All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

This World We Live In – Susan Beth Pfeffer


**Spoilers for Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone**

In This World We Live In, we’re back with Miranda and her diary. It’s almost a year since the day the meteor hit the Moon and Miranda and her family are still struggling by. They are still receiving a bag of food for each member every Monday and it’s enough to get them though if they’re careful. In May though, they stop delivering the food and someone must trek into town each week to pick it up. Matt, Miranda’s older brother has the idea to go fishing in the Delaware for shad and he and the younger brother set off and are gone nearly a week. They return with plenty of fish and also, Matt’s new wife, a woman named Syl who settles into the household like she’s always been there.

Miranda goes looting the nearby houses, looking for things like toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo and other cosmetics, books to read to pass the time, small electric heaters, anything that might be useful. They get intermittent electricity so the heaters can be used to warm up other parts of the house during those times and help save firewood. Why it only occurs to her to do this now (they went looking for food before, but never other things that might’ve been of use) I don’t know. You’d think that once you realised you were living in a ghost town and there was hardly anybody else left, you’d loot it for everything it had. No one is coming back for their things. And you might as well take anything that might help prolong your own life or at least help make it more comfortable!

Basically nothing happens except daily rituals for 90 pages and then the book finally decides to marry the stories of the previous two. Miranda’s father, his wife Lisa and their new baby Gabriel arrive back on the doorstep accompanied by a man named Charlie that they met in an evacuation camp and also, Alex and Julie Morales from The Dead and the Gone. The situation in other places is just as bleak and influenza and quarantine meant that Miranda’s father and Lisa couldn’t get to where they were going in Life as We Knew It. So Hal (Miranda’s father) decides that he wants to be with his children and back they came. Everyone stays at Miranda’s for a while but that quickly becomes unacceptable due to over-crowding so Hal, Lisa, the baby, Charlie and the Morales move into Mrs Nesbitt’s place, Miranda’s closest neighbour and their friend who died in the first novel. They get settled in the town, secure food for themselves and life goes on. Still.

Miranda and Alex are roughly the same age and therefore, fall instantly in love without barely even speaking or having anything to do with each other. Miranda wanted a boy her own age around and one arrives and then that’s it. All of a sudden she loves him with the fire of a thousand suns and he would ‘love her forever if he could’. Quite frankly, this plot development (can I even call it that?) was weird. Miranda and Alex barely spoke in the first few days of his arrival, she wrote in her diary several times that she didn’t like him much and then all of a sudden it’s all about how much she loves him and their stolen kisses. It was odd – very clunky and jarring and didn’t feel right or smooth at all.

Alex is also a totally different character from when we last saw him in The Dead and the Gone. We don’t know what happened to him in the meantime but in this novel, he’s stand offish, negative, bitter, unlikable and tends towards bullying his younger sister Julie who in turn, seems to have matured some. They’re always arguing because Alex wants to put her in a convent and then go and join a monastery, believing that no one can keep Julie safe like the Church can. Even after he ‘falls in love’ with Miranda, he is unswerving in this belief and it’s really kind of irrational. There’s no reasoning for it other than it’s what his older brother Carlos told him to do. He has no way of knowing if things at the convent are still safe, if people are even still there, and he and Julie have a safe place to stay, shelter, food, etc with Hal, Lisa and Charlie but still he is stubborn in his refusal to consider other options. He and Miranda have endless conversations that go around in circles and go a little something like this:

Miranda: Alex. Don’t go. We love each other. You’re family now, you and Julie.
Alex: I have to. It’s for the best. The Church will take care of Julie
Miranda: But I love you! And I know you love me. Don’t go!
Alex: I have to. It’s for the best. The Church will take care of Julie
Miranda: You know you belong here and I know you want to stay here. Julie wants to and I know you want it to
Alex: I have to. It’s for the best. The Church will take care of Julie
Miranda: WHY?
Alex: Because Carlos said so. I have to. It’s for the best. The Church will take care of Julie.

Oh God was it ever frustrating! And it also makes no sense. If there’s one thing that these novels have rammed home, it’s that there is no continuity anymore and there are no guarantees, of anything. You can’t place everything you have on the hope of one convent because your older brother told you to do so months ago. What you have is the here and the now, and what Alex didn’t realise he had was a roof, people around him that cared for him and looked after his sister, and food. There was no immediate danger and he didn’t have to travel any further. Instead he refuses to even consider the remote possibility of flexibility and his pigheadedness results in a few losses and also, one very big eye opener. And even then he still doesn’t learn.

This is the conclusion of the trilogy and overall, it’s a very unsatisfying one. It’s mundane and trivial for the first third of the book and then the characters seem to kind of lurch from one disaster to the next with no real structure. In the end you kind of feel like the disasters are just happening for disasters sake and to advance the plot. Kill someone off here, destroy something there, make things just a little bit harder for the characters left behind and wow, new hardships! Except not really because it’s basically the same thing we’ve been reading in all the other novels except all the characters are together now.

And the ending is hokey. I guess we’re just supposed to guess for ourselves what really happens, I’m going to go with eventually and one by one, they all die horrible deaths in the midst of natural disasters until there is one person left. And then that person dies a horrible death.

Why did I read this? Well actually, I saw a great reason on goodreads when I was browsing some reviews of this novel to see if I was the only one perhaps unhappy with the direction this trilogy went in (the answer to that seems to be a resounding no, I’m not the only person feeling that way at all). Someone described reading this book as being like “when you’ve ordered in pizza and you’ve eaten so much and you’re really full and there’s one piece left. You don’t want to eat it but you can’t just let it sit there either”. I’m paraphrasing but that’s really how I felt. I’ve read the two previous books, I’d come this far – there was this one left to go and it was sitting there in front of me. Might as well!

4/10

Book #115 for 2010

This novel was read for the YA Dystopian Challenge hosted over at Bart’s Bookshelf. It’s novel #9 I’ve completed for the challenge.

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The Dead And The Gone – Susan Beth Pfeffer

Right. So a month ago, way back in early November, I read Life As We Knew It which was the first of a trilogy. I checked out all 3 novels from the local library at the same time but I had to set them aside after reading the first one and get cracking on a few other challenges and some other books made it to the top of the TBR pile. But when my son was asleep today I was looking for something that’d be a quick read so I picked up the second novel – The Dead And The Gone.

The Dead And The Gone basically tells of the same events from another person’s point of view in a different part of America. Alex Morales is a 17yo Peurto Rican high school junior when the moon is hit by the meteor that knocks it off its axis and causes carnage all over the world. Huge tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, a death toll in the millions, food shortages, rioting, looting, etc. Alex has two younger sisters Briana and Julie who he must assume sole responsbility for as his parents are missing from the first day. His father was in Peurto Rico for a funeral and Peurto Rico, being a very tiny island, was believed to be pretty much decimated. Alex’s mother worked as a theatre technician at St John of God Hospital in Queens. She was on duty when the chaos began and isn’t heard from or seen again.

This book, although not containing any of the characters from Life As We Knew It assumes a knowledge of that one because barely anything is stated about the moon other than a passing sentence or two after the asteroid collision actually occurs. Alex himself seems to have almost no knowledge of it, which I find odd given he is a junior at a relatively strict and well-staffed religious school. When the fallout occurs, Alex must keep himself and his sisters alive, fed and out of danger in a city that is both out of control and slowly dying. He gets the opportunity to send one sister away, upstate to a more country location where she will work in a convent, tending the vegetables and animals, helping the nuns. She will be well fed and as she is quite devout, Alex is happy to send her, knowing that she will be cared for. That leaves him with just 12yo Julie, pricklier than her sister but also tougher. They survive well enough at first but it isn’t long before the food starts to dwindle and Alex is forced to do desperate and appalling but necessary things to keep them fed, the strain even worse when Briana returns from the convent after the ash in the air makes it impossible to farm. She develops adult-onset asthma and the air is killing her. Alex knows they need to get out of the city and he might even know someone that can make it happen for them. If everything goes their way.

This novel also does away with the diary format of the first and it’s told in the third person although we’re only ever with Alex and his point of view. Alex is a mature and more capable person than most at 17. The head of their family now with their parents gone and their elder brother in the Marines apparently deployed somewhere in Texas just after the disaster, he quickly steps up and does all that he needs to to keep the family going. He enforces going to school (although he meets no resistance from Julie as the school feeds them lunch everyday and it’s a meal they desperately need). It’s kind of like he’s some sort of adult masquerading as a teenager and he acts a bit like Miranda’s mother from the first novel – both are disturbingly similar in their self-sacrificing ways so that others in the family can have more food. He’s also ridiculously clueless about what is termed ‘women’s work’ such as cooking and cleaning. He states unapologetically that even after their mother got a diploma and became a theatre nurse, she still did the cooking and the cleaning and Papi, who was a janitor for their building, did none of that sort of thing. It’s all very ‘haha Papi was a man! He didn’t do the women’s work!” jokey and there’s a startling moment late in the book where Alex doesn’t know how to cook macaroni. Even if you’ve never done it, surely everyone over the age of six knows how to cook macaroni! Instead he goes out in the book and does the ‘men’s work’ by bartering things and stealing things to barter for food and bringing home the bacon as such, while he designates the cooking to his sisters. I don’t know a lot about Peurto Rican society, I’ve probably never met a Peurto Rican in my life. They may be that patriarchal and gender-ensconced but seriously…how does a 17yo boy not know how to make such a simple thing? It was mind boggling.

Being Peurto Rican’s they’re also very devout Catholics! If I had a dollar for every time it was mentioned how proud Mami would be about them praying, or going to church in sub-zero weather, or taking confession, or whatever, I would probably be rich! The religious aspect of this book got a bit wearing at times. I’m not religious and I don’t enjoy reading novels with a lot of religious references and activities. I don’t particularly see how the repetiveness of it added to the story either.

There were several similarities to the first novel: firstly one family member is sent ‘away’, presumably to somewhere better, with more food. Then when that family member returns, other family members sacrifice food so that they may eat more. It was thinly plausible in the first novel and even less so in this one. Also, the schools staying open, and feeding the children, also seemed a bit unlikely. I know the Catholic Church is one of, if not the, richest institution in the world but if this really just seemed like a way to get the children a meal a day without the author having to think too much about it. Kids staying in an apartment without their parents…are they seriously going to go to school of their own accord? Alex even studies when there’s no electricity and he can barely see! The world may be in chaos but hey – you will still learn your simultaneous equations. Also both Miranda and Alex were able to stock up on a fairly decent sized amount of food before the rush which meant that they were set for at least a little while, with lots of canned goods. In reality, I don’t know how likely it would be that people would just be either the first ones at the supermarket loading trolleys, or just lucky enough to have an uncle that ran a small grocery and gave you food!

Because of New York’s location, and from what was mentioned in the first novel (and that wasn’t much, one of my nitpicks in the first novel was Miranda not even being remotely curious about the rest of the world) was that New York seemed decimated. Huge tidal waves almost destroyed the city and yet Alex appears to…sleep through the tidal waves and the floods. His building is unaffected, his general area is unaffected, although the subways are flooded and closed. I saw the havoc the tsunami’s wreaked on Boxing Day in 2004 and it was utter devastation. Instead Alex negotiates New York City with ease and takes specially organised buses mere days after the event. It just seems like that for something of that grand scale, there’d be a lot of debris and clean up – buildings would be reduced to rubble, infrastructure destroyed. It doesn’t seem like anything like this actually occurs.

While this novel was a quick and easy read, it wasn’t necessarily a gripping one. I felt mostly detachment – I couldn’t get into caring that much about Alex, or about his sisters. Alex was too bland – I learned nothing about him whatsoever apart from the fact that he couldn’t cook and went to a handful of baseball games during his lifetime. There were no interactions with girls, not even the suggestion that he’d spoken to one he wasn’t related to in years. His friendships seemed vague until after the event and then they were just deus ex machinas to move things along and help Alex get what he needed at certain times. Julie, the youngest sister was a little too bratty to be likable or sympathetic and Briana was the devout one so I tended to skim over much of what she said as it involved a whole lot of praying to the Holy Mother.

Overall this is just an okay read for me. Pleasant enough to finish but not something I love. Or would go back to and read again.

5/10

Book #114 of 2010

I’m including this as one of my reads for the YA Dystopian Fiction challenge hosted by Darren over at Bart’s Bookshelf even though like the first novel, I don’t really consider it to be Dystopian. This is the 8th novel I’ve completed for the challenge.

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Delirium – Lauren Oliver

In the world Lena is born into, in Portland sometime in the future, love is considered a disease. Amor deliria nervosa is considered an illness but thankfully for the citizens, there is a cure. And the cure is mandatory. Occuring sometime around the 18th birthday, each member of the controlled population undergoes a ‘procedure’ which isn’t ever described, but involves cutting into the brain. Lena is 17 and all she is preoccupied with is getting though her Evaluation, where the powers that be assess your interests, intelligence, etc and issue you 4 potential matches, which you then rank in order of preference. You are then issued your ‘pair’ or ‘match’ and that’s who you shall marry and spend your life with, after your procedures take place, or after college if the Evaluator’s decide you may attend.

On the day of Lena’s Evaluation, she has all the answers prepared but she’s tanking badly as things she shouldn’t be saying keep coming out her mouth. She doesn’t want to be like her mother, who couldn’t be ‘cured’ even after 3 procedures and ended up committing suicide, which brings shame and suspicion and derision. To escape the wishes of the powers that be, to be labelled a resistor or a sympathizer with the rebels that still live in the Wilds, outside the fences of the controlled, approved cities, is punishable by execution at worst or at best, confinement into the Crypt, the overrun prison. Lena doesn’t want to end up unstable like her mother, so she is stunned when she cannot prevent some answers of how she really thinks (which would not be Evaluator approved) coming out of her mouth.

Thankfully for Lena during her Evaluation, the rebels stage some sort of protest and in the confusion, all the Evaluations are re-scheduled. But not before Lena sees a boy up on the observation deck over her Evaluation room, laughing at the protest. She is fascinated by him and when she runs into him again and again, she cannot fight a growing teenage attraction, a desire to spend time with him and live her life before the procedure renders her ‘content’ and ‘blank’ forever.

Alex is not interested in being ‘safe’ or ‘content’ or ‘cured’. He comes from a different place and he knows things that Lena doesn’t. The two of them move sneakily around the town, snatching time together whenever they can, trying to make the most of what they have before Lena’s procedure. But time is running out and Alex has a solution.

I read Lauren Oliver’s first novel, Before I Fall and had mixed feelings about it so it was with a little bit of wariness that I started Delirium. The idea itself I think is a nice new twist on a dystopian society – blaming love for all the wars and crime that existed and seeking to eradicate love, and therefore, create a so-called happier, more content and even-tempered society. The thing that I found so infinitely disturbing about the world in Delirium is that the procedure doesn’t just ‘cure’ a person’s ability to love romantically, as in be in love with someone. It basically wipes out your capacity to love at all which means that after the procedure you won’t love your parents, your best friend since Kindergarten, your brothers/sisters, or even the children you later have. Now that was something terrifying and not like anything I’ve ever read before. Lena has only ever been told that she was loved by her mother, the mother that couldn’t be cured. Since her mothers death and her then growing up under the care of her cured aunt and uncle, she doesn’t hear that forbidden word again until Alex speaks it, reciting a poem (and she doesn’t know what poetry is either, it having been banned). The word itself is banned but also unnecessary in the society. There’s just no reason to utter it as people don’t feel love for anything – not their favourite foods, the beach, their chosen match, their children, nothing. That to me sounds like an absolutely vile and horrible way to live and as mentioned in the book, ‘how can you ever know if you’re truly happy, if you’re never unhappy as well?’

I liked this novel a lot more than Before I Fall. I enjoyed Lena as a character – her struggle to be ‘good’, to be raised ‘right’. Having been raised by a mother who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be cured, for the first six or so years of her life, and then having to face the shame of having a mother that had committed suicide, have her name tainted, she is desperate to just have her procedure, go to college and make a good match and be content. It’s almost a desperation to redeem herself for her mother’s ‘sins’. No more emotions, no more up and down, life will just be good. But then she meets Alex, and even though he is like an eye opener for her, he really just helps reinforce what she seems to already know deep down inside. That maybe this isn’t the best way to live and that maybe, just maybe, the government hasn’t exactly been telling them the truth about everything And even as she thinks this, she is struggling to rid herself of the confusing feelings she has for Alex and even still then she has flashes of her ‘training’ (brainwashing) where she says that she almost wishes she never met him, or that she can’t wait for the procedure to smooth things out for her. It’s a wonderful and fully believeable internal struggle of a teenage girl who is doing the most natural thing in the world, falling in love,  but has been programmed to believe that love is just a disease, an illness that is undesirable and can and will be cured permanently.  But eventually Lena comes to realise fully just how horrible that it would be to live as almost a bot with no real feelings for anything or anyone.

I really enjoyed this book and the ending, although I expected it, still really upset me. I do think that actually, it was kind of the perfect ending for this novel, even though it is not the ending I really wanted! But I noticed earlier on Goodreads when I was preparing to write this review that this is the first of the Delirium trilogy and I’m really glad that they’re are going to be two more books. I definitely think that although it could’ve ended here and now, there’s still so much of Lena’s story left for us to find out. I cannot wait to learn more in the future books.

A thought-provoking, well written story. It’s the kind of book I think would be great for a book club, or even for a school related project because the discussion topics are numerous and so involved.

8/10

Book #94 of my 100 Book Challenge

This novel fits nicely into the YA Dystopian Challenge, hosted over at Bart’s Bookshelf by Darren. Darren has also reviewed Delirium for this challenge and you can check out his wonderful review here. This is the 7th novel I’ve completed for this challenge.

****I received this novel as an eGalley from the publisher in exchange for a review.

Delirium will be published on the 1st of February 2011 by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins.

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Life As We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer

Life As We Knew It is written in the form of 15 year old Miranda’s diary. She’s about to finish her sophomore year of high school (or year 10 if you’re down under) and she’s mostly concerned about school things, friend-related things, ice-skating relating things (or a person in particular) etc. What she’s not concerned about is a meteor that is on it’s way through space that everyone is pretty sure is going to hit the moon. It gets a bare few mentions and then lots of complaining because all her teachers want to talk about is the moon and then they all give her assignments on the moon. Everyone seems quite excited about the meteor hitting the moon and everyone seems to be happy to line up outside and watch that.

Okay, seriously. I have to stop here and go why is everyone fricken excited about a METEOR hitting the moon? Do these people know nothing about the moon? The moon, up there in the sky, while it doesn’t look like it does much, does actually do things! Important things! And you would think that perhaps something hurtling through space and slamming into it, would do something quite dangerous. Like, oh, I don’t know… knocking it off its axis!

This is precisely what happens. All the astronomers who apparently didn’t see the cause for concern about the meteor and the moon meeting with a big bang, were wrong! The moon is knocked off its axis, closer towards Earth and suddenly, some hours after this event, there are reports of huge tidal waves down the east and west coast of America. Because you know, the moon controls the tides people! Has no one in this book seen the movie Armageddon? I know in that case, the meteor was on its way to collide with Earth, but they blew that sucker up before any of that could happen. Surely anyone with an education level past the sixth grade could realise a meteor hitting the moon could be potentially and most likely, catastrophic.

Despite this slightly ridiculous oversight, the book picks up a gear when the devastation starts. Miranda’s mother picks her and her younger brother up from school and takes them to the supermarket where, in light of the disaster, they are selling whole trolleys of goods for $100. They load up on everything canned, everything long life and Miranda goes along with this thinking that her mother has lost it a bit, but she humours her. Miranda’s mothers actions prove very insightful – pretty soon the huge effects of the meteor and the moon’s shift on its axis have rendered such devastation across the globe. There’s intermittent and random electricity. There are difficulties getting cable tv and any information. Petrol/gas shoots up to unbelievable prices as people stock up on everything they will need to get them through an apocalyptic event. The weather even changes – it is swelteringly hot through some of the summer and then the temperatures begin to dip alarmingly. The shift of the moon has caused volcanoes worldwide to erupt, even ones that have lain dormant for some time. The whole town is covered in a grey volcanic ash haze.

People begin to desert the towns in droves, heading south where they believe that conditions are better. Miranda and her family (her mother, younger brother and older brother home from college) stay put. Miranda’s mother tried to grow seedlings but the poor air quality and no rain meant that most of the crops perished. The canned goods are getting low alarmingly fast but the disaster shows no signs of abating. They begin to cut meals here and there, soon they are down to two meals a day. Then it’s one meal a day as things get worse and worse. They board up the windows of the house in winter (which has come early, as traditional seasons don’t seem to exist anymore) to conserve heat, they keep to one or two rooms. Eventually their water runs out and they are forced to use bedpans or buckets, as the modern cons of a bathroom don’t apply anymore.

Miranda’s diary entries were very effective in making me feel their plight. I was reading this book in bed at night and I was starving when I was reading how they were cutting down their meals and rationing their canned goods. I wanted to get up and eat everything in my cupboard because all I could think about was how hungry they must be and how terrible that would be. I began to think about what I would do in this sort of situation – would I be thoughtful enough to race to the supermarket and stock up on long life things? Would I be smart enough to remember things like candles and more blankets or quilts for when the ducted heating inevitably stopped working? I began to think about which room we would all hole up in and which parts of the house I would close off. I thought about how we would do washing and what we would do to pass the time with no television, no phone (or very rare phone) no petrol to get anywhere and no computer and internet (the answer to that one was fairly easy, given we own close to 700 books). I can see how people would go to bed when it was dark, simply because there was nothing to do and it was too cold to stay awake and do anything anyway.

This book did lack a bit of…. punch or something that would make it have more of an impact. I know we’re having this story narrated to us by a 15yo girl and most teenagers are relatively self absorbed, but the amount of time devoted to what else is occurring in the rest of the world. There’s brief mention of the American coasts and briefer mention of a few other places but at no time is an estimated death toll world wide given, at no time is ever devoted to thoughts of which countries might not even exist anymore. I think this would occupy my thoughts quite a lot (or perhaps not, because if anything like this ever did happen, chances are I wouldn’t make it as I live on the east coast of Australia, about 0 metres above sea level). It was a very effective way of making me feel their starvation and their isolation in life but after a while I kept turning pages thinking ‘is something going to happen now?’

As a narrative of the effects of a catastrophe on one person, it was incredibly effective. I could really feel Miranda’s experiences and although I didn’t always like her (or her mother actually) I definitely thought their actions and character were very real given the situation they were in the midst of. But I definitely expected a bit more about the devastation that had been rendered beyond the small area of her part of America. I thought that even though at first they had trouble getting news, that there would still be more information available and it would be discussed at length. But there’s almost no opinions on what has become of the rest of the world – it’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. And I couldn’t help but feel that in such a global disaster, you’d think that the people involved would spare at least a thought for the rest of their planet.

6/10 – a mixed bag

This novel was included on the 50 YA Dystopian Novels on the list over at Bart’s Bookshelf for the YA Dystopian Challenge. For me personally, it’s not so much dystopian fiction. Dystopian fiction is generally categorised as a featuring a society which is repressive or controlled, a lack of freedom or the ability to make your own decisions, a state of conflict, possible rationing of supplies or the basic human needs such as food, water, shelter, oil/gas/fuel for heating/etc  and a heavy and oppressive military or police force. Although this society in the novel is by no means ideal, and food becomes scarce, it is not through rationing or the direct actions or requests of the government or those in charge. In fact the government/powers that be play almost no part in this novel other than a couple of mentions of Presidential speeches when the catastrophe first happens and then a chance meeting with the town mayor at the end of the novel. For me this novel is post-apocalyptic speculative fiction, but that is of course, just my opinion and I’m sure many people would classify it otherwise.

As it’s on the list though, I’m including it as part of this challenge. This is the 6th book I’ve completed.

Book #90 of my 100 Book Challenge

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Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

**Please Note – Spoilers for The Hunger Games**

It has been several months since the controversial end of The Hunger Games and Katniss and Peeta are about to do their victory tour. Katniss is disturbed one day when she has a visit from President Snow who informs her that there have been uprisings in several of the District’s which have sprung from the ending of The Hunger Games. He makes it clear that he holds Katniss responsible for these small pockets of defiance and stresses to her that she must use her new status as current victor to quell the rebellions, lest something unfortunate happen. Katniss, fearing the safety of her family once again steels herself to play the loving girlfriend to Peeta, even though the two have not had much to do with each other since after The Hunger Games. Peeta as always, will play his part for the camera’s with convincing aplomb. Katniss chooses not to burden him with news of President Snow’s visit and instead chooses to confide in Haymitch for advice.

All does not go to plan however, when in District 11, which was Rue’s District, the people show their respect to Katniss for the way she treated their female tribute. Katniss sees firsthand that things are as serious as President Snow has claimed and that the disrespect being shown to the Capitol is there for all to see. After witnessing a man who gave her the same three fingered salute she gave Rue upon Rue’s death, being shot in the head, Katniss realises that her and Peeta are actually making things worse. Their unity, their gestures of what they thought were goodwill, are showing them as the motivation for the movement against the Capitol. Katniss and Peeta beat the Capitol at their own game when they refused to follow the rules of The Hunger Games and now it seems, the citizens want their turn.

President Snow lets Katniss know that what she has done is not enough, the uprisings are growing in number and intensity. Katniss wants to run but cannot decide how best to go about it and is torn because part of her wants to stay and fight too. She just doesn’t want her family to be hurt. As she gets ready to help mentor District 12’s next tributes, as The Hunger Games is coming up again, Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch are rocked with what the Capitol has come up for the 75th anniversary of The Hunger Games. Every 25 years the Capitol invests a new ‘twist’ just to mess with the minds of the citizens a little more – called the Quarter Quell. The previous one, on the 50th anniversary was that they doubled the participants to 48 with each District sending 4 tributes. This time however, they pull something out of the hat that no one would have predicted: for the 75th Hunger Games, each District must choose their tributes from their list of previous winners. For a district like District 12 there’s not many to choose from with it’s poor record – they have only 3 living victors. One is Haymitch and the others are Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. Being the only female victor, Katniss must go. She must face The Hunger Games for the second time in a year. She knows this is the Capitol’s answer to her being the motivation, the mascot of the uprisings. They will kill her and with that, hopefully kill the rebellion.

I enjoyed Catching Fire just as much as I enjoyed The Hunger Games ripping through it in probably the same amount of time. I have come to like Katniss even more after this novel, her actions in it shed her in a positive light. She’s trying hard to do the right thing but the right thing is different depending on who she wants to do the right thing for. Her first instinct is to flee at the sign that she (and therefore her mother and sister) are in trouble but she doesn’t do that. She wants to fight the Capitol, to try and free her people from their poverty and oppression, especially when it seems that the laid back way of law enforcement in District 12 has become a thing of the past. When she learns she must face The Hunger Games again, I was surprised at the choices she made and how she went about that. It suggested to me that she had definitely grown as a character from the first novel and she had learned a thing or two. While she is smart about that, she is a bit dense about some other things, namely her allies and what Haymitch is doing. It takes her quite a long time to figure out what’s going on and at the end, she still doesn’t really know.

I have come to the conclusion that the ‘love triangle’ as such no longer really means anything to me when I read these novels. Gale and Peeta, Katniss loves neither of them, and there’s no real reason for her to. She’s young, Gale has only ever been seen as her best friend and hunting partner and she’d never spoken to Peeta before the first Hunger Games they were in. His declaration of love for her was completely out of left field and she went along with it to survive as long as she could and because she had figured out what Heymitch was doing with the gifts. Gale is a character I like, but given he’s only in each book for about 20 pages, it’s very hard to get more of a handle on him. I wish he was more involved and he may be more so in Mockingjay now that it looks like we will move away from The Hunger Games. Peeta is nice – almost too nice. I wish he’d lose it just once and go beserk at Katniss (or actually, anyone) just to make him a little more realistic! I also really enjoyed a little more insight into Haymitch and what went on during The Hunger Games that he was victorious in. It helps just explain that little bit more about why he is the way he is now and I’d love to know even more about him in the next (and final!) novel.

The pacing was still perfect for me, the storyline even more intriguing. President Snow is a chilling villain, creepy enough for you to give his threats credibility. The peripheral characters introduced for The Hunger Games were an interesting mix, nice to see some really unexpected choices and they weren’t all just cliched Careers-types. The added interest of the rebellions and the uprisings gives you more to hope for, in terms of the Districts and we learn a bit more about some of them as Katniss and Peeta travel through them on their tour, as Katniss hears more of the protests against the Capitol and her and Peeta meet fellow tributes from them for the 75th Games.

Perhaps my only criticism is that this book is a fraction too similar to The Hunger Games, when it forces Katniss and Peeta to go back in and face the arena again. I understand the reasons for doing that, and for bringing all the tributes together in that way in order to get some very key people in the same place at the same time, but it does mean that a few scenes ring some sharp bells of familiarity. That’s another reason why I’m looking forward to reading Mockingjay, for a shift in a new direction. I’m looking forward to getting away from the Games and into the rebellion further and exploring the area in which Katniss found herself at the end of the book. I think that whole idea was very well done – and of course the last line in this novel was so explosive, such a cliffhanger that it made me very glad I’ve already got Mockingjay sitting on my shelf and I didn’t have to wait like the people following these books from the time they were first published must have!

Despite that – still a great book and a really riveting read.

9/10

Book #83 of my 100 Book Challenge

This  book almost counts for  my YA Dystopian Challenge, held over at Bart’s Bookshelf by Darren. This is the fifth novel I’ve completed for this challenge now! Yay!

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The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

My mountain of books to read was growing higher and higher, instilling in me a sort of panic of Read something! Read anything, just pick up a book and read it! So I decided to finally pull out The Hunger Games which basically everyone in the whole world has read by now and has been sitting on my shelf for about a month or two. There is no one that has not praised this book – Stephen King and Stephenie Meyer both have impressive statements adorning the front and back covers. When a book has quite a lot of hype like The Hunger Games trilogy, it usually goes one of two ways for me: either I fall straight in with the hype and adore it and join the obsession or I flat out hate it and wonder why the heck everyone is so ga-ga over it.

Fortunately for me, The Hunger Games fits firmly into the first category. Quite simply, this book was incredible. From the very first page I was drawn into this post-apocalyptic world consisting of a new country named Panem rising out of the destruction of what is modern day America, at the centre of which is the all-powerful Capitol, which exists where the Rockies are today. Surrounding the Capitol are 12 Districts, each charged with providing a good or service to the Capitol and each held under a strict rein, often resulting in starvation, bombings, public whippings or executions, rationing of food, power and goods and all sorts of other things that mean that the citizens of the 12 Districts stay nice and compliant. A failed uprising some 75 years ago saw the destruction of District 13, who thought they could take on the capital and win and also gave birth to The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games are a yearly event held by the Capitol to reinforce to the citizens of the Districts that they are powerless. Every year each District must send two of its children – one female, one male aged between 12 and 18- to go into an arena created by the Capitol in what is basically, a fight to the death. Each arena is created especially for the games and can contain any sort of landscape: desert, jungle, snow, open fields, etc. The last person standing is the winner and riches and goods are showered on that District. These sacrifices are mandatory and to make it interesting, poor families can enter their name into the barrel a second or third time in return for something like a years supply of oil and grain. This means that quite often, the weaker, poorer, underfed children have by far the greatest chance of being drawn.

Katniss Everdeen is from District 12, the mining District. Things in District 12 are quite bleak and Katniss, who lost her father some years ago in a mining accident, has been head of her family ever since. She has learned to hunt, trapping and shooting game, some of which she sells at the black market or exchanges for other goods. Every year since she was 12, Katniss’ name has been entered numerous times into the barrel. Once each year as mandatory, three other times per year so that her, her mother and her younger sister can take the rations of oil and grain known as a teserae and the teserae entries are cumulative. This is the first year Katniss’ younger sister Prim’s name will go into the hat and Katniss refuses to allow her to take a teserae. Surely, with only one chance out of thousands, Prim will be safe.

Of course, it is Prim’s name that is drawn from the hat and Katniss cannot bear the thought of her fragile younger sister being sent to the Games so she volunteers to go in her place. The second name drawn to be a ‘tribute’ from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, a boy who Katniss goes to school with and who once, when she was starving almost to the point of not being able to continue, risked a beating to throw her two loaves of bread from his family’s bakery. Their ‘mentor’ is Haymitch – the only (alive) District 12 winner of the Games who is now an alcoholic and laughing stock due to his frequent public displays of drunkenness at the reapings (drawing of the names) and public events leading up to The Hunger Games.

Things this year, for District 12 are destined to be different. They are noticed for the first time, thanks to some clever costumes and Haymitch has managed to sober up enough to work out a plan. As The Hunger Games start and the bloodbath begins, independent Katniss may have to rely on a few other people – people who will eventually have to kill her, if she doesn’t kill them first- in order to survive.

Some people think it’s harder to review books you didn’t like, as how do you tread that fine line between criticism and nastiness? For me, it’s always harder for me to review books that I really liked as sometimes I just don’t know where to start, nor do I know how to not make it sound like I’m gushing like a teenage girl at a Fall Out Boy concert. But I can’t praise this novel enough really – where do I start? The well-thought out and constructed world that is the setting? The main characters, so real and genuine and the sort of people you can imagine yourself knowing and liking? The Games themselves, so horrible an event but yet so fascinating in that car crash sort of way where you know you should look away but can’t? The emotions this book stirred in me from horror, to despair, to hope, to anger, to sympathy…a whole myriad.

Katniss is one of the protagonists I’ve most enjoyed in recent times. The tough exterior that she acquired when her father died and her mother couldn’t cope and it fell to her to keep the family fed and alive that hides the fact that underneath, she’s just still a teenage girl who should be out there doing teenage-girl things. Her stubborn independent streak and emotionless facade  hides a gentle heart, especially when it comes to her sister Prim. The scene with Rue (no spoilers, but anyone who has read the novel will know) I found genuinely heartbreaking and I’m not ashamed to say that it (and several other scenes) brought tears to my eyes. The character of Peeta was a nice offset to Katniss and so far I’m torn on  the whole Team Gale (Katniss’ hunting parter and best friend from District 12) and Team Peeta thing. I’ll have to wait and see how future books treat me but I haven’t found a solid bandwagon to jump on just yet.

The Hunger Games themselves are gruesome and as horrible as you’d imagine something like that to be but also infused with a spirit that makes you want to keep reading, keep turning the pages even as the fatalities climb. As this is a trilogy it’s not entirely unpredictable that somehow Katniss will prevail, despite her district’s poor record. I actually couldn’t get enough of reading about the Games, not the deaths, but more the strategies the tributes undertake and the differing obstacles that the Gamemakers put in their path that can be either made to look like they’re mimicking nature, or a completely different device that forces everyone together if they’re too spread out and there isn’t enough conflict that day. As the action unfolds you wonder how it can be possible for both Katniss and Peeta to make it out alive, because in The Hunger Games, there is only one winner. And so you hope for some sort of Hunger Games miracle!

I think I’ve read more YA fiction recently then when I was a young adult! There are so many strong stories out there that you can sink your teeth into – well written, well constructed with wonderful, real characters that you can relate to and feel for. I’m glad that I already have the next two books so that I can get into them right away. It would be torture having to order them now and wait for them to arrive!

9/10

Book #82 of my 100 Book Challenge

The Hunger Games fits nicely into my YA Dystopian Challenge, which is hosted by Darren over at Bart’s Bookshelf. This is the 4th title I’ve read for this challenge!

Also read:

The Declaration, by Gemma Malley

The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

The Dead-Tossed Waves, by Carrie Ryan

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The Declaration – Gemma Malley

Imagine a world where no one ever dies. Old age and illness are no longer a problem, you can stay a youthful 40 or 50 for all time. So long as you keep taking the magic Longevity drugs that is. Naturally with pretty much no one on the planet dying anymore, some adjustments have to be made. Overcrowding and use of energy and resources are massive problems, so citizens must sign The Declaration and have no children. Anyone who breaks this rule and has a child anyway –  the child is deemed illegal, a Surplus and sent to a facility where they are to be trained to be Useful. Being Useful or being a Valuable Asset is how they must make up for the fact that they never should’ve been born. They are trained to be servants to the Legal’s, to reduce their consumption, their impact on the overcrowded Earth. And naturally, they don’t get the Longevity drugs.

Fifteen year old Anna is such a Surplus. Taken by the Catchers when she was just over 2, she has been living and training at Grange Hall under the watchful malevolent eye of House Matron Mrs Pincent. Anna is determined to be a good Surplus, to become a really Valuable Asset and make up for her Parents Sins in having her. She is classed as Pending, almost ready to go out and take up a position with Legals, ready to try and make up for the gross error that is her very existence. Her parents are nothing but a disgrace to her now. They are taught at the Surplus Houses to hate their parents for breaking the rules, for bringing them into the world when they shouldn’t be there, for burdening the Legal population even further. Anna cannot remember a time when she wasn’t supposed to hate her parents. She bears the shame of being a Surplus and the only way she can make up for that is to be a very Valuable Asset.

All is well in Anna’s world until fifteen year old Peter is brought to Grange Hall. He has just been Captured, having survived out there for longer than most. He claims to Anna that he knows her parents, he uses her last name when speaking to her (Surplus children don’t have last names as they are nothing and should not exist). He tells Anna that he’s here for her, that he can take her away from Grange Hall and back to her parents, who love her and miss her and have been trying to figure out how to find her for all these years. That there’s an Underground Movement, hiding Surpluses, trying to fight the regime, trying to fight for the right to exist. At first Anna resists, not willing to believe him. But soon, she can’t help her curiosity and she is asking him questions about the outside. When she learns something sinister about Mrs Pincent, Anna decides that she is going to go along with Peter’s escape from Grange Hall and try and find a better life on the Outside.

Could you give up the right to have children in order to live forever? For some it might be an easy question either way. For those that can’t give up the desire to have a child, you can Opt Out – that means not signing The Declaration. You get to have a baby but you don’t get the Longevity drugs. You forfeit your right to immortality so that the resulting child is not as much strain. As stated in the book though, not many people choose to Opt Out. The authorities make it hard for people to do so, and for many, the lure of being able to exist forever but without the negatives of old age and illness is too attractive. Also the choice must be made at 16 whether to Opt Out or sign The Declaration. That seems like a tactic by the authorities to ensure more signatures, particularly males as it’s not likely that many 16yo boys are going to feel passionately about having children. By giving people the choice before they are really old enough to make it, while they are still young, impressionable and easily malleable seems a surety that almost all people tow the line and sign The Declaration. Opt Outs are looked down upon, and pitied as they age and get sick.

I’ve read that some believe that although they are ridiculed and belittled and harrassed, it can be argued that the Surplus children are a necessary part of the society because of the service they provide. If you’re going to live forever, you’re probably not going to want to be doing your own cooking, cleaning, ironing, gardening, etc for all eternity and these Surplus children are really nothing more than free slave labour to do all of that. They have no rights, no freedoms, not even a last name.

The control that the authorities have is absolute, even over the Legals – even over the Legals that are high ranking. When questioning a Legal on the disappearance of Peter and Anna, they threaten her with incarceration for up to three months just for questioning and withholding of the Longevity drugs. What that does to a person within about 10 weeks is really quite horrific. It’s the kind of authority that makes not co-operating with them on anything at all a death sentence. And the Catchers, employed to track down Surplus children have powers that far exceed those of the normal police force. It is not unusual for a Surplus from one of the Halls to escape and not make it back due to “force” used by the Catchers when they are tracked down.

The way the Surpluses were treated was I think, the most jarring thing in this book. The level of abuse and degradation that they are exposed to on their journey to become Valuable Assets is really quite mind-boggling, especially in the case of the Smalls. The Smalls are the children captured below 2yrs of age. They all live on one floor and Anna mentions quite often that the incessant noise of the Smalls crying penetrates into the girls dormitory rooms of a night. The Smalls are taken care of in that they are fed probably just enough to live and clothed but they are never held or played with, lest they ever think that anyone loves them or cares for them.

The sight of a two year old comforting itself  by rocking silently on a mat, or a three year old gently banging its head against the floor was more than she could stand. She had been that three year old, she realised.

That kind of cruelty towards children, whether they were supposed to exist or not, was pretty hard to take. After all, it’s not the children’s fault that they exist. They didn’t ask to be born. But they are punished far longer and far harder than most of the parents that decided to break the rules and have them. They are subjected to a lifetime of cruelty and service with their only chance the slim one that they might maybe get a kind Legal to work for.

This novel was a nice, easy, quick introduction to my YA Dystopian Challenge. I read it yesterday afternoon, laying on the couch in the sun – our first really beautiful spring day! Doors and windows open, shorts and bare feet. It was a imaginative work and even though there were a few little plotholes, I learned when I reached the end of the book that it’s the first in a series so I won’t say think much about them as it’s quite possible that they’ll get resolved in the subsequent books! I certainly enjoyed this book enough to try and track down the rest of them, after the rather dramatic ending I am very interested in what happens to Anna and Peter.

7/10

The Declaration, by Gemma Malley is Book #1 of the YA Dystopian Challenge hosted by Darren over at Bart’s Bookshelf! The challenge runs from 1st October – 19th December and has a couple of different levels.

1 down…3 to go for me!

(Book #69 of my 75 Book Challenge)

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The YA Dystopian Reading Challenge

I stumbled across this challenge while catching up over at Carrie’s blog, Books & Movies. Hosted by Darren over at Bart’s Bookshelf, the YA Dystopian Challenge gives me a good excuse to dive into some novels I own but haven’t read yet and also to check out some others. For anyone needing some ideas, there’s a list you can use for some great suggestions. The challenge runs from October 1st 2010- December 19th 2010 and consists of several levels. The level I’m setting for myself is:

Level 2 which is 2-4 YA Dystopian novels! I’ve already tentatively chosen my list (4 novels). 2 I own, 2 I’ll be requesting in from my local library, which does have a wonderful selection of novels of this type! My list is:

1. The Knife Of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness

2. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

3. The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

4. The Declaration, by Gemma Malley

Can’t wait for October 1st! I think this will be a really fun challenge to participate in!

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