Dystopian worlds; and a review of The Uninvited, Liz Jensen

I’ve read a few reviews of Revolution that have said it would be a more interesting show if (well, if several things, but the relevant one here is if) instead of starting fifteen years on from the blackout, it had a chronological plotline starting from the blackout. In fact (said these reviews), very few dystopian world pieces of media really show you how they got there. They’ll talk about how they got there, in greater or lesser degrees of detail, but that won’t be the plot of the story/show/movie/book.

There isn’t anything wrong with doing it this way, to be sure. The point of a dystopian setting is roughly the same as the point of many speculative fiction settings; i.e., to explore ideas about how to be a person means when the present-day understanding of the rules of personhood don’t apply. And it’s hard to write a book about the world as we know it changing to accommodate a new reality. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of very many — can you? There’s Life As We Knew It, which scared the poop out of me by coming off way too plausible, and there’s The Uninvited (more on that in a bit), and then…what else? Maybe zombie media do it? (I don’t really read zombie books much.)

The Uninvited is a book about the breakdown — slow at first, then faster and faster. It begins with a rash of incomprehensible deaths. Here and there across the country are reports of very young children killing their caretakers in shocking, brutal ways. But Hesketh Lock’s main concern is a series of apparently unrelated sabotage-suicide cases in various large-scale businesses. Each of the saboteurs claims that he was forced to act this way by young, malicious creatures of local legend — djinns in the Middle East, trolls in Scandinavia. As Hesketh tries to keep his loved ones safe from these new epidemics, he also struggles to understand the patterns and reasons that underlie the inexplicable changes to the world he lives in.

The build-up to the apocalypse (if, in light of the ending, that’s what you want to call it) is very good, very creepy. It starts small, one child, one murder; then shifts to the business investigations Hesketh is doing. The recurring elements in these investigations — the folklore, the sabotage, the suicide attempts — are disturbing in just the right measure. The saboteurs are claiming possession and then dying before they can say much more about it. Meanwhile, the child violence is spreading. Hesketh’s narrative voice is perfect for this. He is on the autism spectrum and is very attuned to patterns.

What worked best about The Uninvited (for me) was its relatively small focus. The details of the global catastrophe — the saboteurs bringing down construction sites, factories, airports, and so forth — kick off the book, but then they are mostly let go in favor of the pandemic of child violence; specifically, in favor of the aspects of the pandemic that directly affect Hesketh. Who has a young stepson called Freddie. It won’t be spoiling anything a sensible person wouldn’t guess to say that Freddie is affected — I won’t say to what degree — by whatever is affecting so many other children in this world. Around the edges of Hesketh’s single-minded focus on Freddie are the changes to the rest of the world. Emergency services are unable to keep up with all the cases of violence; infected (?) children wander the street in hierarchical gangs trying to avoid the vigilante justice of terrified adults. A few scientists are trying to study the children to figure out what has happened to them.

I liked it that the point of Hesketh wasn’t his autism spectrum disorder. The point of him — it turns out — is his fatherhood. He loves Freddie and will do anything for him. This isn’t something you see played out very often with autistic characters. In particular, I liked it that the book doesn’t depend on his being autistic. There are a lot of books where autistic narrators are used as the same brand of unreliable narrator as children — that the reader can see more than the narrator can about what’s really going on. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I’ve seen enough books that do it to where I’m a bit tired of it. It was refreshing that The Uninvited wasn’t that.

While the shift from normalcy to panic in the world works well, I didn’t think the shift from panic to the new normal was quite as well considered. You don’t get any real sense of what the world is going to be like with this new reality, neither on the grand scale nor on the small scale of just Hesketh and his family. The resolution of the mystery of the child violence was unsatisfying to me. It doesn’t hit you hard when Hesketh realizes what’s happening, and it hardly gets played out at all. It’s just sort of, My God, THIS is what’s happening. Fin.

So, the build-up was good, and the resolution not as good. It was fun for a change to see how the world turns into one of the postapocalyptic landscapes that seem to be all over our media these days.

Do y’all like seeing the world fall to bits in fiction, or do you like it better (as people must, I guess? since that’s what movies of this type tend to feature?) when the world has already fallen to bits and the people are settled into their new normal? Can you think of other examples of books/movies/shows where you see the adjustment? I seriously can’t think of any besides the Pfeffer book. GOD that book was scary.

I received an e-galley of The Uninvited for review through NetGalley.

Review: The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Here’s what happened. The lovely and beautiful Jeanne, who has probably the best blog name out there and is also just an awesome person, sent me The Gone-Away World for my birthday last year. It came in the mail and was a complete and delightful surprise, and I was so touched, and I started reading The Gone-Away World right away because Jeanne said it was one of her favorite books ever. Immediately had no idea what the hell was happening. There were, like, pigs? And some sort of pipe disaster that maybe had something to do with radiation? And lots of made-up/repurposed words that I didn’t understand? And I was like, Oh hell, not only am I not going to like Jeanne’s favorite book, I’m not going to like the favorite book she sent me as a present. To avert this disaster, I swiftly shelved it on my shelves and did not read it anymore. Because apparently I subscribe to the ostrich school of problem-solving.

PSA: Ostriches don’t really do that. You may continue to use them as a metaphor as I have done above, but do please be aware that they don’t really bury their heads in the sand. I mean, how would that even work? Would they dig it with their beaks? In which case the danger would have definitely already eaten them/passed by the time they dug a hole deep enough to bury their heads in? Would they use preexisting holes? What if they weren’t near a hole?

Anyway, I realized recently that it had been almost a whole year since Jeanne so sweetly sent this book to me and I ungratefully failed to read it, and I was like, Oh screw it, I am the worst gift recipient in the whole world, I am going to read this book already. If I hate it I’ll just say, It was very inventive!

The Gone-Away World is a difficult book to describe. It’s a dystopian novel about a world only made livable by the Jorgmund Pipe, now on fire and threatening the realm of safety that has been carved out in the wake of a war that has left whole chunks of the world missing. As our narrator and his friends set out to repair the Pipe — a dangerous mission from which they know they will not all return — we are sent backward in time to hear the story of the narrator’s life before the war, and his friendship (really his brotherhood) with Gonzo Lubitsch.

Reading Jeanne’s review, I observe that she, too, had a difficult time getting into this book. It’s a difficult book to get into! The first chapter drops you in media res, and you think you know exactly what kind of world you’re in — post-nuclear probably, lots of radiation poison and other unpleasant fallout — but can I just tell you now? That is not the world you’re in. When the book finally reached the point of explaining all the things that had baffled and alienated me in the first chapter, it turned out to be an incredibly inventive sort of dystopia, the sort of thing that has weird and new possibilities that you wouldn’t have thought of and haven’t seen before. So that was excellent. I was completely surprised by how much I liked the parts of the book that dealt with the destruction and rebuilding of the world. It was a new, fascinating, awesome kind of dystopia, and I was sad when the book ended because I wanted to see more of that world.

(I realize I just said the book was inventive, which is what I said I was going to say if I didn’t like the book, but I did like the book. It’s just difficult to talk about it without saying it was inventive.)

The structure of the book, another thing that maddened me because I hate it when a book/movie/TV show is like “APOCALYPTIC SCENE OF CATASTROPHE” and then flashes a scene of bucolic pleasantness with a caption of “Six months previously”, turned out to make much better sense than I initially thought. This is a deliberately vague remark, the purpose of which is to assure readers who, like me, have trouble getting into the book, that there is a method to Nick Harkaway’s madness. Have faith, and he will pay thee all. Is what I’m saying. The sensibleness of flashing back will strike you in time, and you will go “Oh that’s why he wrote it this way.” I promise that will happen.

The writing didn’t charm me as much as it did Jeanne — sometimes it was funny, but sometimes it felt arch and fake. That wasn’t a huge deal, though, because so much insane stuff kept happening. So much insane stuff. All the insanest stuff. Basically,The Gone-Away World does not so much zig when you expect it to zag, as KAPLOOEY when you expect it to zag. And I say that in the best possible sense. As events unfold, there will be points at which you think you know what’s going to happen, but I promise you, you do not know what is going to happen. Like, at all.

Thank you, wonderful Jeanne! I am a dumb bunny for not reading The Gone Away World sooner, and I’ll definitely be trying Nick Harkaway’s new book Angelmaker when my library gets it in.

Lots of other reviews! Check them out here.

Review: Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness

Dear heavenly God. This book. Listen, everyone: Monsters of Men is being released in America on the 28th. That gives you just about enough time to go get the first two books in the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, and read them before Monsters of Men comes out. I strongly advise this course of action if you have not already read the series. Do it now. You will thank me later.

I started writing this post during Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and that feels fitting because if there is any set of books for which I am grateful to book bloggers, it is the Chaos Walking series. I wouldn’t have read this series, or probably even looked twice at it, without the blogosphere’s ardent recommendations, and that would have been terrible because it’s quickly become one of my most favorite series in all the land, surpassing books by authors I have loved for much longer. Like, I asked myself which could I more easily live without, the Chronicles of Chrestomanci or the Chaos Walking books? If one of them were going to be lost forever to human history, and I had to pick which one got to survive, I’d pick Chaos Walking. And y’all know how I love Diana Wynne Jones.

I shall continue to honor spoiler-free September for this book, but I really can’t talk about it at all without spoiling the first two books to some extent (as in: who survives the first two books). If you haven’t read The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, please return to the first paragraph and follow its instructions before continuing reading this post. You will be happier in your life.

Where to begin? There were so many good things about Monsters of Men that naming just one, or even naming a few, feels completely inadequate. When the book opens, Todd has just freed the Mayor to command the human armies against the Spackle; Viola has gone to meet a scouting party from her colonization ship. The war against the Spackle proceeds along predictably horrifying lines, and even though you know the Spackle are justified, and the Mayor is evil sauce, you can’t help aligning yourself with the humans. Given your pick of humans and aliens, you’ll pick humans. Meanwhile, back at the scouting party, there is a different kind of awesome as Viola is reunited with two of the people who raised her on the colonization ship. Ness absolutely nails this: Viola has been through so much since she saw these people last, but in their minds she’s still the girl they’ve known all her life, and they are responsible for taking care of her.

Ness basically nails everything. There is not a false note in this whole damn book. Monsters of Men introduces a third narrator, the Spackle 1017 whom Todd let go in The Ask and the Answer. I was afraid this was going to feel put on, but that fear was, of course, unfounded. The Spackle’s narration gives us the aliens as they see themselves, complicating (of course) the war between humans and Spackle; and it also gives us his side of the events of The Ask and the Answer, which are even sadder than we knew at the time, and more heartbreaking than I would have anticipated. And, y’all, I anticipated a fair amount of heartbreak.

From the utter bleakness that was The Ask and the Answer, I thought Monsters of Men was going to be unmerciful, and it wasn’t that. Terrible things happened to major characters, but there were also moments of pure joy. I am thinking of one specific scene about two-thirds of the way through that filled my heart with happiness. If you’ve read it you probably know what I mean. Something happened that I desperately wanted to happen but did not think Patrick Ness would allow to happen, and I cried like a baby and read that scene over and over again. It is one of the greatest strengths of these books that Patrick Ness never ever fails to get the emotion he’s aiming for. I want to read these books a million times. Monsters of Men is a perfect conclusion to the Chaos Walking series. I have no complains whatsoever and will now go and reread that one scene again because it makes me cry just thinking about it. WITH JOY.

So many thanks to Heather at Candlewick Press for the review copy she sent me of this book. I was going insane waiting for it to come out in America and would have perished if I’d had to wait until September. Also, my family and friends were impressed that I got an advance reader’s copy, and I believe it was as a result of this that my mother, my friend, my sister, and my sister’s boyfriend all agreed to read this trilogy, and they loved it. Of course. How could they not? (Well, Captain Hammer has only read the first book so far, but he liked it and will assuredly like the subsequent books even more.)

Other reviews, probably including some spoilery ones, proliferate. Go ye to the Book Blogs Search Engine. And once again I would like to extend my strong and heartfelt thanks to Ana, who convinced me to read this series in the first place, kindly told me in April whether Todd and Viola were going to survive, and encouraged me to ask Candlewick Press for an ARC when I was shy.

Absolutely spoiler-free review of Mockingjay

I have had Carly Simon’s “Mockingbird” stuck in my head for the past week and a half. Except instead of “bird” I keep hearing “jay”. Mock–ye-ah; ing–ye-ah; jay–ye-ah. It’s gotten kind of old. All the time I was reading Mockingjay I’ve had this song in my head, and ever since then. To my joy, I read the end of Mockingjay at the bookshop ages before I started reading the library copy for real, so it didn’t fall under no-spoilers September. This worked out nicely for me because the rest of the book is pretty intense, and I am not positive I wouldn’t have cracked under pressure and read the end in spite of my no-spoilers rule.

(No, I wouldn’t have. I didn’t with Jellicoe Road and I didn’t with Half a Crown.)

Right now I just decided that no-spoilers September means NO SPOILERS WHATSOEVER. No spoilers in my reviews either. Yeah, I can totally do it. Here is my spoiler-free summary of Mockingjay, which also contains no spoilers for the first two books. Following the events of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, Katniss and Peeta are both in difficult situations. Gale too. (Y’all, the background of my laptop just turned Mockingjay blue. Is this a sign that I’m doing right by avoiding spoilers?) After some further difficult situations, each more fraught with moral implications than the last, the characters who survive carry on in the world created by the way they acted.

(Is no-spoilers September as unreservedly awesome for you so far as it is for me?)

Many have been the complaints and mighty the displeasure at the bleak turn the Hunger Games trilogy takes as it approaches its end. But I thought the bleakness made sense. You can’t have a difficult situation of the Mockingjay sort (I am consistent like a piston with this no-spoilers month) (yes, “consistent like a piston” doesn’t make sense. But neither does “chilling like a villain”, and people still carry on saying that) without it working out poorly for a certain number of the characters. Or, to steal the words of Mssrs. Croup and Vandemar, you can’t make an omelet without killing a few people. Mockingjay takes a direction that is consistent with the first two books and, artistically speaking, inevitable.

Yes. Artistically speaking, inevitable. When I’m forced to avoid spoilers, I start to sound like a slightly douchy creative writing undergrad. True story about me: I’m better with spoilers.

(This review is mostly a joke about how lame my life is without spoilers. If you want to read proper and spoilery reviews, hit up the Book Blogs Search Engine, because everyone has been reading this book in the last couple of weeks, and they have had a lot of feelings about it.)

The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness

Y’all.  For serious.  Patrick Ness.

The Ask and the Answer has caused me to lose the power to form sentences.  I am not even lying.  I was sat there in the Bongs & Noodles right after I finished reading the book (which isn’t officially out yet – I love it when the bookshop doesn’t care), and someone asked if the seat next to me was taken.  I believe my exact words were “Nnng blfff chair sit.  I mean, no,” and then I wanted to tell them all about The Ask and the Answer and how intense and terrifying it was.  You know how some books make you want to talk about them?  And you have to really try hard not to, because you know if you start talking you’re going to babble?  That is The Ask and the Answer for me.

Patrick Ness, not afraid to go to the dark place.  Dark like exploring how a person who participates in slavery can come to sympathize with it; i.e., triple extra dark.  So dark that if it were Lindt chocolate IT MIGHT EVEN BE TOO DARK FOR ME, and I say this as a girl who loves the 80% cacao Lindt chocolate.  And I expect there will be spoilers for The Knife of Never Letting Go in this review, because I can’t help it; but only minor spoilers for The Ask and the Answer.

Todd and Viola have been separated by the old Mayor of Prentisstown, now styling himself as the President of New Prentisstown (what used to be Haven); and each of them are hostage for the other’s good behavior.  As Viola recovers from being shot, the Mayor tries to convince her that he’s working for the good of the planet.  Meantime Todd works alongside Davy Prentiss (you know, the kid that just shot Viola), supervising a herd of enslaved alien creatures (Spackle).  The Mayor asks more and more of Todd, always threatening him with Viola’s death-

(I keep writing “the Mayor” and thinking of hand sanitizer.)

Yeah, so Todd becomes an overseer for this massive herd of Spackle, while Viola, in the healers’ house, is asked over and over by the Mayor to persuade the healers – one in particular – that the Mayor means to create a good civilization for them. Mistress Coyle, the one in particular, isn’t having any of it.  She and some of the other healers prove to be part of an underground guerrilla fighting group called The Answer, and she tries to get Viola to fight on her side.  Essentially Todd and Viola are both fiercely recruited for opposite sides of a war for the world, even though all they really want is to find each other again.  Never sure what to believe, they do come to identify with the people with whom they have fallen in.  In spite of being elaborately and repeatedly manipulated.

These books are so bleak!  And good!  And bleak!  Viola and Todd have to grow up a lot in these books, and make fantastically difficult decisions while being unable to trust the main people in their lives.  Because, of course, they want to be the main people in each other’s lives, but they have been separated.  They are not even sure whether they can trust each other.  It is bleak, but it is really about the power of love (like the bleakest possible ever book on that theme), and the identities we create for ourselves (and that others create for us).

If you haven’t read The Knife of Never Letting Go, you should get on that, and then read also The Ask and the Answer.  They are painful and sad and all about redemption.  (I wish Todd would get to read his mum’s notebook already.  I know it’s going to make me cry but I want to know what she says.)  I am desperate to read the third one, Monsters of Men it is apparently going to be called, which is not coming out even in the UK until next year.  Hmph.

Other reviews: things mean a lot, Persnickety Snark, Karin’s Book Nook, Kids Lit, YA Reads

Let me know if I missed yours!

Siberia; August 15th

It’s August 15th!  Happy Independence Day, India!  Where my excellent friend is and I hope she is having a good time teaching children!  And Happy Assumption of the Virgin Day, Catholics!  I didn’t go to church today despite its being a holy day of obligation, but never mind, I will go another time.  And, says my newspaper, and Wikipedia agrees with me, it is also happy birthday to Phyllis Schlafly, which I normally wouldn’t mention except it’s such a coincidence because I was just thinking about her the other day reading The Handmaid’s Tale!

(When I was in high school and my mum was getting her degree in theology, she had this book called Texts of Terror, by an excellent scholar of Biblical feminism called Phyllis Trible.  And I always scowled at it blackly on the bookshelf when I saw it because I thought it was Phyllis Schlafly, and I knew I didn’t care for Phyllis Schlafly.  And then one time I pulled it out and looked at it properly, and discovered it was close readings of several Biblical incidents involving harm to women.  Not Phyllis Schlafly at all.  Phyllis Trible is someone totally different.)

But on to Ann Halam‘s Siberia, which I read about on Sharry’s blog.  Another YA dystopia book – apparently I can’t get enough of these.  In this case, Sloe and her mother grow up in a snowy wasteland of wretchedness, having been banished thither due to her mother’s scientist proclivities.  The unpleasant future here includes not only lots of hateful government taking people off and killing/banishing them, but no wild animals at all left in the world.  Sloe’s mum is the secret guardian of “seed kits”, which contain the seeds of animals that will allow the earth to be repopulated someday.  Their mission is to bring the kits eventually to a city where they will be safe.

This didn’t really work for me.  Maybe I am dystopia’d out.  This world didn’t feel real, and neither did Sloe’s quest to bring her little seed animals to safety – how could they really use them to repopulate the earth, with the government in power?  They’d just get shot!  I didn’t get a sense of the way the government works, or how the world had ironed itself out (like where were the luxury people that apparently exist?  I don’t know!  It was confusing!), and I didn’t think the seed kit animals were well-explained.  Plus, here are some spoilers for you, I was mad that Sloe’s mum was alive in the end.  I thought the story lacked an emotional punch, and I think it was partly because the environment didn’t seem terribly threatening (as evidenced by Sloe’s mum’s survival).

On the other hand, I was reading it at the hospital, an atmosphere not conducive to reading pleasure, and I have to admit, I was flying through and possibly not paying much attention to it.  I think it could have done with some more fleshing out of the world they live in, but my other criticisms may be completely unfair.  And why am I mad that the mum survived?  I always want people’s loved ones to survive in dystopian books!  Sheesh.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale is feminist dystopian satire.  It was sort of a box-tick read, but it was very good, and well-written, and I’m glad I read it and I never ever want to read it again.  In slightly-future America, now a fascist misogynist theocracy called Gilead, Offred (but June, really) is a Handmaid.  This means that she has viable ovaries, and is responsible for producing babies.  Once a month she has sex with the Commander to whom she belongs, and her life is sharply circumscribed – she can’t read, can’t walk in public by herself, can’t talk to other men.

The book is not a straightforward narration of events – what fun would that be, for a Bad Future America?  June’s narration tilts between times, the present and the past and the little she can imagine of her future.  We gradually begin to get a picture of June’s life as a Handmaid – dancing around forbidden subjects with fellow Handmaids and other members of the household, trying to navigate changing relationships with the Commander and his Wife, who used to be an awful Phyllis Schafly person in the time before Gilead became a fascist theocracy.  And June talks about her life before, her husband and daughter, and the events that led up to where she is now, including her time in a women’s indoctrination school.

The Handmaid’s Tale made me feel upset – or, actually, as I have been rigorously trained not to say that anything makes me feel anything, I felt upset when I was reading The Handmaid’s Tale.  Obviously that’s the point!  I just don’t think I’m going to read it again.  She just makes it seem so viable – they draw a comparison with Iran, and I’ve been reading about Iran, and it’s scary.  Like, June talks about the speed with which she has adapted to her new life: it’s been only a few years, but already she is shocked to see the clothes on women from other countries, skirts to the knee, and lipstick.  I don’t know – June’s life has become so small, even from what it was at the indoctrination school.  Upsetting.

Something else that upset me: June tells stories about her friend Moira, a feminist who went to her same college, and who was at June’s same indoctrination school.  Moira is brave and rebellious – she swears and gossips and escapes from the school – and June admires this.  But still she recognizes that she isn’t as brave as Moira, and she tries to imagine that Moira finds a way to be free.  “Moira is right,” she says, almost at the end.  “I am a wimp.”  (I’m not brave either.)

Oh, but (spoilers here!) there was one of those lovely unresolved endings that I like so much.  I like these because then things always end happily.  In my mind, June escaped and  she found Luke and she went through the Phyllis Schafly person to find her daughter, and then she got her daughter back, and they moved to Canada, the true North strong and free (yeah, I know that song), and lived happily ever after.  I love it when grim books let you decide what happens in the end.

A bit I liked, about the pre-Gilead days:

There were places you didn’t want to walk, precautions you took that had to do with locks on windows and doors, drawing the curtains, leaving on lights.  These things you did like prayers; you did them and you hoped they would save you.  And for the most part they did.  Or something did; you could tell by the fact that you were still alive.

And this, from one of the women who indocrinates June.

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia.  Freedom to and freedom from.  In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.  Don’t underrate it….We seemed to be able to choose, [in the old days].  We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice.

The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others.  How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable.  They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives.

We were the people who were not in the papers.  We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print.  It gave us more freedom.

We lived in the gaps between the stories.

I want to read more Margaret Atwood.  I love how she writes.  I only didn’t give this five stars because it gave me a nightmare.  Dammit.  Without even being true!

Other reviews: Book Nut, The Book Lady’s Blog, The Luscious Literary Muse, Books for Breakfast, The Bluestocking Society, Books and Other Stuff, Violet Crush, It’s All About Me, read warbler, things mean a lot, Valentina’s Room, Reading Reflections, In Spring It Is the Dawn, A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook, Rebecca Reads, Boston Bibliophile, and let me know if I missed yours!

An open letter to Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Never Letting Go

Wow, Patrick Ness, color me super impressed.  Way to create a distinctive, consistent, memorable voice for your protagonist.  That isn’t easy.  I have not read a book where I enjoyed the narrator’s voice so much since, mm, The Book Thief, and before that The Ground Beneath Her Feet.  Which are two of my all-time favorite books.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is based on a fantastic premise, that the aliens in this settled world have given the settlers the disease of Noise, which killed all the women and left the men able to hear each other’s thoughts; and then the youngest boy in the settlement of Prentisstown finds a girl.  A live girl!  The book is fast-paced and exciting and frightening.  The title is perfect.  The relationship between Todd and Viola is utterly real – all the relationships are, actually, and even though this is a plot-driven book, damn, Patrick Ness, you just nail those emotional moments every single time.  Like this?  (Major spoilers in the block text below, so skip to the subsequent paragraph if you haven’t read the book.  Even if you don’t care about spoilers – if you haven’t read the book, you won’t know how great this is because all the context isn’t there, but trust me, it is great.)

Ben nods again, slow and sad, and I notice now that he’s dirty and there’s blood clotted on his nose and he looks like he ain’t eaten for a week but it’s still Ben and he can still read me like no other cuz his Noise is already asking me bout  Manchee and I’m already showing him and here at last my eyes properly fill and rush over and he takes me in his arms again and I cry for real over the loss of my dog and of Cillian and of the life that was.

“I left him,” I say and keep saying, snot-filled and coughing.  “I left him.”

“I know,” he says and I can tell it’s true cuz I hear the same words in his Noise.  I left him, he thinks.

Ouch.  Also, chills.

And you know what else, Patrick Ness?  Since I have gotten started talking about the good things about your book, and how it’s just everything that’s great about being great?  What else is, hooray for you, portraying a gay couple without making a big thing of it – we know they’re a couple because they act like a couple, not because you (the author) gets all THESE ARE TWO GAY PEOPLE THAT ARE GAY; they are just a couple, and that is nice, and it is normalizing, and there should be more of that going on in literature.  Oo, and, okay, also?  Aaron was about the dreadfullest villain I ever read about in my life.  (That isn’t a spoiler – you can always tell he’s insane.)

Here’s the thing, Patrick Ness.  You already did it!  You already created Todd’s voice!  You did it using only your words!  Your achievement is a remarkable achievement, because it is damn hard to create a voice like that, and you did it ever so beautifully.  Why, why, why did you need to do that silly dialect thing?  “Yer” is not necessary!  “Cuz” is not really necessary either!  And I can assure you that there is no possible world in which “conversayshun” would ever be necessary, because that is how the word is already pronounced.  It’s not an accent.  It’s how you say the word.  And “an asking” instead of “a question” is both silly and jarring.  It mildly chagrins my dazzle to see you relying on dialecty crutches this way, when Todd’s voice, and the atmosphere of the world you’ve created, are already just about perfect.

Since I am having a moan anyway, here’s my other (teeny-tiny) gripe, which contains massive spoilers.  I feel like the Big Prentisstown Reveal could have happened sooner.  At least part of it could have happened sooner.  I say, tell about how they killed all the women earlier on in the book (have one of the townspeople tell Todd, or something) – we pretty much figure that out anyway, right?  It’s part of the emotional arc of the story, but it’s not the central part.  The reveal you want to save for close to the end is that Prentisstown keeps on killing their own, to allow the boys to become men.  That is what’s crucial to the events that occur immediately after Ben tells it to Todd – plotwise and emotional-story-arc-wise.  Plus, if we already had the reveal about the women, we would think, okay, we’re done, now we know why nobody likes Prentisstown, and then the other thing would really slap us in the face, because it is pretty chilling.

(I mean, it wouldn’t slap me in the face.  I would already know because I would have read the end (as indeed I did!) and found out what was what.  This was helpful to me in making judgments about where each reveal should have occurred.  Reading the end: the Way, the Truth, and the Light, verily I say unto ye.)

Once I get started complaining, I can’t stop, so here’s my last complaint.  Patrick Ness, WHY ARE YOU BRITISH?  And also WHY DID I NOT READ THIS BOOK SOONER?  My sister has just now returned from Ireland, and if I had read this book like, like two days sooner, I could have told her to buy me the sequel, which is out in the UK now but not out in the US until September.  I really loved the books I read last week, but I would have loved them a few days later, and then I could have had The Ask and the Answer on Thursday when my sister comes all the way properly home.

To conclude, Patrick Ness, you are awesome, and future books would not suffer if you eighty-sixed the fakey dialect bit.  Also (spoilers!  Spoilers!), given that this book turned me into an emotional wreck, you, um, you could go ahead and have it turn out that Ben is still alive.  And, um, I mean, Cillian too.  That would be fine.  It wouldn’t mess up anything!  I would be happy!  Todd and Ben would be happy!  We would all be happy!  I wouldn’t feel like you had cheated!  Just if you wanted to have it turn out that way.  I only mention it.

Kisses and hugs,
Jenny

Other reviews:

things mean a lot
Bart’s Bookshelf
books i done read
Becky’s Book Reviews
Confessions of a Bibliovore
Fantasy Book Critic
Librarilly Blonde
The Well-Read Child
Wands and Worlds
YA Reads
YA Fabulous
Karin’s Book Nook
The Page Flipper
Reading the Leaves
Bookannelid
Lisa the Nerd
Kids Lit
Bitten by Books
Books and So Many More Books
A Hoyden’s Look at Literature

Let me know if I missed yours!

The Children of Men, P.D. James

So my thoughts on the film version of Children of Men sort of went like this: Mmmm, Clive Owen.  And then, Ah yes, apocalypse, issues being dealt with – I feel like this is a perfect time for Clive Owen to strangle someone with his bare hands.  This is shallow, I know, but I just have this reaction to Clive Owen every time I see him.  Even in Gosford Park when there was absolutely no chance of his strangling someone with his bare hands, because it was all proper and British up in that movie.

My thoughts on the book did not include any reflections about Clive Owen.  I was underwhelmed, I have to say.  For a dystopian novel, this was pretty tame.  All the women in the world have stopped having babies (that’s quite excellent as a premise!), so the world is slowly dying out.  Not very nice for anyone.  The protagonist, Theo, is cousin to the Warden of England; he keeps a diary and gets approached by a group of dissidents.  They want him to approach the Warden and ask the Warden to fix some things, like the officially-voluntary-but-really-sort-of-compulsory mass suicide of the elderly.  This doesn’t work out, as you might expect, and then it turns out that one of the dissidents is pregnant!  And then they have to go on the run!

Here was my problem, and I’m going to have spoilers here.  The whole thing lacked a feeling of suspense.  There wasn’t a viable enemy – the pregnant chick was convinced that she would die instantly if the government found her, so that’s why they were on the run.  I didn’t have a feeling that they were in really terrible danger, even after several of their group got caught and killed.  For some reason, Theo kept a diary for half the book, alternating with third-person narrative, and then he was like, Meh, I’m tired of this diary business, which felt like P.D. James saying, Why did I start this diary in the first place?  Jesus.  You don’t find out Julian’s pregnant until halfway through the book.  I WAS DISPLEASED.

However, I still want to read some of P.D. James’s proper mysteries.  Dystopia may not be her thing.  And I don’t really like dystopian books either, although I seem to have read a lot of them in the past year for some reason.

Other thoughts:

an adventure in reading
books i done read
Grasping for the Wind
Books on Screen
Books and Other Stuff
Ready When You Are, C.B.
she treads softly
Semicolon

Let me know if I missed yours!

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

So in case you’ve been living in a hole and not hearing about The Hunger Games – it’s a grim, grim dystopian future, and every year the government makes each of the twelve districts send one boy and one girl (ages 12-18) to participate in the Hunger Games where they all get placed in a specially designed Perilous Terrain and fight to the death on live TV.  Katniss, our dauntless protagonist, volunteers to take her little sister’s place, and the other tribute turns out to be the baker’s son Peeta (I know, right?), who once saved Katniss and her family by giving them bread when they were starving.  And while they’re there, Peeta declares his love for her – this is great television – and she’s all, Oh it’s a ploy to get audience sympathy la la la while Peeta pines away and she tries to decide whether she likes Peeta best or whether she wants her sexy woodlands lover Gale.  Oh, and they also participate the Hunger Games where everyone tries to kill everyone else.  This takes up a lot of time.

Why is the kid’s name Peeta?  Seriously.  It’s fine for Katniss having a stupid name because everyone already loves her (and I’m sorry to report that Gale calls her Catnip), but since she is going to eventually have to choose between Peeta and Gale (I assume – I mean she could go all Pocahontas and end up marrying some random stranger, or she could do something really radical and not ever find a life-mate), I feel like having him named after a yeasty flatbread puts him at a disadvantage.

Ahem, but never mind all that.  The rumors are true!  The Hunger Games was pretty good.  It is more redemptive than the dreadfully depressing Life As We Knew It, and the supporting cast is less sickening than in How I Live Now, so hooray for dystopian YA novels that induce neither nightmares nor vomiting.  And includes a Juvenal reference that pleased me because I like that “bread and circuses” bit but annoyed because without a book-truth way to explain why the country is called that, it seemed gimmicky.  But that is my mostly only complaint (I mean, that and how clueless Katniss was, for heaven’s sake)!  I liked the Minotaury quality to the whole thing, and the extent to which it was exactly like reality TV is in the real world.

Other thoughts:

an adventure in reading
Bart’s Bookshelf
Farm Lane Books
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
The Reading Zone

Dear Author
bookshelves of doom
Devourer of Books
Unmainstream Mom Reads
Booking Mama
Wands and Worlds
MotherReader
books i done read
Au Courant
Thoughts of Joy
Books and Movies
Framed and Booked
Reading Rants
Diary of an Eccentric
Teen Book Review
Cheryl Rainfield
YA Book Realm
Becky’s Book Reviews
The Sleepy Reader
Wondrous Reads
Lesa’s Book Critiques
YA New York
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Children’s Literature Book Club
YA Fabulous
arch thinking
Gimme More Books
The Book Muncher
Maw Books Blog
Bending Bookshelf
thebookbind
Presenting Lenore
Good Girls Read Books
1330V
SciFiGuy
The YA Book Blogger
My Friend Amy
The Compulsive Reader
About Books
At Home with Books
Bloggin’ ’bout Books
Liv’s Book Reviews
she treads softly
nineseveneight
Look at That Book
Persnickety Snark
Fantasy Book Critic
reader rabbit

My fingers are tired – let me know if I missed yours.