Author: S. Smith
Genre: Middle Grade/ Young Adult Dystopian Fiction
Length: 200 pages
Many moons ago, it seems like forever now, S. Smith sent me a copy of Seed Savers, the first of her young adult series set in an America where growing your own food has become illegal. Children were being taught about seeds and produce gardens in whispers; collecting, saving, and planting seeds a prison-worthy offense.
The story couldn’t have come at a better time for me. It was the summer of 2012, I had a small daughter at home, my husband was out of work, and I had just started spending more time and care actively growing more of our groceries. On top of that, I was beginning to learn how to forage and was focusing my daughter’s future education on as much regarding sustainability and self-sufficiency as possible. I wanted taking care of ourselves to come as naturally as literature does for me. I wanted finding edible grapes in the forest to be as simple as knowing that 2+2 = 4. Then Seed Savers happened and it felt like the stars had begun to align.
Several books later (Seed Savers, Heirloom, and Lily), we finally have the fourth installment of S. Smith’s world. The girls, Lily and Clare, have done a lot of growing up. Siblings Dante and Clare have received a lot more education during their stay in Canada. Rose is being indoctrinated… bad guys are getting closer and closer to turning everything upside down as rebels have begun starting riots in the street. Soon, all four kids find themselves in Portland, Oregon, where Seed Savers headquarters has been stationed under a forested park in the city for years.
More and more, the series is resembling the fast paced action political drama of the Divergent series – without the killing, and with the added fun of things like Dandelion syrup being discussed.
Although I was sent an advanced reader’s copy of Keeper, I still made a point to pre-order a final copy for my kindle. The book is a keeper in every format, and it’s just worth it to be as supportive as possible of this story, help it get told. I’m looking forward to the day Smith gets a movie or mini-series deal. Better yet, the homeschool mom in me votes for it to be a Netflix original.
I read Divergent a while back. It intrigued me enough to know that I wanted to read the rest of the series eventually, but not enough to make too much of a mad rush to get my hands on it. Although now I have read the rest of the series, despite many people telling me not to bother, and I’m glad I did.
So there’s a little too many fingers curling into shirt scenes… it might be the only way Roth has seen or experienced closeness – in the form of people tugging on t-shirts or twining their fingers around fabric in a near desperate manner. That’s ok. As a writer, I have a nasty habit of tucking things places. She tucked this into that. He tucked blah blah blah. My editor gets on me about it all the time. I’m surprised Roth’s editors didn’t nab her for the finger curling. But that’s not the point…
The point is, despite the teen coming of age romance that we’ve seen over and over again, I liked one major thing about THIS romance.
“I fell in love with him. But I don’t just stay with him by default as if there’s no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.”
After Twilight and Bella’s helpless infatuation… After The Mortal Instruments and the “to love is to destroy” mantra… After Hunger Games and a PTSD induced marriage of comfort… I’m glad Roth had the guts to write about another kind of choice, the kind that doesn’t happen just once, but every day in every moment.
I think that every true relationship has a little bit of all of those things: infatuation, passion, trust and comfort, and thousands of choices. It’s interesting that in one sub-genre of young adult fiction, all released within a decade of each other, all popular enough to make blockbuster films out of them… we’ve covered such a vast array of relationships in our teen romances. It’s good for young people to see such a variety of examples.
Even though Roth’s aren’t my favorite books ever, I like that she had the courage to write the ending no one wanted, but the one that would be expected in a world such as the one her characters live in.
I still haven’t seen the Divergent movie, but I’m looking forward to the day I do a little bit more, hoping that they stick to the books and don’t go too Hollywood with it. I also look forward to seeing what Roth will write next.
Maybe I read too much dystopian fiction. Maybe I was a little too brainwashed by my very paranoid grandfather as a child. Maybe it’s a reasonable theory… maybe it’s not. Either way, as soon as I read the news about the man who got off the hook after taking an upskirt photo, a story idea presented itself:
It all started with an upskirt photo. A man on a subway sneaked a picture of a girl’s panties under her skirt and got away with it. The media went wild, the girl was indignant, the government smiled.
You see, it perpetuated a ball that had been rolling for decades. The government already had their talons in the news room, swaying stories in their favor here and there. But now – in the name of privacy and public safety – the right to take pictures on subways would be eliminated. In the name of protecting innocent bystanders from having their ‘public privacy’ violated – of course – the government gained more control.
From no camera subways came no camera buses. Then planes. No photographs could be taken by a non-government official or civil servant anywhere where fifty or more gathered.
Suddenly government didn’t just control how a story was told and which stories were the most important, they could eliminate the ability to tell a story at all. Bloggers and documentarians could no longer cover protests that major media groups were not covering. No visual documentation could be made against the wrongs of any government official. It evolved from having no fight against police brutality or civil servants on power to trips to far worse things. The police and military could be sent somewhere at any time to detain or massacre anyone at any time without fear it would be captured on film and shared via social media. In a time of technology and the globalized internet, the government brought the sharing of information and relevant news back to the 1700s.
The worst part was, the people asked for it.
In the name of safety – and privacy – of course.
Maybe that’s a far fetched story premise. Maybe I should branch out and write some dystopian fiction. Maybe not. Maybe we should watch very carefully how this legal situation is handled.
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (An Imprint of HarperCollins)
Length: 487 pages
So I finally took that leap onto the [fad] train.
When I worked full time in the bookstore, chatting with customers, recommending books in person, I would have read this as soon as it was a thing for the sole purpose of finding something on the shelves that was similar when we were out of stock. It was published in 2011, the year I left. That last year was also one spent handling more inventory and displays as the store’s SIM than handling people and their whims and desires in the book world. So though I was vaguely familiar with the title I totally missed the need to devour this title in a day and come back with a list of titles to hold over disappointed customers until we could get this one in their hands.
Somewhere along the road in my stay-at-home-mom life I discovered Hunger Games, and fell in love. Though part of a huge fad, Hunger Games was no Twilight Saga or Vampire Diaries series. Hunger Games was epic and beautiful and insanely well written.
So when I saw the preview for the movie Divergent, I thought, ‘What the heck? Let’s see if it will surprise me too.’
Color me surprised – again! I really liked this one. I read it in one day – nearly one sitting. It tends to be easy to do that with contemporary young adult novels, no matter how long they are.
I found Hunger Games more moving, but I was able to relate more to the main character of Divergent more. I’m nervous to see how they portray her in the movie, the book version is a person I feel very in tune to. Katniss Everdean is someone I admire and look up to as a literary character, but whom I share very few similarities. Tris’s story feels as though Roth dropped my mind into her version of dystopia. Tris feels how I feel and tends to react in ways I am known to react. (So far anyway.) Many of her fears were my fears at 16, actually I can’t think of one that is different.
For that it was incredibly enjoyable and easy to get into, and despite this being completely entertaining fluff fiction, I consider the hours spent reading it time well spent.
I’m interested to see how the rest of the books go (it’s a series), as well as the movie adaptation in theaters this month. Although I’m a little nervous that it might be too easy to amp up the cheese factor for the big screen – but I guess I’ll have to take a flying leap onto that fad train as well or I’ll never find out.
Author: Gershom Reese Wetzel
Genre: Science Fiction
I read this book in April of this year (2013) when it was still a pdf file. Go back in time a few (or ten) years and I remember listening to Gershom (my dear friend) talk about his ideas regarding a character named Teres. I remember a very cool dinner party at Macaroni Grill with Teresa Noreen, who seemingly semi-inspired the character Wetzel invented in his mind.
She was stunning. So is the book.
I read the book in approximately three to four hours. I believe it’s 300 pages or so long. It was riveting, and I was doing a real time discussion as I read with the author, searching for mistakes. There really weren’t any that I recall.
I’ve been leery about posting a formal review on any of my typical sites (shelfari, goodreads, amazon, etc.) though. Not because I don’t like the book – I love it – but because I have the great honor of being mentioned on the back of the book and I don’t want any potential customer to feel duped or think my thoughts are self-serving or insincere.
I feel too close to write an unbiased review, but I am way too excited about Teres to leave my thoughts undocumented.
Teres is all action and go from start to finish. It’s glorious sci fi patterned stylistically after typical books of the genre, but with a depth that is not easily comparable in anything else I’ve read. Wetzel may not have intended on delivering such a moving message about life, government, and religion, but by nature he’s a wise messenger and that couldn’t help but come across in his writing.
As I mention in so many of my posts, I am a sucker for dystopian societies, and this one is right up there with the infamous Big Brother from 1984 and Libria from the amazing film Equilibrium.
What makes Wetzel’s work so engrossing is what a visual masterpiece he has created. He is first and foremost an artist, then a graphic designer and author. His writing is enhanced by the images his fingers itch to draw out on paper. It’s also really cool that he has the ability to do all his own cover and concept art.
I can’t wait to see more from this character – and her creator. I see sequels and graphic novels and films of the Aeon Flux caliber in Teres’ future.
Author: S. Smith
Genre: Young Adult
Length: 300 pages
“I haven’t been this in love with a young adult series since Harry Potter,” I wrote after reading the first installment of the Seed Savers Series – Treasure – for the first time. Having now read the second and third installments – Lily and Heirloom – I can happily say that the statement still holds true.
No, there aren’t wizards or magic. The adventure doesn’t reach any of the same fantastical levels, but it is very epic. It is based in a truth that could easily lend itself to being our future. This dystopian society is so intense, because it’s so plausible.
Treasure featured two runaway kids (Clare and Dante) after their discovery of the wonderful world of planting your own seeds and growing your own food, in a government where that is forbidden. They flee for their safety. They flee to learn more.
Lily is where you get to know another character, Clare and Dante’s friend and fellow cohort in the Seed Saving excitement. In this book she blossoms before our eyes into less of a sidekick and more the hero. I was pleasantly surprised to find she had such a huge role in the story. She’s not just the key to almost everything, but the narrator as well! Who knew?
After a long alienation from Clare and Dante, Smith is wise enough to bring us back and feed our curiosity. Heirloom is told back and forth between what’s happening with Clare and Dante, and the world according to Lily. I loved this pattern for a third in a series. It wrapped up some lo0se ends, it led us into asking more questions, and we were able to adventure cross country and learn more about growing plants in a cozy environment in the same book. My brain needed this.
Heirloom, even more than the other two in the series, is full of interesting facts about how a society would get from where it was in the 1980’s to what it is in Smith’s novels. In a time when we are debating GMOs, organics, seeds, and patents, this book is a must have to help middle grade students grasp all the political nuances decisions of today will have on tomorrow. I love that Smith was able to take an intense political topic and weave it into a fascinating (and fun) story.
The fun comes into play, I think, because Smith did not intend to strictly bark all this information at us. It comes from love, and you can sense that as you read. Love for what? “[M]y love of good food,” she said in a blog interview with me once, “Seed Savers is a love story starring home-grown food. I love food—growing, harvesting, cooking, eating, and sharing it. And I think a lot of people these days maybe are missing out on that.”
If you’ve read books one and two, you cannot miss this third part of the series! It’s essential. It has propelled us so much deeper into the story and I’m jittery waiting on the fourth! It didn’t maintain the same read in one sitting quality of books one and two, but I believe that’s because the characters demand more of your time. There is so much more going on, and in the midst of it all they want to teach you as well. That takes more than a day. Clare, Dante, and Lily are growing and stretching their legs, and with them Smith is becoming more detailed and dynamic in her tale. Like good food, Heirloom was made to be savored.
If you haven’t read any of the series, you must. Purchase it for yourself, purchase it for your children for Christmas and read them together – or just swipe the copies and read them yourself. They are so good.
I always take notes and comment in the margins or in a journal through out my reviews. But recently, I read a friend’s novel while he was on facebook chatting with me and I gave him a real time review… moment by moment, thought by thought. He seemed entertained by this, so I thought I could try doing this with more books. What if instead of editing a formal review after a book, I just shared my streaming thoughts? With Prominence League Part Two, I’m giving it a try. The following is directly from my journal this afternoon – no edits.
Author: C. David Cannon
Genre: Young Adult
Length: 230 pages
Mandarin Moon in my Scentsy warmer, coffee depleted, still in my pajamas, I sit down to read The Prominence League Part II. I truly enjoyed the first book, but that was baseball and this is martial arts – my element. From line one, I’m HOOKED.
Already the book shows a level of writing maturity – that confidence that radiates “I am a seasoned author now.” I hope my second book shows the same degree of improvement over my first.
I love that he starts the chapter numbers where the previous book ended. It gives you an immediate sense of continuation and begs the question – “Is there an omnibus in my future?”
Still, Cannon keeps with his love for knocking out characters. Carriane is a fainting Queen with a flair for drama. It kind of makes you wonder if she was mildly based on anyone he knew in real life and what that was like.
My favorite thing about dystopian society fiction is how it points out intentions behind real world current events.
“Now I see why people did nothing to stop it,” Ian says looking at the timeline of events in the report. “It happened too slow, and was covered in lies the whole way.” […]
“That’s right Ian […] they weren’t trying to keep us safe from terrorists like they claimed. In fact, they encouraged new reports of terrorist attacks, because they always beefed up their measures after one. This was obedience training plain and simple.”
In all this fabulous story telling, though, I want to slap Carriane and her obsession with her relationship status. But Cannon’s behind the scenes take on our current education system quickly makes me get over it, until Emerald reinstates the token young adult love triangle.
What’s with the Caleb kid that all the females salivate at his very existence? It’s like sitting through high school watching girls fawn over the boy that became the man I married.
And it’s not just the writing that is better than ever [I note after seeing a new graphic], I’m especially impressed with this round of maps and graphics. And for the first time in the series we see a worldwide view of Carriane’s reality.
By Chapter 26, my daughter is using me as a full on jungle gym. She has no idea that what I am reading now will be passed onto her in about eight to ten years. There’s just so much to discuss afterward… the obvious dystopian society and personal worldview stuff – but then also the less obvious near dive into meta-fiction with Carriane’s self-absorbed reality show fantasy and the ever interesting relationship between a hero and their adventure.
Once again I find myself reading an American novelist, possibly sending me on an escape route to Canada. Man, I need to visit Canada already! It is so often deemed a safe haven. do they write novels in Canada about escaping to the United States?
There’s this book by Olivier Dunrea that I read to my kiddo literally every night called BooBoo, BooBoo is a little blue gosling who likes to eat. Almost every page she eats something and the line after goes: “Good food,” she says. My internal ear is all wonky with toddler stories as I read Cannon’s book and creep up on the end… I just want to close with:
Andi read another book.
“Good book,” she says.
So there you have it folks… my first official stream of consciousness review.
Other books you might enjoy if you read Cannon (or if you enjoyed you should read Cannon):
Fizz & Peppers (Not dystopian, but an awesome adventure!)
Arlington Park (Totally random – Just in case you enjoy the desire to slap characters.)
2. Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games movie came out on Netflix and my husband really wanted to watch it. But I have a rule in my house about watching movies before I read the books, which goes like this: I don’t. I did want to see the movie, but I feared the series a little bit. I didn’t want to read something out of obligation to curiosity and book pop culture and then feel let down like I had with Twilight.
I enjoyed Twilight, but I felt as though I had killed off more than a few brain cells by suffering through the commitment of all four books… but Twilight was a paranormal romance adventure… The Hunger Games is a dystopian society… there, there it is again “dystopian society” that little phrase that sucks me in every time!
So this week began project Hunger Games. I wanted to at least get through a chunk of the first book before movie date night, and I did get through a bit, but I did not have the book completed when I watched the movie. I tell you what though, I went through the movie and all three books in three days and I’m blown away. It was pretty awesome considering what I was expecting. The series is more comparable to Harry Potter than Twilight, in my opinion.
When I finished Mockingjay, I closed the book with a shake and had to go take a shower to wash the invisible grime off my skin and bask in the happiness of the epilogue. It was perfect.
A lot of people say the third book wasn’t good. I admit I was thoroughly disheartened about halfway through, and the emotional disconnect of some of the primary characters lasted way too long. But it was appropriate. It made the end that much sweeter.
On to the highlight of the purpose of my post:
Love triangles in young adult novels are pretty much a staple plot line. Everyone has them. They are always melodramatic, fitting considering the angst of being a teenager. But Collins wrote a tip of an iceberg beauty that I will actually be proud to share with my daughter.
Love is presented very clearly as a choice. In a world that is completely out of Katniss Everdeen’s control, in times when her family’s safety is based on how she behaves towards others, in a time when the choices don’t seem to be hers at all but a manipulation tactic from the authorities in her life… who she loves and how she loves them is still her choice.
I’m so exhausted of whirlwind romances in young adult novels that are out of the teen’s control. They fell in love… they were destined… they were fated…. blah, blah, blah.
I believe that everything happens for a reason, I do. I believe that God has a plan, I do. But I also believe that loving others and how we show them that is a choice every step of the way. What I like about Collins’ book is the importance one simple choice leads to another choice to another and another and steam rolls into larger choices. The whole book is about the importance of weighing consequences, realities, and feelings within the scales of logic, need, and want. Sure, events out of the characters’ control changes circumstances, but given new circumstances what is the new ‘right’ choice.
I love it.
If you haven’t read the books, I tried to write this in such a way so I would not overwhelm you with blatant spoilers. I hope you understand my meaning without clear cut examples. Maybe when the dust settles I’ll write a spoiler alert review.