Tag Archives: women writers

Divergent by Veronica Roth

18 Jun

When I went to see The Hunger Games in the theater for the second time, I was surprised to see an ad for Veronica Roth‘s Insurgent pop up during the pre-movie “entertainment.” Insurgent is definitely one of the bigger spring/summer YA releases this year, but it still surprised me since it was the first time I had seen a book previewed like that at the movies. That plus the bajillion holds placed on it at my library made me realize I should probably read the first book, Divergent (Katherine Tegen Books), to prep me for it so I wouldn’t be the lamest/most clueless librarian ever. It was a Goodreads reader’s choice whatever, is hugely popular, and constantly gets lumped into “If you liked The Hunger Games…” lists, so I had high hopes. High hopes that were shattered into a million not-so-dazzling pieces.

Beatrice Prior lives in a future Chicago where society is divided into five “factions” meant to cultivate a different virtue: Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), Abegnation (selflessness), Amity (…friendship? Being nice? Peacefulness? I don’t know), and Erudite (Smartassness). Every year, all the sixteen-year-olds of the society must choose their faction, which often means leaving their families to go to a NEW faction. Before this happens, though, they are administered an aptitude test which supposedly shows them which faction they would do best in. However, the ultimate choice is still that of the sixteen-year-old (haha, I wrote “sexteen” at first. Appropriate!), so that there is still an element of free will when it comes to the teenage version of choose-your-own rest of your god damn life. Anyways. Beatrice’s test results are “inconclusive,” which means she is “divergent,” which is apparently even worse than being a Slytherin, so much so that she is told to keep it a secret or she’ll be killed. Anywho, Beatrice chooses a faction, renames herself “Tris,” starts lusting after her hunky and oh-so-broody instructor, Four, and as she undergoes the brutal Dauntless initiation she begins to unravel a dark conspiracy that is corrupting the foundations of her society.

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Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

22 Apr

I have a not-so-surprising secret to share:

I am a serious fantasy nerd.

I mean it. Before I went to college, became an English major, and learned that it is shameful to read anything but literary fiction, I was a rabid consumer of paperback fantasies of the $6.99 variety. If there was a dragon or a woman disguising herself as a man to become a mage/warrior/first class citizen or whatever the hell I was on it (and yes, I read A Game of Thrones waaaaaay before it became an HBO series). Then I was brainwashed into believing that if it wasn’t literary it wasn’t worth reading, and I spent years slogging through things that I didn’t really enjoy but appreciated. It was actually through delving back into the wonderful world of YA fantasy that I re-discovered my absolute mania for reading. However, my time as an English major changed me: I will still shamelessly indulge in genre fiction without coming close to giving a damn, but now I tend to filter my selections a bit more based on a little thing called “quality writing.” (But only a bit.) That’s where Melina Marchetta comes in.

I fell in love with Melina Marchetta’s writing when I read her Printz award-winning novel, Jellicoe Road. If you like really complex, slowly unfurling and beautifully written stories and like to cry a shit ton, then Jellicoe Road is probably for you. Once I read it I of course decided to pursue her other books, and that’s when I came across Finnikin of the Rock, her first fantasy novel for teens (which was published in 2008 but WHATEVER. I can’t be on top of every damn thing). Say what? Could a master of contemporary teen realism really make that transition? Well, in, short: hell yes.

When Finnikin was nine years old he received a prophecy stating that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save his kingdom, Lumatere. So, being a strapping young lad, he gets his two best royal buddies together on a rock and they each cut a chunk of skin out of their thighs all in the name of heroism. I mean, that’s pretty standard behavior for a nine-year-old, right? Right. So, right after they do the great thigh-cut-a-thon, the Five Days of the Unspeakable happens: the royal family is assassinated, Lumatere is invaded by a royal asshole of a cousin, half the kingdom flees, a healer/witch lays a blood curse on the land while she’s being burned at the stake, and then this crazy black mist thing engulfs the kingdom, trapping those who remained IN and those who fled OUT. Got that? Yeah, neither did I for the first hundred pages, but all in good time. Flash forward ten years to Finnikin, now a hunk of burning 19-year-old, wandering the land with Sir Topher, the assassinated King’s First Man, in an attempt to account for all the displaced Lumaterans in order to find a nice little chunk of land where they can settle without fear of being sold to slavers, abused, starved, forced to live in ghettos to die of disease, etc. This really pleasant past-time gets disrupted when Finnikin and Topher take on a mute Novice named Evanjalin who claims to be able to walk through the dreams of those still trapped in Lumatere. Oh, and she also says that the royal prince Balthazar, one of Finnikin’s royal thigh-cutting buddies, is still alive. Finnikin must rely on the evasive and suspicious Evanjalin to lead him to the Prince so that the exiled nation of Lumatere can return home.

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Ashes by Ilsa Bick

23 Feb

I’m going to preface this review by making a somewhat controversial statement: I don’t really like zombies very much. For whatever reason the wide world is obsessed with the undead and has been for years, but to be honest zombie apocalypse scenarios are usually too stressful for me to actually enjoy them. I know for a fact that I would kill myself next to immediately if the dead started rising from the grave, so watching and/or reading about people struggling to survive when I know that, in their shoes, I’d rather just die and get it over with is pretty unbearable. That said, I am totally hooked on The Walking Dead, so go figure. Anyways, when Ilsa Bick’s Ashes was listed inĀ Voice of Youth Advocates’ list of “Perfect Tens of 2011,” I decided to swallow my general dislike of of zombies and give it a go.

In Ashes, seventeen-year-old Alexandra has cut school to go hiking in Michigan’s Waucamaw Wilderness when a massive electromagnetic pulse lights up the sky, making blood geyser out of everyone’s mouths and driving animals into a frenzy. Alex happens to be chatting with a young girl named Ellie and her grandfather on the trail when disaster strikes; after the crushing pain subsides, Alex realizes that that gramps has dropped dead in his tracks, leaving her responsible for the grief-stricken little girl. But wait, there’s more! Alex, who had lost her sense of smell in her battle against brain cancer (affectionately referred to as “the monster” throughout the novel), realizes that something about the EMP making her nervous system go bonkers made her regain her sense of smell and then some. Her animalistic ability to detect the layered nuances of emotions that make up a living thing’s scent is what alerts her to the zombie element of the story, for while the EMP left her alive with some sort of crazy olfactory super-powers, it left the majority of the young survivors totally brain fried, pushing them into a cannibalistic, monstrous feeding frenzy. As Alex and Ellie traipse through the cannibal teenager infested woods towards the hope of safety, they meet Tom, a young man stranded in the forest after his companions are transformed and/or killed by the EMP. The three form a pseudo-family as they struggle to survive in a nightmarish, post-apocalyptic world in which most of the surviving youngsters have been transformed into something less than human and the remaining adults have devolved into a state of desperate, murderous paranoia.

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