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 Elite
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: 4/23/2013
Length: 336 pages
Series?: The Selection #2
Genre: YA Dystopian
Source: ARC from from publisher
Challenge: Feminist Reads Challenge
Last year I read The Selection, and I wrote the following in my review: “The second book in this trilogy will really tell us where it’s all going, because we don’t even really know yet…I’m hoping to see America become a little more kick-ass and I have a lady in mind that I hope Aspen can fall for so he’s not sad about losing America.” Did the second book make the grade?
Look, I’m not going to give you a summary of The Elite. It’s kind of unnecessary, as this is just a continuation of the story in The Selection. Dresses, TV, random attacks, and hoping to not get cut from The Selection.
Like many books in dystopian trilogies, The Elite suffers significantly from the dreaded second book syndrome. The shiny newness of The Selection has worn off, some political intrigue is introduced. But basically there’s questions left unanswered while new ones are posed. American manages to come into possession of a journal full of secrets. She sees the king’s true colors. She learns about the history of her country. She participates in some very reality tv-esque challenges against her fellow contestants.
She sneaks around with Maxon.
She sneaks around with Aspen.
Because, darn it guys, America still hasn’t made up her darn mind. I’m Team Maxon, but only because I want America to live in the pretty, pretty palace with the pretty, pretty dresses and TAKE ILLEA BY THE REINS. Honestly, I don’t know who she’s going to pick. Which I guess means that Kiera Cass is doing her job well. However, this also means I got kind of fed up with America in the story. Seriously, of all the characters in this trilogy, I like her the least.
BUT. I like where this is going. The Elite was far more dystopian-y than The Selection. Yes, this is dystopian. Or, rather, a sub genre of dystopian known as dystopian romance. Or maybe we should call it romantic dystopian. Look, either way — the focus is on the love-y bits, but there is definitive revolution happening in the background. If Kiera Cass doesn’t get these fools overthrowing some governments in book 3, I’ll eat my hat. Because I’m pretty sure that’s where she’s going.
FINAL GRADE: B Ehh. What the heck. I’LL GIVE IT A B. I like it. Dystopian always earns extra points. Again, the true verdict for the trilogy lies in the third book. I will be buying it. I’ll let you know how it goes. Is this my favorite dystopian trilogy? No. That honor still goes to The Hunger Games, surprisingly. But this is fun. You should read it.
Required Reading: Required for anyone who has read The Selection. The Selection is required for anyone who likes Ally Condie’s Matched series.
Library Recommendation: Buy it for high school or middle school, but make sure you also have The Selection! The cover alone will sell the book. Parental warnings for violence (including deaths), heart-pounding moments, generally rebellious behavior, and sex.
Alright, Selection fans…Team Maxon or Team Aspen?
Author: Erin Bowman
Publisher: Harper Teen,
Publication Date: 4/16/2013
Length: 352 pages
Series?: Taken #1
Genre: YA dystopian
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
Challenge: Debut author challenge
None of the men in Claysoot make it past eighteen. Without fail, on their eighteenth birthdays, all men disappear in a flash of light and sound and shaking ground. Poof. Gone. Never to be seen again. They call it the Heist. Gray Weathersby is mentally preparing for his own Heist, but then he discovers a secret (there’s always a secret, right?) that might lead him to the truth about the Heists, about Claysoot, and about the wall surrounding their quiet society.
Now here’s a book that does something a little different. I’ve been reading a lot of YA dystopian trilogies, and they seem to follow a pattern for how the plot will unfold over the three books. I thought I knew what the plot arc might be with this one, but Bowman actually surprised me when she messed with that. She doesn’t draw things out. Which I’m glad for, because I was prepared for a really boring middle section. NOPE. What I thought would happen at the end happened early on. The story went an awesomely different direction, while still holding on to the key mysteries presented at the beginning. The pacing, in that sense, is spot on (at least for me. I like action). However, it also felt like a lot was going on throughout the novel. By the end of the novel, I felt like I’d already read a trilogy. Or at least the first two books. I’d like that, because it was different and surprising, but also felt strangely disconnected from the story.
Also, I do have a little beef with authors who have characters withhold their secrets for justalittlelonger than necessary. For example, when a character says something like, “I will reveal the truth to you, but not today. Get some dinner and clean up and go to bed, and I’ll explain it all to you tomorrow.” Really? Why? Who does that in real life? It’s just a manipulation of the plot to keep readers waiting, but I find it lazy. I’m also a wee bit tired of the love triangle thing. Oh, the sweet girl-next door that the main character grew up with versus the kick-ass, passionate girl the main character just met. YAWN. We all know who the main character always ends up with.
FINAL GRADE: C This is a good book. Really. As a dystopian fan, I enjoyed it simply for the world-building and figuring-out-the-mystery elements. The flaws listed above knocked from a B to a C, since I just can’t give it the same grades I gave to books like The Madman’s Daughter, Wonder, and The Holders (all earned a B). Dystopian is my “I don’t care if it’s not actually that good, Imma read it anyway!” genre, so that’s why I’m glad I read the book. It’s also why I might continue the series.
Required Reading: Required for dystopian fans.
Library Recommendations: I would buy it for a middle or high school library. Either audience would appreciate it. Be aware of frank references to sex…in this world, men must have regularly scheduled sex from an early age to ensure survival of the society since they are all heisted at eighteen. If I remember right, it is wrapped up in euphemisms that keep the focus on the society rather than the sex. There are also scenes of violence and death.
How do you feel about reading less-than-stellar books in your favorite genres?
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: A Million Suns
Author: Beth Revis
Publisher/Year: Razorbill, 2012
Length: 386 pages
Series?: Across the Universe #2
Genre: YA Sci-Fi/Dystopian/Romance
Source: Purchased from the Nook store
Look to the left.
Then to the right.
Then left. Then right. Up. Down. Spin your head in circles.
That’s how many plot twists are in this book.
A Million Suns is the sequel to Across the Universe, and it’s even better than the first book. Lately it feels like second books in trilogies have been grossly disappointing, so this was a pleasant surprise. Amy and Elder are still trying to figure out the mysteries of The Godspeed in order to fulfill the ship’s mission of reaching Centuri Earth. Amy is trying to follow a series of clues left by Orion regarding a decision only she can make. Elder struggles with his new leadership position on the ship, managing rebellions, food shortages, and the emotional issues resulting from the elimination of Phydus. Every time I thought I knew what was happening, there was another twist or turn. It was one of those books that I started reading at bedtime, and kept on reading until I finished at 3am. Yeah. That kind of book.
The most interesting aspect of this book, and the trilogy as a whole, is that we actually see the struggles of rebuilding a power structure in a society. The moral and ethical dilemmas faced by Elder are complex. His age and lack of experience don’t help his situation, and he realizes that he may not have all the answers. So many of the issues faced on the ship parallel issues in our own society (do the people in the hospital deserve a share of the limited food supply when they aren’t working?). There are a lot of YA dystopias out there that deal with fighting oppressive power structures, but this is the only one I know of that shows the reality of forming new ones in times of crisis. It’s fascinating.
And for those of you not interested in the government-y stuff, don’t worry. Between the mystery, the twists, and the romance, there’s something for everyone. Revis takes into consideration possible doubts about this relationship and makes it work. It’s a trilogy, so the romance is still developing. The best part? NO LOVE TRIANGLES. So thank you for that, Beth Revis. I’m sick of these love triangles all hyped up on teenage hormones and swoony, troubled boys filled with electric chemistry. Seriously. One swoony, troubled boy filled with electric chemistry and hormones is plenty for me. Especially because all the girls in the other books picked the wrong boys and I actually like Elder. He’s good people.
FINAL GRADE: A Revis, you won me over. I liked Across the Universe, but I LOVED A Million Suns and I can’t wait for Shades of Earth (though by the time this review posts, I’m sure I will have already read and reviewed it!). Dystopian lit is my favorite genre, so it’s no surprise that I’m a fan, but this series is even starting to stand out at the top of the list. I know, I know, I’m a little over the top with my praise for the one…but I just liked it that much.
Assigned reading: Assigned to anyone who read Across the Universe, as well as fans of dystopia, romance, sci-fi, outer space, kissing, mysteries, and explosions.
Library recommendations: Appropriate for middle school or high school. Be prepared to point readers to Plato’s Republic when they finish!
What’s your favorite dystopian trilogy?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week we are talking about the books we constantly recommend. This is almost similar to my favorite books, but represents the books I think others might call a favorite, too. I probably sound a little like a broken record, but here they are:
Top Ten Books I Recommend The Most
1.) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – I love this book because it looks like the kind of sci-fi that might typically turn my friends off, but there is so much surprising amazing in there. I think pretty much everyone can enjoy the story.
2.) Looking for Alaska by John Green – John Green is my homeboy. I should probably walk around recommending The Fault in Our Stars, but I’ll stick with my personal fav of his, Looking For Alaska, as my go-to Green novel of choice.
3.) The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – I like non-fiction, so if I have a friend who seems non-fiction-y, or who I think needs to start dabbling in the genre, I recommend this.
4.) Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – It’s such a powerful book.
5.) The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay – More recent, but the number of times I’ve recommended it in the past three months has been insane. I usually recommend it as a YA book for people who think YA is not as complex at adult fiction.
6.) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Because it’s fun. It’s adventure. It’s a great “can’t put down” kind of book.
7.) Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger – Another recent book. I think books that are fresh in my brain get more “rec” cred than some of the older ones. I recommend this book because I need other people to read it so we can talk about it.
8.) Every Day by David Levithan – An incredibly thought-provoking book. I recommend it to anyone who works with teens, as it can be a great book for teaching about empathy.
9.) Unwind by Neal Schusterman– If The Hunger Games was the book I was reading three years ago, claiming it was edgy and awesome, Unwind totally has that spot in my life now (even though it’s old than The Hunger Games). Imma need the Hunger Games folks to put down that book, and walk over to the real dark side.
10.) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart – Though Ruby Oliver is my favorite, Frankie Landau-Banks is a better introduction to my favorite author. This is a fun, funny standalone novel with a feminist twist and a good message. Plus I always hope it inspired people to try Ruby Oliver.
Which books are you always recommending?
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: 3/05/2013
Length: 400 pages
Series?: Delirium #3
Genre: YA Dystopian
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
Requiem is the story of both Lena and her former best friend, Hana, as they both experience a revolution through different sides of the city walls. Lena and Julian are back in The Wilds, trying to survive while also participating in acts of rebellion against the cured. It doesn’t help that Alex is traveling with them. He’s not been quite the same since his return, and Lena’s not sure of her feelings. In contrast, Hana is living a life of privilege in Portland. She has been paired with the future mayor, but is suspicious of him and unsure of the marriage. All of the uncertainty and questions approach an exciting climax where Lena and Hana’s stories converge.
Well, y’all, if I had doubts after Pandemonium, they were allayed after Requiem – I was pleasantly surprised! The dual narration with Lena/Hana helped with the plot pacing and anticipation. Honestly, I found Hana’s story to be the more compelling. I can only take so much of people wandering around in the woods trying to avoid detection and attacks. I also can only take so much of the “Why won’t he talk to me?” “Who do I love?” “I love him!” “No! I love the other one!” going on in Lena’s head all the time. The Hana story definitely piqued my interest and kept thing moving.
I hope I made it clear that I was decidedly on team Julian by the end of Pandemonium. I honestly didn’t know how Oliver was going to end it, but I will say I was satisfied with how she settled the situation. Whether that was because she picked the guy I wanted her to pick or she successfully changed my mind, I’ll avoid spoilers by telling you to read and find out! Be warned, though, that the ending is killer. Oliver made a bold choice in this finale that will inspire oodles of opinions, both rants and raves. I can’t wait to see what my fellow bloggers think of this!
FINAL GRADE: B Definitely worth the read. Pandemonium may have suffered from second-book-in-a-trilogy syndrome, but Requiem brings back the experience of the first book. At the very least, Hana’s story is worth reading. I do find it very hard to believe that this will be the last of Lena and Hana’s story, considering how the book ends, but only time will tell what Oliver does next! If she leaves the trilogy as a trilogy, then I appreciate what she did here. If she writes another story, I’ll read that too. There’s no doubt that Lauren Oliver has a way with words.
Assigned Reading: Assigned to anyone who read Delirium and Pandemonium…even if you didn’t like Pandemonium. Also assigned to anyone who loves dystopia or romance. There is definite kissing and emotional love triangle-ing. And plotting and revolution-ing. And sometimes both at the same time.
Library Recommendations: The whole trilogy would be appropriate for a middle or high school library, though be aware that there is violence. People die and there are some heart-pounding moments.
How do you feel about love triangles in books? Too predictable? Plot devices? Emotional — in a good way?
And now the series is complete! Look how pretty they are! Do I sense some color symbolism?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week we are highlighting our favorite characters in specific genres. I tried…seriously tried, to mentally brainstorm any other genre besides dystopian, but I just couldn’t do it. What can I say? I love my dystopian characters and I’ve been reading a lot lately. I like this list because it means I don’t have to focus on the books, which means I get to talk about characters I like in books that I didn’t like. Fresh material and whatnot.
Top Ten Dystopian Characters
[I picked dystopia...again]
1.) Warner in Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi – As I said last week, I’ve only read Shatter Me, and not Destroy Me or Unravel Me…but Warner’s my favorite. I don’t even like the other characters that much (don’t get me started on Juliet). What does that say about me?
2.) Xander in Matched and Crossed by Ally Condie– Haven’t read Reached yet, but I’m still pretty sure the Cassia/Xander match doesn’t happen. Which is a shame, because I like him far more than Cassia OR Ky.
3.) Julian in Pandemonium and Requiem by Lauren Oliver – Are we starting to see a pattern here?
4.) Bree in Taken by Erin Bowman – She’s pretty kick-ass.
5.) Elder in Across the Universe and A Million Suns by Beth Revis – I identify with him more than Amy, and just want that poor kid to be happy!
6.) Aech in Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Because…well, I can’t tell without being spoilerific. But let’s just say…best online sidekick ever, but even better in real life.
7.) Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I need to read this one again, it’s been far too long.
8.) Clove in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – The movie in particular made me think a lot about her character. I would love to know more about growing up as a female tribute. I feel like there is more to her than just nasty snarls.
9.) Prince Maxon in The Selection by Kiera Cass– Pick him, America! HE’S SUCH A DOWN-TO-EARTH PRINCE. And we’re supposed to like that. And I do.
10.) Hana in Requiem by Lauren Oliver – My review is coming next week. Seeing 1/2 of this story from Hana’s point of view made me really love her. I haven’t read the short story about her, so maybe I need to get on that?
Which dystopian characters are your favorites?
Title: The Panem Companion
Author: V. Arrow
Publisher/Year: Smart Pop, 2012
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
If you’ve read The Girl Who Was On Fire, then you have a pretty good idea of what this book is. The Panem Companion is a series of essays on the popular Hunger Games series. While The Girl Who Was On Fire was a collection written by various YA authors on different topics, The Panem Companion is written by a single author. V. Arrow dives in to explore the depths of Suzanne Collins’ world, analyzing everything from the geography of Panem to gender roles in the series. There’s even a very detailed etymology of every name from the series at the end.
The major flaw of this book is that I feel it tries to work an in-depth analysis around very little substance. Some of the essays felt a little forced, almost like student essays. The book gives very little information on certain topics for good reason — the topics are mentioned in passing, and aren’t crucial to the plot. To write a whole book analyzing these points means making a lot of assumptions and over analyzing a lot of minor plot points.
That being said…it’s also fun. I’ll take the over analyzing with a grain of tasty, tasty salt. The point of this book is to think critically about the series, to ponder some of the hidden points of the plot. To read between Suzanne Collins’ lines (whoa. that sounds like a pick up line). Some of the chapters are better than others, so this would be best enjoyed by reading the sections that interest you. I think any reader could find some of Arrow’s points quite interesting. It may even inspire a re-read of the series.
FINAL GRADE: C Not a life-changer, but definitely a neat read. It does have some flaws. And I did have to force myself to keep reading in some of the less interesting chapters. However, I love what Smart Pop is doing with these types of books that take a deeper look at some of my favorite series (next up is a book about Ender’s Game!).
Required reading: Required for fans of The Hunger Games or The Girl Who Was On Fire. Also required for any teacher who uses The Hunger Games in the classroom — you will probably find some essays/info in here that will help in teaching various aspects of the novel.
Library Recommendations: A definitely buy for both middle school and high school libraries, since kids will definitely want to check this out. Even if they don’t read it like an adult might, they will enjoy the map of Panem. Consider buying a copy for your professional collection if any teachers use the novel in the classroom.
Do you enjoy reading books about books?