Allegiant soon!

Insurgent has taken a backseat to my honors-class-prep reading in the last month (booo) (except that I’ve now reread To Kill a Mockingbird and Ender’s Game, so only a small boo).

BUT…less than two weeks until Allegiant!

USA Today did a great interview with Veronica Roth back in September. Maybe it will help ease the end of your wait.

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Divergent: Veronica Roth

Fun fact: Veronica Roth is only twenty-five. Twenty-five!

Published in: 2011Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 1.35.49 PM

Pages: 487 really fast-moving ones!

The protagonist: Sixteen-year-old Beatrice “Tris” Prior, a resident of future, pretty-well-destroyed dystopian Chicago. We meet Tris on the eve of her aptitude tests and the Choosing Ceremony, where she will (like so many protagonists of dystopias before) make a coming-of-age choice to determine the course of her life. Tris must decide to either stay in the “faction” where she was born or choose a new community with different rules, values, and contributions to the city.

The gist in 100 words or less: Rather than neatly fitting into one of the factions, each of whom promote a different value (Abnegaton, selflessness; Dauntless, bravery; Erudite, intelligence; Amity, peace; and Candor, honesty), Tris’s results show that she falls in between three of them. Thus she is Divergent, and must continue to the Ceremony without a specific direction and without revealing her test results. Sharing them will, as her examiner eerily warns, cost Tris her life. She does choose a faction, and most of the novel follows the rigorous training she endures to join the faction as an adult.

Great stuff: The plot is riveting (despite its 487 pages, I read it in three sittings during a very busy week), the characters are interesting and realistic, the writing is good and the story is not too predictable. Tris and Four’s romance is surprisingly un-cringeworthy and refreshingly restrained, and Four is dreamy and brooding without completely relinquishing his responsibilities, intelligence and better judgment. Caleb, Tris’s brother, is intriguing but scarce, and I look forward to what Roth will do with him in the next two books.

I also really liked the themes of personal values and the questions the novel constantly raises about which ones are important in building a productive society.

And yup, I want to read Insurgent pretty much immediately.

Meh: I had misled expectations for the plot, so the first half seemed to drag but I think I was expecting something to happen that doesn’t actually happen, at least in this first volume. So it may not actually drag as much as I thought it did.

Best quote: “They attacked me to make me feel weak. I can pretend they succeeded to protect myself, but I can’t let it become true.” (290)

Parent/teacher alert: There is a decent amount of violence, and although I didn’t find it gratuitous, it’s definitely prevalent in Tris’s training and in the overall culture.

Also, *some SPOILERS HERE*…

…large portions of Tris’s training take place in a virtual-reality simulation designed to make her (and others) confront their worst fears. These scenarios aren’t as violent as some of the real challenges Tris faces, but they are still disturbing, and I’m curious as to how the film will incorporate them without turning this into a mild horror flick…

Read it if you liked: The Hunger Games, Matched, Delirium, and/or The Giver.

Not good for: Those who dislike dystopias, who want romance front-and-center (although it’s pretty front-and-center by the end) or who are offended/bothered by moderate violence.

What my students think: They love love LOVE Divergent and they shake their heads at me when I admit I haven’t read it yet. It is definitely a must-have for a classroom library.

And now I’m off to watch the movie trailer for the 293847293847th time.

Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan

Hooooo boy.Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 9.13.30 PM

Published in: 2010

Pages: 416

The protagonist: Nastasya, an Immortal who is over 400 years old but supposedly looks like she’s in her late teens or early twenties. Immortals are everywhere on Earth, mostly living among us, pretending to be mortal and relocating every generation or so and ignoring/failing to cultivate their mild-ish magical powers. “Nasty” is a party girl with no real human connections, and when we meet her she is living in London as a socialite with a particularly reprehensible group of friends.

The gist in 100 words or less: In the opening scene, Nastasya’s most objectionable friend, a male Immortal, brutally injures a cab driver and leaves him to die. Nastasya begins to question her lifestyle and, based on the advice of a woman she met decades ago, flees to River’s Edge, a rehab center for “wayward Immortals” located in New England. As she begins to learn the lessons of this working-farm-and-rehab-center, she meets Reyn, a “Viking god-like”, gruff, distant Immortal that she somewhat recognizes; and Nell, a manipulative go-getter who wants nothing to do with Nastasya.

Great stuff: River’s Edge is a thinly-veiled rehab center, and I really appreciated that residential treatment for “addiction” took such a central role in a popular YA novel. Nastasya reacts to being there as I’m sure many addicts do–denial, wanting to leave, being irritated by everyone, finding reasons to stay, enjoying more of the experience, and continuing to learn why it’s good for her. It’s healthy for kids to read about treatment like this, and River’s Edge is certainly portrayed as a productive, positive, life-altering place.

Meh: The writing…is pretty terrible.

Nastasya is so incredibly annoying, immoral and whiny that I really never cared about her, and coupled with the fact that I struggled mightily with the writing, I had a really hard time pushing through this one. Tiernan (real name Gabrielle Charbonnet) breaks the cardinal rule of show-don’t-tell, and the writing is repetitive, irritating and somewhat insulting to the reader–everything is explained explicitly, and descriptions are repeated ad nauseum (if you thought the 239847298347 references to Edward Cullen’s alabaster skin were annoying, the repetition of the identical phrase “Viking God” will make you physically nauseous).

As we’ve seen in other series of the same genre, Nastasya has apparently learned nothing in over four hundred years of being alive and her maturity reflects her physical age only. This is unrealistic and frustrating.

Best quote: I left the book at camp and have not retrieved it yet.

There is a part early on where River explains to Nastasya why a year seems so much shorter when you are older (because it comprises a much smaller part of your overall life). I hadn’t really ever thought about it, and it was pretty cool.

Parent/teacher alert: Nastasya does a lot of drinking, a fair amount of drugs, tons of casual sex (none of which is really described explicitly) and engages in a party-girl lifestyle that is altogether too prevalent in Hollywood and pop culture today. Yes, the point of the story is that she renounces (or starts renouncing) that lifestyle, but it takes a loooong time and she’s such a ridiculous character that her rejection of her former life is not all that believable.

Read it if you liked: Twilight. Gossip Girl/Pretty Little Liars, maybe.

Not good for: Those who like good writing and solid character development or have just finished reading a book that has either. People who were annoyed by Twilight. People who are annoyed by whiny party girls. People who are easily insulted when the author explains every. little. thing. outright. fourteen. times. People who don’t feel the need to have the same person/thing/feeling described the exact same way every time.

I’ll stop there.

What my students think: The girls love this one. Sigh.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Screen shot 2013-08-09 at 5.00.45 PMPublished in: 2012

Pages: 356

The protagonist: Alina Starkov, an orphan of the everlasting Border Wars, now a teenage cartographer in the First Army defending the (fictional) country of Ravka. As the novel begins, Alina–and the powerful Grisha nobility that rules Ravka–learns that she has an as-yet-undiscovered power that could be the key to saving the country.

The gist in 100 words or less: Ravka is perpetually plagued by the Shadow Fold, a pitch-dark slice of land overrun by man-eating monsters that thrive in darkness. As the First Army attempts to cross the Fold, Alina discovers her own rare power…and all of a sudden, she is Very Important. Alina is torn from Mal and the Army and taken to live and train with the magical, opulent Grisha and serve the Darkling, their brooding, powerful and mysterious leader. As she becomes engulfed by the pretentious Grisha lifestyle, Alina struggles with her new identity, her power and the truth behind the Wars and the Fold.

Great stuff: Ravka is so real and so delightfully dark. Its culture and lore play an important role in the story, and I loved how Bardugo doesn’t really explain any of it–we have to figure out historical and cultural references in context just as Alina would. This also prevents Shadow and Bone from becoming too descriptive and laden with background information, even though it’s set in a Very Different World.

The scenes at Os Alta with the Grisha are terrifically over-the-top and Great Gatsby-esque, and Alina struggles very realistically with the existence of this wealth given her pretty destitute background…and yet is very tempted to give herself over to it.

Also, the Darkling is an excellent character, mysterious and quiet and powerful and quite swoonalicious.

Meh: Alina. She was too typical (“I’m so plain!” “I don’t want this power!”) and pretty whiny. Her power is kick-butt, though, and she ultimately makes the right decisions, but it takes her too long to Get With It.

Also, there is some frustration on Amazon and Goodreads regarding how much research, or lack thereof, Bardugo has done in order to accurately incorporate “Russian” language and culture into the story. Let me be clear: Cultural sensitivity is extremely important despite how flippant we often are about it. But…it’s not actually Russia, and this is a fantasy novel, and a fun, dark, compelling one at that. So…can we just…

Best quote: “The grounds surrounding the Grand Palace had been lit up to showcase tableaus of actors and little troupes of acrobats performing for wandering guests. Masked musicians strolled the paths. A man with a monkey on his shoulder ambled past, and two men covered from head to toe in gold leaf rode by on zebras, throwing jeweled flowers to everyone they passed. Costumed choirs sang in the trees. A trio of redheaded dancers splashed around in the double-eagle fountain, wearing little more than seashells and coral and holding up platters full of oysters to guests.” (211)

Parent/teacher alert: Moderate violence–someone gets magically cut in half, and the Volcra, well…they eat people. There is quite a bit of kissing and the suggestion of More Than Kissing, but not an explicit one. This book is dark–dark places, dark intentions, deception, opulence, oppression, fear, war etc.

Read it if you liked: Graceling & Grave Mercy, definitely. Hunger Games, Divergent?…also maybe The False Prince, although I haven’t read it yet.

Not good for: If you don’t like fantasy and/or don’t like dark stuff, I would avoid this one.

What my students think: I had a couple literacy students pick it up but I’m not sure they finished. I’ll definitely recommend it to my fantasy-lovers much more highly now that I’ve read it, though.

Lauren Oliver’s Pandemonium (Delirium #2)

Screen shot 2013-07-06 at 3.45.21 PMMe to students, March-ish: OooooOooooOOooOooooOoo, you got Pandemonium!

Students: Meh.

Me: HOW is it? Suspenseful? Mind-blowing? Edge-of-your-seat? I loooooooved Delirium!

Students: Um, it switches back and forth in time. So…

Me: OooooOOOoooOOOo.

Well.

 

Published in: 2012

Pages: 375

The protagonist: Delirium’s now-19-year-old Lena, still, although she *SPOILER* bounces between a couple of identities/last names over the course of the book.

The gist in 100 words or less: If you haven’t read Delirium, go do it and stop reading this. Here be *DELIRIUM SPOILERS.*               Lena has escaped Portland for the Wilds and struggles for survival with a community of Invalids who rescue her near Rochester, New Hampshire. The narrative switches between the “then” of her Wilds storyline and the “now” of her new life as a citizen of New York City working undercover against the DFA (Deliria-Free America)’s efforts to contain and destroy what is now a growing resistance movement.

Great stuff: Lauren Oliver does setting very well, from the settlements in the Wilds to the massive protest scenes to the eerie, I-can-feel-the-dampness dark of the underground tunnels. Also, the very end was excellent; very predictable but well done and delightfully cliffhanger-y.

Meh: The luuuurve. I never found it fully believable that Lena would be able to suspend her overwhelming fear and fall quite so hard in the situation that she’s in for most of the story. But maybe that’s just her deal. There was a looooot of action, too, and one too many hand-to-hand fight scenes that Lena just-barely escapes from.

Best quote:

    “And then I see that it wasn’t a shadow that startled me.

    It was a bird. A bird struggling through stickiness: a bird coated in paint, floundering in its nest, splashing color everywhere.

    Red. Red. Red.

    Dozens of them: black feathers coated thickly with crimson-colored paint, fluttering among the branches.

    Red means run.” (127)

Parent/teacher alert: Not much. There is some death and violence but it is not gratuitous. Some of the less action-y death scenes are very poignant and well done and therefore very sad.

Read it if you liked: Delirium, obviously–the overall story is definitely worth continuing with–Matched (this #2 was FAR, FAR better than Crossed), Divergent, Uglies.

Not good for: Those of you who are ready to puke from excessive Edward Cullen-esque descriptions of “chiseled” features, etc. Argh. Also those for whom *SPOILER* death-after-illness strikes a chord.

What my students think: “It was okay.” Many of them are less-than-enthused by the time-skipping, as I was, and thought the structure made the story move too slowly. They weren’t jumping up and down about it, but didn’t pan it, either. They told me I should read it, and after doing so I would repeat that advice.