Posts tagged ‘ya lit’

March 9, 2012

Review: Uglies and Extras

by renata

I read and loved Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy well before I started this blog, so I haven’t reviewed it here. And anyway, you’ve probably already read it. Briefly: compelling, great world building, insightful cultural commentary, A+. But I only recently read Extras, the fourth book of the former-trilogy. I was a little nervous about it–I felt like Specials had pretty well wrapped up the trilogy, and I wasn’t sure what new ground Extras would cover.

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Unfortunately, I don’t think Westerfeld was sure either. The book takes place a few years after Specials and reveals how one city has rebuilt itself after the “mindrain” that cured everyone from their “bubbleheaded” Pretty days. In this city, which seems to be somewhere in present-day Japan, everything is ruled by a Twitter/Klout-esque Reputation Economy, where the more famous you are, the more resources you get. It’s never clearly explained how this works, and I just didn’t find it to be as believable of a premise as I did the original Uglies world.

Anyway, in this book, we follow 15-year-old Asa Fuse, who is attempting to build up her “face rank” through citizen journalism. She stumbles into a clique called the Sly Girls and they end up discovering… something. Is it a weapon?

I won’t give away the ending, but I found it to be a bit hard to swallow. Perhaps if Westerfeld had dedicated an entire trilogy to this concept it would have been more believable, but as is, it feels like what it is–a tacked on fourth book because everyone loved the trilogy so much and wanted a fourth book. Sometimes, guys, you’re better off sticking with fanfiction.

Sharon Needles
I rate the original Uglies trilogy five plastic surgeons out of a possible five.

Extras is two plastic surgeons out of a possible five.

February 15, 2012

Review: Leviathan

by renata

I know Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is pretty popular, and I’d heard a lot of good things about it. But I simply didn’t think I was interested in it–a steampunk alt-history of WWI? Ugh, but I don’t really like steampunk or war stories. But I kept hearing such good things about it, and I remembered my initial resistance to the Uglies trilogy, and how much I ended up liking Uglies. And then I found out that the audiobooks are read by Alan Cumming, who I adore, and that sealed the deal. I’d have to check out this whole Leviathan thing.

Leviathan

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, read by Alan Cumming

Okay, you guys, I totally loved it. Scott Westerfeld is just great. Even if his books have summaries that sound completely unappealing to me, he can just pull them off like nobody’s business. Although, I have to be honest, I still don’t really care about ~steampunk~. And that’s okay–in this alternate WWI, the Axis powers are the “Clankers” and use steampunk kinds of walkers and weapons and whatnot. I’m far more interested in the “Darwinist” Allied powers, who have been busily genetically engineering giant flying whales and talking message lizards. It’s a seriously detailed universe, and I’m captivated by it. I think that’s one of Westerfeld’s trademarks–it’s why I thought Uglies was so much more compelling than Lauren Oliver’s Delirium. They both had the same sort of plot, but Westerfeld had the scientific research and details to make it all seem plausible.

Also, a reason why I tend not to like war stories is because they are always oh-so-masculine. Westerfeld’s got that covered too, with Ms. Deryn Sharp, one of my favorite YA characters of recent memory. Deryn’s father was an airman who died in a hot air balloon accident. But before he died, he taught Deryn an awful lot about flying. So Deryn changes her name to Dylan and enlists as a young midshipman in the British Air Services, where she ends up serving on the huge airship Leviathan.

Deryn Sharp

Deryn Sharp

Of course she’s terrified that someone will discover her secret, but she’s mostly too busy being super competent and savvy. Cheers for Deryn Sharp!

Then there’s our young Clanker protagonist, Alek. He’s the (fictional) son of the (real) assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and he and some of his household staff are on the run. They run right into… the Leviathan. I have to admit, I was initially frustrated with Alek and anxiously waited for the book to get back to Deryn’s chapters. He did grow on me, though I still prefer Deryn.

Alan Cumming, with his plethora of available accents, was a great choice for these audiobooks. You can hear a sample at Scott Westerfeld’s website. However, I couldn’t get the audiobook for Behemoth, the next book in the trilogy. And I discovered that the books are illustrated! (You can see one of the illustrations above.) So far Behemoth is great and I love the illustrations. And I’m still hearing the characters’ voices as Alan Cumming, so it’s a win-win situation.

fail whale
I rate Leviathan four flying whales out of a possible five.

February 7, 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

by renata

Okay. There’s probably no point in me reviewing The Fault in Our Stars by John Green since by now it’s been a NYT bestseller for a couple weeks in a row (not to mention that it was also a bestseller in pre-sales) and you’ve probably already read it. But nevertheless, I read it and I have thoughts about it.

The Fault in our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I have heard the complaint leveled that John Green is overrated. And, to some extent, I think I agree. Or at least–I think that his Twitter and his YouTube videos make me feel more fondness toward him as an author than his books alone merit. Is that the same thing as being overrated? Or is he just good at social media? Is that the whole point? (Maureen Johnson also triggers this confusion in me.) I think that John Green is excellent at social media but I think he is also excellent at writing books, and I will happily consume both.

Still, I was nervous about The Fault in Our Stars (or TFIOS, as the internet calls it). I mean, it’s about cancer kids. And Jodi Picoult wrote the cover blurb. Let’s be real: it could have been cringe-worthy. But instead, I really thought that it transcended cliche and delivered wonderful characters and, you know, deep truths about mortality or whatever.

TFIOS was so engaging that it cured my jet lag. The first day I got back from my European travels, I went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 4am. It was less than ideal. The second day, I picked up all my held mail, including my pre-ordered copy of TFIOS. I decided to read a few chapters of it before going to bed at 8:30pm, a totally reasonable bedtime for a jetlagged grownup. But I got so sucked into it that I read it straight through until midnight. Then I wiped my tearstained eyes and went to sleep. Ahh.

kleenex

Just got something in my eye

So. TFIOS is the story of Hazel, a teenage cancer patient. Hazel loves the (fictional) book An Imperial Affliction, which is about a teenage cancer patient. She dislikes most of the kids at the teenage cancer support group her parents make her attend, except for Isaac, a sarcastic eye cancer patient. And Isaac’s friend, Augustus. Before long, Hazel more than likes Augustus. She loves him, and vice versa. But Hazel knows her days are numbered, even if she doesn’t know the exact number, and she’s afraid to let Augustus get too close to her.

I don’t want to give too much away, but, you know, it’s a book about cancer kids. It’s funny and heartbreaking. Don’t put on mascara before you read it, that’s all I’m saying. These characters have a unique perspective on life and mortality, and Green–who worked as a chaplain in a children’s hospital–brought them to life unforgettably. As is true in many of my favorite YA novels, the teens talk perhaps a bit more intelligently and profoundly than normal teens. Like, whatever, at least they’re not vampires, am I right?

“I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
— Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars

Swoon!

five stars

Anyway, I give TFIOS five faulty stars out of a possible five. (The title, BTW, is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Classy!)

November 16, 2011

Review: The Future of Us

by renata

All right! It’s been a minute since I actually reviewed a book around here! The reason why is: I BEEN BUSY.

But whatever! This book has been sitting on my shelf since I got an ARC in July and I finally read it!

The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

The Future of Us takes place in 1996. Emma Nelson has just gotten her very first computer, and she installs AOL on it. But somehow, her computer connects her… to the future. AOL sends her to some weird website called Facebook. She doesn’t really get why this Emma Nelson Jones person, who kind of looks like her, but older, is sharing such inane details about her life on the internet. Eventually she becomes convinced that she’s looking at her own future, and it looks like her marriage is not a happy one. Her next door neighbor and erstwhile best friend, Josh, comes over to check out the new computer. They find him on Facebook, too, and discover that in the future, Josh is married to Sydney Mills, pretty much the hottest girl in school. She’s never spoken two words to Josh, but Josh is perfectly happy with the idea of someday marrying her.

Every day, Emma and Josh come home to check out their Facebook futures, which change slightly based on their actions in the present. Emma is desperately trying to find a way to fix her future, while Josh is just trying to figure out what he can do to start dating Sydney.

Can you guess what happens in the end? Did you guess that Emma and Josh start dating? You are correct, but it’s still a cute ending. Also, future Emma deletes her Facebook profile, so they can’t spy on their future anymore.

Overall, this was a really fun book to read! I suspect that adults in their 20s and 30s might enjoy this more than actual young adults. I had a lot of fun nostalgia reading about Emma deliberating over which Windows 95 screensaver to pick, or Emma’s mom kicking her off the internet so she could make a phone call. Kids these days probably won’t relate to the trials of growing up in the 90s, although they’ll probably get a kick out of Josh and Emma’s bewilderment over Facebook. Emma and Josh’s confused, flirty relationship felt real to me, as did their other high school drama.

I give The Future of Us four likes out of a possible five.

November 3, 2011

Race in YA Fantasy

by renata

This morning I went to a talk by one of my professors on the subject of Race and Fantasy Literature for Youth. Her talk was fascinating, and she provided us with a suggested reading list. These books provide a variety of perspectives on race in fantasy. Some authors use fantasy to talk metaphorically about race relations. Other authors more closely reflect actual race relations but use fantastic elements to subvert or otherwise explore race. I haven’t read any of these books (though I have read other works by some of these authors), but after hearing about them I want to read all of them!

I’m just going to provide the Amazon links and summaries for these, since I haven’t read them. This list of suggested reading was prepared by Dr. Kate McDowell and is part of the reading list for her YA Fantasy Literature course at UIUC.

Watersmeet

Ellen Abbott, Watersmeet.

From her birth, Abisina has been outcast–for the color of her eyes and skin, and for her lack of a father. Only her mother’s status as the village healer has kept her safe. But when a mythic leader arrives, Abisina’s life is ripped apart. She escapes alone to try to find the father and the home she has never known. In a world of extremes, from the deepest prejudice to the greatest bonds of duty and loyalty, Abisina must find her own way and decide where her true hope lies.

Malorie Blackman, Black and White. (Called Naughts and Crosses in the UK.)

True enemies. False hope.

Sephy is part of the ruling class. Callum is considered a second-class citizen. They have been friends all their lives, since before there were barriers and boundaries. Now, things are different — they have to meet in secret, as hate and violence seethe dangerously close to the surface of their society’s fragile order.

Once, Sephy and Callum thought they had to proect their love; now, they must defend their very lives….

Joseph Bruchac, Skeleton Man.

Ever since the morning Molly woke up to find that her parents had vanished, her life has become filled with terrible questions. Where have her parents gone? Who is this spooky old man who’s taken her to live with him, claiming to be her great-uncle? Why does he never eat, and why does he lock her in her room at night? What are her dreams of the Skeleton Man trying to tell her? There’s one thing Molly does know. She needs to find some answers before it’s too late.

Nancy Farmer, The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm.

In Zimbabwe in 2194, General Matsika calls in Africa’s most unusual detectives – “the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm” – to find his missing children.

Virginia Hamilton, The House of Dies Drear.

The house held secrets, Thomas knew, even before he first saw it looming gray and massive on its ledge of rock. It had a century-old legend — two fugitive slaves had been killed by bounty hunters after leaving its passageways, and Dies Drear himself, the abolitionist who had made the house into a station on the Underground Railroad, had been murdered there. The ghosts of the three were said to walk its rooms….

Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness.

For fifteen years, Reason Cansino has lived on the run.Together with her mother, Sarafina, she has moved from one place to another in the Australian countryside, desperate not to be found by Reason’s grandmother Esmeralda, a dangerous woman who believes in magic. But the moment Reason walks through Esmeralda’s back door and finds herself on a New York City street, she’s confronted by an unavoidable truth— magic is real.

Voices

Ursula LeGuin, Voices.

Ansul was once a peaceful town filled with libraries, schools, and temples. But that was long ago, and the conquerors of this coastal city consider reading and writing to be acts punishable by death. And they believe the Oracle House, where the last few undestroyed books are hidden, is seething with demons. But to seventeen-year-old Memer, the house is the only place where she feels truly safe.

Then an Uplands poet named Orrec and his wife, Gry, arrive, and everything in Memer’s life begins to change. Will she and the people of Ansul at last be brave enough to rebel against their oppressors?


Julius Lester, Time’s Memory.

Amma is the creator god, the master of life and death, and he is worried. His people have always known how to take care of the spirits of the dead – the nyama – so that they don’t become destructive forces among the living. But amid the chaos of the African slave trade and the brutality of American slavery, too many of his people are dying and their souls are being ignored in this new land. Amma sends a young man, Ekundayo, to a plantation in Virginia where he becomes a slave on the eve of the Civil War. Amma hopes that Ekundayo will be able to find a way to bring peace to the nyama before it is too late. But Ekundayo can see only sorrow in this land – sorrow in the ownership of people, in the slaves who have been separated from their children and spouses, in the restless spirits of the dead, and in his own forbidden relationship with his master’s daughter.

How Ekundayo finds a way to bring peace to both the dead and the living makes this an unforgettable journey into the slave experience and Julius Lester’s most powerful work to date.

Akata Witch

Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Witch.

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing – she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

Robert Paul Weston, Dust City.

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

His son, that’s who.

Ever since his father’s arrest for the murder of Little Red Riding Hood, teen wolf Henry Whelp has kept a low profile in a Home for Wayward Wolves . . . until a murder at the Home leads Henry to believe his father may have been framed.

Now, with the help of his kleptomaniac roommate, Jack, and a daring she-wolf named Fiona, Henry will have to venture deep into the heart of Dust City: a rundown, gritty metropolis where fairydust is craved by everyone-and controlled by a dangerous mob of Water Nixies and their crime boss leader, Skinner.

Can Henry solve the mystery of his family’s sinister past? Or, like his father before him, is he destined for life as a big bad wolf?

Laurence Yep, City of Fire.

When her older sister dies trying to prevent the theft of one of her people’s great treasures, Scirye sets out to avenge her and recover the precious item. Helping her are Bayang, a dragon disguised as a Pinkerton agent; Leech, a boy with powers he has not yet discovered; and Leech’s loyal companion Koko, who has a secret of his own. All have a grudge against the thieves who stole the treasure: the evil dragon Badik and the mysterious Mr. Roland.

Scirye and her companions pursue the thieves to Houlani, a new Hawaiian island being created by magic. There, they befriend Pele, the volatile and mercurial goddess of volcanoes. But even with Pele on their side, they may not be able to stop Mr. Roland from gaining what he seeks: the Five Lost Treasures of Emperor Yu. Together, they will give him the power to alter the very fabric of the universe….

Don’t those all sound great? I can’t wait to start reading them!

Also, I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it on this blog or not, but Liar by Justine Larbalestier is one of my all-time favorite YA books. Incredibly complicated and cool and twisty. Definitely worth checking out, but I don’t want to tell you anything about it because you should be surprised by it.

October 7, 2011

Review: Modelland

by renata

You guys. You GUYS. Modelland is 563 pages long. And I read them all. (Or skimmed some of them. Maybe. A little.) As we all expected, it is awful. It’s more… creatively awful than I might have expected.

Modelland

Modelland by Tyra Banks

Modelland takes place in some kind of bizarre fashion-themed dystopia. Girls growing up in this world can basically either aspire to be models or sweatshop employees. (Tyra’s description of factory life feels almost–but not quite–like social commentary. I suppose Tyra doesn’t want to bite the hand that feeds her too hard.) Our protagonist is a girl named Tookie De La Creme. Tookie not only has an unfortunate name, but she has a horrible homelife. Her mother is emotionally abusive and clearly favors Tookie’s beautiful (but dumb) younger sister, Myrracle. Her father was once a famous acrobat, but he was injured during a performance (caused by Tookie’s mother vainly checking her reflection in a mirror and inadvertently blinding him) and is now an angry alcoholic. Tookie herself has extremely low self-esteem and refers to herself as a “Forgetta-Girl.” When she writes her name, she dots the “i” with “FG.” We see this often, since Tookie writes a lot of letters to her T-Mail Jail. Which is what she calls her diary, because it is her Tookie Mail Jail where she puts letters so they can’t get out anywhere else.

Anyway, every year, there is an event called The Day of Discovery (T-DOD), where all the young girls participate in a catwalk fashion show. The best girls are taken away by scouts to attend Modelland, the academy for models. The best students at Modelland become Intoxibellas, aka Dystopia’s Next Top Models.

In a weird way, Tyra Banks as an author appears to owe a lot to Roald Dahl. Both have a fondness for extreme, over-the-top scenarios and weird wordplay. The difference, of course, is that Dahl is good at it. The difference is that Dahl writes characters you care about, despite their whimsical surroundings. Dahl transcends absurdity. Banks gets tangled up in it. When you read about Charlie Bucket’s homelife–his father screws on toothpaste caps for a living, all four of his grandparents share the same bed, all they ever eat is cabbage soup–the details are laughable, a caricature of poverty. But still, we care about Charlie Bucket, and anyone who says otherwise is heartless and awful. Get off my blog if you don’t care about the Bucket family!

Anyway, Tyra Banks does not pull this off, and Tookie de la Creme is instead hilariously forlorn. At school she just lies down in the hallway every day in the hopes that someone will pay attention to her. But no one does, because she is a Forgetta-Girl.

But then, on T-DOD–a scout chooses Tookie for Modelland, and not her beautiful younger sister, Myrracle! (Myrracle, by the way, suffers from Kevin Jonas syndrome–Banks clearly wanted to make her comically stupid, but instead she comes off as having some kind of surreal mental handicap. Like, she says “making in” instead of “making out.” That makes no sense. That is not how a stupid person talks.) Tookie and her new misfit friends (one is plus-size! one is short! one has albinism! They’ll never be models, never!)

Modelland itself is kind of like America’s Next Top Model on steroids. There are all kinds of absurd challenges and classes. Everything there has a weird semi-word play name. The spa is called OoAa. Male models are called Bestosteros. Runways are called Run-a-Ways. The nurses’ office is called Fashion Emergency Department Store (FEDS). Nurses are called purses. (I am serious.) I think that Modelland was co-written by Tom Haverford.

The actual plot of the novel, beyond Tookie learning that she is beautiful on the inside and the outside, is insanely complicated and makes little sense but it involves Tookie’s mother, a disgraced top Intoxibella, Belladonna (the head of Modelland), and Persimmon (a Mannecant… aka servant of Modelland). There are a lot of weird flashbacks and it’s all very strange and forced.

The whole thing is forced. The characters, the wordplay, the world itself–none of it feels even remotely plausible, nor is it entertaining enough to allow me to overlook how awful it is.

ANTM

I rate Modelland two smizes out of a possible five. If you are tempted to read this book, I would instead recommend that you read Uglies by Scott Westerfeld and then watch an America’s Next Top Model marathon on Oxygen.

September 23, 2011

Don’t Even Worry About It, I’m Reading Tyra Banks’s Modelland So You Don’t Have To

by renata

Yesterday was a great day! I got an email saying that the public library was holding a copy of Tyra Banks’s new YA novel Modelland for me! Today was an even better day! I got an ARC of Modelland from the Center for Children’s Books! (Never mind that it’s not really advance anymore since the final book is already out. It still feels cool and insider-y to have one.)

Modelland!!

The first novel from Bankable Books? Will there be more? I'm sure there will!

Much has been made about celebrities writing children’s books. Many have pointed out how offensive it is that celebrities think it is soo easy to write children’s books that they can just waltz in and write one. These people have a point; most books written by celebrities are not good. (Notable exceptions: … none. I can think of no exceptions.) So why do people keep buying them? Because we love celebrities. And celebrities will keep writing books, because we will keep buying them. So it goes!

Hilary Duff's Elixir

Do not read this book.

The last celebrity book I read was Elixir, by Hilary Duff. It was awful. Promise me that you will not read Elixir. If for some reason you feel overcome with the desire to read Elixir, here is how you can simulate the experience: tear a few random pages out of Twilight and a few pages out of The DaVinci Code. Staple them together in no particular order. Read them while drinking heavily, with an episode of Lizzie McGuire on in the background.

So my expectations for Modelland are extremely low. I’m still going to read it, though, because Tyra Banks is one of my all time favorite celebrities. America’s Next Top Model is probably my number one guilty pleasure. Tyra is the perfect combination of self-absorbed, trashy, and insane that makes for excellent television. And if Miss J ever wrote a children’s/YA book, you’d better believe I would read that, too.

Miss J

Anyway, I just started reading Modelland so this isn’t a full review. But I did want to share a tiny excerpt from the book’s prologue, just to give you all a sample of what a delight this book will be:

Nevertheless, you and every young girl in the world vie for an opportunity on the Day of Discovery, which is grander than every global holiday combined. Making the delirium even more intense, the Land sends seven talismans called SMIZEs into the world. (What an arcane word! Who though of such a thing?)

Oh Tyra, I see what you did there. (For those of you who do not watch America’s Next Top Model, why not? Do you think you’re too good for it? You aren’t. Anyway, though, “smize” is a word that Tyra has coined that means “smile with your eyes.” It is very important for models to smize.)

Smize!

Smize!

Hope you all have smize-filled weekends!

September 21, 2011

The Power of Maureen Johnson’s Twitter

by renata

As I may have mentioned before, I am a fan of Maureen Johnson. She’s smart, funny, and just plain weird. But I was not always a fan!

The first time I heard of her was many years ago, on a musical theatre message board I frequent. If you did not know, Maureen Johnson is the name of a character in the musical Rent, and someone posted an article where Maureen Johnson (the author) mentioned that she was sick of people asking her if she was the “real” Maureen Johnson from Rent. I remember thinking, “God, she must talk to a lot of crazy people” and then forgetting about her.

The Other Maureen Johnson

This is Maureen Johnson from Rent, so I guess you can see where she'd fight the comparison.

Years later, I started using Twitter a lot. I noticed that many people I followed were frequently retweeting things from @maureenjohnson, so I checked her out. “Oh, it’s that author,” I thought. “She’s pretty funny, I guess I’ll follow her too.” I followed her for awhile and enjoyed her tweets so much that I thought I had better read one of her books.

I went to the library and picked one more or less randomly. I chose Devilish.

Devilish by Maureen Johnson

I chose poorly. Devilish was fine, or whatever, but it didn’t really grab me. I didn’t like it nearly as much as I liked her Twitter. So I moved on. I kept reading MJ’s tweets, but none of her books. Then this summer I went to the ALA conference and got a signed ARC of The Name of the Star, which I reviewed here, but in a nutshell: I adored it. Then I went back and read Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes: also great. I was on the library waiting list for The Last Little Blue Envelope all summer and just got it last week. I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked it even more than I liked Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes.

MJ has also been tweeting a lot to promote The Name of the Star, which comes out soon. Everyone who pre-orders it from Books of Wonder gets a signed copy, a personal thank-you tweet, and these custom refrigerator poetry magnets:

Maureen Johnson Twitter magnets

Click to view the larger version. So cool!

So she’s been tweeting about this a ton, and I’ve been hemming and hawing. I mean, I already own a signed copy of this book. But I really wanted those fridge magnets. So cool! And I can always give my second copy of Name of the Star to someone else, since it was a really great book. Yesterday I broke down and pre-ordered it.

You're welcome, Maureen

You're welcome, Maureen

And Maureen Johnson thanked me on Twitter!

Anyway, I guess the point of this entry is: if you are good at Twitter, I will probably buy your book.

September 16, 2011

Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

by renata

I’m in my library school’s YA book club, where a bunch of overwhelmingly female library students (and a few actual librarians) get together and overanalyze YA books. YA book club is where I go to realize that all of my opinions about Katniss Everdeen are minority opinions.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Anyway, this month we read Delirium by Lauren Oliver. I was tentatively interested in this–I had loved Oliver’s first book, Before I Fall, which is a really well done Mean Girls/Groundhog Day kind of thing. It’s good. If you like realistic contemporary fiction, go read Before I Fall. Read it quick, before technology changes and makes it outdated. Go!

But Delirium, a dystopia where love is classified as an illness and “cured” with mandatory brain surgery, is not like Before I Fall, which is okay–authors shouldn’t write the same kind of books over and over. But part of why I liked Before I Fall is because the high school felt very real to me. I had no trouble buying into the world, even with its Groundhog Day scenario. Unfortunately, Delirium‘s world is not quite so well defined.

I kept comparing it unfavorably to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy–unfairly, too, since I’ve read all three Uglies (but not the fourth one, Extras, I’ll get around to it, okay?) and Delirium is book one of an eventual trilogy. She has two more books to flesh out this dystopia. But on book one alone, I just didn’t buy it. Scott Westerfeld did a masterful job of researching and creating the Uglies world, even if its concept (a world where ugliness is cured by mandatory plastic surgery) is basically as weird as a world where love is cured by brain surgery. There are too many inconsistencies in Oliver’s world and I never fully bought into it.

My favorite Delirium

My favorite Delirium

Also, when I see a book called Delirium, I really want it to be about Neil Gaiman’s Delirium.

But nevermind that. Delirium isn’t all bad. The protagonist, Lena, felt very real and likeable. Her reactions to the world felt real, even if the world itself did not.

I should also report that just about everyone else at YA book club liked this book more than I did–though when I went through and pointed out all the ways in which the dystopia makes no sense, pretty much everyone agreed. (For example: their symptoms of love-as-illness all pretty clearly describe romantic love. So why does their cure also destroy parental love? Why would you do that? Or if there is some kind of purpose, why then wouldn’t the children be raised collectively in a commune or something, so fewer adults would have to interact with these children they don’t care about? And also, Oliver, your two-sentence dismissal of the gays really doesn’t work for me. And also… well, never mind.) Everyone else just cared less about the inconsistencies. Sorry guys! I like my dystopias like I like my coffee: coherent. But still, when the second book comes out, I’ll probably read it, if only to see if Oliver explains more about how this world actually works.

Also to see what happens with Lena and her ~*true love*~ Alex. (Because, sorry, I forgot to say that she fell in love with a boy mere weeks before she was scheduled to be cured! But also I kind of thought it went without saying that of course she did.) The book ends on a very dramatic note for the two of them, and I’m sure the next book will pick up on that.

Delirium + fish balloon = love

Overall, I rate Delirium three fish balloons out of a possible five.

September 15, 2011

Kids These Days: Technology in YA

by renata

This summer I listened to the audiobook of So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. I really enjoyed it, but was also surprised by how dated it has already become since its publication in 2005. The datedness is accelerated because of the book’s concept, about a teenager who works for different marketing companies as a “cool-hunter.” And, unfortunately, what was cool in 2005 is different from what was cool in 2011. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you heard anybody bragging about a cell phone with a camera? For me, it was when I read So Yesterday. And before that, it was when I lived in a developing country. And before that, well, it was probably 2005.

So Yesterday

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld

I think the book’s anti-establishment concept is still cool enough to endure, despite some slightly dated references. (I think it probably would have been mindblowing when it came out.) But, unfortunately, I do think that contemporary fiction has a bit of a shelf life. This is something we talked about in my children’s literature class–how classics like the Ramona books just aren’t as appealing to kids anymore. I’ll buy it. As a kid I remember reading it and being like “Their teacher does what? Why are they acting like a dollar is a lot of money? They’re eating what for dinner?” It wasn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the books, but it did give me several pauses. By contrast, when I read books like the Animorphs series, I remember thinking how cool it was that these kids had AOL and went to a mall that was recognizably like my own mall. I feel you, kids who transform into animals to fight aliens. I feel you.

Of course, kids today would read those books and go “AOL? LOL!” (I talked awhile ago about how they are re-releasing Animorphs and Babysitter’s Club books in a “time neutral” format.) Technology is changing so fast these days; it really impacts the realism of children’s and YA novels. Now if you read a contemporary novel and it doesn’t allude to cell phones and texting, it almost takes you out of it. “What do you mean, you don’t know where your mom is? You didn’t even try her cell!”

So yesterday!

So yesterday!


This is partly why fantasy is so enduring. You don’t have to explain why there are no cell phones in Narnia. It’s because it’s magic there, duh. And they don’t have 4G so why bother? (Sci-fi can sometimes feel dated, if the things that the author has imagined as being very futuristic has already come to pass by the time you’re reading it. Or if the book has chosen 2001 to represent the future, for example.)

And certainly, contemporary fiction can endure even as it grows dated. Look at Little Women. I loved that book as a kid, even though it was written for an audience of children who grew up during the Civil War. I did not understand a lot of it, but I understood enough to be able to fall in love with the Marches. But other books, books whose characters and plot aren’t quite enough to keep them in print forever, those books will fall to the wayside like a Nokia flip phone. And that’s okay. Not every book is or should be Little Women. Sometimes teens (and kids and adults and every age of reader) just want to read something fun and timely, something that feels just like their school with its stupid no-texting rules and its totally low-bandwidth Wi-Fi connection. Something that will feel totally foreign to their children, who will all have routers installed directly into their brainstems and will have no need for external internet connections or text messaging.