Gone, Part 1

This summer, I started reading this young adult series, that I have heard was popular. To be honest, I did not know much about it, but had heard some positive feedback. With so many other things going on this summer, it turned into a bit of an undertaking. I decided that a single post would not be sufficient to address a whole series, but a post for each book also seems just a bit excessive. I’m trying something new here, so let’s see how this goes!

img_6422Gone

A solid start to the series. One day, in the middle of a high school class, the teacher suddenly disappears. It is soon discovered that it was not just the teacher– everyone over the age of 15 has “poofed.” They soon discover that they have been trapped in some sort of dome, deemed the FAYZ, Fallout Alley Youth Zone, due to their vicinity to the nuclear plant and lack of adults. We get an introduction to most of the main players of the FAYZ here– Sam, Astrid, Caine, Diana, Lana, Edilio, Albert, Quinn, Orc, Drake, and Little Pete. I thought this was done well, in that we get to see pieces of each of them, although it is not quite clear if or why these individuals are important. The plot was fairly straightforward Good vs. Evil, although I appreciated that it definitely showed some gray areas. I thought Grant did a good job in imagining the actions of young people in the absence of adults: most aren’t quite sure what to do, and so they indulge themselves in junk food and laziness; those that recognize that they should be doing something are still not quite sure what that is. I also thought the discovery and development of the mutant powers was done well. Several characters start to show powers, but most seem to be uncertain about them. I also liked that many of the main characters do not have any special power, but still are able to find their place.

The early parts of the book left a bit to be desired as far as writing– I wouldn’t call it bad, but it certainly was not great. I felt like this improved later in the book. I did, however, have some issues with the book in general. The story is pretty intense, and there is some fairly graphic violence. While this does not bother me on principle, I find it a bit mismatched with the Fourth Grade reading level of the book. Also not a fan of the liberal use of the word “retard” in describing Little Pete. While it does address this as problematic, I feel like it could have been toned down quite a bit without losing the intent.

Hungerimg_7718

After the final battle in Gone, we have a 3 month time jump to Hunger. The kids in the FAYZ are beginning to realize that things cannot be maintained long term. Food supplies are running short, and the mysterious “Darkness” is starting to create influence in some of the teens. Much of this book felt slower, and a bit less connected than “Gone.” While it did come together in the end, I felt like it took a long time to get there. Sam, as the main character and leader, is in an obvious slump. I can admit this could be realistic, but to me he mostly came off as whiny and annoying.

We do see some good character development in this novel, although I was not a big fan of the female characterization. The three main female characters at this point are Astrid, Diana, and Lana. Astrid and Diana are claimed to be independent and strong women, but really seem to just be sidekicks for their male counterparts. Astrid is somewhat manipulative of Sam, but this is not for some bigger ambition, it’s her survival mechanism, as she does not seem to think she can do so on her own. Diana claims to be independent and in everything for herself, but her actions are primarily as a pawn for Caine. Lana appears to be different– she is strong, she has an attitude, and she is not afraid to take matters into her own hands. However, her encounter with the Darkness in the latter half of the novel leaves her broken and weak.

There is also the introduction of a new character, Zil, whom I find to be extremely unlikable, although interesting. Zil wants to be important, but has always been someone on a lower rung of the social ladder. He wants the prestige of being a leader, but does not really want the responsibility that goes along with leadership. It appears that he is somewhat jealous of those developing powers, but also mostly wants to save face when he is “shown up” by them. He feeds into fears, and seems to bring out the worst in those around him.

The Boy of a Thousand Faces

img_8077At 48 pages, this is not quite a children’s picture book, but not quite a novel either. Something in between: perhaps a children’s novella? I am a big fan of Brian Selznik. I love the style of his novels and the way he combines words with illustrations to tell a story. This is a little different than his longer works, in that he uses the pictures to supplement this story rather than to continue driving the plot. However, the pictures are no less essential here than in his novels.

Being born on Halloween, it is no surprise that Alonzo has a fascination with monsters. His love is fueled by the late-night horror film show hosted by Mr. Shadow, where he discovers the greatness of Lon Cheney. Alonzo is inspired by the films, which turns into a dream to become the “boy of a thousand faces.” I love that his character has a dream that is outside of what might be considered normal. Alonzo goes beyond “I want to be a movie star” to actually working on and creating something new. His goal is not to be famous, but in the creation of something to be enjoyed by others.

The reciprocal relationship between Alonzo and Mr. Shadow is interesting as well. Alonzo is inspired by Mr. Shadow and his show, reaching out to him when he is beginning to feel disillusioned with his dream. At the same time, Mr. Shadow believed that nobody was interested when his show ended, but was inspired by Alonzo to “bring back” something that he loved in a new way.

I love this as a tribute to traditional horror films, special effects, and Lon Cheney. I think it is also a great introduction to the horror genre. It is a bit creepy, but not something that would truly scare most children. It’s perfect for kids who might have an interest in things that are a bit dark seeming, that might seem a little weird to others.

Boris’s thoughts: “Hmmm… dark and weird… I approve. 3 paws.”

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

img_7411Date Read: July 12 to July 16, 2018

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Love, love, love this book. It’s a cute and sweet book, and a not-quite-love story, but also so much more than that. I suppose it could be best described as a sort of coming of age story, but that does not quite encompass the full scope either.

I really enjoyed the cultural aspects of growing up for both Ari and Dante, framing each of their experiences differently (and from a different perspective than my own). Dante is quite clear in conveying that he does not feel like he is a “real Mexican,” but is also clearly worried about not living up to his parents expectations. Ari’s narration of the story is interesting in that he can be quite introspective, but also quite clueless regarding his own thoughts and actions.

The dynamics within each of the families is another intriguing layer. Ari is fairly straightforward about feeling that his family is “broken.” He struggles to relate to his father, wants to talk about his brother but feels like he can’t, and seems to be a bit resistant in his relationship with his mother. He sees Dante’s family as completely different– they seem open, close, get along, and Dante freely admits that he is “crazy about” his parents. Of course, this is all from the perspective of a teenager, so perhaps Ari is not the most reliable. This plays out with a bit of a switch in the end, with a surprise for Dante’s parents, and the realization for Ari that his parents know him better than he thought.

Of course, all of this is outside the main story of Aristotle and Dante. I loved getting to know each of these characters. There are no illusions of perfection, just some messy and honest reality of adolescence. I found myself jotting down several quotes or passages as I read, partially because I felt they were so fitting for the time of life for these characters, but also because I can still relate to those feelings now. Definitely keeping this one around for future reads.

Boris’s thoughts: “Yeah, yeah, I can see why you like it. But really, why did Ari have to get a DOG? 3 paws.”

The Giver

Date Read: Variousimg_5854

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I can say without a doubt that there is no book that I have read as many times as The Giver. There is something about this book that brings me back, again and again. Despite that, this is a somewhat difficult post for me to write. I love this book, but I have a hard time putting my finger on what exactly it is that draws me in. I do not quite have the words to describe the feelings I have when reading it. On one of my re-reads of this book, I decided to keep a highlighter and pen nearby. Mark it up. Write it out. Really dig down into what it was about this book that has me so enthralled. I finished it without making a single mark in the book. I could not find a passage, or even a sentence, that captured the heart of this story.

My first encounter with this book was in middle school. I read it again for a project in high school. I read it a third time when my younger sister had to read it in high school. Shortly after that, I finally bought my own copy. Since then, I have re-read it every year or two. My most recent read was just this summer, where I for a second time did much of my reading with a notebook by my side. I still do not feel fully satisfied that I am writing a review that will truly capture what I have to say, but I will try.

The world that Lowry builds is sparse. We get a basic description of the things that can be found in the community, but little else. Very few details, not really enough to paint a clear picture.This is true not just for the setting, but also the characters of the novel. With an exception for the main characters, we do not get much depth. While I can see why some readers would find this annoying, I think it fits perfectly with the story. The world Jonas lives in is based on Sameness– those details that we are looking for are not important. I think that is part of the beauty of this book. There is a simplicity.

But then we add complexity. As Jonas learns of the world of the past, we get glimpses of the path that lead society to this state. While the general idea we get of the world is dystopian (perhaps disguised as a Utopia), the progression is seemingly logical to a point. No hunger? No war? Certainly, a world with more security would sound appealing to many. I suppose the question becomes where the line gets drawn between safety and freedom. Is it necessary to take away all freedoms to create the order needed to eliminate these problems? Does the ability to choose the color of your clothing really impact the world on a larger scale? Maybe. Is a world without pain worth giving up those things needed to create it? I suppose this comes down to the dichotomy of life– if we eliminate the risk of pain, is there a possibility for true pleasure? Which of those is the real purpose of living? To get through life unscathed, or to collect the bumps, bruises, and scars that lead to happiness? Obviously, I do not have answers to any of these, nor would I even attempt it.

Finally, of course, is the ambiguous ending. I feel somewhat differently about this each time that I read it. When I first read the book, I did not feel the ending to be ambiguous. I made my interpretation as I read, and that was good enough for me. In future readings, I realized that it could be open to additional interpretations. I find this an interesting aspect to the story, although I have always preferred by initial interpretation.

Boris’s thoughts: “I suppose if you like it that much, it can’t be bad… I guess… 3 paws.”

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

img_6295Date Read: November 28 to December 4, 2015

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

I wanted to love this book. I really wanted to love this book. I felt like there was potential for a good story here, but it fell way short of my expectations.

I have read a lot of comments on the book that the pictures were the best part… But I can only partially agree with that. The pictures were interesting. I like the concept of incorporating the pictures into the story. However, beyond the introduction of the characters in the earlier portions of the book, the inclusion really seemed forced – as if the author just added in little bits of unnecessary information just so that a picture could be inserted. Once the plot started to actually move, the pictures didn’t really seem to fit anymore.

Before going any further, I am issuing a major SPOILER ALERT. I try not to give away too much when I write reviews, but the nature of this next point makes it impossible. Plot holes. Plot holes left and right. If you want skip the potential spoilers, just go to the bottom of the numbered list.

1. How can Emma make a light underwater at the shipwreck, but not be able to make one in the rain?
2. How can Bronwyn carry a large metal door to use as a shield, and also swim in open water? Okay, so she has super-human strength… but she still needs to stay afloat!
3. The children are stuck in a loop. Only peculiars can enter loops. Why do some of the children have doubts that Jacob is peculiar after he has entered a loop?
4. If only peculiars can enter loops, why can wights enter loops? It explicitly says that wights are common, but also that they can (presumably) live for thousands of years. So which is it?
5. Why are the children in the loop only safe if they stay on the island? Because of the dangers off the island when the loop was created? If duplicates of those dangers still exist inside the loop, why don’t duplicates of the children also exist inside the loop?
6. I don’t even want to start with the time travel issues. So if the loop closes and the children are now in 1940, does that change the course of history for the “real” world? Are there now parallel universes operating? And that’s only the tip of the potential time travel iceberg!

And my final issue? The ending of the book was written in a way that almost requires a sequel. While I don’t mean to say that sequels are a bad thing, I think there is a difference between potential (somewhere for the story to go from here) and need (little or no resolution). I can also understand that sometimes an author just has more to say, and they plan for a book or idea to be a series. However, in this case, this timing seems off. The original book was published in 2011, and the next two released in quick succession in 2014 and 2015. That just seems like poor planning if this was always intended to be a trilogy. It feels more like the author decided that he wanted to make sure he could write a second book in case it became popular, but he didn’t really have an idea of what he could actually write about. But let’s just throw in a sort of cliffhanger, just in case.

Despite all my negative comments, I did not hate this book. I do not regret reading this book. Do I intend to continue reading the series? No.

As a final note, despite being disappointed by this book, I decided to watch the movie. Although I’m often skeptical of book to film adaptations, I will typically watch them. This one was interesting. It was true to the general story, but many of the details were adjusted. While this would normally frustrate me, I appreciated it this case. The adapters took some liberties and closed (or left out) some of those annoying plot holes! They even fixed the ending! I felt much more satisfied at the end of the film than I was expecting.

Boris’s Thoughts: “I suppose I can be on board with a book that has a bird lady in the title. 3 paws.”