Fractured

You know those nested Russian matryoshka  dolls?  You open up one and inside is another, then another, and yet another.  That sums up the character of Kayla whom readers first met in Slated by Teri Terry, but it’s in the next book Fractured that we begin to see all the layers of this character.  Who is she really?  Is she Lucy, the happy child from the Lake District, Kayla the Slated who struggles with memory loss and nightmares, or Rain who has the skills of a terrorist?  That is the question Kayla is desperately trying to answer. 

To add to the mystery within a mystery are a number of plot twists introducing new characters which for Kayla complicates life even more.  She was already wary about whom to trust in Slated, wondering whether her sister Amy and her adoptive mom really care about her?  Why hadn’t Dr. Lysander reported the fact that she is starting to remember some of her past?  What ultimately happened to Ben?

In Fractured, in addition to the mysterious Nico, other people pop up from her past and recent history.  Tori who considered herself to be Ben’s girlfriend, and Katran, someone she knew from the time before she was slated.  Then there’s Cam, the friendly new next-door-neighbor who takes away her focus on Ben.

For every stop forward Kayla takes in trying to figure out her past, another secret confronts her.  Teri Terry does a great job of describing what it’s like to someone who’s mind is fractured and can almost grasp the truth of her past, but whenever she sees the pieces out of the corner of her eye, they disappear.   However, Kayla struggles equally as much with the ultimate question of who she is and what she believes in, not just her name and identity.  She has understandable rage toward the Lorders, who Slate teens like her and have created a totalitarian society where people who ask the wrong questions are bundled into black vans and taken away, but do their actions justify the methods of Free UK, the guerilla group who fight the Lorders?

The pacing of this book is intense.  In every chapter there is either violence, a piece of the puzzle revealed or a plot twist.  Some dystopian and apocalyptic novels fixate too much on physical action and danger, but this book has the right balance of action and heart as Kayla tries to figure out her place in this mixed up world she inhabits, and is surprised by which people really are on her side.

 

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Trapped

I think it’s the Texan Effect, y’know everything’s bigger and better syndrome.  I got so used to reading about extremely dysfunctional dystopian societies and horrifically cataclysmic natural disasters in apocalyptic fiction, that I almost forgot that the event or trigger doesn’t have to be exotic to make for a good story.    It took reading Trapped by Michael Northrop to remind me that the flashy disasters aren’t what’s important to this genre, but how people react to events, in ways both expected and unexpected.

The premise in Trapped is very simple, a small group of high school students have stayed after school for a myriad of reasons and are trapped together by the snowstorm of the century.  Having left the Chicago area after high school for milder climes, this book brought to life again the very real hazards such storms can cause.  We forget in this time of technological sophistication that even something like a severe storm can bring havoc.

The narrator, Scotty, is a basketball player and all round B high school kid.  Trapped in the school with his two closest friends when they stay after school has been dismissed for the storm to work on a go kart project, he tells the story in a very believable way.  Scotty, Jason and Pete are not the only kids in the school, there’s Les the juvenile delinquent, Elijah, the strange and nerdy kid and Krista the popular pretty girl and her friend Julie.  The only adult, Mr. Gossell the teacher, quickly exits the story leaving the kids to quickly figure out that the storm is a record breaker and they are on their own.

It’s a little like Breakfast Club with its cliques forced together by circumstances, although in this case the circumstances are much more serious than detention.  As the power and heat fails, the water pipes freeze and sickness it’s the group, the teens must find a way to not only get along, but to support each other. 

While the action is less than in other books of this type, the slower pace was fine with me.  I enjoyed the narration which felt very natural and even chuckled at the raging hormones of the boys in spite of the less than ideal conditions.  The story was believable in every way and didn’t rely on slick plot devices or world building to achieve a sense of interest.  My biggest criticism is the ending, which just fell flat.  Again, I will take some responsibility that I have gotten used to this genre usually consisting of book series.  It would actually be fine if there wasn’t a sequel to this book, but then the ending should feel less unfinished.  I actually had to go to the author’s website to find out if there was meant to be a sequel.  While Michael Northrop implied that it hadn’t been written with the intention to have a sequel, he would not be adverse to writing one if the demand was there.  There seemed to be may comments by readers demanding a sequel for ‘answers’, but the way the story ended it wasn’t any mystery what happened to the teens, the only unknown for me was how their parents, classmates and townspeople had fared.  The only thing that could make a potential sequel interesting would be to use it to retell the story from the perspective of one of the other teens who could provide a totally different take on the relationships that form and maybe get the book to a real ending.

Promised

Promised by Caragh M. O’Brien is the final book in the Birthmarked Trilogy, but unfortunately it’s not the strongest.  I have every sympathy with authors who have to wrap up a series, but I couldn’t help wishing for more of the elements that made the first two books a good read. 

Gaia Stone has led the people of Sylum back to the Enclave.   Although she has warned her people that it will be difficult, she herself had underestimated the Protectorate’s reaction to her return.  After all, this is the same man who is responsible for the deaths of her parents as well as her own imprisonment and her flight from the Enclave in the first place, did she really think she could walk back in an negotiate with such a man?  Even as the new Martrarc that seems far-fetched.  

One of the other weaknesses is the lack of development regarding her personal relationships.  While the Chardo brothers, Peter and Will, played such a huge role in the second book, they remain far on the periphery in this one.  I think readers who developed opinions and loyalty to these characters previously, will be disappointed.  While this may be a deliberate tactic O’Brien is employing to focus on just Leon, it was the very complications that ensued from her feelings for each of the brothers that rang truer than her sudden complete attention on Leon.    There is also a lack of development of two new characters who have strong ties to Gaia.  Most of the story either revolves around Gaia’s conundrum as she feels her way through this situation as an inexperienced leader of her people, or the action and violence scenes.

Also, considering the technology and surveillance the Enclave has at it’s disposal compared to the Wharfton area, it seems unrealistic that the protagonists can keep getting inside the Enclave and escaping back into Wharfton.  

When the climax of the story comes, it feels rushed compared to all the previous chapters which stretched on too long.  Significant events and the effects on some of the characters are only mentioned in a perfunctory way; I am deliberately not getting specific for those who have not finished the series yet.  In The Hunger Games series Katniss and Peter both experienced violence and physical and emotional trauma and loss, and I think it was more realistically and better explored than the last chapter of this story. 

 

 

Quarantine: The Saints

Quarantine: The Saints, is the second book in the Quarantine series.  Something that intrigues me about this series is that it is written by two authors!  Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies use the combined pen name of Lex Thomas.  I would love to hear about their process and how they make this work so well.  When I read the series I forget it’s written by two people as it’s seamless.  It doesn’t seem that they alternate chapters as the voice is true throughout. The fact that they live on opposite ends of the country is also fascinating to me.  I have always thought of fiction writing as a very solitary pursuit and unique to one person’s vision, but these guys prove me wrong.

The series is like The Breakfast Club meets Lord of the Flies and continues the story of the kids trapped in McKinley High as they carry a virus that is deadly to all adults.  Will’s older brother David, the hero of the first book in the series, has ‘graduated’, meaning that he has reached an age where he is no longer contagious to adults, but instead of being allowed out, he had to escape because of the events in the first story.   Epileptic Will is left to carry on his brother’s legacy with the Loners, one of the school’s many gangs who were just misfits until brought together by David.  Also still left in the school is Lucy, who had become David’s girlfriend briefly before his departure, but Will is desperately in love with her. 

A new group of kids from a private high school breaks into the school and is helping the McKinley students before a truck comes crashing through the exit blocking everyone’s escape, including the new kids who will be tagged The Saints by other gangs.  However, most of Will and Lucy’s group, the Loners, made it out before the crash, so with the numbers down to 10% they and the rest of the group have to make tough decisions about how they will survive the brutal life inside the school.   However, at least they won’t starve anymore, as they were on the verge of doing when the military stopped the food drops, as now some parents have arrived to continue the food drops, though they are not able to let the kids out because of the deadly nature of the contagion and the fact that the military would shoot any kids they find outside.   The reduction of their gang is not the only hazard they must face, the leader of the Varsity gang, Sam, still wants to murder Will, and he has killed before, yet he might not be the only psychopath running amok in the school.   How Will and Lucy navigate these changes makes for a very gripping and sometimes violent adventure.    As each book has ended with a real cliff hanger, I am impatiently waiting for this author duo to finish writing book 3.

When She Woke

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is not a YA dystopian novel, but is a dystopian book that I think is really good and deserves the attention of a review, so hope that readers will grant me a little leeway.

After reading countless dystopian and apocalyptic books, I am starting to form an opinion that the most disturbing ones are the books about a dystopian society because unlike natural disasters which cannot all be prevented, it’s us, people, who created these controlling societies and systems.  The most frightening are the books set in a not too distant future from ours, of which the storyline is extracted from our own current societal ills and news headlines.

I found many parallels in When She Woke to the first ever dystopian novel I read, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I actually read the latter about twenty years ago when the word dystopian was not even in my vocabulary.  In fact, I didn’t realize that it was a book genre until just three years ago when I started reading The Hunger Games series which I think really propelled the genre into the mainstream.

Hillary Jordan, like Margaret Atwood, weaves the themes of feminism, religion, fascism and personal choice into the story of Hannah Payne.  Raised in a devout family, Hannah has mostly complied with her family and society’s expectations of her role in society.  Her one true rebellion are the sumptuous dresses she makes and models to herself in the mirror.  During the day she works as a seamstress of modest wedding gowns and later as a church administrator. 

Suddenly everything Hillary has been raised to believe is challenged when becomes a  Chrome.  Chroming is a process of injecting people who have committed crimes with a virus that colors their skin to reflect the nature of their crime, yellow, orange, red and blue.  The state has made the argument that this is far more humane than throwing all but the most violent offenders in jail.  However, Hannah’s situation as a Red Chrome is far more fraught than Hester Prynne’s in The Scarlet Letter. Shame and humiliation are only the mildest consequences of the chroming process as Chromes find difficulty securing housing, finding jobs and are harassed and sometimes violently attacked by ‘upstanding citizens’ while the public turns a blind eye. 

So what crime has Hannah committed that was so heinous as to ruin her life?  She had an abortion and refused to name the person who performed the abortion as well as the name of her baby’s father.  Obviously, abortion is a highly controversial subject in our society and the book actually represents some of the thinking on both sides of the issue.  But this is not a one issue story, the book also deeply examines the role of women, vigilantism, religion and social mores in a way that takes us along with Hannah as she begins to re-examine her own feelings and beliefs.   This is the kind of book that will challenge you and leave you with something well after you turn the last page.