Title: City of Ember, People of Sparks, Prophet of Yonwood, Diamond of Darkhold
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Publisher/Year: Dell Yearling, 2003/2004/2006/2008
Pages: ~ 290
Genre: YA Dystopia
Source: Borrowed from library
Date Read: Between 2008-2009
Instead of reviewing these books individually, I thought I’d review the series. Reviewing a series is difficult without giving away the ending of the first book, but I’ll try to do this as spoiler-reduced as possible. I cannot promise spoiler free! This review is probably best for anyone who has read City of Ember already.
City of Ember is the story of Lina and Doon and a town that is loosing its lights. The society is dystopian, and Lena and Doon have recently been sorted into their jobs as full members of the society. But the lights keep flickering, and everyone worries that the electricity will go out forever. Lena and Doon soon realize that there is more to their society than they originally imagined, and that secrets are being kept from the people that could actually save them all from destruction!
People of Sparks continues the story of Lina and Doon as the people of Ember must learn to live and work with the people of Sparks. The two societies have difficulty working together and sharing resources. The Prophet of Yonwood is a sort of prequel to the the series, explaining (sort of) how Ember came to be. And The Diamond of Darkhold brings it all together, continuing the story of Lina and Doon while bringing in elements of Yonwood.
Honestly, City of Ember is the best of these books. I would suggest reading City of Ember and The People of Sparks and then stopping. DuPrau loses her way in the later two books. I don’t feel like either made much sense or did what I wanted it to do. There was so much potential in The Prophet of Yonwood to explain the creation of a rigid society, but it was more of an afterthought. We always see these crazy, rule-filled societies after they are created and are about to fall apart, it would have been fascinating to see the logistics of setting one up.
FINAL GRADE: B At the time, I rated City of Ember a B, and the rating still holds. I failed to rate the others, but I would give People of Sparks a B- and the others a C-. These are dystopian books for middle schoolers, so they are definitely on the lighter side of the genre. In my experience, my students who were big readers loved the series (upper elementary kids seemed to love them, too). My other kids often liked City of Ember, but had no interest in diving deeper into the story. The “twist” (/surprise reveal) in City of Ember is one that does stand out, though. Worth checking out.
What are your thoughts on this series?
Title: The Unit
Author: Ninni Holmqvist
Publisher/Year: Other Press, 2006/2009
Genre: Adult dystopia
Source: Purchased (Barnes and Noble)
Date Read: Fall 2009
Rated four stars on Goodreads/LibraryThing.
Dorrit Weger has just turned fifty, and she’s single and childless. In her society, this means she no longer has value and she must check into the Second Reserve Bank for Biological Material. There, she will live out her final days in comfort and luxury while slowly being used for more and more biological and psychiatric testing. After participating in multiple experiments over many months, or even years, she will be asked to make her final donation. And then she will be no more. Dorrit has accepted this fate — in her society, there is no choice — but then she meets a man in The Unit and falls in love. Falling in love gives her a new reason to reject her fate, but it’s too late for such choices. Or is it?
The Unit is very similar to Unwind by Neal Schusterman, which probably plays a huge factor in why I found it so good (well, the other way around — I read The Unit first). It’s a translation from Swedish, so it’s quite different from typical American literature. There’s something quiet and utilitarian about the tone. The hardest thing about the novel is suspending belief that such a society would actually exist. I don’t believe for a hot second that we would ever deem unmarried, childless people “useless” and force them to donate their bodies to science for the greater good. I had to accept that crazy notion and focus on the story within that world, just like I had to in Unwind. The remainder of the story is an interesting concept: a utopian world inside of a dystopian society. Everything is free, aesthetically pleasing, entertaining. Dorrit falls in love. Things are going well, but it’s all fake. It’s the government and scientists trying to make themselves feel less guilty about what they are doing to these people and why.
And then there’s Dorrit. She’s not the most likable protagonist. She’s kind of strange. I mean, she has very few relationships in the real world and remains disconnected from everything. She could have married to avoid her fate (marriage or death? I’ll pick marriage!), but she didn’t. But then she suddenly falls in love? It’s very strange, though thought provoking — did facing death change her? But it’s never really clear. The ending to the story is ultimately the surprise, and reveals more about Dorrit that makes her make sense. But until that point I had a hard time connecting with her. The ending in general was weird, yet satisfying.
“Life and existence have no value in themselves. We mean nothing; not even those who are needed mean anything. The only thing of real value is what we produce.”
FINAL GRADE: B At the time, I rated it a B. Then I listed it as one of my favorite reads that year, considering bumping it to an A. Now it’s a B, mostly due to the feasibility of the story and my general dislike of Dorrit as a character. However, I had both a sympathy for the position she was in and a fascination with the world of The Unit. Mostly I was fascinated with the emotions of it. It’s quite clinical and fake, but with the impending experiments and death there’s a shadow hanging over everyone all the time. This isn’t action-adventure dystopia like Unwind, but more literary fiction dystopia. That’s why I recommend it adults who like dystopia. It’s not a kid book and it may not have a wide audience, but I liked it.
Do you think there is a difference between adult dystopia and YA dystopia? Which do you prefer? Can you recommend any other adult dystopian titles (besides 1984, which I have already read and loved)?
Title: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher/Year: HarperCollns, 2010
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Purchased (Barnes and Nobel)
Date Read: Summer 2010
Original Review (Summer 2010)
An interesting concept, it definitely kept me reading to find out what Sam would do each day and how she would end the cycle. Was surprised by the ending, but found it appropriate and thought it was well done.
Samantha Kingston is your typical popular high school girl. She’s got the clothes, the friends, the car, and the boyfriend. She can be a little mean to people and self-absorbed. And then, one day, she dies in a car accident. However, instead of just dying and ceasing to exist, Samantha is thrust into a Groundhog Day-esque situation, repeating that last day of her life over and over. She’s not quite sure why this happened or what to do with her situation — does she try to escape death? Prevent it? Avoid it? Or is there something more she needs to figure out before she can take the next step?
I can’t believe it’s only been two and a half years since I read this book. It feel like EONS ago, since it was one of the last books I read before starting this blog. Maybe it’s even one of the ones that inspired me to start blogging. After all, what do you do when you read a book that makes you think, that changes you just a little bit, and you have no one to talk to about it?! That’s how this book made me feel. I wanted to talk to someone. Books about death inspire that in me, since they all have different takes on the situation. Compare it to Before I Die by Jenny Downham or If I Stay by Gayle Foreman (or even The Lovely Bones) in that respect. Due to the conceit of reliving same day over and over, though, this story is longer than either of those and takes a different approach.
Each day reveals complexity in Samantha’s life, which I appreciated. It would have been easy to pin-point her as a mean girl at the beginning, but even mean girls have souls. They aren’t 100% mean. They aren’t exactly “victims” of high school culture, but Samantha exemplifies how there is always more to the story than what meets the eye. Samantha is pretty unlikable for the first 3/4 of the book or so, but eventually it doesn’t matter if you like her or not. She actually became a sympathetic character, and the ending absolutely blew me away. I don’t remember many of the details of the story, but that ending is clear as day in my brain — the visual, the sounds, the emotions. Isn’t that the mark of a good book?
“Time doesn’t matter…certain moments go on forever.”
FINAL GRADE: B Good book, enjoyable read. It loses a star for being a little bit long in places, and for my initial frustration with Sam’s character. However, I recommend it to anyone who likes edgier contemporary YA. Hold up — is this even contemporary? It feels like contemporary, even though there is a sort of “supernatural” element with the repeating day. Yes. Contemporary. Anyway, my middle school students loved it and high schoolers would, too. And if you like books that make you cry, this is the book for you. I can’t believe this is Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, since she’s such a huge author now (the Delirium trilogy is largely responsible for that!) It’s amazing what three years can do, huh?
How do you feel about books about death? Which is your favorite book on the topic?
Title: American Born Chinese
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher/Year: Square Fish, 2006
Length: 240 pages
Format: Graphic novel
Date Read: Spring 2010
A graphic novel with three seemingly different plotlines that all come together at the end. A quick read, I would like to read it again to make it all come together better.
American Born Chinese weaves together three tales of identity. In the first, Jin Wang just wants to shed his Chinese identity and fit in as an American. The second is the tale of the Monkey King, who wants to become a god. The third is the comedy of Danny and his ultra-stereotypical Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee. Each story is told in pieces, showcasing the parallel themes until the twist ending(s). Though the novel focuses on Chinese identity, the themes of fitting in and accepting/rejecting/refining identity are universal, which is why it has both wide appeal AND a fancy Printz Award sticker on the front.
Like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, this is a book that both appeals to teens through the artwork and clever storytelling AND through the depth of the themes expressed. As a graphic novel, the bright colors, clear text, and humorous pictures instantly draw readers in. In fact, the whole thing is a quick read and quite funny. Gene Luen Yang isn’t afraid to play with stereotypes and then crush them completely. If anyone out there thinks graphic novels lack depth, hand them this book — it will challenge those stereotypes, too.
FINAL GRADE: A There’s a reason this one beat out all of the traditional novels for the 2007 Printz award, y’all. The way these stories comes together will blow your mind a little bit, and that alone is worth it. Toss in the other stuff I mentioned above, and I’m sold. Recommended for reluctant readers and anyone who is struggling to fit in. Also recommended to every middle school teacher I know — this would be a great book for a classroom read. High school kids would get a lot out of it, too. As stated above, I also recommend it to anyone who doesn’t typically like graphic novels.
Have you ever wanted to shed your identity and become something you’re not?
Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianAuthor: Sherman Alexie
Publisher/Year: Little, Brown, 2007
Genre: YA Contemporary
Format: Library book (Follett bound)
Source: Library, gift
Date Read: Fall 2009
Original review (Fall 2009):
Funny! And left me feeling good, despite the rough and tough situations Junior has faced (and will face…life is not going to get better on the rez).
Junior’s life sucks. As a bright high school student growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation (the rez), he faces a lot of depressing situations: actual depression, alcoholism, runaways, drug addiction, poverty, and violence, to name a few. To escape, Junior starts attending a white school in the nearest town off the rez. He plays basketball and tries to make some friends, but ultimately has a hard time forming identities in two different spheres of life. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Junior’s journal and cartoons telling his journey to a better life for himself.
What makes this book so awesome are three things: truth, realism, and humor. It’s no secret that ATDoaPTI is a frequently challenged book for its portrayals of the gritty life of a teenage boy. Alexie based it on his own real experiences, and he doesn’t pretty those up for us. Life isn’t pretty. Life is sometime hypocritical, racist, homophobic, and hyper-sexual. Teenage boys (and girls!) can be all of those things as they figure out the world and their own personal identities. However, as readers we give Junior some wiggle room. He’s likable. He’s funny. He has something to say, a journey to tell, and we want to hear it. His art, his hopefulness, his humor, and his honesty are what make this book one that stands out in YA lit. Alexie can tell a story, and that’s why ATDoaPTI has won multiple awards and is taught in high school classrooms across the country.
FINAL GRADE: A I know. My praise is a little intense. But what can I say? I love a book that can actually reach teenagers. This is that book. It’s engaging, but it has substance. It’s relateable, but can spark thoughtful conversations and questions. I gladly purchased this book for my middle school library and would definitely recommend it for both high school libraries AND for classroom teaching. Be prepared by knowing it has been frequently challenged and by familiarizing yourself with the ALA’s information on school censorship and NCTE’s position statements on censorship (including the Student’s Right to Read). Beyond the classroom, I recommend this book to all readers, regardless of age or genre preferences. Yes. It’s THAT kind of book. Read away!
What are your thoughts on ATDoaPTI? Have you read it? Plan to read it?
So, John Green definitely wrote some fabulous novels (I’ll be reviewing Paper Towns tomorrow). However, he also wrote some excellent short stories that have been featured in YA short story collections. I haven’t read all of these, but the ones I have read are excellent! Green hangs with the coolest crew of YA authors, so these collections read like a sampler of some of the most awesome literature for teens. For this post I’m reposting a review of Geektastic that I wrote last fall. Green’s story in the collection is called Freak The Geek.
Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castelluci
I am not typically a reader of short story collections, but I immediately knew I had to read this collection. I ordered this book with my last big book order because the reviews were great and it seemed like a fun book. When the book came in, I was actually able to see the list of contributing authors on the front of the book and I was hooked. Where else can you find a book that combines the topic of geekiness AND fabulous YA authors suchs a Libba Bray, John Green, Wendy Mass, David Levithan, Garth Nix, and MT Anderson? As a self-professed geek I could not deny my curiosity, so I had to read it.
It. Was. Awesome! This is one of the best books I have read this year. All aspects of geekiness are covered in these pages — band nerds, quiz bowl geeks, Role Playing Games (RPGs), conventions, stormtroopers, LARPing, Star Wars vs Star Trek, sci-fi, Dungeons and Dragons, comic books, Buffy, paleontology, drama geeks, astronauts, Rocky Horror, and so on. I guess I’m not geeky enough to know a whole lot about many of these geekdoms, but I enjoyed the overall geek-tasticness of reading about other geeks of all kinds. Though some of the stories were a little slow, most of the stories were perfect for getting a quick read in at lunch. I realized that the great thing about short stories is that they can be completed in one sitting.
My favorite stories in the book were “I Never” by Cassandra Clare, “Quiz Bowl Antichrist” by David Levithan, and “The Stars at the Finish Line” by Wendy Mass, and “It’s Just a Jump to the Left” by Libba Bray. This is definitely a book that I have purchased and added to my personal collection. It is a book I can see myself re-reading. Apparently my students feel the same way, because I can barely keep it on the shelf! Check out this book and other short story collections @your library!