Category: Dystopian

Feb 15

Hey There, Little Red Riding Hood: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Dystopian, Fairy Tales 17

Happy Friday Bookworms!

It’s time to delve back into the wonder that is Project Fairy Tale. I’ve mentioned that the lovely Alison at The Cheap Reader is hosting this event, but I should also mention that my pal Quirky Chrissy (who I know in real life and EVERYTHING) is also participating by dissecting Rumpelstiltskin. Check them out if you’re so inclined. Now, without further ado…

projectfairytalebutton2

Remember back a couple of weeks ago when I reviewed Cinder by Marissa Meyer? The cyborg Cinderella? Of COURSE you remember that. Who could forget? Meyer came back for round two of her fractured fairy tale world of wonder with Scarletwhich is based on my number one girl, Little Red Riding Hood. It’s going to be really hard to not spoil Cinder for you, since this is a sequel, so if you haven’t read it yet and you want to be all surprised and stuff, stop reading this right now. I’m having guilt because I’m THE WORST at keeping spoilers quiet, and most of the time I ruin things without realizing it. Sorry y’all.

We start off by meeting our Little Red Riding Hood. Her name is Scarlet. She’s got red hair and she rocks a red hooded sweatshirt (dip dip dip sweeeeeatshirt sham-a-lama ding dong.) She’s lives with her Grand-Mere (FRENCH! I wish I knew how to make accent marks…) on their farm. They grow vegetables, and for some unearthly reason, milk the cows by hand. Personally, I don’t get that. They’ve got all these robots to work in the fields and stuff, but they’ve got to milk the cow themselves. My suspicious eyebrow is raised (his name is Johnny.) Anyhow, Scarlet’s granny has gone missing, and Scarlet sets out to find her with the help of a mysterious, brooding, and dishy street fighter named Wolf.

scarlet

This cover art isn’t bad, but it’s really hard to compete with a bionic foot, you know?

Wolf’s an interesting fellow. He’s got jacked up teeth and a bit of a rage problem, but he’s also sweet and so innocent he’s never eaten a tomato. Why hasn’t he eaten a tomato? Isn’t that suspicious, Scarlet?! How does a HUMAN never eat a vegetable? Why aren’t you more concerned about this?! I know you want to find your grandmother, and I know Wolf is kind of hot, but DAMN GIRL! Listen to the little voice in your head when it tells you something weird is going on. Of course, that’s actually a pretty faithful adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, because traditionally, Lil’ Red can’t tell her granny from a wolf in a nightgown. At least Scarlet is packing heat. She may be naive, but she carries a pistol (with a legal permit, of course.)

Every so often, we jog back to visit with Cinder. We get to watch her do badass robot things like break out of prison and hijack a space ship, which is nice, because the primary concern in this world is still defeating and/or thwarting the evil moon queen. SPOILER: she may or may not still be up to her dastardly deeds. SPOILER: She is. SPOILER: When you have an established villain and a major character goes missing, you should expect that they’ve got their wicked little lunar hands in it…

Mr. President, are you suggesting we blow up the moon?

Mr. President, are you suggesting we blow up the moon?

I’ve got to admit, I’m digging this crazy series. I’ll be looking forward to the conclusion to The Lunar Chronicles. What about you, bookworms? Anybody read this one yet?

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Jan 28

Cinder (ella, ella, ella, ay, ay, ay) by Marissa Meyer

Coming of Age, Dystopian, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction 35

Hey Bookworms!

So you all remember that I’m doing the whole Project Fairy Tale thing in February right? Well. While I was out trolling the interwebs, I noticed that there’s a brand spanking new version of Little Red Riding Hood due on the scene February 5th. The only issue I had was that it was the second in a series… OBVIOUSLY, I needed to read the first book in the series, especially since I’ve seen a bunch of YA book bloggers fawning all over it. The first book in the series is a fractured version of Cinderella- Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

On her way to the ball, she really could have used Rhianna's Umbrella-ella-ella-ay-ay-ay.... Just saying.

On her way to the ball, Cinder really could have used Rhianna’s Umbrella-ella-ella-ay-ay-ay…. Just saying.

Meyer takes the traditional Cinderella story and short circuits it. Instead of being set long ago in a land far, far away, Cinder is set in the distant future. 126 years after the end of the 4th World War, to be precise. Funnily enough, aside from the technological advances, it’s not so different from medieval times. There’s a big fat ugly plague that looks and sounds awfully close to the Bubonic plague. Only this one wasn’t perpetuated by fleas on rats. (Also, in case you were curious, I’ve heard that Bubonic plague, at least the version that decimated a quarter of Europe’s population was caused by a bacterium that would easily lose in a battle against penicillin. Don’t be hating on mold, y’all.)

There’s also, um, robots. Lots of robots. Our heroine is bionic. She was in a terrible accident as a child and instead of spending her life in a wheelchair, surgeons made her part robot. Unfortunately, cyborgs are treated as second class citizens. I had a couple of issues with this bit. Like… The whole cyborg thing basically evolved from making really fancy prosthetic limbs and stuff. I can’t believe a culture that evolved from ours would have too big a bone to pick with advanced prostheses. The prejudice against cyborgs is universal, even if the person’s only got a robot foot. Cinder’s case is a little more complicated though. She’s nearly 40% manufactured and she’s got a computer all up in her brain. It wouldn’t be fair to, say, have her play chess against a normal human, but otherwise I have a hard time believing cyborgs would be so poorly treated. She still has FEELINGS!

Full on androids have no rights at all.

Full on androids have no rights at all. Their feelings are manufactured on personality chips.

Anyway. Cinder is a badass lady mechanic. She gets all greasy and fixes robots and hover cars (sweet right?) and the iPad’s great great great grandbaby. She’s super good at it because A. she’s got a computer in her brain and B. because she learned how to tweak her own mechanical bits and pieces. One day, the Chinese equivalent of Prince Harry shows up and is all “hey Cinder, wanna fix my robot?” And she’s all “ooooh hottie hot hot.” Here’s my other big objection to the book. Monarchy. Seriously? You’re telling me that a peaceful society was able to form based on a monarchy with no apparent checks and balances for 126 years? No uprisings from the unwashed masses? No spoiled royal black sheep in the family tree made a mess of things? I just don’t see it. But it IS Cinderella. I suppose we need a prince.

So anyway. Cinder’s got a pretty rotten stepmother, one mean stepsister, and one nice stepsister (kind of like in Drew Barrymore’s Ever After.) Cinder’s got to fix this robot, deal with plague, and find out all about her mysterious past because there are these evil moon people who want to cause trouble. Yes. You read that right. EVIL MOON PEOPLE. They’re called Lunars, but I can’t hear “Lunar” without hearing Christy Carlson Romano singing “We went to the moon in 1969, that’s when we made a landing that was luuuuuunar!” (Any Even Stevens fans out there? Anyone? Bueller? Yeah. I hear the crickets. I’ll shut up now.) The theory behind the Lunars is that they’ve evolved from a human colony that settled the moon hundreds of years before our story begins. Somehow, they’ve evolved an ability to manipulate people into doing their bidding. It’s sort of like a vampire’s glamour brainwashing. Only they’re from the moon. They’re another monarchy led by the most evil queen who has ever existed. The Lunars keep threatening to go to war with Earth (and despite the fact that the moon is way smaller than the earth, somehow the Lunars have superior technology and would probably decimate mankind.) Also, it’s suggested that the plague was advanced biological warfare sent to earth by the Lunars. Naturally, humans aren’t the biggest fans of the evil moon people.

Now I'm VERY suspicious of you, MOON!

Now I’m VERY suspicious of you, MOON!

When I write it all down with a wee bit of snark, it sounds like the most ridiculous premise ever. I won’t go so far as to say that this was my FAVORITE BOOK EVER ZOMG,  but I was totally drawn in. I embraced the sci fi and found myself hating the evil moon people. I really wanted Cinder and the prince to hook up and live happily ever after! Unfortunately, this is the first book in a series, so I was stuck with a cliffhanger. Luckily, Scarlet comes out in less than a week, so I don’t have long to wait!

Science Fiction at this level of robot-itude is a little out of my reading comfort zone. Do you bookworms like to dabble in different genres, or do you prefer to stick to reading what you’re sure to like?

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Dec 21

Don't They Know It's The End of the World?

Dystopian, Fantasy, Humor, Personal 21

Hi Bookworms! Today is “Doomsday.” People who have misinterpreted the Mayan calendar have decided that the world is supposed to end today. I’d really prefer the world not end. I have things planned for next week. Beyond that though, I’d do very very poorly in a post-apocalyptic world. I looooove dystopian novels, so I figured I’d explore how I’d perish early on in some of my favorites. Ready?

1. The Stand by Stephen King. It’s easy to assume that I’d die in the plague that kills 99% of the population, but I have a really impressive immune system. I may be jinxing myself here, but I haven’t needed an antibiotic since I was 16 and had my wisdom teeth removed. I get sick very infrequently. So. I think I’d survive Captain Tripps. One of my favorite parts of The Stand though was that King discussed the casualties that occurred AFTER the flu had run its course. I’d probably survive the flu only to succumb to something really stupid… Like getting a paper cut from a book and contracting a flesh eating bacteria. It would be my cosmic punishment for bragging about my immune system and how I don’t need antibiotics. I’d survive the virus to be taken out by a self important bacterium.

Good vs. Evil. Super Flu. Apocalypse.

Katie’s battle with the paper cut didn’t make the final draft.

2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If I were in Katniss’s shoes, I wouldn’t make it very far. I lack aim, archery skills, and knowledge of edible forest plants. The good news is, I probably wouldn’t need those skills. You know how at the very beginning of The Hunger Games the contestants stand on pedestals until the countdown is over and the games begin? If anyone has a “false start” their pedestal explodes. That would be me. Considering the alternatives in the arena, that’s probably not a bad way to go.

Ka-Pow!

Ka-Pow!

3. World War Z by Max Brooks. I shy away from physical violence, and I’m not especially strong. To be frank? I’m a weenie. I can’t even arm wrestle effectively. I’d be bitten very early on. But then? Then I’d be a zombie! Only, I’d make a terrible zombie! I’d be really really slow and unobservant. I’d be the zombie that they use in demonstrations to teach small children how to defend themselves. At least I’d be useful to humanity in some capacity. As the loser-iest zombie.

Zombie Katie!

Katie: The Loser-iest Zombie

4. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Yes, I know this isn’t an “end of the world” scenario, but I being in the middle of a war zone is definitely an “end of the world as we know it” scenario. Scarlett was really annoying during peace time, but she kind of kicked butt during an emergency. She delivered babies and farmed cotton and still managed to keep up her unhealthy fixation on Ashley. If I were a character in Gone With The Wind, I would not be Scarlett. I’d be like her first husband, Charles Hamilton. He got sick and died before he even saw combat. That’d be me. I was always the one dying of dysentery in Oregon Trail. I know I have a great immune system, but I’ve never had to contend with dysentery, okay?

That's me.

That’s me.

5. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Technically, the villains in this book were vampires, not zombies. Why wouldn’t I make it? I am DELICIOUS. No, seriously. Blood sucking insects seek me out. If there is a mosquito within a mile radius, it will find me and feast. Once, I lived in an apartment and my upstairs neighbor managed to infest my apartment with fleas. Do you know what fleas like to eat when there aren’t animals readily available? KATIES! It was beyond miserable. This contributes to my pervasive and borderline obsessive fear of bed bugs. In case you were ever curious about the existence of vampires in the real world, the fact that I’ve yet to be eaten is definitive proof that they do not exist. I’d be vampire catnip. For reals.

vampire-bats-2-clipart

It’s a good thing vamps aren’t real. They’d be seriously offended by this clip art.

There we have it. Five very specific reasons I would not survive any number of apocalypse scenarios. Like I said, it’s a good thing the world isn’t ending. I am going to celebrate by enjoying some of my favorite things: pizza, electricity, the internet, and my husband. Who will continue to have zero chance with Taylor Swift. Happy days, Bookworms. Happy days.

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Nov 08

Here Comes the Son: Son by Lois Lowry

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Family, Fantasy, Women's Studies, Young Adult Fiction 19

Hidey Ho, Bookworms!

We have reached the final leg of our Giver journey! Who’s excited? I can practically hear you hooting and hollering through the internet. Love the enthusiasm!

Son is the fourth and final offering in Lois Lowry’s Giver quartet. Son starts off with a bang by returning us to the scene of the crime- the original community! We’re back in the land of overscheduled, colorless, emotionless lives. But the bicycles are especially jaunty, you have to give them that.

We are introduced to a new character, Claire. Claire is a 14-year-old birthmother. Remember birthmothers? The girls in the community who weren’t fit for other occupation? Yeah. Those birthmothers. Claire is one of them. She’s 14. And pregnant! Oh, community, seriously?! You can fix the weather but you can’t figure out that young girls’ bodies, while capable of producing a healthy child, are not mature enough to do so reliably? I don’t remember what the ideal childbearing age is biologically speaking, but it sure as sugar snap peas isn’t 14!

Claire is busy chilling in the birthmother dorm hanging around the other birthmothers reflecting that it was kind of weird that she had no idea how human reproduction worked, what with the swelling of bellies and all. Then she goes into labor. She’s wheeled into a room and put into a leather mask (that sounds like nothing so much as accoutrements of Fifty Shades’ Red Room of Pain.) Unfortunately something goes wrong (I mean, it’s not like she’s a 14-year-old girl giving birth or anything!) and Claire has to have a c-section to release the “product.” Claire is given some time to recover and is then re-assigned to work in the fish hatchery. The community doesn’t like c-sections, apparently, so she’s kicked out of birthmother-ing.

The powers that be made two mistakes. First, someone mentioned to Claire that her “product” was a male and gives her his birth number. Second, the community is so dang flustered at their screw up with Claire’s assignment that they forget to give her the pills! (The PILLS! The ones that make you sterile and steal your emotions. Egads, the girl has FEELINGS now!)

It’s a party mix! Saddest thing about the pills? Even if they were fun colors, nobody in the community could see them. Sad trombone.

In case you hadn’t guessed this already, Claire’s baby is Gabe. While Gabe is spending his nights with Jonas and his family, Claire is volunteering at the nursery to spend time with her baby boy. She begins to get attached (not allowed) and is devastated to hear from Jonas’s father that Gabe isn’t bound to be assigned, but released. (Released=Euthanasia, remember?) Claire is distraught and desperate to save her baby. Later that night alarms sound, because Jonas has escaped with Gabe. Claire hops onto a supply ship hoping to track them down…And then she’s shipwrecked!

Dun dun dun! Claire washes up on the shore of yet another society. This village is hemmed in by cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, so it’s completely isolated. It’s not entirely unpleasant though. Actually, it’s the most normal of the places we’ve seen in this series of novels. It’s pretty much what you’d expect out of an isolated town, like 150 years ago. They don’t abandon their sick and injured to die in fields… Claire starts out with amnesia but soon remembers Gabe and her quest. She meets a disabled shepherd who is willing to train her on how to scale the cliff of doom (I added the “of doom” part. Creative license. Sue me.)

After an irrationally long (sorry Ms. Lowry, it was a bit drawn out…) sequence describing Claire’s physical training regime and her highly detailed climb, Claire escapes the village. But who awaits her at the top? Her Mr. Miyagi Shepherd buddy warned her about (dun dun duuuuuuun!) the Trademaster! Yes! The wicked fellow ruining lives in Jonas’s village is waiting for Claire! He demands a trade, and Claire knows she must accept, otherwise he’ll cut off half her feet the way he did Miyagi (jerk.) So. The Trademaster tells Claire he’ll get her to Gabe… In exchange for her youth. (Are you sensing more fantasy coming on?) Claire is turned from a young woman into a hunched, old, arthritic geezer. Sad! But, she is taken into Jonas’s village and gets to watch Gabe grow up from afar.

Cliff climbing. Like so. Only without the rope thingie and all the safety precautions. I may or may not have had a mild bout of vertigo reading this section…

Sidebar- Jonas and Kira totally get married and have babies, so yay for them. Unfortunately, Gabe is being a moody teenager and wants to find his “real” family. Claire is prematurely super old and is on her deathbed before she reveals her secret to Jonas. Gabe has a little bit of superpower about him and is able to pop into people’s heads and feel their feelings and stuff. It’s kind of vague, but somehow he is able to track down the Trademaster, get inside his head and destroy him. Then Claire is magically young again and they all live happily ever after. Yay?

When I look at this series as a whole, I’ve got to admit that for me nothing really lived up to The Giver. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy each of the books in their own way, I just felt that the messages in The Giver resonated with me in a way the others didn’t. Honestly, I would have preferred to hear about how the original community evolved after Jonas’s departure than have the story branch out into so many other little societies, but alas, wasn’t in the cards. I also wasn’t thrilled with the turn the series took into full on fantasy either… I mean, fantasy is great, I just prefer it to carry it all throughout a series than to have it presented halfway through. I found Son a little bit predictable, too. But! I’m not a complete sourpuss! Overall, this series is a great example of young adult fiction. There are all sorts of good lessons to learn, and I appreciate a happy ending, no matter how it comes about. Give it a shot and decide for yourself!

Have any of you Bookworms made it all the way through the series? Are you pleased with the way Lowry wrapped up the story? Do you still have unanswered questions? Let’s talk about it!

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Nov 07

Don't Kill The Messenger! (Messenger by Lois Lowry)

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction 5

Happy Wednesday, Bookworms!

I know what you’re thinking! “Messenger had better link up The Giver and Gathering Blue or I’m going to be one angry bookworm!” I know that’s what I was thinking. Well it wasn’t exactly that vitriolic, but I was pleased when I started this and recognized the characters.

We start off this story with Matty. Remember Matt from Gathering Blue? In Kira and Matty’s community they earn syllables to tack onto their names as they age. So Matt became Matty. Which is funny because, in traditional English naming convention, the addition of a Y actually makes the name sound YOUNGER. Like, your full name is Matthew but when you’re a little kid you’re Matty, and when you hit 8 you refuse to answer to the baby name and insist on Matt? In this society, you’d start out as Matt, go to Matty, then Matty-Saurus-Rex. You know. The usual progression.

Messenger takes a turn for the allegorical in this novel. We depart from the sci-fi realm and move a little more into fantasy territory. Remember how Kira’s dad showed up to see her in his blue shirt? And how Matty was the one who found him? We finally find out that this mysterious village that takes in the disabled is where Jonas and Gabe ended up!!! Cliffhanger resolved! Jonas and Gabe didn’t die, the lights they sledded to in the midst of that blizzard was this village.

A dude and an evil forest. Oooooh.

At the end of Gathering Blue, Matty decides to stay in the village with Kira’s dad, but he still visits Kira from time to time. He’s got a talent for traveling back and forth through the woods without having the trees turn on him and attack him Wizard of Oz style. Now the village in which the outcasts resides is pretty serene. They don’t euthanize their misfits or leave their injured in a field to die.

Unfortunately, things are starting to get a little weird in the village. The village starts having regular “Trade Marts” which is sort of like a marketplace, with a twist. There’s a weird peddler dude (who calls himself “Trademaster”) who is coming to the village and making “trades” for his goods. The uncorrupted village population soon begins trading the best parts of their personality for gaming machines and vanity items. The villagers’ temperment begins to change and they decide to close their borders. Since things are starting to get a little dicey, Kira decides it’s time to hurry up and join her father in the village before the borders close. (As you recall, Kira opted to stay in her home society to help them change for the better. It’s implied that she manages to make progress, but Lowry doesn’t go into much detail there. )

Matty goes into the angry forest to fetch Kira and bring her to the village safely. Along the journey, Matty begins to be rejected by the forest that once favored him. He gets stung by insects, tangled by vines, and attacked by underbrush. Are you ready to embrace allegory? Okay. Kira has a gift for weaving. We’ve covered that. Jonas has a gift, which is part of what made him attractive to become the Giver. His gift manifests itself by occasional psychic episodes. Matty also has a gift , of sorts.

Yeah, like I needed ANOTHER reason to avoid the great outdoors. Forest attacks? Clearly I won’t be camping… Ever.

Matty plays the sacrificial lamb. While in the forest, he sacrifices himself to whatever evil spirits are jacking things up. He restores the forest to a normal state, and his death chases the influence of the Trademaster from the village.

Now, I appreciate that this book gave me some closure to Jonas’s story. I was downright giddy that Jonas and Kira were woven into the same plot. However. I wasn’t crazy about the turn we took from relatively realistic science fiction to full on fantasy. In The Giver everything seemed to have a scientific explanation. In order to have a peaceful society, you have to take away certain aspects of humanity. No place for passion in a place where there is no fighting, no sexual competition, no need for individualism. Gathering Blue had hints of fantasy, but mainly felt like a society that had gone back in time after a cataclysm in the world we know. The animated evil forest and the Trademaster took me on a journey I wasn’t anticipating. I won’t say it was a terrible place to go, but I would have preferred sticking to the realistic feel of the first two books.

Does it bother anyone else when a book takes an unexpected turn? I’m not talking a plot twist, I’m talking a genre shift. Am I the only person who isn’t crazy about this?

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Nov 06

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry: The Giver, Part 2. Only not.

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Friendship, Historical Fiction 14

Hello Again Bookworms! I bet you’re all dying to know what happened to Jonas and Gabe, aren’t you? Well… Too damn bad! This book doesn’t mention them at all!

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry is the second in The Giver series. It takes place in another dystopian society, but this one is NOTHING like the one Jonas and Gabe came from.

Our heroine is a girl named Kira. She lives during the same time period as Jonas, but in a society very different from the one we met in The Giver. Kira’s society is brutal. They lack modern conveniences and live in squalor. The society is ruled by the passionate voice of the people…No pills in to keep the masses in check. Everything that is ugly about humanity is shown in a harsh light. Kira was born with a twisted leg, which requires her to walk with a cane. In this harsh society, people who have deformities or are in any way incapable of working are abandoned in a field to die. The sick aren’t cared for- they’re sent to the field. After Kira’s mother passes away, her neighbors try to confiscate her home and send her to the field as well. An orphaned girl with a disability doesn’t have a place in this society. In an attempt to prove her worth to the society’s ruling body, Kira presents herself and her weaving to the Council of Eddifice. The Council recognizes Kira’s talent for weaving and gives her new lodging within their headquarters.

Kira is given a single task. She is set to mend the beautiful cloak that the Singer wears once a year. The Singer’s sole responsibility is to sing the story of human civilization at the annual festival. Though this book doesn’t really touch on religion, the Singer’s significance seems holy in nature. It’s the glue that binds the society together. Being put in charge of the robe is an honor and quite a responsibility for Kira, but the council tries to make it worth her while, so to speak. (Really though, it’s not like she could leave. Her only other option is to try to go home and face the angry mob that wants her in the field…)

I imagine the Singer’s cloak to look a lot like the one displayed in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I like musical theater. Hush.

Life in headquarters is very different than what Kira has grown up with. She’s got electricity, running water, and plentiful meals. She is no longer subject to the cruel tribal life she is used to. She meets another resident there, a boy named Thomas. Thomas is gifted in wood carving and has been given the task of carving the story of human civilization into the singer’s staff. As Kira runs low on thread, she’s introduced to an old woman who lives in the woods. The woman becomes her mentor and teaches Kira how to dye thread to make the colors she needs to continue mending the cloak. The most difficult color to come by is blue, but unfortunately there is nothing they can grow in their gardens that will produce a blue dye. (I found it interesting that Lowry chose the color blue as the missing link, because I’ve read a few historical fictions that also focus on the difficulty of cultivating blue dye. Lapis lazuli was the best source of the color, and because it is a gemstone/mineral as opposed to a plant, it was often prohibitively expensive. Just a little nugget for your brain banks.)

It’s such a pretty color! But hard to find. Yay for chemicals so we can have blue dye! (And old ladies can have blue hair. Don’t hate on the blue hair.)

As time goes by, Kira becomes more and more suspicious of her surroundings. Kira begins to hear wailing at night. When she and Thomas discover the source, they find a very small little girl named Jo, who is little more than a toddler. She is being kept there in training to take over the duties of the Singer when the time comes. Jo has a gift for singing, but is tiny and frightened. Kira and Thomas try to ease her fears, but they’re beginning to see that their new lives are rather unusual. During the ceremony that year, as Kira admires the work she’s done on the Singer’s robe, she notices that the Singer’s ankles are chained. He is a prisoner. It occurs to her that she, Thomas, and Jo are prisoners as well.

Kira has one friend from her old life, a little boy named Matt. When Kira explains her problems with the blue thread, Matt tells Kira that he’s come across a village in the woods that HAS blue. Blue cloth everywhere. When Matt returns from his mission with more than just blue cloth for Kira to use… He returns with the father she thought was dead. As it turns out, though he was left in the field to die (after being attacked by his own people, no less) and was rescued by a group of people from this mysterious village. Kira’s father offers to take her to the village in which he lives, but Kira declines (at least temporarily) to help improve the society she lives in.

Okay. So that’s a story right? I didn’t like this book as much as I liked The Giver, but it wasn’t bad at all. I’ve got a weakness for historical fiction anyway, and the way Kira’s society lived felt very much like a bygone era as opposed to a future time. I didn’t even mind the long descriptions of thread dyeing- I like to read about how things were done once upon a time. I never actually want to have to DO things the old fashioned way, but you know. If there’s a zombie apocalypse, I figure I can make a living being an herbalist and dying thread or something. I don’t know. I just like learning things. So there. I know what you’re thinking though. WHAT IN TARNATION DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH JONAS AND GABE?!?!?!

You are just going to have to wait for book 3, now aren’t you? Yep. This is the sequel that’s not a sequel at all. Have any of you read Gathering Blue? What are your thoughts on Kira’s society?

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Nov 05

My Name is Jonas: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Frightening, Psychological 21

Hello there, Bookworms!

I hope you’re all well rested after “falling back” this weekend. For those of you who don’t live in areas where Daylight Savings Time is observed, I hope you got extra sleep anyway. Sleep is wonderful.

This week I’m going to focus on The Giver by Lois Lowry. Why does one book need a whole week of attention? It doesn’t! But there are sequels! And I’ve read them all. Now you shall be subjected to my opinions on them. I know you’re excited!

The cover of this book scared me a bit as a child. Who was that? Why did the Santa look alike look so sad? Who ripped the cover? What’s going on?!

The first time I “read” The Giver was in the fifth grade. I say “read” because I didn’t actually read it, the teacher read it to us a chapter at a time… Earlier this year I was craving some more dystopia (seriously, I have a problem. I only want to read about screwy alternate realities…) I decided I needed to read The Giver again since it was creeping up on 20 years since I’d heard it the first time (I’m getting old, dammit.) Number The Stars was one of my favorite books as a kid, so I figured anything Lois Lowry wrote would probably be pretty good, even from an adult perspective.

Okay, so here’s the basic premise. We’re introduced to a 12 year old boy named Jonas and we learn about his home. His community is very orderly and prescribed. There are no cars- everyone rides bicycles (how lovely for the environment!) Children work volunteer hours around town and everyone seems to be quite pleasant… It sounds pretty Thomas More Utopian, right? Then little things start to seem… wrong.

There are no animals, except the fish in the hatchery (and thanks to Kurt Cobain, we know “it’s okay to eat fish ’cause they don’t have any feelings…” What? I’ve already TOLD YOU about my grunge phase. Expect a Nirvana reference from time to time, y’all.) The children are assigned their future jobs at a special ceremony when they turn 12. Color doesn’t exist. Emotions like love seem to be non existent. Everyone is perfectly pleasant, but in being pleasant, they’re missing a lot of the best parts of being human. (This book came out way before Pleasantville was released, but I cannot help but draw comparisons. The nice but slightly off community? The lack of color? The lack of passion? The only thing The Giver is lacking is Don Knotts… May he rest in peace. He lacked the gravity to have played The Giver anyway.)

Reese Witherspoon and I share a birthday. Obviously people born on March 22 are destined for fabulousness.

Jonas is clearly different. He seems to question things a little more than his friends do. His eye “color” is light rather than dark. While his friends seem to have clear ideas of where their future careers will lie, Jonas is only confused. I has no idea what the future has in store for him, and in such an orderly society, that’s highly unusual. During their 12 year ceremony, the powers that be SKIP OVER Jonas. That’s enough to freak everyone out. Everyone assumes it was an oversight, but oversights DON’T HAPPEN in the community. Just as the 12 year ceremony is about to conclude, the council doubles back and points out Jonas. Jonas has been chosen for a special job. He’s to apprentice with the mysterious Giver. Nobody in the community seems to know exactly what the Giver does, but they know it’s an important position. Jonas is… terrified.

As it turns out, The Giver is responsible for remembering all the bits of human history that might make the community unpleasant. Every citizen of pubescent age and older is prescribed “pills.” It’s never explained what the pills do exactly, but it seems to me that they’re a mix of sexual suppression and sedative. Actually, they seem a bit like Huxley’s soma, plus the addition of the no sex thing. There is NO SEX in the community. The babies come from “birth mothers” who are kept in a secluded area. The whole idea of the birth mothers confuses me a little… Girls chosen to become birth mothers are typically picked because they show no aptitude to do anything else. They’re taken to this dormitory type area and pampered until they’ve given birth three times. They’re then released to do manual labor. But… If this community is so flipping smart, wouldn’t it be counterproductive to use the less than brilliant girls as breeding stock? I mean, genetically speaking. I suppose they could be using donor eggs (except we learn in the 4th book that they aren’t using donor eggs.) Also, where do they get the sperm since the men are all on pills to make them have no sexual desire? None of this is probably appropriate for the age group this book was written for, so I suppose I shouldn’t dwell. But, Ms. Lowry? Could you throw a girl a bone here?

Oh man I’m rambling today. The Giver! Yes. So Jonas starts his training, and The Giver starts “giving” him memories. Some of them are nice, like colors and music. Some of them are horrifying like war and death. The community doesn’t discuss death. At a certain age all citizens are “released” to a non specific “elsewhere.” Jonas eventually learns that being “released” is a euphemism for being euthanized. Yep. Once people are pass their usefulness, they’re killed. Seedy underbelly, much? As if this wasn’t enough for a 12 year old kid to take on, his father has been bringing home a child (his dad works in the nursery) who is failing to thrive. The kid, Gabe, appears soothed by Jonas. He’s also got Jonas’s strange light colored eyes as well. After Gabe has lived with the family for a while and still failed to present himself as an untroubled citizen, it’s deemed that he will be released.

Jonas, realizing what being released means is horrified. He’s begun to see all the cracks in his seemingly perfect society and the death of Gabe solidifies his resolve. Jonas decides to LEAVE. Jonas packs up Gabe and some supplies and takes off past the limits of his community. As it turns out, whatever scientific bubble the community has used to make the weather perfectly pleasant and conducive to their lifestyle doesn’t extend forever. The book ends with Gabe and Jonas on the verge of hypothermia sledding down a snowy hill during a blizzard toward some (likely hallucinatory) lights. (As an adult, all this scene makes me think of is Orson Well muttering “Rosebud!” Citizen Kane. The weasel made me watch it. You should too.)

That’s Rosebud. In a black and white movie. Full circle.

I got a whole heck of a lot MORE out of this book as an adult than I did as a 10-year-old. The biggest thing I remembered from when I was a kid was wondering how scientists managed to take color out of the world and being convinced that Jonas and Gabe died at the end. As you probably presumed from the fact that there are sequels to this story, that’s not exactly the case. This book is great. Sure, I have unanswered questions, but I think it’s a great story that really gets the brain juices flowing. If you like dystopias and you haven’t read this, you should. If you read it as a kid, you should read it as an adult. If you resent me for giving spoilers all over the place… I’m not really sorry. Okay, maybe a little sorry.

Have any of the bookworms out there read The Giver? What did you think? Were you even aware that there were sequels? (Because I wasn’t, until Amazon told me. I love you, Amazon!)

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Oct 31

Books That Scare Me: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Dystopian, Religion, Women's Studies 39

Happy Halloween, Bookworms! Today we’re going to discuss one of the most frightening books I’ve ever read: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book combines several of my biggest fears. First, I have an irrational fear of cult activity. I’m ALL ABOUT freedom of religion… Until your religion tries to take over a government. I also fear those who would take my autonomy. I know that it sounds ridiculous in 2012 to think any American male would seek to take away my right to vote, own property, or… read. Frankly though, that isn’t true the world over.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel set in the USA after a militant Christian group seizes power from the government. Actually, they sort of show up and machine-gun Congress… (I would absolutely not take this book as an attack on Christianity… It’s an attack on theocracy of any kind, but given Atwood’s audience she wisely assumed that biblical references would be most familiar.)  This story is told from the point of view of Offred. Offred was once a typical American woman. She was married with a child and had a career and money of her own. It’s never really explained how it came to be, but it’s strongly implied that something (perhaps radiation?) has rendered a large portion of the female population infertile. Once the cult government takes over, they sift out the “fruitful” females and assign them to “deserving” men as handmaids. Any of you read my review on The Red Tent? The idea behind “handmaids” is Old Testament. Jacob has two official wives, Rachel and Leah. Rachel has trouble conceiving, and sometimes Leah just gets tired of popping out babies. Their solution is to bring on “handmaids” to conceive children in their stead. Like… rent-a-uterus. So the righteous yet infertile women get to have husbands and raise families… But the handmaids are the ones who actually have to birth the children… And suffer through the super creepy copulation ritual Atwood outlines. Gross. (Although, really, it’s sad for the “righteous” women too. They sure as heck aren’t fond of the copulation ritual either.)

The Handmaids are also required to wear a bizarre red costume and a weird white wimple. I guess peripheral vision is also off limits.

Offred and the other handmaids in this tale are stripped of their names, their identities, their possessions, and their families. Literally, their names are changed from things like “Katie” and “Sandy” and “Lauren” to Of-insert-husband-here. So like, assuming my weasely husband was my “master,” I’d no longer be Katie, but Ofjim.  They are treated as breeding stock and denied even the right to READ. Literally. The handmaids are in charge of some of the market duties and the new society has gone so far as to replace shop signs with pictograms to keep women from reading. KEEPING WOMEN FROM READING!!!  The horror!!!

Thanks, Margaret Atwood, Children of the Corn hadn’t quite scared me enough. Just add the scariest cult EVER to the mix. Margaret Atwood is a completely amazing writer, and also Canadian. Politically, at least from my limited (seriously limited, I hate politics) understanding, Canada tends to be a bit more liberal policy-wise than the USA. I don’t think it’s any stretch to say that Atwood is quite liberal ideologically either.  In fact, there’s mention in the book of an “underground female-road,” that spirits oppressed women from “Gilead” into Canada. Don’t worry, Ms. Atwood, I’m not offended that you made my home country into a scary dystopia. The book was too awesome to take offense. Anyway, this book was written in the 80s and Atwood was freaked out by the rise of the televangelist, who are often quite traditional when it comes to women’s roles. I can’t really blame her for being a little afraid of televangelists. I find Jack Van Impe quite frightening, myself.

People listen to that guy. They like send him money and believe him when he says ‘robits’ will bring about the end times…

This post is not about politics though. It’s not about religion either. I’m also not saying that televangelists want to machine-gun Congress and impose theocratic rule. I’m totally NOT CONDEMNING anyone’s universal right to believe in what they hold to be true… Unless what they hold to be true means that I don’t get to read, because I’m NOT okay with that. Seriously NOT OKAY with that. (Apologies to anyone who reads this who happens to love Jack Van Impe. You’re entitled. It’s just he makes funny faces that make for amusing screen caps. And he pronounces “robot” funny. I have a very animated face as well. It’s a good thing I’m not on TV.)

Have any of you bookworms read The Handmaid’s Tale? What did you think of it?

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Oct 29

Books That Scare Me: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Dystopian 24

Muahahahaha Bookworms! (Did you enjoy my maniacal monster laugh?!)  Today is the official beginning of Hallo-Week, so I’m going to celebrate by discussing some of the books that scare the crap out of me. I have probably mentioned this before, but I’m not a huge fan of ghost stories, demonic possessions, and the usual frightful fare. I’m sort of a chicken and I don’t like having nightmares. Just because I don’t dig the traditional supernatural horror stories, doesn’t mean I haven’t read anything horrifying… Stephen King I may have to take in measured doses, but I have some terrifying tales to share with you! First on the list of books that scare the boogers out of me: The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

The Road is the story of a man and his young son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. I read dystopias all the time… So why is this one so flim-flamming scary? This book paints the absolute BLEAKEST apocalypse scenario I’ve ever read.

The cover is bleak and terrifying too!

Some unexplained catastrophe has wiped out most of human life on earth. It’s also decimated the plant life, sea life, and animal life. There are a few humans left rattling around the planet, but it’s not pretty. Most of the survivors belong to cannibalistic gangs. Growing food isn’t even an option! Somehow whatever happened (meteor strike maybe?) has put the planet in a hazy fog and the lack of sunlight has killed all the vegetation. It’s horrifying. The survivors who don’t feast on the flesh of their fellow men or barbecue babies scavenge for canned goods and hiding places.

The man and his young boy are never named, but they’re each other’s entire worlds. They carry around a gun containing two bullets, just in case. Better to die swiftly than be captured and harvested for meat. This book follows the man and boy on their journey across the desolate landscape looking for a safe place to call home.

A side effect of the cataclysm is a permanently tainted air supply. The boy and his father constantly wear masks to try and filter the ash, but the pollution has taken its toll on the man. What do you do for a chronic lung ailment when there are no doctors and no medicine? I won’t give away everything, but I will tell you there’s no happily ever after to lull you to sleep at night.

This book disturbed me on many levels. First, it’s always a shock to remember just how quickly “society” could fall by the wayside in the event of a catastrophe. Second, there is just no hope. They can’t escape to a nice little farm somewhere and make a life and refuge for themselves, because nothing will grow. There is no sun. The soil is depleted. Trees are toppling over at the roots. Even if they can survive the marauding packs of cannibals, where are they going to go? What are they going to do? There is absolutely no escape and it scares me silly. Heebie jeebies all over the place.

What’s the most frightening book you’ve ever read? Was it scary in a traditional sense or more of a I’m-about-to-have-a-panic-attack-thinking-about-this way?

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Oct 18

The Stand by Stephen King… Or Katie vs. Taylor Swift

Contemporary Fiction, Dystopian, Supernatural 48

Yesterday I got a flu shot. Jim works for a hospital, and every year they have a huge initiative to get as much as the staff vaccinated as possible. This year he came home acting very self important. He told me that the flu would be responsible for the Zombie Apocalypse. Since he’d been vaccinated and I hadn’t, I’d become a zombie, he’d have to put me down, and then he’d find Taylor Swift to be his replacement wife. I wasn’t about to let THAT happen. If the world is going to end, it’s going to end with Jim pestering me to clean the toilets. Taylor Swift would only write songs about his love of disinfectant- but would she disinfect?! Really, this was a flu shot of spite.

I had to go to the doctor for a checkup anyway, so when they asked if I wanted a flu shot, I accepted. I was feeling pretty smug about it, until my arm started to hurt. A lot. Stupid sore arm. Now I’m stuck battling zombies with one arm. Pfft. When Jim got the swine flu a few years back, I didn’t even get sick. I’m probably IMMUNE to the zombie virus anyway. Now I have flu shot buyer’s remorse. So… In honor of my flu shot, zombies, and infectious diseases of all kinds, we’re going to talk about The Stand by Stephen King.

Good vs. Evil. Super Flu. Apocalypse.

The Stand is one of two Stephen King novels I’ve read. The other, Bag of Bones, gave me nightmares, and that was REALLY tame. No scary clowns, no possessed twins, no child cults. I know my psyche well enough to know I can’t handle the King. But I LOVE dystopian fiction! Every book list I came across listed The Stand as one of the all time best dystopian novels, so I got brave. The novel is nothing short of epic. I mean that literally as well as figuratively, because this sucker is long. It’s also awesome.

The basic premise of The Stand is that the US government has engineered biological weapons. One of those weapons, a super flu, is released accidentally by a lone security guard trying to escape his military base. This flu kills 99% of the population. It’s not just a virus, it’s a mega mutating virus. Once a body begins to recover from the infection the virus changes and finds another way to kill them. It’s crazy. But it’s only 99% lethal… So there are a handful of people who are immune. The survivors slowly come across one another wandering about the country (King never really says if the virus spread past the US, but it’s implied that it’s a worldwide thing. He just didn’t write about, you know, the Chinese survivors. Because he’s from Maine, what does he know about Chinese apocalypse survivors?) The American survivors all begin to have dreams of an old African American woman and are drawn to her Midwestern farm. There, the mysterious old black woman known as Mother Abigail rallies her “troops” and heads off to re-establish society in Colorado.

At the same time that Mother Abigail is gathering the righteous, a sketchy supernatural being named Randall Flagg is gathering his own dark troops in Vegas. It all comes down to an epic battle of good vs. evil with the survivors of the plague. Toward the end it gets a little bizarre. I’m not opposed to supernatural happenings or religious imagery in any way… But… The Hand of God (literally… a hand coming out of the sky) smiting the evil doers was a bit Old Testament for my taste. In any case, you should read this book. It’s creepy. It gives a great picture of what happens to humanity in a disaster scenario. It’s allegorical and meaningful… And there are weasels. How often do you get to read books with weasel imagery?! I bet you didn’t even know there were weasels in North America, did you? They like eating birds. And, according to Stephen King, Righteous Old Ladies’ hard won chickens.

He’ll smite you. Weasel style.

December 21st is just around the corner. Any of my bookworms prepping for Doomsday? (I doubt it, because if you were prepping for Doomsday, you’d be canning tomatoes and not reading my blog right now, but you know.)

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