardizes the emotional connection we have with the characters. John Green’s Hazel Grace, in The Fault in Our Stars, is likeable and we can form an emotional attachment unlike Zoe. Though there are plot holes big enough to walk through, it’s a more complete story. Jodi Picoult pulls on your heartstrings in a way that Kantor can only dream off in My Sister’s Keeper. The story is lost at sea; a story that adds nothing new or fresh to the genre and ultimately, fails in its aim as a tragic story.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Weak, one-dimensional characters
  • A  narrator who doesn’t feel consistent or relatable to a teenage audience
  • A tragic story that doesn’t exactly sadden you

Overall Score: 20/100

Books You May Also Like:

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult – a heartbreaking story about cancer and what it does to the family unit

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – a funny and tragic story about a girl’s battle against cancer

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November 7, 2014 · 5:43 am

Allegiant

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Title: Allegiant

Author: Veronica Roth

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages: 526

Plot:

The plot leaves us where the second book ended. The faction system has been abolished and Tris and her friends are awaiting trial. Although the faction system is gone, the lack of freedom remains. Evelyn tells everyone that they have choices as long as they don’t stay loyal to the factions – which is brutally enforced – and it isn’t long before Tris and Tobias realise this. I have a couple of issues with the plot. Firstly, Edith Prior has her memory wiped and it’s suggested that this is because she must have seen something terrible but it’s never actually specified and though we could deduce that it’s associated with the fringe, it would have more impact if we knew exactly what she saw or endured. Secondly, we know that David loved Tris’ mother. That’s not a spoiler. You can see that clearly very early on it’s hinted that the code to the Weapons lab could be her mother’s name. Maybe I’m reading to much into this (?) but if this is the case, it creates a flaw in Tris’ character in that she’s not all that smart and a flaw in the plot. I also don’t feel that the world is fully realised; that the superiors of the Bureau would just accept the conclusion to the events. Worse than this, Jeanine’s connection is never fully explained and it just confuses things. The Bureau send in Tris’ mother to save the Divergents but give Jeanine the attack simulation to weed out and exterminate the Divergents? This makes zero sense. The whole outside the fence explanation is weak as well. Experiments to promote good genes and rid the world of bad genes. Overly ambitious, wholly unnecessary and 100% ludicrous. Genetics is a branch of science but you can’t eradicate bad genes, especially not in the crazy experiments the Bureau carries out. The ending feels like a bit of a let-down, given the build-up of tension across three novels.

5/20

Narration:

The narration doesn’t work for me as well as it did in the previous instalments. Tobias’ episodic glimpses at the end convey more of his character than I get throughout the novel. There’s no real distinction between Tris and Tobias. For the most part, they’re together and Tobias doesn’t offer us much more insight to their world. If you covered the name, you still wouldn’t really have any clue who’s speaking because both voices are pretty much the same. And worse, the narrative styles become so similar that you have to constantly remind yourself who’s speaking.

14/20

Character:

I love the characters in Roth’s world. I love Tris as the self-sacrificing hero – the one who runs into battles to protect the ones she loves – even though she probably irritates most people. She’s not dissimilar to Katniss in The Hunger Games. I like Tobias and the relationship he has with his mother and his parents in themselves are interesting characters and their conflict adds a spark to the story – a sense of conflict and much-needed tension. Cara really grew on me. As always, I love Christina and how much she’s grown since the first book. And though this might sound unusual, I have soft spot for Johanna Reyes. The most important thing for me is that Roth’s characters are consistent and they evolve and change with each book. I didn’t buy David as an antagonist. He wasn’t as formidable as either Evelyn or Jeanine even though he has more power than both. I question the concluding moments of Tobias’ and Evelyn’s relationship. I’m not going to spoil anything but yeah, seems like a quick way to tie up loose ends.

14/20

Quality of Writing:

The writing quality is superb, There are some beautiful phrases and analogies:

  • “But now I know I am like the blade and he is like the whetstone- I am too strong to break so easily, and I become better, sharper, every time I touch him.” (416)
  • “I look at her, and I can see the way time has worn her like an old piece of cloth, the fibers exposed and fraying.” (463)

Just a couple of example but Roth avoids clichés and writes in a way that connects back to her characters and the world she has created.

20/20

Setting:

Similar to Lu’s world in the Legend trilogy, Roth focuses on a small aspect of her world – the Dauntless compound – in Divergent, zooms out on the faction system, exploring Amity and Erudite among other areas and zooms out further again in the final book demonstrating just how small their world is and showing us that the people in the experiment never had any power to begin with.

10/10

Comparative Literature:

The style is similar to Lu in that we see more and more of the world with each book though, unlike the Legend trilogy, Tris’ and Tobias’ voices aren’t distinguishable like June’s and Day’s. It’s a faster-paced novel than the Ally Condie’s Matched series thought the parameters aren’t always as clear. Like The Hunger Games, the conclusion of the trilogy falls short of the first and second books though The Hunger Games offers continued action and brutal force from a cruel, calculating leader in President Snow unlike David who doesn’t seem that altogether for the most part.

4/10

Overall Score:

67/100

NOW SKIP TO THE GOOD BIT…

  • An interesting world divided into factions
  • A daring hero that must fight to survive
  • Great fight scenes
  • An explanation that might leave you baffled
  • Plot holes that compound your confusion

Books You May Also Like:

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman – if you loved the dual points of view and the cruelty in this dystopian world

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – if you loved the savagery and brutality of Roth’s world

Legend by Marie Lu – for a corrupt, dystopian world, lots of action and strong male and female protagonists

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Out Of The Easy

Out of the Easy

Title: Out Of The Easy

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Penguin Books

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Standalone

Pages: 352

Plot:

The plot isn’t overly complex. Josie is the seventeen-year-old daughter of a prostitute in New Orleans. She wants to escape but becomes entangled in a murder investigation. The plot is linear with lots of twists and turns that will keep you reading to the last page.

20/20

Narration:

Josie tells the story in intimate, touching detail. Her struggle and her survivalist nature come through loud and clear, and her narrative voice is so strong that we feel what Josie feels. She’s a sharp character that will make you laugh but also have your heart hammering in your chest in those in-the-action moments.

20/20

Character:

You know you’ve read a fantastic book when you struggle to pick a favourite character. I think I’d have to choose Willie (with Josie’s mother as a close second. But I love Josie too… It’s a three-way tie!) Anyway, Sepetys crafts a great spectrum of layered characters, each changed by the time the story concludes.

20/20

Quality of Writing:

What can I say? The writing is sharper than a shard of glass. I can’t add more than that. Perfection.

Some of my personal favourites:

  • “‘Well, I got school. I read. I cook, I clean, and I make martinis for Mother.'” (5) (Josie at seven-years-old)
  • “‘Honestly, Louise, a seven-year-old bartender?'” (7)
  • “She always said she could make tea in a tornado.” (210)
  • “I looked at Willie, dressed in all black, with chianti lips and eyes that would send a snake slithering back into its hole.”

20/20

Setting:

I’ve never been to New Orleans and that doesn’t matter. I get a vivid image of the French Quarter with description sliced into scenes rather than overwhelming the reader with pages of description. The brothel, the book shop, John Lockwell’s office – they all feel like real places and we really envision the picture that Sepetys is trying to paint.

10/10

Comparative Literature:

I’ve not sure what more I can add. Flawless writing, a street-savvy, funny narrator and a story that you’ll find hard to forget.

10/10

Overall Score:

100/100

NOW SKIP TO THE GOOD BIT…

  • Likeable narrator
  • Love-them and hate-them characters
  • Vivid setting

Books You May Also Like:

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys – for more of the same sharp writing style

The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene – for another survival story that will stay with you long after you read it

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May 7, 2014 · 7:47 am

Insurgent

Insurgent

Title: Insurgent

Author: Veronica Roth

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages:

 

Plot:

Continuing on from Divergent, we are plunged straight into the aftermath of the extermination in the previous book. Tris carries secrets that take a toll on her health and she struggles to hold a gun, constantly thinking about how she shot Will. One thing that did seem a bit off is when Tris enters Erudite headquarters, there’s no mention of her being searched which seems logical. Known to always bring a weapon, I can’t understand why Roth doesn’t explicitly say she has been searched. It makes you think that, similarly when she encountered Eric previously, she may have a knife tucked away.

 

17/20

Narration:

The narration is first-person, present tense and the second book in this trilogy offers us more personality. Tris’ thoughts allow us to witness her feistier side that we did not get to fully witness in Divergence while also elaborating more on her decision-making and thought processes which factor into the way the story is told. There are times when Tris still comes off a bit robotic but the narration in this book is definitely better than the first.

19/20

Character:

We get more of a sense of who Tris this time around. Her Divergence is explained we get to see her bad-ass, tough attitude balanced with her vulnerability at certain points throughout the novel; self-sacrificing nature is balanced with her guilt. We get an insight into Tobias’s background and his relationship with Marcus. New characters are introduced and the existing character cast continues to demonstrate multi-faceted natures and diversity – some of whom have secrets and agendas of their own. I like that Roth demonstrates Tris’ desire to still hold on to her old life and her parents and still want to move forward and fight for a better world. One of my favourite moments is when a Candor boy is searching Tris and she comes out with this zinger:

“”I have a knife in my back pocket.” I say. “Put your hands on me, and I will make you regret it.” (121)

20/20

Quality of Writing:

The quality of writing, for the most part, is on point. There are temporary lapses in the quality like when Tris is with the factionless and she undercuts her position by telling us  that she doesn’t “smell very good” (112). Also, there are times when Roth overuses “say”/”says” in dialogue and, though it’s not that noticeable, there are instances when it’s unnecessary and could be cut. When Lynn meets Hector, she repeats that Lynn stepped on her toes to show us that that they are not friends when we already no this and serves only as spoon-feeding us information. On another occasion, Tris mentions that Four smells like water. I’ll leave it at that.

14/20

Setting:

Great world-building and we finally get more of an insight into the faction system. Although, I’m still not sure what it is that Candor does. Just saying.

9/10

Comparative Literature:

A lively, action-packed, funny sequel to Roth’s Divergent. Roth amends many of the downsides in the first book and manages to improve the quality of the writing while still holding to, and even strengthening, Tris’ voice. It’s more interesting than Crossed, Ally Condie’s sequel to Matched. It’s a solid read and those that finished Divergent and didn’t gel with it, might want to give Insurgent a go. It doesn’t cost a penny. Go to your local library now. Yes, now. Well then, turn off the Kardashians. Yes, There’s still time. And I’ll leave the crazy there… for now.

9/10

 

Overall Score:

88/100

NOW SKIP TO THE GOOD BIT…

  • An stronger, more developed world
  • A daring hero that must fight to survive with a stronger, kick-ass voice
  • Great fight scenes

Books You May Also Like:

Matched by Ally Condie – if you liked the romantic element and the world-building

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins- if you loved the savagery and cruelty of Roth’s world

Legendby Marie Lu – for a corrupt, dystopian world, lots of action and strong male and female protagonists

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April 18, 2014 · 10:50 am

Divergent

Image

Title: Divergent

Author: Veronica Roth

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages: 496

 

Plot:

The plot centres around Tris’ initiation into Dauntless (one of five factions that comprise her society). The five societies are as follows:

  1. Abnegation (representing charity and selflessness)
  2. Candor (truth)
  3. Erudite (knowledge)
  4. Dauntless (bravery and courage).
  5. Amity (peace and kindness).

Tris leaves her family behind in a quest to discover herself but being divergent, she poses a danger to the faction leaders and Tris must do everything she can to fit in and survive the physical and mental tests that lie ahead.

There are obstacles enough to keep the reader reading. Tris must overcome physical and mental assessments that push her to the limit, cruel adversaries and even crueller leaders if she is to make it into Dauntless. The only issue I had with the plot is that 80% of the book deals with Tris’ initiation and while it’s great to see how tough it is for her to leave her family behind and embrace her new faction (and the sheer brutality that is standard in Dauntless), I would like to see more about the factions and how they function individually and collectively to form this so-called peaceful society. We get a great sense of Dauntless and how hard it is for Tris but this tends to overshadow other aspects of Roth’s world.

15/20

Narration:

The narration is first-person, present tense and for the most part, it works in getting us closer to Tris and the action. It’s particularly effective in the fight and action scenes. The narration sometimes lacks personality though. There are occasions where it can seem a bit distant and robotic.

18/20

Character:

Roth chronicles Tris’ journey from Abnegation, where she is taught to be selfless, to Dauntless, where she performs death-defying stunts and lives on the egde. Before the Choosing Ceremony, Tris’ personality is difficult to locate. I know she’s supposed to be selfless but others in her faction still manage to demonstrate some sense of personality. Christina is one of the standouts for me. Her smartass Candor remarks really keep the conversation lively. Though Roth’s collection of characters are situated in factions, the factions do not define them completely. They show themselves to be multi-faceted.

16/20

Quality of Writing:

Roth is great at crafting most scenes, her speciality lying in action scenes and fight sequences – but the scenes between Tris and Four could do with a little bit more tailoring.

18/20

Setting:

Great world-building but I wan to know more about how the society functions with the five factions and what each faction does specifically to allow for the society to continue to function as it does.

8/10

Comparative Literature:

Better than some dystopian fiction – such as Ally Condie’s Matched – but flawed in areas that Marie Lu and Suzanne Collins manage to address in Legend and The Hunger Games, Divergent is not at the front of the pack though it does deliver on numerous levels. There is evidence of world-building even if it is not thoroughly explored as it is in The Hunger Games, a strong heroine and a vivid insight into faction life in Dauntless.

8/10

 

Overall Score:

83/100

NOW SKIP TO THE GOOD BIT…

  • An interesting world divided into factions
  • A daring hero that must fight to survive
  • Great fight scenes

Books You May Also Like:

Matched by Ally Condie – if you liked the romantic element and the world-building

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – if you loved the savagery and cruelty of Roth’s world

Legend by Marie Lu – for a corrupt, dystopian world, lots of action and strong male and female protagonists

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How Not To Write A YA Book

A Shade of Vampire

So usually, I stick to a rigid format but not today. After reading Bella Forrest’s A Shade of Vampire, I cannot treat it like the other books I have received simply because this book is not in their league. So instead, I’m going to highlight what to avoid when writing Young Adult Fiction – using her debut story (I am NOT calling it a novel!) – as a case study.

Plot:

If you’re going to write for teens, creating a new world for your readership and getting them to like and enjoy it is going to be difficult, especially if you make your plot too simple and linear. Sometimes, linear works well – in the case of John Greene – but for a supernatural, rollercoaster romance/adventure, I want a bit more… bite (no pun intended). Here’s some issues I have with Forrest’s PLOT:

  • We don’t get to see her world and so there is nothing to compare the Shade with and then capitalise on how different they both are
  • I get no real sense of backstory or background with Sofia
  • The plot would benefit from a three-act structure – a beginning where we meet Sofia (perhaps in her world), a middle where we Sofia faces a series of obstacles, each greater than the previous one and an ending that’s satisfying and given the story, something with a bit more pow.
  • Somehow, when Sofia is escaping, she finds a elevator in a forest to help her get down from the treetop penthouse (because vampires use elevators?)

In terms of plot, I score this novella as follows:

4/20

Narration:

The NARRATION is all over the place:

  • The story changes between Sofia and Derek with no consistency (we might have six chapters of Sofia and a meagre half-chapter from Derek)
  • There’s no real distinction in narrative voice between both characters
  • Vivienne narrates the epilogue which I find a bit bizarre (and the quality of writing is mediocre at best)
  • The prologue is unnecessary. It does nothing to whet my appetite or get me excited and moreover, the writing is shoddy.
  • Forrest constantly refers to Derek as that “kind of man” (73) but he’s a vampire!!

Don’t use too many voices as it jars the reader and unless you can make each voice distinct, the reader will not want to continue reading when you suddenly insert new narrators along the way with no real justification for doing so.

Some examples of the lapse and inconsistency in her narrative voices:

  • Sofia: “If my goal was to not go insane, this sure was not helping make meet my objective.” (8) Inconsistent with contractions
  • Derek: “As I finished my fourth glass, I found myself longing to check on how my beautiful captive was doing.” (53) Clunky and no real distinction between Sofia’s voice.
  • Vivienne: “Neither Derek nor Sofia had any clue of what they had up against them. Truth be told, I didn’t fully understand either.” (142) As clunky as Sofia’s and Derek’s narration.

I give Forrest a generous:

2/20

Character:

In relation to CHARACTER, what character? There’s no consistency, no real depth to the characters. In fact, the characters are cyclical and their thoughts don’t even reflect their situations.

  • When Lucas enters the dungeon where she is being held, she notices the room rather than her kidnapper who could potentially torture, maim or murder her.
  • Referring to the vampire Derek kills, Lucas – a 400+ year old vampire – calls the dead vampire a “pathethic loser” (67)
  • Sofia also says “sup”/”supping” repeatedly which is wrong on so many levels – not just on the basis of character
  • When you read the story, you realise that the same words are repeated a lot. Sofia is always “gasping” or “dared” (47) or “desperate”. Boy, is she desperate! And “predicament”.

For coming up with character names alone, I give Forrest:

3/20

Quality of Writing:

In my reviews, I will now be commenting on the QUALITY OF WRITING so what better place to start than here. Some examples:

  • “We’d made plans to keep our residences atop the redwoods, because of what a nuisance the wildlife had turned out to be.” (38) Also, the wildlife is a nuisance to vampires? Really?
  • As Sofia is threatened by a bloodthirsty creature, her magical thought is: “What is it with these people and shoving me up against hard surfaces?” (32)
  • “He set his focus straight on me.” (68)
  • “‘You are a marvel.’ I had to smile at this ridiculous statement.” (85)

Forrest is awarded a single mark for pressing the buttons that churned out this monstrous (no pun intended) story. There’s also a huge inconsistency in capitalisation. “Prince” sometimes gets an uppercase “P” and other times, a lower case. And more than a dozen times, Forrest forgets words.

1/20

Setting:

With regards to SETTING, everything is blandly labelled, the Catacombs, the Residences, Lodgers (the list goes on). The “Shade” is the only inventive term. The setting is very basic, the descriptions are cliched. Forrest refers to The Great Wall of China as the wall of China at one stage. The setting is nothing to be desired and there’s a massive amount of tell in this piece and not nearly enough demonstration of information through actions and speech.

2/10

Comparative Literature:

And for COMPARATIVE LITERATURE, well, there’s nothing original and Forrest is nowhere near the same league as her competitors. I give her a single and very generous point for coming up with the “Shade”.

1/10

Overall Score:

13/100

Summary:

This story has the construction and thought of a ten-storey building stablised with toothpicks.

Books You May Also Like:

The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare – great world building and evolution of character

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead – great world-building, a likable, funny narrator and quality writing

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins – funny narrator and fantastic world-building

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February 4, 2014 · 3:33 pm

Gone

gone

Title: Gone

Author: Michael Grant

Publisher: Electric Monkey (an imprint of Egmont UK Limited)

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages: 560

Adults disappear. Kids develop powers. A dome cages them in and beneath the surface, a dark beast lurks, biding its time.

I do not own the content taken from this novel. All rights belong Michael Grant to  and Electric Monkey.

Excerpt taken from Page 3:

“ONE MINUTE THE teacher was talking about the Civil War.

And the next minute he was gone.

There.

Gone.

No ‘poof’. No flash of light. No explosion.

Sam Temple was sitting in third-period history class staring blankly  at the blackboard, but far away in his head. In his head, he was down at the beach, he and Quinn. Down at the beach with their boards, yelling, bracing for that first plunge into cold Pacific water.

For a moment, he thought he had imagined it, the teacher disappearing. For a moment, he thought he’d slipped into a daydream.

Sam turned to Mary Terrafino, who sat just to his left. ‘You saw that, right?'”

Narration:

The narration in this novel is on-point throughout. The narrative style is third-person, allowing us an insight into the lives of many of the Perdido Beach and Coates inhabitants, while centring around more crucial characters like Sam, Caine and Drake. Grant builds up an interlinking story arc with various different characters that builds a foundation for the plot, setting up the obstacles and events to come. He deliberately builds up the dramatic tension and leaves you on somewhat of a cliff-hanger as to what the fate of the character is, what they might have discovered, what they are about to do or simply leave you excited and wanting to find out what happens next when they make a defining choice that will change the course of the novel. The descriptions and observations are also sensory, unlike some YA novels that become over-reliant on observation alone. Grant dramatises many of the facts instead of stating them too which makes for a more interesting read. For example, we know from the dialogue between Lana and her grandfather that he is 75 (or 76). We can piece that information together ourselves. As readers, we aren’t being spoon-fed. There are places though, where I feel as though Grant tells us about the character’s background or what they are thinking where he could possibly have found ways to dramatise this information, either in actions or dialogue.

At times, there is a little excessive detail though, more so in the description of the dialogue. Telling us that Astrid berates herself when we already know it, both given the situation and her words. It also feels as though there is a lapse in the narrative voice in places:

“They veered towards it. There might be food or water or shelter.”

Otherwise, the narrative is seamless and though some might argue that Grant focuses on too many characters’ viewpoints, I would argue the opposite. Yes, there is a lot to process but Grant’s sharp delivery of the prose and the fast pace of the plot make it easy to absorb the information.

14/20

Character:

Grant’s characterisation really is one of the strongest points of his writing. It’s not just a case of black-and-white with each character. There are psychological complexities that mirror people in everyday life. It’s not a case of: “he’s evil” or “she’s good” and that’s it. Grant takes us on a rollercoaster journey with each character. The characters change, develop and adapt in their new environment. Diana is, for me, one of the most interesting characters. She’s manipulative and crafty; a perfect combination of beauty and sarcasm who does whatever she has to, to survive. It’s a game of “survival of the fittest” and Diana is in it for herself. Sam is an interesting choice as the hero – the protagonist – of the story. He makes mistakes. He has blood on his hands. He’s not the ideal hero and yet, he is hope personified for the kids at  Perdido Beach. He is what they need; what they invest in; who they turn to. And his guilt is captured brilliantly throughout.

20/20

Plot:

The plot is pretty simply until you look beyond what is happening and ask why it is happening. Kids start to develop abilities. A dome covers Perdido Beach and Coates Academy. Kids over the age of 15 disappear. And kids that turn 15 in the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone) still continue to disappear. But why is it all happening? And Grant doesn’t offer us half-baked, convoluted reasoning. He reveals tidbits – tasters even – throughout the story, a little at a time, until we gradually build up a picture of what has happened, what is happening and why it is happening. There are plenty of obstacles, action scenes, humour and new developments that alter the course of the journey dramatically.

20/20

Setting: 

We get a detailed description of where everything is and what the buildings look like. There’s also a map supplied though there’s enough in the text to anchor the landmarks – the Nuclear Plant, Coates, the Mine Shaft and so on – in our minds. There’s not much more to say. The setting is interwoven with the fast-paced plot so that the delivery of the descriptive details doesn’t pull us out of the world Grant has created.

20/20

Comparative Literature/Originality: 

The story is, in some sense, a re-working of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. It follows the same basic idea. The kids are stranded on a deserted island and left to fend for themselves. Cue the power struggle before the adults come to rescue the kids. Gone works on a similar plot structure. What differentiates it from Golding’s work is it’s unique evolution of the landscape, the kids themselves and the mystery and menace that lurks behind the scenes. The story is complex with an overarching narrative that encompasses many of the characters. It breaks down characters, that could potentially turn out one-dimensional, and shows the complexities and, in some cases, the psychological processes behind their decisions.

20/20

Summary:

Great characters. Fantastic world-building. Actioned-packed, twist-and-turns plot. A must read.

Overall Score:

94/100

Books You May Also Like:

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

BZRK by Michael Grant

Eve And Adam by Michael Grant

The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Lord Of The Flies by William Golding

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December 19, 2013 · 2:22 pm