Dry

dryby Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman
First sentence: ”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are many intense situations, some reference to drinking and drug use (by adults, mostly), and violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I will say this up front: this novel is TERRIFYING. The father-son team takes the plausible — what would happen if there was a severe drought in Southern California and then access to the Colorado River was entirely cut off — and turns it into a gripping, thriller-like survival ride, to answer the question: What would you do for access to water?

The story alternates viewpoints between Alyssa, who with her brother Garret, have to figure out what to do when their parents go missing; their neighbor Kelton, a son of a survivalist who has prepared for Times Like These. When things go from bad to worse — let’s just say their other neighbors aren’t forgiving of the fact that Kelton’s family has prepared — they go on the run, nominally to find a place to ride out the “crisis” and pick up two other kids — Henry and Jacqui — on the way. Interspersed are “snapshots” of how the wider community is reacting and gives the reader a bigger picture of how this is affecting the community as a whole.

Shusterman is an incredible storyteller, and he knows how to keep a plot going from page to page. There are funny bits and touching bits and terrifying bits (lots of those actually), and it all felt incredibly realistic. I could see this playing out — especially with the way society is in denial about climate change — pretty much exactly like this. I’ve heard it said that science fiction isn’t about predicting the future, but rather about what it’s happening in the present. If that’s true, then this should be a wake up call to take better care of the planet. Otherwise, this “prediction” might just become reality.

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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

by Hank Green
First sentence: “Look, I am aware that you’re here for an epic tale of intrigue and mystery and adventure and near death and actual death, but in order to get to that (unless you want to skip to chapter 13–I’m not your boss) you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I, April May, in addition to being one of the most important things that has ever happened to the human race, am also a woman in her twenties who has made some mistakes.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It will be in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore, but a high school student who was interested could definitely read this one.

April May is just living her life — and not really her best one, at all — when she stumbles upon a… thing… in Manhattan at three a.m. She has enough presence of mind to grab her filmmaker friend and upload a video about the phenomenon that will come to be known as The Carls, which shoots April into the world of the famous. She  is at the forefront of everything Carl-related: TV stations want interviews, her YouTube and Twitter followers skyrocket. And, yet, no one knows what the Carls really want.

Soon, April is experiencing the darker side of fame: There are factions out there that want to defend the world from The Carls, and see April as a traitor for being a “spokesperson” for them. And it doesn’t help that April keeps burning the bridges between her and everyone in her life that cares about her.

There are two ways you can read this book:

1) as a straight-up science fiction story. And, to be honest, it kind of lacks on this level. It’s not really a great plot; you only find out what The Carls are up to at the end of the book, and it turns out to be rather anti-climatic. April is a questionable human being, more concerned about her own fame than the lives or feelings of the people around her (though I do wonder if I’d feel the same way if Green wrote April as a man). There’s a bit of action, but not much; it’s mostly talk about coding and uploading videos and dealing with people.

2) as an exploration of what fame can do to a “regular” person. This is where I thought the book actually worked. If you know anything about Green (one half of the Vlogbrothers, etc.), it seems that he is coming to terms with the way fame works, especially in the era of social media, and how that affects people. I found that part of the book to be fascinating; how the masses glom on to someone — anyone really — who says things we like (or don’t) and by the sheer force of numbers make that person famous. And how that fame — and the money advertisers and corporations and “news” stations are willing to throw at them — ultimately changes a person. It was an interesting exploration into April’s psyche and the ups and downs of fame.

An interesting read, in the end.

Seafire

by Natalie C. Parker
First sentence: “Cadelonia stretched along the prow of the Ghost as the ship sliced through black water.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There’s some violence and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Caldonia Styx is the captain of a rogue ship, Mors Navis, one of the few that’s not in the clutches of the feared drug lord, Aric Althair. She has a crew of all girls, ones that Caldonia and her best friend Pisces, have collected and saved from Althair. They also are a thorn in Althair’s side — hitting his barges and collection ships, trying to stop him whenever they can.

But, they end up with one of Althair’s Bullets — his soldiers — on board and even though Caldonia doesn’t trust him, he has information about Caldonia’s and Pisces’s brothers, information that will allow them to be rescued. If only the Mors Navis can get to them.

Going in, I was expecting pirates and old-fashioned ships, but got something more futuristic: these ships are solar powered and cut through the water at high speeds. There’s scuba diving equipment, bombs and some heavy-duty drugs that brainwash people. There’s a drug lord that kidnaps little kids as “payment” and subjects them to a life of servitude. There’s awesome girls, and Parker’s a ruthless author: no one is safe in her world, which ramps up the tension. It’s action packed — there are several battles and narrow escapes in this book — and even though Caldonia carries a secret that I felt like yelling “just tell it already”, she was a good character to spend a book with. She’s a smart captain, and gets Parker gives her the respect she’s due as that. And her crew works together really well, as well.

It’s a great start to a series, one I’m definitely going to keep an eye on.

Thunderhead

by Neal Shusterman
First sentence: “How fortunate I am among the sentient o know my purpose.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Scythe
Content: There is violence (less than in Sythe) and swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Scythe, obviously.

K picked this one up first, and because we swore her to silence (no spoilers!), she suffered in silence. Then A read it, and she and K had to go off in a separate room to discuss it (because there is much to discuss). By the time I got to it, they kept asking “Where are you?”  “Have you gotten to The Part yet?” (and there are a couple of The Parts). And when I finished, K looked at me and said, “I couldn’t talk to ANYBODY!”

Because this book demands to be discussed.

It picks up nearly a year after the events in Scythe: Citra has become Scythe Anastasia and is serving her junior scythe years under the guidance of Scythe Curie. She has a very unique method of gleaning her subjects, one that gives her peace of mind at night which is good. Rowan, on the other hand, has become Scythe Lucifer, going around gleaning scythes that have become corrupt. Both are doing what they feel called to do. But then, things go wrong.

There’s also a side plot with a new character, Greyson, whom A loved and was wholly invested in and whose life becomes intertwined with Anastasia’s. And Rowan? Well, let’s just say his plot line made me super anxious. And Faraday’s plotline is interesting, but as K pointed out, kind of gets dropped near the end.

Oh: and I want to see the ending of this book on the big screen.

I know I’m being evasive, but really, the less you know, the better it’ll be. There’s really a lot to talk about: violence and corruption and religion and tradition and freedom. But mostly, just what an excellent storyteller Shusterman is.

I can’t wait for the next part of this story!

Scythe

by Neal Shusterman
First sentence: “We must, by law, keep a record fo the innocents we kill.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is, by the very nature of the book, violence. Some of it is graphic. There is also mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but, like Hunger Games, I’d be wary about giving it to overly sensitive kids.

My co-workers have been on my case to read this since it first came out. A couple of them love it (and Shusterman), but I just didn’t have time. (Sometimes, when I need to sell a book at work, I rely on other people’s opinions rather than just reading it myself, since I won’t have time to read all the books. Unfortunately.) But then, it won a Cybils award, and was picked for my online book club (and then they picked it for one of my in-person book clubs), so I figured it was about time I read this.

And, oh wow, everyone was right. This is an excellent piece of speculative fiction.

The basic premise is this: in the future we will have figured out how to defeat disease and death, thereby becoming immortal (pretty much). However, the earth couldn’t handle the subsequent population growth, so a group of people — called scythes — were organized to deal with that. They have a set of commandments, are outside the general law, and basically get to decide when people should die. There are rules governing that, as well — they have quotas they have to meet and can’t go over, and they can’t do it with forethought or malice. The book follows two teenagers, Citra and Rowan, who were chosen as a scythe’s apprentices. As it follows them through the year of their apprenticeship, it’s fascinating reading about their scythe and his philosophies, and then the difference between scythe philosophies (including a radical one who was just horrid). There is a bit of a romance(ish), but that didn’t really go anywhere (thankfully). Mostly it’s about humanity and the meaning of immortality, and how one deals with the power over life and death. There is definitely much to think about and talk about in this book.

Module 8: The Drowned Cities

Bacigalupi, P. (2012). The Drowned Cities. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co.

Genre: Speculative fiction: science fiction, post-apocalyptic/dystopia, Earth’s future.

Book Summary: “War maggots” Mahlia and Mouse have their existence in the jungles of a war-torn future America figured out: Mahlia has apprenticed herself to a pacifist doctor and even though the villagers don’t particularly like her, she makes do. And Mouse, who saved her life once, is her faithful sidekick. That is, until a bioengineered war creature called Tool escapes his prison and ends up in Mahila and Mouse’s neck of the woods. Suddenly their life is gone: Mouse is taken by the soldiers and Mahlia escapes with Tool. From there, both friends will do what they need to survive, but perhaps the cost of  maintaining their is too high?

Impressions: This was fascinating. It took me a while to get into the book, mostly because I haven’t read Ship Breaker, but eventually I got hold of the world that Bacigalupi has built and fell into the book. It’s not a happy book though: Bacigalupi is very frank about the effects of war, and what that does to everyone: civilians, soldiers, leaders. It wasn’t a bleak, hopeless view though: Bacigalupi makes the reader care about his characters, and gives them — even Tool — a humanity that transcends the situations. I was a bit worried about 3/4 of the way through, wondering how he was going to wrap it up (and, to be fair, there is a proper sequel to this one — Tool of War — that properly finishes the story), but he managed very well. It was a satisfying ending, and while it left things open for the next story, it wraps this one up quite nicely. It’s definitely beautifully written, and it nails a lot of current issues — of violence and tribalism, especially — on the head.

Review: The reviews I read praised the world building and the action of the series, as well as Bacigalupi’s frankness when it comes to war. The staff review writes, “Beautifully written, filled with high-octane action, and featuring badly damaged but fascinating and endearing characters, this fine novel tops its predecessor and can only increase the author’s already strong reputation.”

Staff. (2012). Children’s reviews. Publisher’s Weekly. 259 (11), n.a.

Library Uses: This would go great on a “books about climate change” display, as well as a general speculative fiction display. It also needs to be in a book group; there is so much to discuss!

Readalikes:

  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness: This one is aliens rather than post-apocalyptic, but it has the same themes of tribalism, war, and understanding the “other”. Also, everyone should just read it.
  • Undertow by Michael Buckley: In this near-future, some humanoid creatures have come out of the ocean and tried to settle on land. There is tension (obviously) between them and the humans. This explores the tribalism angle as well.
  • The Fog Diver by Joel Ross: An environmental Earth future mashed with steampunk: Earth was destroyed through chemicals, which produced a “fog” that covered the world, so humans moved to the skies. Some fantastic action.
  • And, obviously, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: This is the closest read alike to The Drowned Cities, but I think Bacigalupi does what Collins was trying to do SO much better.

Gunslinger Girl

by Lyndsay Ely
First sentence: ”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: January 2, 2018
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is a lot of violence, none overly graphic, some drinking, some off-screen sex, and a bit of mild swearing. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

In this near future scenario, the US has dissolved, through war and disease, into a loosely-formed Confederacy of North America. Not all states are part of it, but inside CONA there are communes, where those faithful to CONA (the war feels a bit like the war in Firefly; the Patriots were on the “losing” side, but they were probably right…) to live. Outside of CONA’s borders, though, anything is game. Especially in Cessation, the largest city out west.

Serendipty “Pity” Jones lives on one of those communes with her hateful father and two brothers. And when her father decides to marry her off, she runs away. Initially headed to Columba, CONA’s capital, Pity ends up, instead, in Cessation. In Casimir — the largest brothel/hotel/casino/theater in town — specifically, where she takes her mother’s guns and training, and turns them into an act.

But Casimir and Cessation aren’t everything they seem. While Pity makes a place for herself and some friends, there are pitfalls and traitors and life-threatening situations.

A combination thriller, Western, and speculative fiction,  Gunslinger Girl has it all:  action, adventure, dark undertones, romance, betrayal. I’ll admit when I began this, I wasn’t sold, but by the end, I was enthralled.

A spectacular debut.