Reached

Although The Hunger Games was the book that truly set me on the path as a fan of dystopian YA fiction, Ally Condie’s Matched was the next book I read, so I am sad today to be writing a book review of Reached, the final book in the Matched Trilogy.   Reaching the end of a series is like saying goodbye to a dear friend and I think that the author Ally herself felt that way as there is a rather melancholy bittersweet undertone to this final book in the series.  It’s that feeling you get when you leave high school, when you are grown up and leave friends and loved ones behind as you go forward into a new life.  The characters of the trilogy have been tempered by trouble and have matured into adulthood.

Cassia and Ky have returned to the Society to play a role for the Uprising. Xander who had remained in the Society in Crossed, has become an Official, though he too belongs to the Uprising.  Once again the three are separated from each other and all must walk their own path to the future.

Xander, a physic attends the Welcome Ceremony for a newborn; he and other members of the Uprising have been giving all children the Rising immunizations, rather than the Society’s which means that the new generation will grow up immune to the red tablet so that the Society can’t take their memories of the truth.  It’s during this particular ceremony that Xander sees the sign that the rebellion won’t wait for the children to grow into a new uncontrolled generation.

Cassia has been sent to Capital to continue her work as a sorter, but she also works on the side as a trader with the Archivists, the only way she can pay to send messages to her family and the two most important men in her life. 

Ky, along with pal Indie from Crossed, has become a pilot for the Uprising, though the only reason he is doing that is for Cassia.  He isn’t sure he can believe in or trust the Pilot, the leader of the Uprising. 

The story is alternatively narrated by each of the three characters.  While a love triangle in other books is usually not very successful as the balance is always tipped towards one of the participants, Condie does a good job of balancing out the strengths and weaknesses of both Ky and Xander as suitors for Cassia.  In fact, this triangle rounds out the characters as three-dimensional as the feelings they have about each other and the situation are complicated and painful.  There is a maturity to the romance that is missing in most other YA books. 

An outbreak of disease is the catalyst for the Uprising to supplant the Society, as the Uprising are able to provide people with a cure, but the means, motives and leadership behind the Uprising are more muddied than expected and each of the main characters are pulled into a situation that begins to spiral out of control.  Ky flys the cure into the infected cities, Cassia had started a Gallery to give people the freedom to share art, songs and poems and Xander has been curing the victims of the disease until some patients present new symptoms which bring the three heroes together in a race to save civilization. 

Ally Condie is speaking as much to herself as her readers when she says, “…even though all cannot be as everyone would wish, there is satisfaction in knowing that something good and right and true was part of you…There is ebb and flow.  Leaving and coming.  Fight and fall.  Sing and silent. Reaching and reached.”  Goodspeed Cassia, Ky and Xander.

 

Fragments

At nearly 600 pages, Dan Wells’ Fragments is quite a hefty tome, but it’s justified by the epic adventure contained within the pages.  In his second book in the Partials series, Wells alternates between events and characters.

Kira has set out to visit ParaGen’s NY office to try to follow Nandita’s message to find the Trust, but she is equally focused on finding out more about what she is, a fact that she hasn’t shared with any of her childhood friends.  Although she is successful at finding some disturbing information, she is still missing the key pieces and to find the rest will take her much further than NYC and along a much more dangerous route.  Fortunately, she meets up with some old allies who have the skills to undertake the perilous path with her.

In the meantime, her old boyfriend Marcus is doing his best to help East Meadow during an invasion.  He knows something has changed about Kira and he searches for answers from her sister Ariel, while Kira’s brother-in-law, Haru, is keeping the dangerous rebel fighter Senator Delarosa in his sights.

There is lots of juicy stuff to sink your teeth into in this book; biomedical ethics, a culture of greed, racism, oppression and the classic chestnut, “Do the ends justify the means?”  Add a scoop of conspiracy theory, self and identity issues, some very acid rain and haunting landscapes of destruction and the length is justified.

The Other Life

“1,139 days since I’d heard the chatter of my friends, since I’d seen the sky….98,409,600 seconds since I’d felt the sun on my skin.”  In The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker, Sherry keeps exact count of how long it’s been since she has experienced normal life.  Together with her parents, brother, sister, Grandma and dead Grandpa in the freezer, her family has been living in a secure bunker.  Now the food is running out.

Her father built the bunker when reports of a severe rabies virus with strange mutation filtered through Los Angeles.  Despite his careful planning, he hadn’t calculated on his kids eating more as they grew older.  He has also lost radio contact with other families and even the military warnings on a recorded loop have stopped.

Sherry is sick of her parents fighting, and the obsessive clacking of the knitting needles of her Grandma who hasn’t handled her husband’s death well.  When her father makes the decision to open the bunker and go out to find food lest his family starve, Sherry leaps at the opportunity to join him.  One of the best parts of the big is the suspense generated when they open the doors as you wonder what kind of world they will find outside.

Although their own suburban neighborhood is largely intact, downtown Los Angeles has been bombed into oblivion and the only people outside are the two dead bodies of neighbors which have been mangled until they are barely recognizable.  Not finding any food in nearby houses, father and daughter do what any American would, they make a trip to Walmart to look for supplies.  However, they find more than canned food and towels in the aisles of the store and Sherry’s father disappears and Sherry herself is attacked and then rescued by the hunter Joshua.

Joshua is one of the few people who have been surviving outside of the bunkers and after rescuing Sherry and the remainder of her family from their bunker, and the two team up on a hunt to find and save her father from the Weepers.

For traditionalist zombie fans, the Weepers don’t fit the stereotypes; they are fast, smart and their appearance is very different than zombies in other stories.  However, they aren’t the biggest threat in the world outside, there is something more sinister than monsters that Sherry and Joshua plan to face in the next book….The Life Beyond.

I almost passed this book by because the cover was so cheesy, but it appears that there was a much better alternate cover on other copies.  This was a fast read and there was plenty of action.  Yes, there weren’t as many moral dilemmas in this book as some other dystopian fiction, but sometimes you just want a salad and not an entrée.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson was mentioned by someone on a dystopia website, so I assumed it was.  I am not sure it’s a YA dystopian novel under standard definitions, but it’s intriguing enough that I hope my readers will grant me some leeway.

The world hasn’t ended in this book.  Well, not entirely.  There is mention of a huge earthquake in Southern California fifteen years ago in which 19,000 people died, as well as the Aureus epidemic, similar to the the Influenza Epidemic near the beginning of the 20th century, this more recent one killing twenty million people.  However, the Aureus epidemic was caused by too many vaccinations and overuse of antibiotics which created this deadly bacteria strain.  Yet, the outer world Jenna lives in has not devolved into chaos.  People still go to jobs, drive cars, children attend school, things appear relatively normal.  Normal except for the fact that Jenna Fox can’t remember – ANYTHING.

She suddenly awakes into consciousness and struggles to understand who she is.  Her adoring but overprotective parents give her discs of all the home movies they took of her growing up.  Jenna can’t seem to relate to the person she sees in the movies and is uncomfortable that no friends come to visit her, plus her grandmother seems to dislike her intensely.  Lonely and isolated she becomes friends with a neighbor, an older eccentric artist.   The time she spends with him is the first time she feels comfortable in her own skin.

As she starts to deal with her situation, she fights her parents for permission to attend school.  Reluctantly, they allow her to go to an alternative charter school where she is befriended by Allys, who lost her limbs to a virus and volunteers for the FSEB, the Federal Science Ethics Board, a watchdog organization that ensures that medical resources and costs are kept under control and that the conditions that led to the Aureus virus don’t happen again.   Then there’s another new classmate, Ethan, who makes her feel like a normal girl.

What I really liked about this book is the way it kept me guessing.  Too often in books, movies and TV I know where the plot is going right away and then I am disappointed as I wait for the words or the acting to catch up to what I already know.  This book kept me off center, I made a guess about Jenna’s accident, but it turned out I was wrong.

Most of all, I think adults who don’t understand why other adults read YA dystopian fiction, don’t get that these books are not really about the monsters and gore, the action, the fictitious disasters, etc.  I read these books because they raise questions.  In the case of The Adoration of Jenna Fox the question is, “How far would you go to save someone you love?”

Zombie House Hunting

I never had any interest in zombies.  Then I picked up the book The Forest of Hands and Teeth and was enthralled by the lyric style of the writing.  Now that the door was open, I also read Enclave.  Most recently, I have been reading the Rot & Ruin series, the morality and good guys vs. bad guys reminded of reading Shane in junior high.

Now that I have opened myself to the whole zombie thing, now I am seeing zombie stuff everywhere.  When I am not reading dystopian YA fiction, you will often find me watching shows on my favorite TV station, HGTV.  There was an episode where a man and his wife wanted to buy a private island in Florida.  Apparently it wasn’t for privacy, prestige or the other reasons you might think.  The guy kept mentioning their house would be a no zombie zone, based on the theory that zombies wouldn’t be able to swim to wear he lived.  I thought the guy was definitely off his rocker.  Then I came across this article this week on zombie free real estate and it made me chuckle: http://homes.yahoo.com/news/anti-zombie-strongholds-for-sale.html?page=all

The Rise of the One Word Titles

Why are so many YA dystopian book titles one word?? For the past two years for my fiction reading I have been reading YA dystopian fiction almost exclusively, so maybe this is a trend in other genres too and I haven’t noticed.    From the Chemical Garden series (Wither, Fever, Sever) to Ally Condie’s (Matched, Crossed, Reached   ) and  Anne Aguirre (Enclave, Outpost, Horde) among many others  there seems to be a strong naming trend in YA dystopian fiction.

It’s almost ironic that these books, so complex in terms of world building and the emotions of the characters are summed up by their one word titles.   Where did this trend start and are the YA authors aware that they are following the trend?    Do they ever agonize after writing and coming up with the title for the first book, how they will find a name for the next?

Since we are talking about post-apocalyptic fiction here, why haven’t any YA dystopian authors used these for their series? Distressed, Devastated, Screwed