For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

8306761You guys, I’m sick. Curse you, evil germs! Now on to the review:

For Darkness Shows the Stars is a recently released YA novel that tries to fill some pretty big shoes – Jane Austen’s shoes to be exact. Diana Peterfreund sets out to retell the Austen classic, Persuasion, and I could not have been more excited. Thinking back, this retelling might be the only Austen related fiction I’ve ever read outside the purity of her own work. I had high hopes, especially after finishing a reread of Persuasion right before diving into Peterfreund’s re-imagining. The only thing I knew for sure was that the cover was gorgeous. And please forgive me but I’m going to post the Goodreads summary as my own was about three paragraphs too long.

It’s been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family’s estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot’s estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth–an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret–one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she’s lost him forever.

What a mixed bag this was for me. The dystopian world Peterfreund builds leaped to life from the very beginning. This new society is richly layered and so complex. The parallels between this future culture and the antebellum Southern society of plantations and slaves is well-done, adding a levity to Austen’s original class discussions that was much welcomed in a young adult novel. Peterfreund has turned the story of Persuasion into something beyond itself, if that makes sense. Let me better explain: Instead of a silly father and older sister, Elliot North has a very cruel and calculating family. Elliot’s just trying to ensure she’s living on an estate that doesn’t beat, rape, or degrade the workers in the same way that so many estates are now run. She’s not just trying to feed herself; she’s trying to feed all the people who live on her property in a world where food is not plenty.

I liked Elliot. She was deeply conflicted and for good reason. Should she try to genetically enhance her grain to feed more people or stay away from the technology that played God and ruined the human race? What a moral conundrum and Peterfreund handles the ambiguity well. We don’t end the novel with any kind of straight answer although you can see society moving in a certain direction. So much to ponder which really pleased me, particularly in young adult literature.

As for the new embodiment of Captain Wentworth, not such a huge fan. Firstly, his new name, Wentforth, was a bit too silly. The manchild himself was harsh and extremely terrible to Elliot upon his return. I didn’t see much of Austen’s Wentworth in Peterfreund’s creation and that saddened me. Also, the recreation of Wentworth’s letter at the end fell flat. I’m fairly certain that no one should ever try to improve upon or even modernize Austen’s romantic letters. That is just simply too impossible a task.

Wentforth aside, I adored everyone else. All the Reduced, Post-Reduced, and Luddites, whether good characters or nasty villains, were handled extraordinarily well. I’ll also add that Peterfreund managed to surprise me with plot twists several times despite giving major clues along the way. I’m not sure if I was just reading brainlessly or if she has quite the talent for sneaking up on readers. I’d like to vote for the latter!

Unfortunately, what plagued me most about For Darkness Shows the Stars was the ridiculously slow beginning. I didn’t feel the slightest bit involved until 100 pages in and didn’t feel entirely gripped until 200. I almost gave up – twice. However, by the novel’s end I wanted a book two badly. I wanted to know what happened in this world and which side eventually wins. The Luddites with their fear of technology or the rapidly increasing Post-Reductionists throwing caution to the wind? Are the Post-Reductionists actually a cured people? What about Elliot and her wheat, her crazy no-good family? WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Please and thank you, Diana Peterfreund.

 

 

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

6357708Sisters Red’s author Jackson Pearce and I went to college together. We were in the English program at overlapping times, but I’m not sure we ever properly met. Her face is extremely familiar, but I never knew her in any real way. I remember hearing when she published her first book, but then promptly forgot all about it. I started seeing her fairy tale re-telling novels recommended in various places and decided to give my fellow UGA grad a read. After languishing on my TBR shelf for close to a year, I picked up Sisters Red last week and looked forward to the Little Red Riding Hood re-imagining. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed by the time I reached the last page.

Scarlett and Rosie are sisters, 18 and 16 years old, respectively, whose grandmother was brutally eaten by a Fenrir (werewolf) before Scarlett managed to slay the wolf and save her and Rosie’s life. They were then taken in by their neighbors, a family of woodsmen. Scarred and missing one eye due to that attack plus her continuing mission to hunt down all the Fenrirs until they are destroyed, Scarlett begins recognizing signs of a strengthening in wolf numbers and wondering what could have them all upping the ante. Together with her sister and Silas (of the woodsmen), they move to the big city, where massive amounts of Fenrirs are gathering, in order to uncover the mystery and kill as many murdering wolfies as possible.

What worked? The darkness. Yes, this book is violent, gory, and apologetically brutal. These werewolves are not sexy and in no way bear any relationship to the likes of Jacob Black. They are blood-thirsty animals looking for a tasty human snack. I loved that. Werewolves SHOULD be scary. Pearce also creates a great sisterhood mythology. Scarlett and Rosie as bad-ass Fenrir hunters was refreshing. Reminded me a lot of Sam and Dean’s brotherly bond in the television series, Supernatural. There’s just something so appealing about sibling relationships and Jackson obviously has firsthand experience in this department – kudos!

What didn’t work? Almost everything else. Sorry. The fact that these wolves only target scantily clad club-going young females – so many things wrong with this scenario. I don’t want to get into a rape culture conversation or feminist theory, but you can hardly avoid it when discussing this plot line. Does it help that the hunters are female slayers? Perhaps, but not enough. I was also disappointed in Pearce’s constant harping on how ugly Scarlett was in comparison to her younger,  un-scarred sister. Scarlett’s scars were mentioned at least every other page. And as for Silas falling for Rosie – the obvious pretty girl – instead of Scarlett, that didn’t work for me either. How boring. It might be far more likely, but dammit – this is a fairly tale. Scarlett would have made the far more interesting choice.

Speaking of the romance plot, Silas is 21 and Rosis 16. Pearce doesn’t much care about this age difference and never even comments on it. And since the sisters and Silas don’t have any actual parental figures in their life, there’s no one to hold them accountable for their actions. It was weird. Why does YA always have these children (because that’s what they are) running around without any parental figures? Why is this a trope? Someone explain it to me. Can people only be interesting when they have absent parents?

Oh, and before I forget, the big twist ending was easily figured out within the first 50 pages. Also, the bit about all the wolves being wolves because they were the seventh son of a seventh son – yeah right. How many wolves could that curse possible produce? There can only be a very few humans born that meet that criteria. Not the thousands that occupy this novel. Insert dramatic eye-roll here, please.

As you can see, not a fan. I won’t be reading Pearce’s other companion novels which makes me rather sad as I had so looked forward to them in theory and wanted to support a home girl. If you’ve read any of her other books, let me know what you thought down in the comments!

Grrr…I forgot to mention something else and don’t want to take the time to properly edit it into the above review because I am LAZY! Something that bothered me – Pearce’s setting. The book takes place mostly in Atlanta which is my home and hers. She should have been able to fully realize Atlanta, but lost me so many times. Big yellow taxis? Last time I checked, that was NYC. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a yellow taxi in Atlanta. I believe ours are mostly white. The subway? Um…also NYC. We have MARTA, but it’s mostly above ground. If she hadn’t mentioned such landmarks as Piedmont Park, Atlanta would have been a complete stranger to me.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

9593911Pandemonium is the second book in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series and not one I was anxiously awaiting. My feelings for Delirium can only be described as lukewarm and it has been over a year since I finished that one. But with the third and final book, Requiem, due to hit shelves in March, I decided to dust off my copy of Pandemonium with hopeful, yet tempered, expectations.

I definitely won’t completely spoil (there are light spoilers sprinkled throughout) the first book for y’all Delirium virgins out there, but the general plot line of this series involves a world where love is seen as a disease and children undergo the ‘cure’ (essentially, a form of lobotomy) by the time they reach 18. Lena lives contentedly in this world until she falls for Alex and he opens her eyes to the truth of the world she has come to know and trust. You can read my full review of Delirium here.

Pandemonium opens in the first few moments following the cliffhanger ending of Delirium. Oliver’s narration has changed a bit, however, in that we now switch back and forth in time from then (immediately following Delirium) to now (a few months into the future). While many non-linear plots can feel more harrassing than pleasantly plot progressing, I must give Oliver props because I thought Pandemonium handled this back and forth quite well. It added a little something extra to the pacing that I felt was lacking in Delirium. I never once felt bored as the scenery was constantly changing and I was learning new things from page to page. Lena, herself, also felt like a much more developed and relevant protagonist.

I was pleased that Lena spends a large majority of this book without a boy by her side. Yes, Oliver does eventually introduce a love triangle of sorts, but the romantic relationship aspect doesn’t overwhelm the plot like so many YA novels, including Pandemonium’s predecessor. As for the love triangle, this one didn’t bother me. Nothing about Lena’s situation with Alex and Julian rings untrue. It’s only natural for Lena to move on thinking that Alex is dead, especially at such a young age and having been with Alex for so brief a time. I appreciated her ability to deal with her grief and move on struggling with her guilt all the while. That being said, Julian wasn’t my favorite character and of everyone present in Pandemonium. I definitely think he was the least well-rounded. He does have excellent potential, however, and I hope that Requiem does a better job garnering an emotional attachment to him.

For once, I actually thought the sequel outshone the first book and I’m eagerly anticipating the third book’s release! I’m glad I kept reading and think that Oliver fixed all the nitpicky problems that bothered me so much in Delirium. What most intrigues me about the next installment is yet another narrative switch – instead of alternating time lines we’re getting to see the trilogy wrap up through the perspectives of both Lena and her best friend Hanna. Can’t wait to see how things play out!

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

7719245More YA! I think I’m sort of addicted or maybe just enjoying short, fluffy reads during this holiday season. I’ve seen lots of positive reviews for this series claiming that Evie is a fun protagonist and that the paranormal creatures are far more original than other similar novels. I do have a paranormal weakness, so it was only a matter of time until I read Paranormalcy. Plus, the cover is absolutely gorgeous. Normally I don’t approve of the overdone pretty girls posing, but this cover actually relates to the story and the colors are magnificent.

Evie works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency. Orphaned, the Agency took her in when it became apparent that Evie wasn’t your average, everyday human. She has the ability to see through paranormal glamour. No creature can hide from her – vampires, fairies, hags…you name it. Very handy in a containment facility! At 16, she’s beginning to get a little claustrophobic, cloistered away in the Agency’s facilities and unable to lead the normal life of a teenage girl. Her best friend is a mermaid who can’t leave her tank. All this changes when a new-to-her paranormal teenage boy, Lend, breaks into the compound around the same time that paranormals begin being slaughtered by some unknown menace  Soon, Lend and Evie are on a mission to save the innocents, uncover the truth about the Agency, and free Evie from her prison-like home and perhaps even herself.

I gotta say, White has managed to create a very unique paranormal world in the midst of so many overdone paranormal tropes in the YA genre. The supernatural creatures you’ve come to know and understand are all there, but there’s also a slew of new creations that are fascinating and highly imaginative. Even your run-of-the-mill vampires are made more interesting by getting back to their dangerous roots and not being quite the sex gods literature has decided they should be. I appreciated this on so many levels.

Evie, as our protagonist, was also well done. She’s often whiny and immature which makes sense for a girl locked away from the world. Conversely, she’s also wise, witty, and older than her years since she’s been deprived of a normal childhood. I mean, she’s been bagging and tagging scary creatures since she was 8. This mixture of young and old in Evie’s voice comes off naturally and realistically. White truly understands her heroine and isn’t afraid to paint her as a flawed, strong-willed girl. Kudos, Ms. White.

The overall story was probably the weakest link. Paranormals in trouble, Evie has to save the day, and so on – not terribly original or unpredictable, but a fun ride nonetheless. You’ll turn the pages quickly which is all this sort of novel needs to accomplish anyway. We aren’t reading Paranormalcy to change our lives or learn something brilliant about the world around us. We just want to be entertained and the book manages this task fairly well.

The love interest, Lend, is well written. He’s a very unique supernatural being and his relationship with Evie is believable. They seem like normal high school students entering into their first relationship. Their chemistry is more cute than sexy, but nothing wrong with that. As for her ex, a fiesty fairy named Reth, I loved him so much for all his manipulative, slightly evil, and very sensual characterization. I never knew if we were supposed to love him or loathe him, but I sided on love. I think he’d be a very intriguing character going forward.

As for the end, White has managed to write a YA novel that doesn’t have a cliffhanger!!! This feat alone amazes me, but also has a rather large pitfall. I absolutely don’t feel the need to continue on with the series. Nothing has compelled me to soldier on alongside Evie and Lend. So as much as I complain about cliffhangers and unresolved questions, I do see their purpose in a series. When things get wrapped up, you put the characters away and tend to forget about the remaining novels too quickly. Perhaps the follow-ups, Supernaturally and Endlessly have gorgeous covers as well. Is that enough reason to buy them? Or maybe just to see what kind of evilly delicious trouble Reth can get into? We shall see!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

6567017Will Grayson, Will Grayson is only my second run in with John Green and my first with David Levithan.  I’ve been rec’d this book so many times that it’s shameful how long it has sat on my shelves neglected.  To be honest, I’m trying to space my John Green reading experiences out a bit since I’ve heard he writes the exact same characters over and over again.  He does them well, though, so I’m willing to overlook the redundancy.

In this particular story, Green and Levithan alternate chapters.  Each author writes from the perspective of one Will Grayson – yes, there are two (hence the title).  Basically, two high school students from the Chicagoland area meet randomly in a porn shop one night and discover they share the same name.  Their lives become intertwined through their mutual friendship with Tiny Cooper, a very large and very gay teen writing a musical based on his life.

This novel was a decent YA read and probably on my top 5 favorite YA reads for 2012.  I much preferred John Green’s Will Grayson which shocked me, especially considering the two characters are not wildly different.  At times, the only way I could tell them apart was that Levithan chose to write in all lowercase.  Levithan’s Will just was so dark, depressed, and hard to grasp as a well-rounded character.  I do appreciate his look into a kid struggling with clinical depression, especially a young man.  We don’t often get that perspective.  Also, Levithan’s Will made me laugh out loud several times.  Yay for the sarcasm!

What worked for Will Grayson, Will Grayson was, in fact, not a Will Grayson at all, but a Tiny Cooper.  I loved Tiny’s character and all the ways he met and didn’t meet gay stereotypes.  He shines throughout the entire novel, even in his cheesiest moment of triumph when his musical is finally staged.  He was also a beacon of shining light, humor, and hope which added a much needed brightness to the seriously negative natures of the two Graysons.

As you might have expected from the simple summary, there isn’t much plot in this story.  Definitely character driven which I find missing in YA literature in general.  In that respect, Green and Levithan both exceed in transcending the genre and writing a book about the young human spirit and real life challenges young adults face day-in and day-out.  They write characters that kids can see themselves in and can learn from.  And we adults can learn to understand the teenagers of today and how better to communicate with them – and even our own young selves.

My only problem was the incredible silliness of the end.  Not so much the musical itself, but the crowd’s reaction and the scheme Levithan’s Will Grayson manages to pull off.  Way over the top and completely unbelievable which didn’t seem appropriate for a novel so grounded in reality and honesty.  Not enough to dissuade me from liking the book overall, nor enough to keep me from recommending it to you fine folks!

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

11235712I’ve had such an intense love/hate relationship with YA fiction this year.  And even the supposedly awesome selections weren’t as amazing as I had hoped they would be.  I’m not sure why this is because normally reading 10-15 YA books a year is like crack to me.  Love me some YA.  But this year, not so much. (I’d love some recommendations of amazing YA if you’ve got them!)

However, Cinder was definitely a bright spot.  Soaked it right up – literally read in 1.5 sittings.  It’s a modern re-telling of Cinderella – very well done.  The story takes place far in the future after many world wars have changed the face and politics of planet Earth.  Cinder lives in New Beijing (old Beijing was destroyed) and is a cyborg.  She’s human, but with robotic parts.  She’s also a kick ass mechanic and her best friend is an android.  Her world is rocked when her youngest stepsister comes down with this pandemic plague virus that currently has no cure and Cinder becomes very important in the search for said cure.  Meanwhile, she’s also battling an evil stepmother, stepsister, alien Lunar Queen (you read that right), and her burgeoning crush on the gorgeous Prince Kai.

Most of YA is plot driven and Cinder is no different.  Meyer’s debut novel excels at pacing, story, and characters you come to really care about.  Her take on this fairy tale classic has all the original and essential elements – just with awesomely updated twists.  Plus, the Lunars’ story line adds something new and entirely fresh to enhance what could have merely been a super predictable re-telling.  Aliens, cyborgs, and handsome princes – yes, please!

Cinder endears herself to readers almost effortlessly.  You’ll be touched by her relationships with Peony and Iko and appalled by her stepmonster and the evil bitch queen.  But most importantly, you will CARE.  The romance element, which normally loses me in YA with all the insta-love, is well done here.  This is not love at first site and marriage after first kiss.  Kai and Cinder slowly get to know one another – Meyer actually just lets them crush for the whole book! Almost unheard of and absolutely appreciated.

I also loved Meyer’s world-building and that her story doesn’t take place in America. The Chinese setting lends a bit of mystique and flavor to the novel for those of us who haven’t grown up there or visited. Between China and the Moon, Meyer’s really stepping away from the norm of other YA novels which wins her a ton of points in my book.  I do hope that we learn a bit more about these world wars in future books.

Some readers might complain about the predictability of the story, but it didn’t bother me too much.  While I did see almost every plot twist well ahead of time, I enjoyed the journey regardless.  I looked forward to reading how Meyer’s unsuspecting characters would discover the truths and how these new realities would change and affect their lives.

Most importantly, I had so much fun reading Cinder and can’t wait for Scarlet, the second book in this 4 part series.  The idea of multiple fairy tale heroines teaming up together is exciting and superhero-ish in the best way.  Highly recommended for when you need some fast paced brain candy filled with action, political intrigue, and old-fashioned princesses getting a kick ass modern update.  Plus, the cover is GORGEOUS.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I’m writing this post a little ‘cold’ and unprepared because I’m unexpectedly going to see The Avengers tonight!  To say I’m excited is a ridiculous understatement.  I’m a Joss Whedon super fangirl.  As far as Perks is concerned, I’ve had a month to soak in the after reading funk and have come out on the side of – not a a huge fan.  And I’m entirely unapologetic about this unpopular opinion. (Spoilers below)

Chbosky’s debut novel presents itself as the universal tale of awkward teenagedom, especially that first year of high school. It was published in 1999 and follows Charlie as he writes letters to a ‘friend’ describing his freshman experiences as the ‘wallflower’.  Going in, I had reservations and expectations.  So many friends have lauded this book for its emotional revelations and ability to capture some truth of adolescence.  People who I trust have explained how the book saved their lives or got them through those turbulent years.  So. Much. Hype.  I avoided it like the plague despite the book being published during my freshman/sophomore years of high school.  I continued to avoid it during college and most of my twenties.

To put my expectations into perspective, I feared I’d feel about Charlie the way I now feel about Esther from The Bell Jar.  Reading The Bell Jar in college felt life altering.  She and I were the same person with the same problems.  I felt so much in common with her that I began to fear I was bat shit crazy and would end up with my own head in an oven (I know I’m mixing up Esther with Sylvia here, pretend it’s for effect).  But upon a reread a couple of years ago – in my late twenties – my perspective had completely changed.  All I wanted to do was shake the shiz out of Esther and yell at her that all this shit won’t matter in 10 years.  What if I was too far removed from high school to relate to Charlie?  What if I had missed my chance?

But my fears were misguided.  I liked Charlie from page one.  I enjoyed his voice, loved the execution of the epistolary storytelling, and found myself in several of his thoughts.  One particular feeling really registered with me even as an adult – the idea that you could be happy and miserable at the same time.  I happily flew through the first 100 pages before I began to get uncomfortable.  Something was off about Charlie – and not just in an awkward 15 year old way.  His emotional responses to things were not normal.  I put the book down and got in bed, ruminating on what could be Charlie’s real problem.  When I awoke, I felt positive that he was autistic and read the rest of the novel under that belief until all is revealed in the end.  And even though he’s not autistic, he is the victim of sexual abuse/molestation which leaves him physically, emotionally, and mentally crippled.  I was enraged.

Not at Charlie or his particular story.  I still adored Charlie and was so happy I had gotten to know him.  Instead, I was mad at all the people who explained how much they related to Charlie’s life and all the marketers who touted this novel as a ‘universal’ teenage story.  Are you kidding me?  What is universal about being sexually molested unless you have actually been molested?  For those kids who have unfortunately experienced this kind of trauma, then yes, this book is ‘universal’ and probably so incredibly cathartic to read.  But for the rest of us who were simply awkward wallflowers in high school, band geeks, sci-fi nerds, etc. – how can we possibly pretend to relate to Charlie?  How disrespectful to the truth of his life and his experiences.

I just got really angry.  I knew kids who had gone through that kind of ordeal early in their life.  Or who were autistic.  And to walk up to them and say – hey, I know just what you’re going through because being a teenager sucks and sometimes I feel so sad I can’t even cry – what a holy fucking mess.

Again, I’m angry at the readers – not the book, not Charlie, and not Stephen Chbosky.

My second and far more minor problem with Perks is the misleading title and idea of what being a ‘wallflower’ is.  Charlie is not a wallflower.  He approaches Sam and her brother to befriend them, he tells Sam he likes her, and he has a handful of friends he spends lots of time with.  How is this being a wallflower?  I don’t even consider myself a true wallflower and I didn’t have the nerve to tell my crush I liked him or randomly befriend strangers all of a sudden at football games.  And just because you aren’t the most popular kid at school or have the biggest social circle doesn’t make you a wallflower either.  I had a handful of awesome friends – we weren’t popular; we weren’t unpopular – and most of my high school experiences were great.

And then there’s Sam.  When Charlie admits to liking her, she explains that he must not feel that away about her and that she doesn’t return his feelings.  And God Bless the boy, he respects what she says and remains her friend – doing his best to support her and her boyfriend.  When said boyfriend is revealed to be a total cheating douche, Sam has the nerve to berate Charlie for not immediately rushing in and claiming Sam as his own.  God forbid he just give her some space.  I mean, she has already told him she doesn’t like him.  And then to say he lacks the ability to take action and that if he likes her he should just ignore what she said and take her as his own anyway.  EXCUSE ME?  What lesson does this teach teenage boys?  Girls are stupid, don’t know what they want, never mean what they say, don’t want to be respected – and this is the kicker – No. Means. Yes.  Chbosky, what were you thinking?  Maybe we’re just supposed to chalk it up to teenage stupidity and lack of life experiences.  Sam and Charlie obviously still have much to learn.  But for a book that seems to be so validating to its young audience, I just think this path might have frightening affects on a teenage psyche that hasn’t reached full maturity yet.

Has anyone else read this and think I’m way over-thinking things?  I absolutely could be.  Did I entirely miss the point?  Please let me know.  Perks was my bookclub’s April selection, but our discussion won’t take place until the end of May so I’d love your thoughts.  I firgured I’d cool down the longer I was separated from the novel, but that hasn’t happened.  I don’t know why, but this book has affected me more than any other this year.  And garnered the longest post known to man.  Kudos if you made it all the way through!