The Last Star

laststarby Rick Yancey
First sentence: “Many years ago, when he was ten, her father had ridden a big yellow bus to the planetarium.”
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Review copy sent to me by our publisher rep.
Others in the series: The Fifth Wave, The Infinite Sea
Content: It’s violent and intense; Yancey pulls no punches. There’s also a lot of (understandable) swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

If you can, read them all one right after the other; the impact of this one will be that much greater. Like the past two, I’m not going to go that much into plot; it’s really better if you just hit these as blind as possible.

I re-read my review for Infinite Sea, and my thoughts are mostly the same here. It’s intense. bordering on hopeless. Cassie and Zombie and Evan and Ringer and Sam are trying, against the odds, to prevent the end of the world. In many ways, it’s too late: the aliens have pitted us against ourselves:  if there’s no trust, there can be no civilization. But maybe, just maybe, they can prevent the world from completely imploding — Evan’s assured them that the aliens will start bombing the cities any day now — and keep millions more people from dying.

It was the hoping against hope that got me in this one. I read it slower; in small doses over several days this time because I couldn’t take the building hopelessness: will it work? There’s no glorious Independence Day or Men in Black climax here. Sure, it’s a small plucky (though increasingly small and increasingly desperate) team against incredible odds, but Yancey never shies away from the cost of those odds. I found that I appreciated it very much. It’s an incredibly intense series (I’m actually kind of sad the movie didn’t catch on the way Hunger Games did), and an powerfully written one.

I’m sad to see it end.

The Fog Diver

fogdiverby Joel Ross
First sentence: “My name is Chess, and I was born inside a cage.”
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Content: There’s some intense moments, and it’s a bit difficult to follow plot-wise, but it’s great for grades 4 and up. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

It’s the distant future, and the nanites that the world had designed to clean up the smog went crazy and created a fog that is inhabitable for humans. They’ve moved up to the tops of mountains to survive and have developed a whole society up there. Chess and his friends are at the bottom of the totem pole, being junk divers: they troll the Fog in their airship and it’s Chess’s job to dive in the fog to find relics of the lost age. The reason why Chess is so good at this is because he was born in the fog and his eye is swirling with nanites. He’s in hiding, somewhat, from the evil Lord Kodoc, who will take Chess and work him to death if he ever finds out he exists.

Huh. I’m not sure if that does this justice. (Probably not.) It’s a fantastic, wild weird world that Ross has created. My favorite part? The obscure references to pop culture. Harry Otter, or the X-Wing Enterprise or skycatchers (instead of skycrapers), all made me smile. It’s was a wink to current times without being too trendy and it was perfect. I also loved the supporting characters. Chess was pretty great, but so was the captain Hazel, the pilot Swede, and the gear girl (who had shades of Kaylee from Firefly) Bea. They worked well as a team and I ended up loving all of them equally.

I do have to admit that this took me a bit to get into. It’s slowish to start, but once it gets going, it’s a LOT of fun. And fun is just what I needed right now.

The Scorpion Rules

 scorpionrulesby Erin Bow
First sentence: “Once Upon a Time, at the End of the World.”
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Content: There are exactly two f-bombs, some mild swearing, and one illusion to sex. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a 7th grader, if they had no objections to the content.

At this point in my life, I’m very much been-there, done-that when it comes to dystopian/post-apocalyptic books. I feel like I’ve read/seen them all, and there’s really nothing new to explore there.  So, my first thought was that this was just going to be more of the same-old, same-old, and I passed on the ARC. Then it came in, and on the back were quotes from authors I respect, so I thought (somewhat begrudgingly), that I would give this one a try.

(I know, I know: I’m not “supposed” to start these with “I’m not a fan of x”. But bear with me.)

It didn’t take me too long to realize that I was utterly wrong. First of all, the premise is something I haven’t encountered in a long while: humans have destroyed the world through climate change and war, and somewhere along the way, invented artificial intelligence. One of the AIs decided that enough was enough, and took over — by blowing up a number of huge cities — ruling the world. And the way Talis, the AI, decided to keep the peace? By keeping the children of the world’s rulers hostage. If they enter into war, their children would be killed.

Brilliant, no?

Greta is the Crown Princess of the PanPolar Confederacy, a major North American power formed out of what we know as Canada. She’s also a hostage of Talis, living in the prairies of Saskatchewan at the Precepture with her compatriots, fellow hostages. Then one day, war breaks out, one of her friends dies, and a new boy, Elian, shows up. He’s the grandson of the leader of a new alliance, and he’s not at all willing to take his role as a Dutiful and Humble hostage. He fights every step of the way. And somehow, this awakens Greta (and the rest, including her best friend La Da-Xia) to the horrible reality that is her life.

There is so much more to it than that, but I don’t want to give it all away. I adored the combination of high-tech (there are flying battleships and smart pads and cameras and, of course, the AI) and low-tech (the children at the Precepture are basically farmers, thinking about raising goats and bees and harvesting vegetables. There’s a monastery-like feel, as well: they call the AI in charge “Father”. But I also loved the diversity: Bow rightly depicted people from all over the world — African, Asian, Native American, Hispanic — but it felt natural and organic rather than some sort of forced diversity.

But what I really loved was the fluidity of the romance. There’s a love triangle of sorts, but not your typical one; Greta is bisexual and there’s no angst or heartache about this. She’s in love with both a male and a female, and it’s just the way she is. And even Talis, when he shows up, was more gender fluid in his depiction (as benefiting and AI, no?). It was all very different, and very, very refreshing.

It’s the start of a series, and I’ll definitely be picking up the next one to see where Bow takes Greta’s story.

Station Eleven

by Emily St. John Mandel
First sentence: “The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.”
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Content: There are a half-dozen f-bombs, spread throughout the second half of the book. It’s a bit meandering, but otherwise, it’s a good crossover story, and I’d give it to a teen interested in the post-apocalyptic genre. It’s in the Fiction section of the bookstore.

It’s difficult, I think, to write a linear plot for Station Eleven. There’s a pandemic, obviously: the world has to end somehow. An aside: I think it’s interesting that the way the world ends in fiction these days is through sickness or climate change rather than some horrific nuclear event. Times have changed since Canticle for Leibowitz.

Anyway, a pandemic — Georgia Flu — sweeps through the world, with a 99% fatality rate. It kills you within 48 hours of catching it, so it doesn’t take long. That simple thing, changes the world. Station Eleven follows an actor, Arthur, and everyone his life touches — ex-wives, son, paparazzi, best friend, the child actors he was in King Lear with — before and through the pandemic, exploring the connections between them and the way everyone handles the New World.

The book was less about the pandemic or the world collapsing as it was about the connections between people. The action flipped between before the pandemic to 20 years after, only vaguely hitting upon time in-between. There was enough movement to keep me interested; the huge cast of characters were always doing something, and the non-linear plot helped with that as well. I think it was an intriguing reflection on the way our lives touch one another, how seemingly random occurrences to one person have great significance to another. Admittedly, there were times when I didn’t get the connections: the paparazzi’s story, for example, was so disconnected from the rest, I wondered why his was included. But for the most part, I found the book to be an intriguing examination of connection and humanity in a time of crisis.

The Testing

by Joelle Charbonneau
First sentence: “Graduation Day.”
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Content: It’s violent, but not graphically so. And there’s kissing, but no sex. Which means it’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. However, much like Hunger Games, I’d be wary of more sensitive readers liking it.

This book has been out for two years now, and I’ve been putting it off for just as long. Mostly because the whole post-apocalyptic/dystopian genre has been SO overdone, that I really didn’t want to read yet another one.

Then we scheduled Charbonneau to come to the store — they’ve been working on it since the first one came out and the rep mentioned it was set in a futuristic Wichita — and I was tasked with reading and reviewing the book before she gets here. And so I did, smacking myself when I finished for waiting too long to get around to this one.

Sixteen-year-old Cia Vale has just graduated from her colony’s small school near the top of her class. She’s excited: in this post-Seven Stages War America, now called the United Commonwealth, that means she’s likely to be chosen to attend The Testing in the capitol, Tosu City (aka Wichita, though it took me nearly the whole book to figure that out). Except her father — a former Testing candidate and University graduate himself — doesn’t want her to go. However, once Cia’s been chosen, she can’t say no; refusing the Testing is an act of treason, punishable by death.

So, Cia travels to Tosu City with her father’s warning — TRUST NO ONE — echoing in her ears, and discovers what he meant. The Testing is not just high-pressure and high-competition for the twenty university slots. It’s deadly.

While the plotting and writing isn’t as tight as Suzanne Collins’s, it’s still a quick, engaging read. Charbonneau sets the stakes high right away, with Cia’s roommate committing suicide, and doesn’t let up until the final pages of the book. There are twists and turns — some of which I saw, some of which I didn’t — and Cia is a good, strong narrator to carry this story on her shoulders. It’s definitely post-apocalyptic; Charbonneau cleverly gave us a brief history of how this country came to be in a series of short written test questions early on. The dystopian part is harder to see — Cia comes to hate the Testing officials, and the government as an extension, but I’m not sure I ever felt the way she did about the officials. Unlike, say, President Snow in The Hunger Games. (Yes, comparisons are inevitable.) I do think, on the other hand, that it’s a tighter, more interesting story than Divergent (yes, there’s a love interest, which I think was mostly unnecessary).

But the best thing about waiting to read this one is that the whole series is out already. And I don’t have to wait to read the second one. And I’m invested enough in Cia’s story that I’m quite curious to find out what happens next.

Vivian Apple at the End of the World

by Katie Coyle
First sentence: “There came a time when the American people began to forget God.”
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Release date: January 6, 2015
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There is teenage drinking and a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. There is also frequent off-screen violence. It’ll be in the Teen Section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

In this sort-of future, American has been taken over by the conservative, pseudo-Christian  Church of America. Except “taken over” is too strong. It’s not like America has become a theocracy. No, it’s just that the Church of America founder, Beaton Frick, has predicted the end of the world. The rapture will come on a night in March, and all the faithful will be taken up.

Even though a good majority of Americans follow the Book of Frick, as it came to be called, Vivian Apple doesn’t. Her parents do, though. They’re faithful believers. And so, when the “rapture” comes, they disappear, leaving Vivian behind.

I’m going to stop right here for a minute. I’ve read a bazillion dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels and this is the first time I’ve come across the rapture as the cause. (At least in mainstream fiction. Is this a theme in Christian fiction?) In fact, this is what compelled me to pick the book up. I’m often curious about the way religion is portrayed in mainstream fiction, and I thought this could be an interesting take on it. And it was, even if it wasn’t necessarily a kind one. Religion and believers come off badly in this book, as people who believe anything they hear without question and are willing to commit acts of violence for the sake of their belief. More than once, I cringed at the “religion” and marveled at what I saw as pot-shots against the religious right.

But I digress.

Vivian determines that it’s all a hoax and she sets out from her hometown in Pittsburg to the Church headquarters outside of San Francisco with her friend, Harp. She just wants to know answers. They pick up a boy along the way, Peter, who seems to be on their side. Little do they know what’s waiting for them.

There is some good in this book: I really liked the tentative romance that budded between Vivian and Peter. I liked that Harp was Indian. I liked the way Vivian grew and became more willing to make decision and to Act in her own life throughout the course of the book. And I can even forgive that the book didn’t end, but rather left me hanging with more questions than answers.

But this one will be a tough sell around here.

The Infinite Sea

by Rick Yancey
First sentence: “There would be no harvest.”
Support the local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The 5th Wave
Content: It’s violent and intense; Yancey pulls no punches. There’s also a lot of (understandable) swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’m thinking I might need to put a couple in our science fiction/fantasy section.

Spoilers for 5th Wave ahead. You’ve been warned.

I don’t even know where to begin with this. The first four waves of the alien invasion have happened, and the fifth wave is coming. Cassie and the rag-tag group of kids (including her little brother) believe they know what that is and with the help of the alien/human hybrid Evan Walker, they believe they can fight it.

And they are wrong.

I won’t go into the plot much here; it’s better if you just read it. I didn’t re-read 5th Wave first, and thankfully, Yancey dropped enough reminders throughout that I basically remembered what was going on. (I love it when authors do that, as opposed to a blanket summary up front.) What really impressed me, though was that Yancey spares nothing and no one. Everyone is suspect, everyone is vulnerable. Nothing is safe.

It’s intense, I can tell you that. I devoured it in one sitting because I HAD to know what was going to happen, what everything meant. And it’s deliciously complex: you peel back one layer and there are three more waiting for you. Just when you think you know someone — even Vosch, the Big Bad Guy — things are revealed that make you realize you know nothing. And in the best way. Yancy’s writing compelled me onward, made me want to know more. It’s the best of post-apocalyptic fiction: things are going completely, utterly wrong, and yet you can’t help but hope for the best. He does balance some positive things with the horrors; he hasn’t killed off Cassie’s younger brother (yet) and there is some humor along the way. But mostly, it’s an intense emotional roller coaster.

And I say that with all the love in my heart.

SO good.

The Summer Prince

by Alaya Dawn Johnson
First sentence: “When I was eight, my papai took me to the park to watch a king die.”
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Content: I was initially thinking that this would be good for those who like Uglies; there’s about the same amount of swearing. But the reason it’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) is because there’s a lot of allusions to sex, including a couple (tasteful) sex scenes.

June Costa is the best artist in Palmeres Três. Or so she thinks; she just hasn’t had a chance to prove it yet. And in this, a moon year in which her futuristic, matriarchal society chooses a one-year Summer King to “rule”, she will have that chance. It starts innocently: her best friend, Gil, falls in love with the summer king, Enki. And she does, too, though she tells herself that it’s mostly about the art. And what art June and Enki create. Ever more elaborate, they end up sparking a revolution of sorts between the technophiles and the isolationists; the government, made up of women they call “Aunties”, has placed strict regulations on what kind of tech can be in the city.

It was this tech element that reminded me so much of Uglies. But, I think Johnson was pointing out the value of art and the power of love, even in a futuristic (and while not dystopian, certainly not perfect) society. It’s a very thought-provoking novel, one that winds and unfurls instead of proceeding in a linear fashion. And it was this winding that kept me most interested. Johnson chose to build her futuristic Brazilian society in bits and chunks throughout the entire book, dropping hints and clues about what happened to get the world to this point along the way. And the society she built was equally as fascinating, with all its machinations and political scheming.

But, ultimately, it was June and Enki and Gil (and June’s competition/friend, Bebel) that kept me reading in the end. I cared about what happened to them, how this year played out for the summer king and his newfound friends. I found myself moved by the ending, and thinking about the book long after I turned the last page.