Book Review: Young Adult: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

acrosstheuniversestarcover

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone – one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship – tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Title: Across the Universe
Author: Beth Revis
Category: Young Adult
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Dystopian
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: January 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Length: 398 pages
ISBN-10: 9781595144676
ISBN-13: 978-1595144676

Series or Standalone: Across the Universe series

Literary Awards:
n/a

Themes: Truth, Humanity
POV: Dual first person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Review:

I once heard this book described as “science fiction for people who don’t read science fiction, and that’s as good a description as any I could come up with.   17-year-old Amy is an Earth unfrozen fifty years too soon. Or so she thinks. The truth is much less interesting. YA Science Fiction hasn’t really tackled the generation ship premise much before this. But good old adult science fiction has, and Across the Universe adds essentially nothing to the story. Several of the major plot twists are telegraphed fifty to a hundred pages in advance. The real twist behind the story is a bit dull. The society of the ship is essentially Brave New World IN SPACE! and Amy is the wrench thrown in the gears of a previously self-contained society, run on the common trope of “different is bad”, in a fairly cliche way.

I have to give Revis credit for her writing ability and her characters. I read the whole book, and her portrayal of the relationships between the teenage characters is quite good. I’d totally buy these characters as teenagers, and Revis is capable of writing elegantly in either gender. Although the relationship between the two MCs is a bit creepy due to the power differential, it’s no different than many of the relationships around me when I was a teenager, or the ones I see in teenagers (and adults) now. I loved how pro-active and opinionated Amy was. She didn’t let any of the characters tell her what to do, even the theoretical love interest, Elder. Elder, though well-written, I didn’t care for. he seemed rebellious for the sake of being rebellious, and not in a “Oh, he’s just being a teenager” way. But beyond that, he did ring true as a teenage boy.

I found the plot a bit predictable, as I’ve said, and I question some of the science in the story. We don’t quite know the flight-plan for the ship in the story, but given the fairly well-known tropes of relativistic flight, I found the timing of the main plot problem a bit weird.

It may be fair to say that I’d like this book more if I wasn’t already so familiar with the tropes associated with generation ships and dystopias. I can’t unread what I’ve read and and give it another try. Maybe my opinion would be different.

I would say it’s fine to read the book if you’re looking for some YA SF, but borrow it from the library or buy used rather than paying for it new.

Conclusion: 64/100 (Competent, but not amazing)
Premise: 6/10 (Done before, and better, but not awful)
Plot: 5/10 (No major plot-holes, but very predictable and not that unique)
Setting: 6/10 (Reasonable, but not explored much)
Main Character: 8/10 (Calling Amy main, quite well written)
World-building 6/10 (Competent, but not inspired)
Love Interest: 7/10 (Didn’t care for him, but not awful)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Good, but not explored deeply)
Writing: 8/10 (No complaints, but not brilliant)
Themes: 6/10 (Ambitious, but not dealt with in much depth)
Resolution: 5/10 (Not great, but follows logically from the plot)

Cover: 8/10 (Like the ice and the stars, but the ice better)

Buy Or Borrow: Borrow or buy used

Similar Books:
Under the Never Sky
Divergent

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Fantasy Book Critic
The Book Smugglers
Kirkus Reviews
The Ranting Dragon
Write Meg!
The Spotted Mushroom

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play Not available
nook

Book Review: Young Adult: The Sky Always Hears Me (And the Hills Don’t Mind) by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

theskyalwayshearsmecover

Sixteen-year-old Morgan lives in a hick town in the middle of Nebraska. College is two years away. Her mom was killed in a car accident when she was three, her dad drinks, and her stepmom is a non-entity. Her boyfriend Derek is boring and her coworker Rob has a very cute butt that she can’t stop staring at. Then there’s the kiss she shared with her classmate Tessa…

But when Morgan discovers that the one person in the world she trusted most has kept a devastating secret from her, Morgan must redefine her life and herself.

Title: The Sky Always Hears Me (And The Hills Don’t Mind)
Author: Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
Length: 288 pages
ISBN-10: 0738715042
ISBN-13: 9780738715049

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
n/a

Themes: GLBT, Child Abuse, Alcoholism, Small-town claustrophobia
POV: First Person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Review:
I read this book after finishing One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak and The Shifter by Janice Hardy, so it was a bit of a change. One of the best parts of the book is the fantastic voice. Morgan sounds exactly like a small town teenager, and the supporting characters felt very authentic, as well. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve never been a teenage girl, but I did find the constant talk about cute butts a bit much. On the other hand, some very frank discussion of dick (size) seemed to fit the characters quite well.

The romantic angle was a major part of the book, and it was very well done. Morgan’s boyfriend Derek was, for once, not a total asshole, and seemed to really like her, and Morgan’s feelings towards him were completely believable. Her crush on her coworker Rob was similarly balanced feelings-wise, and I had no trouble at all accepting the conflict between those feelings. It made for a much less annoying romance plot than I have found in other similar stories. It also had none of the “twoo luv 4evr” aspect that often comes up in YA. That has it’s place, of course, but it was refreshing to see something a little more subtle, and see raging hormones that didn’t concentrate on a perfect DLI who you know the character will end up with.

Morgan’s family life was also well-constructed. A troubled family life is no uncommon thing in YA, but Morgan’s alcoholic father and fade-into-the-walls stepmother were not walking cliches. Her father had some redeeming qualities, although he did not quite achieve redemption. Her step-mom stepped up more and more as the novel wore on. Her two brothers acted like younger brothers, with that awkward combo of love and crippling embarrassment that younger brothers so often display.

The one issue I had was with Morgan’s grandma. Although there was some explanation as the plot unfolded, she seemed just a bit too perfect of a support-system, especially early in the book. I also wished her relationship with Morgan had been explored more deeply, and grown a little more, rather than having just a little hiccup. It wasn’t a total waste, though.

The book had quite a bit going on, with several plots inter-twined with each other. I wish they had interacted a bit more deeply, but I suppose that’s a lot to ask in 288 pages. There were several lovely complications which I won’t spoil here, and they mostly contributed to the realism and depth of the story and Morgan’s character.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I didn’t quite love it, and I felt it had more potential than it lived up to, but I definitely don’t regret reading it, and I would buy it again if I had the choice.

Conclusion: 79/100 (Pretty good, but not world-rocking)
Premise: 8/10 (Normal but well-executed)
Plot: 8/10 (Only occasionally predictable)
Setting: 7/10 (Leaves a lot to the imagination)
Main Character: 8/10 (Flip-floppy, but believably)
Romance Sub-plot 8/10 (Complex, but nuanced)
Love Interest(s) 6/10 (A bit stock, but believable)
Supporting Characters: 9/10 (Well-defined and had their own stories)
Writing: 8/10 (Good, but not brilliant)
Themes: 8/10 (Occasional cliche)
Resolution: 9/10 (Bittersweet and open-ended)

Buy Or Borrow: Worth the money

Similar Books:
Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus
Stacked
Steph Su Reads
Write Meg!
Katie’s Book Blog
Abby the Librarian

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
nook

Book Review: Young Adult: One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak

oneforsorrowcover

Adam McCormick had just turned fifteen when the body was found in the woods. It is the beginning of an autumn that will change his life forever. Jamie Marks was a boy a lot like Adam, a boy no one paid much attention to—a boy almost no one would truly miss. And for the first time, Adam feels he has a purpose. Now, more than ever, Jamie needs a friend.

But the longer Adam holds on to Jamie’s ghost, the longer he keeps his friend tethered to a world where he no longer belongs…and the weaker Adam’s own ties to the living become. Now, to find his way back, Adam must learn for himself what it truly means to be alive.

Title: One for Sorrow
Author: Christopher Barzak
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Paranormal
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: August 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
Length: 320 pages
ISBN-10: 0553384368
ISBN-13: 9780553384369

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
n/a

Themes: Runaways, emotional trauma
Person: First
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Review:

One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak is the story of a young boy squishing himself into the margins of life, trying not to step on anyone’s toes, or into their territory. Like many YA geek protagonists, Adam McCormick has few friends and a troubled family life. His parents don’t get along, his brother thinks he’s a dweeb, and he has no friends. Except for Moony Marks, real name Jamie, a fellow outcast even further down the social ladder. Adam has just begun to strike up a semi-friendship with Jamie when Gracie Highsmith, straight-A student and rock collector, finds him buried next to the train tracks after being brutally murdered.

While the school enjoys the chance to spread rumors and embellish the truth, Jamie’s death turns Adam and Gracie’s lives upside down. Regretting that Jamie died before they could become true friends, Adam, whose Old World grandmother has taught him all he needs to know about ghosts, decides to be a true friend to Jamie’s ghost. He doesn’t realize until later that he doesn’t really know anything about the world of ghosts after all. And that lack of knowledge is going to hurt him and those around him, a lot.

Adam’s grandma told him about more than ghosts. Bad things always come in threes, and when you see God’s finger pointing at you, you know you have to run before God gets to the next thing on his list. His parents have always fought, but when his mother is hit by bad thing number two, he learns they didn’t fight nearly as bad as they could have. But Adam knows things are about to get worse when he sees God’s finger pointing at him for the third time, and so he starts to run, over and over, not knowing where he’s going or how dangerous his destination will end up being.

There’s a pretty nice plot going there, although the paranormal elements aren’t as strong as I might have wished. But what really makes this book interesting is Barzak’s ability to get into the mind of the average teenager. While there are some ragged edges to Adam’s teen voice, as far as writing goes, the things that voice talks about are right on target in terms of the things young adults worry about and how they worry about them. There’s a certain amount of angst to Adam’s character, but it’s no more than you find in any other teen protagonist. The other characters: Jamie, Gracie, their parents, aren’t nearly as angsty, but that’s due more to Adam being the perspective character than anything else. One of the hallmarks of teen angst, and really people in general, is that it always seems like everyone else is much more put-together than you are. (Or perhaps I’m just not as far from my teenage years as I’d like to think!)

In fact, that issue ties into one of the major themes of the book. Much like Holden in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Adam has a bit of an obsession with phonies. He talks quite a few times about how everyone else is fake, and his paranormal abilities do a lot to enforce that opinion, letting him hear from people’s “shadows” what they’re really thinking. He’s not quite psychic, but he’s close. It’s these hints at the larger effect of the supernatural world of the book on the normal world that makes me wish the paranormal aspects were ecplored a bit more, but I understand the goals of a literary fiction writer like Barzak to focus more on the internal world of the characters. The ghost world, after all, is just the metaphor Barzak is using to illuminate our more mundane one.

Another great aspect of the book is the quality of the characters and their arcs. Gracie, for example, is a very impressive character. She begins as a bit of a MPDG, in the John Green vein, but Barzak manages to carry her a bit above the end-point of most of Green’s female characters. Even near the beginning of the story, she appears to have many more of her own motivations–or at least we are treated to a better view of them–than Green’s Margo or Alaska. As with many YA novels, or novels in general, Adam is a bit of a poor initiator, but Gracie is more than strong enough to do her own initiating.

Adam’s mother has another great arc. Despite her accident in the first third of the book, by the last third, she’s gained a great deal of strength, throwing off the problems that plagued her in the beginning. Similarly, Jamie’s character is full of agency, and despite leaning strongly on Adam, he’s the one making most of the decisions in that area, rather than the other way around. Perhaps having so many strong characters makes Adam seem a bit more pathetic or passive than he really is. But again, it’s always easier to see the passiveness in the protag than in the other characters, because a truly good YA novel puts you in the protag’s head. This leads to another complain I’ve seen in reviews, that Adam seems to make progress in the novel, but backslides towards the end. I think Adam does make a great deal of progress, but some of it is in the wrong direction. His obsession with phonies, for example. It’s good to remember when reading a good book that although something might make perfect sense while the reader is in the character’s head, that’s because they’re telling the story, and so events will conspire in many cases to make them seem more insightful than they really are. Just because those around Adam seem to him to be total phonies, that doesn’t make phonies, phonies everywhere a healthy way to look at the world.

The last bit I want to touch on is the usual sex, swearing and etc: The sex scenes in the book are great. Awkward, sweet, and a bit uncomfortable. A few are a bit graphic, but it’s not even close to erotica.

To sum up, this was a very good book. The teen voice was there, the plot and theme dove-tailed smoothly, but not to smoothly, and though the ending was a bit tied up in a bow, there were still a few things with enough space left to keep you guessing. I don’t want to say more about what they are because it might spoil the book. In fact, there’s a lot more I wanted to say, but it all involved spoilers, so feel free to leave a comment if you think I’ve missed something, and I’ll leave a spoiler warning above the comments. A final thing to consider when reading the book: as insightful as Adam may occasionally seem about the other characters in the story and their flaws, there’s a lot to be gained by considering whether he’s so critical of others because he has the same flaws in himself. However, if you’re looking for a good mystery read, that’s not what this is, despite the murder that kicks it off. Nor is it horror, despite the ghosts and macabre feel.

Conclusion: 83/100 (Glad I read it; you should, too)
Premise: 9/10 (Great premise, fairly well-developed)
Plot: 7/10 (Good plot, but there could have been a bit more action)
Setting: 10/10 (Well-described, realistic, integrated into the story)
Main Character: 7/10 (Could have been a bit more developed)
Paranormal Elements 9/10 (Well-crafted, not cheesy)
Romance Sub-plot 8/10 (Well-constructed, not too mushy)
Supporting Characters: 9/10 ()
Writing: 8/10 (Well done, not brilliant)
Themes: 9/10 (Relevant to the story, well-expressed)
Resolution: 7/10 (Good, but I was expecting something a bit more tragic)

Buy Or Borrow: Definitely worth buying, if you have the money on-hand

Similar Books:
Paper Towns by John Green
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Skellig by David Almond

None of these are quite right. There isn’t a whole lot like this book out there.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
The Literary Omnivore
Strange Horizons
Publisher’s Weekly
The Washington Post
The OF Blog
Tethyan Books

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK Not available.
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
nook

SPOILER WARNING — For the Comments.

Book Review: Young Adult: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

beforeidiecover

I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish he lived in the wardrobe on a coat hanger. Whenever I wanted, I could get him out and he’d look at me the way boys do in films, as if I’m beautiful. He wouldn’t speak much, but he’d be breathing hard as he took off his leather jacket and unbuckled his jeans. He’d wear white pants and he’d be so gorgeous I’d almost faint. He’d take my clothes off too. He’d whisper, ‘Tessa, I love you. I really bloody love you. You’re beautiful’ – exactly those words – as he undressed me.

Title: Before I Die
Author: Jenny Downham
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Publication Date: July 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Length: 336 pages
ISBN-10: 0385751559
ISBN-13: 9780385751551

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
Branford Bose Award 2008
ALA Teens’ Top Ten 2008

Themes: Terminal Illness
Person: First
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Review:

Before I Die by Jenny Downham belongs to the “sick-lit” trend in YA contemp novels. It stars Tessa Scott, a 16-year-old girl with leukemia. Despite for years of chemotherapy, her cancer has become terminal. Desperate to truly live in the time she has left, Tessa makes a list of ten things to do before she dies.

#1 on her list: Have sex. Enlisting the help of her friend Zoey, she heads to a club where they find two cute stoner boys to hook up with. Her first sexual experience is less than fantastic, but it doesn’t dim her enthusiasm for the rest of the list.

Like many other sick-lit novels–The Fault In Our Stars, Sing Me To Sleep (though it precedes both by several years)–Before I Die is about a person dying too young and how that person and those around them cope with the inevitability. Something important to note is that the story never comes across as preachy, or teaching life lessons. Nor is it emotionally manipulative. Every event follows reasonably from the basic premise and the characters’ actions and feelings are realistic. But like other such novels in YA, it does put a bit too much weight on love and romance as the cure to all ills. Tessa’s neighbor Adam is a fairly standard YA Love interest: he’s cute, has a bike and a car, and despite having some issues of his own, is much more mature than the average teenage boy. I actually found Tessa’s one-night-stand to be more realistic. Adam does get better later in the story, and the portrayal of the awkwardness of teenage sex is spot-on, as is his reaction to relationship commitment.

One thing I disagreed with many other reviewers on was the emotional impact of the book. It was decently-written, and the premise was executed well, but both The Fault In Our Stars and Sing Me to Sleep had much more emotional impact for me. It can be very difficult to write a terminal main character well, especially for that part of the audience with little personal experience in that area, and Downham doesn’t quite manage it for me. I understood Tessa’s motivations and how she wasn’t defined by her disease, and I loved that she went for the naughty side of the bucket-list concept, but I’ve seen much better portrayals of terminal kids.

What Downham does do a good job of is exploring the emotions of the supporting characters. Tessa’s dad is a classic (in a good way) terminal kid parent, reeling off the various treatments and doctor schedules, and his concern for his daughter’s health, emotional well-being, and slightly smothering/letter-of-the-law approach to running her life is spot-on. Her brother Cal is exactly like a normal little brother, despite his sister’s condition: self-centered, understandably jealous of the attention she gets, and still loving her. Her mother is completely clueless, since her parents are divorced and her mother lives elsewhere, and her feelings of inadequacy in dealing with her daughter’s condition are honest. Finally, Tessa’s best friend Zoey, the only on to stick by her during her cancer, who despite having her own serious issues mid-way through the book gives up a lot of her own time to help Tessa cope.

I also thought she did a good job describing the setting. There was a nice sense of place, and it felt distinct from Contemp YA-Land.

Overall, I have to say this book was worth reading, but it’s not one of my favorite books, or even my favorite sick-lit books.

Conclusion: 72/100 (Not a classic, but would recommend)
Premise: 6/10 (Seen it before, but well-executed)
Plot: 7/10 (Somewhat predictable, but no major plot-holes)
Setting: 8/10 (Fairly different from what I’m used to)
Main Character: 6/10 (Pretty standard, could have been better, but could have been worse)
Love Interest: 6/10 (Pretty cliche, but gets better)
Romantic Sub-plot: 6/10 (Not fantastic, bu didn’t overpower the rest of the story)
Supporting Characters: 9/10 (Very well done)
Writing: 8/10 (Not brilliant, but above average)
Themes: 7/10 (No strong thematic arcs, but nothing preachy, either)
Resolution: 9/10 (The fading towards the end is something I’ve not seen before, but was well-done)

Maybe get this one from the library, especially since it’s a few years old, but a decent read if you like sick-lit

Similar Books:
Sing Me To Sleep
The Fault In Our Stars
My Sister’s Keeper

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Out of the Blue
Once Upon a Bookcase
The Guardian
Teen Reads
Kirkus Reviews
Pure Imagination

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
nook

Hello, World!

I find it best to have a firm foundation, so I’ll be sticking to tradition for the first few months.  This is primarily a book review blog, where I’ll be looking at Young Adult and Speculative Fiction (Science Fiction/Fantasy) from the past ten years, and perhaps some literary every now and then.

 

It’s a bit of an experiment, as I’ve always wanted to do book reviews, but  found enough useful ones between all the book review blogs out there to be content.  But I’ve finally gotten to the point where it’s too much effort to find decent reviews across the genres I enjoy, so I thought I’d do a bit of field research into why that might be.