Sunday, August 14, 2011

REVIEW: Divergent (If The Giver Bought the Hogwarts Houses a Drink, Nine Months Later This Is the Book a Stork Would Deliver to YA Readers' Doorsteps)

Roth, V.  (2011).  Divergent.  New York:  Katherine Tegen Books.

487 pages.

Appetizer:  In the future and in the remains of Chicago, people choose factions to devote their life to:  Candor for those who privilege honesty, Abnegation for those who value selflessness, Dauntless for the brave, Erudite for those who devote themselves to intelligence and Amity for those who focus on peace.  There are also an unlucky few who are faction-less, who live in poverty.

At the age of sixteen, people are tested and then choose their faction during a ceremony.  Raised by abnegation-ist parents, Beatrice--or Tris--faces a tough choice.  She has never felt like she truly belonged with her selfless parents.  The results of her test complicate matters further.  Beatrice learns she is divergent--she could potentially belong to three of the factions--a fact she is told to keep secret as she faces the choice between betraying her parents' hopes for her and pursuing her own dreams.

Divergent is an interesting concept.  It's a blending of the sorting into Hogwarts houses with the Hunger Games and The Giver.  The execution of this story, however falls short of the blogger and insta-movie deal hype that I heard about this book.  It also falls short of the stories I'm comparing it to.  Although Tris's struggle to make her own choice for herself is engaging--and is a central struggle for any young person who is contemplating making choices that his or her family disagrees with--it falls short when compared to Katniss sacrificing herself for her sister in The Hunger Games.

The deadly challenges Tris faced while being initiated into the Dauntless faction were hard to believe as permissible in the society.  While logically, I knew that Roth was constructing a world different from my own and was critiquing the hostile and horrible environments that the Dauntless characters live in, I just couldn't quite believe the world she was creating.  Wouldn't a brave person speak out against the injustice and suffering they see around them?  I found myself mumbling "lawsuit" repeatedly as the Dauntless initiates were required to jump onto or off a moving train or leap off the side of a building with no support, safety nets, training or proper instruction.  I repeat, lawsuit.

Maybe I'm just not "dauntless" enough to believe in this world or maybe I've been too sheltered all my life/too lucky to ever experience a group dynamic with such a competitive and dangerous mentality.


As a reader, I also needed to feel a clearer threat to the society or to Tris.  The Dauntless train hard to protect what remains of human society...from what?  While there are hints that Denmark Broken-Chicago is a kind of stinky place within the first 300ish pages, I needed a real threat sooner.  I also needed to understand why being divergent was dangerous sooner.  Basically, this book could have--and should have--been 150 pages shorter.

But having said that, there were some moments in this book that really captured my attention and engaged me.  Whenever Tris faced injustice at the hands of her fellow initiates or at the hands of the Dauntless leaders, I wanted her to come back and kick a-- *ahem* ...and kick bum-bum.  (And she was a tough character who wanted to do just that.)  I also found some of the subtle tensions and themes very engaging; such as the propaganda the erudite faction was creating against the abnegationists or the way Tris had to accept the idea that some of her friends were also her competition.

Overall, this is another one of those books that doesn't seem to meet the hype, but is still enjoyable.  Recommend it!  Just don't imply that it's the best thing in THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE/SINCE SLICED BREAD/IN THE WORLD OF YA LITERATURE as you do.

Dinner Conversation:

"There is one mirror in my house.  It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs.  Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair" (p. 1).

"Today is the day of the aptitude test that will show me which of the five factions I belong in.  And tomorrow, at the Choosing Ceremony, I will decide on a faction; I will decide the rest of my life' I will decide to stay with my family or abandon them" (p. 2).

"People who get this kind of result are..."  She looks over her shoulder like the expects someone to appear behind her.  "...are called...Divergent."  She says the last word so quietly that I almost don't hear it, and her tense, worried look returns.  She walks around the side of the chair and leans in close to me.
"Beatrice," she says, "under no circumstances should you share that information with anyone.  This is very important" (p. 22).

"I realize that the decision might be simple.  It will require a great act of selflessness to choose Abnegation, or a great act of courage to choose Dauntless, and maybe just choosing one over the other will prove that I belong.  Tomorrow, those two qualities will struggle within me, and only one can win" (p. 37).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

REVIEW: Starcrossed

Angelini, J.  (2011).  Starcrossed.  New York:  HarperTeen.

487 pages.  (Those be a lot of pages!  And I read every single a big girl.)


INTERESTING PREMISE:  Helen is attracted to/repelled by a new boy on the island and learns that they are members of waring factions descended from the Greek gods.  Check.






Appetizer:  Sixteen-year-old Helen just wants to be normal.  But as a six-foot tall, beautiful, blond that all the Nantucket tourists stare at, it would seem she's doomed to stand out.  (Poor baby.  Don't you just tear-up at the thought of her burden?  It does turn out that Helen is hiding some big secrets though--including super strength and speed--but by the time I realized that she had real secrets, I was already annoyed by Helen's self consciousness.)

When the Delos family moves to town, Helen has a strange reaction to the mere sight of one of the boys in that family, Lucas:  She wants to kill him.  (WTF?  Anger, violence, hate and attempted murder are the new sexy?!  No thank you.)  She also starts to have dreams of a dry land that also hosts the three Greek fates.  To make matters worse the Delos family now know her secrets, but can she trust these potential enemies to keep them?  And what are they and Lucas hiding?  And who else might be searching for Helen?

Let's admit this straight away--I did not enjoy this book.  Normally, I probably wouldn't have finished or written a review on it.  But since Starcrossed was related to my dissertation research, I forced my way through it.

Okay, that disclaimer out of the way, on to the rest of the review...

Nothing about Helen or Lucas really grabbed me.  I found the starting point of I-Hate-and-Want-to-Kill-You to be an upsetting starting point for a romance and the continuing violence against women (with few consequences) was disturbing.

For example, one of the Delos family members, Cassandra, attacks Helen with a sword to test a theory:

"Cassandra swung the sword.  In that millisecond Helen knew she'd had a good life, because she suddenly loved it so much that she could have wept with gratitude.  She'd had amazing friends, the best dad in the world, and a strong, healthy body.  She'd even experienced the joy of flight.  And once, just once, in the middle of the night, she'd almost kissed the only boy she'd ever wanted.... (p. 254-255)
Nice defeatist attitude, Helen.  If your life is so great, why don't you try to keep it as a supposed-friend swings a sword at your neck?  You don't have to fight back, but a nice duck or sidestep would be appropriate.  Let's continue with the scene...
Helen felt a strange, vibrating tickle, like someone had pressed a gigantic kazoo against the side of her throat and blown on it.  She saw Cassandra's eyes widen as she pulled the blade back from the side of Helen's neck and looked at it."   
..."'I was right.'  She dropped the sword and grabbed Helen in a hug.  Then she started jumping up and down, making Helen jump with her.  "You're not dead!  This is...You have no idea how happy I am I didn't just kill you!" she squealed."  (p. 254-255)
What the heck?  Seriously?

Look, I am open to a book exploring violence, victimization and empowerment...but I found Starcrossed's presentation to be thoughtless with almost no consequences of actions and choices included.

Both good characters and bad characters hurt characters who pose no threat to them.  Multiple times throughout the story, Helen is abused by Hector Delos, a supposed friend, under the premise that he is training her.

Helen is also threatened many times and in many ways, but never fights back.  (This, in theory, could be a great message about remaining in control, not rising to the bate or advocating peace, but since Helen learns she's invulnerable to weapons, and so just let's herself get hit, it's not exactly a model impressionable young readers should follow.)

Plus, the way the Delos family is constructed reminded me a little too much of the Cullen family in Twilight.  Then there was the way that the entire family--whether they liked Helen or not--devoted their lives to protect her.  Like in TWILIGHT!  The fact Helen lived alone with her dad.  Also Twilight-ish.  The fact that she starts a relationship with a boy who wishes to protect her but resists her and all of his urges to be with her sexually--STINKS OF TWILIGHT!

Now would be a good time to accuse me of having Twilight on the brain...but honestly, I don't.  I haven't reread the books in year or so.

Also, I was not crazy about the way the book played with point-of-view.  The vast majority of the story is told from Helen's perspective.  That's fine.  Then suddenly, there are small segments from one of the villain's perspectives.  Okay, I guess.  The suddenly we see Lucas's perspective.  Ummm, why?  And within the last 100 pages, while being under the guise of third-person limited with Helen's perspective, the narration still briefly dips into other characters' thoughts.  Sloppy.  I just wanted the narration to be consistent.

Sigh.  I feel like I've had a string of mostly negative reviews over the last couple of months when it comes to these vaguely dissertation related myth books.  While I of course enjoy growing more and more snarky, I am starting to feel bad for the string of authors whose books I've been critical of.  Let us all keep our fingers crossed that the next book in my ol' dissertation mountain will entertain me more.

Dinner Conversation:

"Some of the Labor Day tourists were staring at her, not unusual, so Helen tried to turn her face away as subtly as she could.  When Helen looked in a mirror all she saw were the basics--two eyes, a nose, and a mouth--but strangers from off island tended to stare, which was really annoying" (p. 2).

"'But I really thought you'd be more interested in the Delos family.  You'll be graduating with a few of them.'
Helen stood there as Delos ran around her head.  The name meant nothing to her.  How could it?  But some echoey part of her brain kept repeating "Delos" over and over" (pp. 11-12).

"Secretly, Helen had always felt she was different, but she thought she had done a pretty good job of hiding it her whole life.  Apparently, without realizing it, she'd been sending out hints of that buried freak inside of her.  She had to try to keep her head down, but she wondered how she was going to do that when she kept getting taller and taller every damn day" (p. 23).

"Lucas was standing in front of his locker about twenty feet away, staring back at Helen while the world waited for gravity to switch back on.  He was tall, over six feet at least, and powerfully built, although his muscles were long and lean instead of bulky.  He had short, black hair and a dark end-of-summer tan that brought out his white smile and his swimming-pool blue eyes.
Meeting his eyes was an awakening.  For the first time in Helen's life she knew what pure, heart poisoning hatred was" (pp. 43-44).

"No one of regular human strength could have stopped Helen from strangling him if she set her mind to it.  Lucas was like her.
The thought made her stomach heave.  How could she be anything like someone she hated so desperately" (p. 70).

"Helen suddenly realize dhow many random events and raw impulses had driven her decisions these last few days.  When she thought about it, it was as if she had stopped choosing for herself days ago.
"The Furies won't allow us to avoid each other," he said in a dead voice" (p. 81).

Tasty Rating:  !!


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