Wolf by Wolf

Are we on the cusp of a trend?  First, I hear about and watch the first episode of The Man in the High Castle about an alternate future in which the Allies lost WWII and Germany and Japan have taken over America and Europe, and then I read Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin which also shares that plot, though the stories unfold differently from that major plot point.

How we and our world would be different today if the Allies had lost WWII is an intriguing question, so I wonder if other books and movies will explore this creating a full-fledged trend.  In Wolf by Wolf, Yael and her mother are Jews sent to a concentration camp.  Upon arrival, the camp’s doctor takes special notice of Yael, an encounter that keeps her from the gas chambers, but being chosen to live may be even worse as the doctor has selected her for an experiment.  That same quality the doctor saw in her is what helps her survive both the experiments and the deaths of so many people that she cares about.  In an odd twist of fate the sick experiment also gives her the means to escape and she is taken in to be raised by Resistance members, though they don’t know Yael’s big secret for years.  Eventually, she reveals it to her Resistance family and they realize they now have a possible means to carry out an operation that might mean the overthrow of the Nazis.

Yael will enter a grueling multi-country motorcycle race posing as a previous year’s winner.  Not only is the race challenging with the competitors known to do whatever it takes to try to win, but Yael will also find that despite studying the dossiers of all the competitors, there is much about her competition and her former relationships with them that is not found in the files, so the race holds both physical and psychological challenges for her.  Her Resistance training concentrated much more on the former, leaving this young woman to try to figure out how to behave in situations she has never experienced.

Y’know I have always thought of dystopian novels as future authoritarian societies and governments such as the Factions in Divergent or the city-states in The Hunger Games or the Society in Matched, but this novel actually takes place right after the end of the war in the 1950’s.  So not only does it take place in the past, but rather than creating a whole new world and society, it takes one that really existed, Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan, and simply extrapolates from those existing facts.  So many authors of this genre spend a good part of their book on the world building, yet in this one Ryan Graudin doesn’t need to do that as we all studied WWII in school, she can devote more time to building the characters instead.  In the case of Yael this is such a gift as the character is both fascinating and heartbreaking.  In addition to this novel being part of the dystopian genre, it also has some supernatural elements, and normally I don’t like that kind of mixing, but in it works and it serves a purpose, the story line would not be possible without this additional element.


The Registry

The Registry by Shannon Stoker had some good ideas, but between the poor execution and one-dimensional characters, this dystopian novel didn’t deliver.

In our world, especially in places like China, boy babies are more valued than girls.  In Ms. Stoker’s world set in the not too far future, it’s girls who are highly valued.  If a couple has a baby boy, he is abandoned to an orphanage because not only is he worth less money than a girl, but being left to fend for himself since early childhood will make him tough and all boys have to serve in the American Army.  Girls on the other hand are raised by their parents and once they are the right age, they are entered into the Registry.  Basically, a catalog for eligible girls similar to current day websites for foreign brides where women are basically bought.  Mia’s family is fortunate to have all daughters, even one prettier than the last, especially the youngest Mia who will fetch a high bride price unlike her best friend who while pretty receives a very low rank in the Registry…is that because of her intelligence?   After all, men in this near future don’t want a wife who is educated or naturally intelligent.  A woman’s role is to serve and support her husband.

As a feminist I was infuriated by the little clip at the top of each chapter taken from the ‘girl’s guide’ a sort of handbook for how women are to behave.  My fury stemmed from the fact that while this is a fiction book, some of these attitudes are alive and well in the present, not this possible future where a high percentage of the U.S. population was wiped out and led to this supposed ‘change’ in male and female roles.

Also, while Mia is the main character and supposed heroine, she is vapid and happy to go along with being sold by her parents like cattle until her much more worthy older sister escapes from her husband and comes home to warn clueless Mia what being married of is really like.  Even then, while Mia no longer looks forward to being a bride, she still doesn’t do anything substantive to win her freedom, instead relying on her best friend to help plan her escape.  Then Mia selfishly pulls in one of the working boys to her plan, never considering what the consequences will be for him for helping her.

She is incapable of putting together a decent disguise, packing a runaway bag with useful items, teaching herself to drive or anything of use.  Yes, in the book she, like other women, are very sheltered, but even once she learns some horrible truths she still doesn’t do much to save herself instead relying on other people’s sacrifices.  Some have compared this book to a junior version of The Handmaid’s Tale, but in that book Offred kept fighting the twisted society and government, she figured things out, she didn’t sacrifice her friends, etc.  The only thing Mia is good at is being annoying.  The other difference between the two books is everyone, even the villains in The Handmaid’s Tale, are fully fleshed characters whereas in The Registry  the characters are so cartoonish, from the evil fiancee who does everything but twirl his handlebar mustache, to the stereotype gay couple, and the lightweight Caleb who serves as a piece of the almost required love triangle.

The ideas in the story would have made for a chilling and realistic story in the hands of a master such as Margaret Atwood, alas Ms. Stoker gets and A for story idea and an F for execution.


For some reason I use a lot of movie examples when writing about how I feel about books….Well here is one more, Breathe by Sarah Crossan is like the B Movie version of Wool by Hugh C. Howey. The two have a similar plot idea that there is a society of people living in a contained space because the air outside that space will kill you. In addition to the apocalyptic event that created each of these situations, each book is also a dystopian novel because of course there has to be a quasi-government that is both controlling the citizens and hiding some truths from there. Wool was the superior version because it is simply a more mature book, and I don’t mean that the main character was out of her teens unlike the protagonists in Breathe, I mean there is a depth and maturity in Wool missing from Breathe.

Here’s where I always second guess writing a sentence like the above, after all Breathe is a YA book and maybe if I was still a sixteen-year old girl the level of writing would be just fine for me. However, I am not a sixteen girl and I also suspect that with the state of worldliness of teens today, they may also feel that the writing is a bit immature for them too.   The author Sarah Crossan was a high school teacher, I was too, but my teaching career ended years ago so maybe I am off- base, but I was bored and I think th teenage attention span is even shorter than mine.

The book just had far too many stereotypes for me too. There are the rebels who know that the government has been lying to them and have their own lair in the Outlands outside the domed city with its pumped in oxygen. Of course one of the rebels is a beautiful teenage girl, Aline, a hard case who lost her parents and has nothing but contempt for the ‘Premiums.’ The Premiums are the 1% of their society who live in the nicest neighborhood sector and can afford to buy all the oxygen they need while the rest of society struggles with fatigue and overwork brought on by the lack of oxygen and the depression caused by the lack of opportunities available to them. Bea, another ‘auxiliary’ is one of those who don’t understand that no matter how hard she works, she will never get the opportunity that she deserves. When she debates Quinn, her best friend and the boy she secretly loves, she wipes the floor with him. However, it’s Quinn, the Breathe Director’s son who is accepted into the leadership program not her. To make matters worse the hiking trip to the Outlands that Quinn has treated her to doesn’t go the way she hoped. Instead of getting some time alone with Quinn hoping he will notice her as something more than a friend; he helps their classmate Alina who is on the run because he has a crush on her. Once they are deep in the Outlands Alina parts from them but they decide to follow her, which brings them into contact with a drifter who makes them see these people in a different light, and the rebels themselves where they get a mixed reception.   Yes, the love triangle thing has been done too many times in other books, and done much better. Quinn is really immature and selfish and I can’t understand why any of the girls would find him interesting, at least in most of these triangles the guy is a tough guy with a heart of gold underneath, but Quinn is just a wimp.

Really, the most interesting part of the book for me was in the flyleaf where the author states she got the idea for the book when traveling in Washington State (where I live) and seeing tree logging she thought, “Don’t people understand that we need trees to breathe?”   She is right, we do though few seem to realize that, especially where I live where old growth trees are being torn down to build yet more luxury townhomes and condos. So therefore, I give Ms. Crossan a thumbs up for weaving real world conditions into this cautionary tale.

The New Order

While I can’t say I am a big M. Night Shyamalan fan overall, I did like his movie The Village for one strong reason, the idea that outside the village normal life was going on. It’s that idea that just outside a dystopian world or apocalyptic situation is a place where people are carrying on as normal that interests me. I mean, how many of us faced with either scenario just wish we could close our eyes and when we open them again everything would be alright, everything would be as it was?   That’s not to say our present world is perfect, far from it, but faced with darker alternatives we would take the bad with the good of our present times, right? The New Order by Chris Weitz explores this conundrum.  If you can go from the horrific situation you are in back to some normalcy, what are the repercussions? Your innocence is gone after what you have endured, you view situations with more assessing and jaded eyes and how can you ever truly relax again when being on the defense is the way you survived when others didn’t.

If you haven’t read The New Order by Chris Weitz yet, you may want to visit this post after you have done so, otherwise you about to read a major spoiler.

The Young World left us with two quest members dead, See Through and Kath. Jefferson was nearly killed by the Old Man who injected him with the Sickness to see if the new Cure mixed up by him and Brainbox worked, which it did. So one would have expected that this next book would be the remaining team struggling their way back to Manhattan with the Cure and whether the teens of all tribes should be given it.

Instead, we are confronted with the reality that the Old Man was not the only adult left alive. Indeed, millions of adults and kids survived the sickness, they just happen to be living overseas. So why don’t the teens know any of this? Well the very people who can explain what’s happened to the world are the ones keeping the teens a secret from the rest of the world. Yes, there is a worry about the Sickness mutating, and yes, there has been a rebalance of the world order, but when it comes down to it those reasons are nothing in the face of the Lord of the Flies existence the kids have been living for years now. So when the Washington Square Park and Haarlem kids are put into isolation on a Navy ship and interrogated, they aren’t feeling like helping the adults much. In fact, when they are each contacted via a coded message from a rebel group within the adult military troops, all of them decide to side with the rebels, except Captain who at least keeps the secret. However, during the kids’ escape plan to head back to NYC, Donna is separated from the group and ends up in England instead.

That’s the part that fascinates me, how she goes from a hellhole of eating rats and trying not to get eaten by cannibals, to living in picturesque Cambridge as a university student. So while Jefferson and the gang have to go back into the violence knowing that there is another world out there, which is bad enough, I feel like Donna has the harder struggle. Yes, she is no longer fighting for her life, but she has to assimilate back into the world, keep the big secret and swallow the guilt she feels about living in the lap of luxury while god knows what is happening to the rest of them.

Yet that doesn’t excuse her behavior when it comes to so quickly replacing Jefferson when she is told that he was killed. It’s one thing to move on to another relationship, but to sleep with the other guy when she wouldn’t even sleep with Wash, let alone his little bro, just struck a weird note with me. Also, the fact that when she met Mr. Welsh, for all his civilized British ways, she knew he was just using her as much as the U.S. Navy had tried to. He was just doing it in a classier way, but yet she lets her guard down and that just didn’t make sense.

One thing I did prefer in this book was that instead of only alternating narrators between Donna and Jefferson, that the author let a few of the other characters have a turn. Peter’s turn made me chuckle with his “It’s like this. I’m not a sidekick, I just play one in life” line and his social commentary on being a gay black kid. I wish he had gotten more than two chapters as a narrator. The fact that Kath, yes, that Kath, the one who was supposed to be dead got a turn blew me away as I typically see a plot twist coming a mile off and I was blown off my feet by it. The most interesting narration though was Brainbox’s even though his were the shortest. Diving deep into the mind of a genius is a wild ride and I found the way he spoke in his head to be very James Joyce stream of consciousness. It was great, but also a little hard to follow, which may explain why his chapters were shorter than everyone else’s and how his thoughts moved and the detachment in them was a little spooky.   It was a little strange that Mr. Weitz didn’t make the switch to these other narrators until near the ending of this second book, if I had a chance to interview him that is something I would definitely ask about.

I did like that The New Order ended with three different sets of actions and perspectives converging….our uncertainty whether Brainbox will live and if he does will he help save the world or end it, Jefferson realizing that instead of guiding the teens to a new world that he may have to force them into it, and Donna swinging back into the action for a hell of a lot of vengeance and may prove to be just as much of a wild card as Brainbox. We shall see.


This book review is not about religion, though it is about an apocalyptic/dystopian novel in which religion is a central theme in telling its story. The book, Anomaly, by Krista McGee is about a dystopian society that forms after an apocalyptic event. A group of scientists predicted a future in which chemical and nucclear warfare would be used and logically created the infrastructure and means to survive it. As they were the only survivors in a Norad type of locale, the society’s structure was informed by the fact that the new order was formed by people with scientific and analytic minds. The scientists felt that the cause of the warfare were the people who live via emotions over logic and used the destruction was an opportunity to start over. It’s this plotline that makes it strange that the central character of the story would be a teen named Thalli.

You see Thalli is a musician. Everyone in her pod was genetically modified and born as a test tube baby for a certain skill they could contribute to the new society. You would think music, and the arts, would not be seen as necessary by the scientists, but the author does try to tie it in a little with some information about how math relates to music. Still, the choice of this character, is in itself an anomaly was her only role in the pod is to play music to entertain at certain events.

Thalli is at heart an emotional person with the soul of an artist, so how could these genius scientists not predict the impact that having such a person would have on their society’s rules? It’s not that Thalli is overt, she tries hard to follow the norms of not showing emotion outwardly, not even when her friend and podmate is taken away for displaying systems of a cold. After all, in this perfect society there isn’t room for genetic weakness such as health issues. As much of a blow as that was, Thalli takes it even harder when her childhood friend Berk, destined to join the Scientists himself after his training, moved from the pod.

When Thalli is told to learn the music of a Bach piece to play at the next event, the music causes her to react so strongly that she is scheduled for annihilation. While waiting for her doom she is reunited with Berk, but also meets the father of one of the Scientists. This man tells Thalli about the world before the war, before the pod system and he tells her about Jesus, someone she has never heard of before.   This was a new twist for me in this genre as usually religion in post-apocalyptic books is given a bad rap. In other apocalyptic books religion is twisted into something evil, violent and cult like and preys on traumatized survivors and involves either a scarily charismatic leader using women as sister wives or killing other non-believers blaming them for the destructive event, etc. This is the first time in the many books I have read in this genre that the idea of religion benign. Therefore, although the writing was a little obvious in the message it was trying to impart, it wasn’t so heavy handed that I didn’t finish reading. I was interested for two reasons, how someone like John keeps his faith in a world where man has inflicted such evil and continues to, and by what is must be like for someone to encounter the concept of religion as a fully formed young adult who has never been exposed to the idea in any form. Also, this book is an intersection between ‘art and science’ with the characters of the Scientists standing in direct opposition to John and Thalli’s own growing belief. Even Berk, who as a scientist has been trained all this life to believe in what can be scientifically proven and quantified, is exposed to having to think about his world differently. So although the writing is far from sophisticated and the characters a little one-dimensional, I do give this props for a creative angle I have not witnessed before in this kind of book, enough that I might read the sequel.

The Red Queen

There is a tipping point with books that combine many different elements. While I lean toward a book that has one genre and does it well, there are exceptions and The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard is one of them.

I didn’t even pick this book up thinking of it for this blog as I didn’t think it was a dystopian or apocalyptic novel, so I just going to read it for myself. Considering how hard I am finding it to read and review one book a week, it didn’t seem like that was a wise choice. However, a book I thought was faintly fantasy or sci fi, turned out to be something very different.

So how would I characterize this book? That’s the sticky part as it defies characterization with its elements of fantasy, dystopian, sci fi, apocalyptic and something more. I did find some similar elements to Red Rising, a book I previously reviewed and esteem. No, not just because they both have ‘Red’ in the title! Although they do share the concept of class warfare, with the Reds oppressed by a stronger, wealthier race, in The Red Queen that’s the Silvers and in Red Rising, that’s the Golds funnily enough. Both protagonists are living a lie, pretending to be one of the upper caste, for reasons of both survival and ultimately revenge. However, both Mare and Darrow quickly realize that the class they both hate is full of exceptions, people whom they come to care for that don’t fit the stereotype, and within those exceptions also comes the possibility of soul destroying betrayal.

As my review of Red Rising and Golden Son is already on this blog, I will focus the rest of this review on The Red Queen. Mare Barrow doesn’t amount to much on paper, she isn’t heroic like her father damaged in the long war, she isn’t big and strong like her three brothers, and she is not talented like her little sister Gisa whose embroidery skills keep the family from starvation. Reds have a hard life in the kingdom of Norte which is ruled by the Silvers, who conscript teens to fight their never ending war against other Silver kingdoms, it’s this thread that develops the dystopian story. Mare’s three brothers are off fighting and she dreads the idea that they will die as so many have. She herself may soon join them as anyone with a trade apprenticeship or job is conscripted when they turn seventeen and it would kill her mother to lose another. In the meantime, she risks her families’ disapproval by stealing to supplement the family’s income, accompanied by her best friend since childhood, Kilorn who is fortunate to be an apprentice. However, when Kilorn loses his apprenticeship Mare risks all to find a way to smuggle him somewhere safe before the military can come for him. It is this task that puts her in the path of both freedom fighters and a prince of her ruling family.

Mare Barrow who didn’t amount to much on paper may be the most special of all as a harrowing circumstance reveals she belongs to neither the Red or Silver Society; she is something different. Hiding in plain sight, her time with the Silvers also has some elements of stories like The Selection and the Chemical Garden series. However, the powers of the Silvers bring in a fantasy element as the have otherworldly abilities. I didn’t even realize that this book would actually fit my blog until deep into the book, when talks of maps of the ‘old world’ and tunnels with a train, which is really a subway, hinted that maybe this world of Reds and Silvers is actually our own and this book takes place well into our future. I even wonder if the abilities of the Silvers came from chemical warfare or something as there is mention in the story of a Dead Zone where no one goes, and nothing grows. Well, I will have to wait a bit to see if I am right as the sequel is not out yet.

The Shade of the Moon

I wish I had never read the Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I loved her first book, Life As We Knew It. In fact, I would argue it is one of the most terrifying apocalyptic novels I have ever read. People who are familiar with it might not get that. After all, unlike many other apocalyptic novels I have read, there aren’t any starving people going cannibal, any escaped criminals raping and pillaging, and there isn’t any rise of some freaky weird new religious cult in reaction to the event. It was simply a book about a normal family trying to survive. What’s so scary about that? Well it was incredibly believable and the characters and lives were so relatable, it was something that made you go, “crap, this could happen.” So while there wasn’t a lot of action, I found the slow torture of their struggle to survive each day excruciatingly painful, in that, ‘hurts so good’ way.

So my first issue with Shade of the Moon was that Miranda, Matt, and Mom were not the central characters. I had so much respect for these three and instead the story was focused on Jon, the spoiled little brother whom they all sacrificed everything to save. How this little butthead could even come from the same gene pool boggles my mind. His big sis was willing to sacrifice her life for him, and his biggest sacrifice is making his own breakfast. You see little Jonny now lives as a slip in an enclave, while the rest of his family lives in cold, roach infested dwellings in the slums doing manual labor while Jon attends school and plays soccer, more on the latter in a bit.

When the food shipments stop coming, Miranda, Matt, Laura, Lisa, Gabe, Alex, Julie, etc. hit the road to find an enclave. Along the way, both Julie and Miranda’s Dad died. The former’s death resulted in Jon being able to use her pass to get a place in the enclave, while the rest had to live in the ghetto of White Birch.

This ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ in the story setup was so ridiculous. Yes, the people in the enclave have more food and air purifying machines, so they are healthier, but the people in the ghetto outnumber them and have passion of rage on their side, they could just overthrow this one-sided society, so I never got why they didn’t. The people in the ghetto were tough enough to survive the initial days of the meteor; it’s not a stretch that they would be tough enough to rebel….

Another thing that drove me crazy about this book is that when no one drives cars anymore, and many people don’t have enough to eat, that Jon’s soccer team drives all around the state to compete against other communities. Would gas be rationed for emergencies? I don’t see a bus full of soccer kids as an emergency. It seemed to me that Susan Beth Pfeffer inserted this ridiculous detail just to have a way for Jon to be mobile in the action of the story and to set up the big showdown scene. This book was like Pretty in Pink melded with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. What a clash! Actually the rich enclave kids versus the ‘grubs’ of the ghetto were also reminiscent of The Outsiders, with Sarah in the Diane Lane role of the girl from the right side of the tracks sympathizing with the greasers/grubs. The contrast of normal teen drama against the backdrop of survival just made me queasy. I don’t think even the most fatuous teen in these circumstances would be so immature, petty, and unaware, not when four short years ago they all watched family, friends, or neighbors day.

Even when Jon ‘sees the light’, he is still such a punk, that I wished he had died back in the Pennsylvania house. It’s really hard to like a book when you loathe the main character.


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.


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.