Posts from the ‘YA Science Fiction’ Category

The Originals

OriginalsTitle: The Originals
Author: Cat Patrick
ISBN: 9780316219433
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2013.

“But if today is any indication, our current setup isn’t working,” she continues. “We’re not even three weeks in and already it’s clear that to remain on this path could draw attention to us, and therefore threaten everything. Because of this,” Mom says, shifting like she’s bracing for a triple teen outburst, “I am switching junior year assignments.”
I feel myself stiffen; Ella sucks in her breath.
“Are you serious?” Betsey asks. Mom nods.
“Ella will take the first half,” she says authoritatively, but not meeting Ella’s eyes, probably because she knows how disappointed Ella’s going to be to miss out on cheer practice. “Lizzie will take second half. Betsey, you’ll stay with evenings.” (14)

Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best are identical, but they are not triplets. Instead, they are clones, in hiding with their scientist mother from companies and the government who would want to prove their existence and study them. Taking turns going to school and sharing one life as Elizabeth Best, they have never really complained about their situation due to the knowledge that they could be found out and taken away at any moment. But as senior year progresses, the three girls start to question who they really are and what sort of life they are really living. Lizzie starts to fall for Sean Kelly, who opens her eyes to possibilities that she knows she can never fully partake in with their current agreement. Looking for answers and their independence, Lizzie and her “sisters” realize that their mother might not have been as truthful as they originally thought, and the lies might spell trouble for their seemingly happy family.

It says in the back jacket author’s biography that author Cat Patrick is the mother of twin daughters, very likely serving as inspiration for this book. Rather than narrating the story solely from Lizzie’s perspective, I wish the girls had taken turns narrating so that all three would have received the same amount of focus and distinction from one another. Lizzie’s voice was well-developed, but her sisters were unfortunately interchangeable throughout the story. Poor Betsey seemed to have very few opinions of her own, and I feel sorry that she got the short end of the stick being locked in the house all day long and then working in the evenings for spending money that all three girls used.

The story requires some suspension of belief that the three “sisters” willingly went along with this plan for so many years without complaint, interest in friendship or relationships, or any confusion. I liked the thought that was put into having one girl do a third of the day, as opposed to each girl doing every third day, but there are still missing links in the chain. It sounds like they’ve been living there for a while, and no one has seemingly caught on or made attempts at friendship until now. The changing of identities back and forth is originally portrayed as a “you’ve got to be joking” unbelievable suggestion, but then it’s later revealed that they’ve done this before in the instances of illness or injury. I would think physical activities like the cheerleading team would be out of the question, number one due to unavoidable differences in physical abilities and number two due to the possibility of an injury taking place in front of someone else and then the other two having to fake it.

The romance aspect develops slowly, but like Lizzie’s sisters Sean is never really fully developed and seems more a contrived impetus for Lizzie’s sudden rebellion as opposed to his own person. Readers are never fully enlightened as to why Sean is able to recognize that there is a difference between Lizzie and Ella and what sparks his interest in her. And the betrayal at the end involving someone Lizzie knows seems equally contrived and unexplainable.

I’m realizing as I wrap up this review that I’ve been talking about all the implausible plot points that stretch credulity and credibility. Don’t get me wrong, I devoured the book in only a few hours and readers might find themselves entertained as much as I was regardless of the various plot holes. As summer winds down, it might make a nice thing to stash in your beach bag for one last jaunt to soak up some sun, although the weather here has taken a decided and marked turn towards fall temperatures, so maybe you’ll instead be curling up in front of a fire. Lizzie at least is likeable, and you won’t regret spending the time to get to know her and her unique situation or her struggles to be seen as her own person.

Reboot

RebootTitle: Reboot
Series: Reboot #1
Author: Amy Tintera
ISBN: 9780062217073
Pages: 365 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.

A low growl woke me in the middle of the night. I rolled over on my mattress, blinking in the darkness. Ever stood over my bed.
I bolted up to a sitting position, my heart pounding furiously. Her growling stopped and her bright eyes bored into mine.
“Ever?” I whispered.
She lunged at me and I scrambled out of bed and across the room. She bared her teeth as she turned to look for me.
I pressed my back to the wall as she approached, my heart beating faster than the time twenty townspeople had chased after me with lit torches and various kitchen knives. I’d been stabbed multiple times before I managed to outrun them, but somehow a weaponless, growling Ever was scarier.
“Ever!” I said, louder this time, and I ducked below her arm as she lunged at me again. (55)

After being shot in the chest three times and coming back to life after almost three hours, Wren is now known as Wren 178, the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. The longer it takes a Reboot to come to life again, the less human characteristics each Reboot maintains. Stronger, faster, able to heal, and much less emotional, Wren 178 is given first choice at training new recruits to become government controlled super soldiers and track down law breakers. With her success rate in question, she chooses Callum 22, an almost human Reboot who asks questions, has emotional responses, and is one of the worst soldiers imaginable. Wren finds herself caring not just about his training results, but about his future when the humans in charge threaten to pull him from the program permanently unless he improves. Wren is forced to ask questions of her own when Callum and some of the lower numbered Reboots start acting strange. Are the humans tampering with her training, or is something more sinister afoot?

I was somewhat surprised at how my book selections ended up, as I read this one so close to reading When We Wake which features similar themes of dead (or nearly-dead) teens being reawakened by governmental agencies for their own purposes. The zombie trend is alive and well it seems, although these teens don’t typically act like zombies. I really appreciated the blurb by Lissa Price on the back cover, who describes this book as “A bone-breaking heroine fights for her life, her love, and what remains of her humanity in this fresh take on a world gone wrong.” It’s almost like Graceling meets that movie Warm Bodies.

I thought the book was very well paced, as you see training happening between Callum and Wren, action scenes where they take down accused criminals, and servings of romance in between the more suspenseful mystery of what’s going on with the Reboots. As you can see by the above quote, the layers are introduced pretty quickly, and gives readers a variety of reasons to keep reading. Wren’s changes and progressions in behavior and attitude are a little predictable, but it’s easily forgiven as she grapples with alternative scenarios and information that contradicts everything she’s been previously led to believe. I also like Callum and Ever, who provide a nice counterpoint to Wren’s unemotional nature and an understandable catalyst for her change in beliefs. Squeamish readers need to be aware that these characters are essentially zombies mixed with Robocop, so by the end of the book there is a body count to consider as the fighting progresses. But while the book could end there, I have a feeling that there will be a sequel on the horizon sometime soon, and Goodreads confirms that sometime in May 2014 there will be a second book in the series. After all, what dystopian novel do you know of where saving themselves is enough and they really don’t need to bother saving the world…. yeah, that’s what I figured too.

When We Wake

When We Wake
Title: When We Wake
Author: Karen Healey
ISBN: 9780316200769
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, c2013
Publication Date: March 5, 2013

“You can think of it as being in a coma,” she said. More and more of her face was swimming into focus now. “A sort of frozen coma that lasted a long time.”
Dr. Carmen paused, waiting for the obvious question, but my mind was whirring, and I missed my cue.
“It’s 2128, Tegan,” she said. “I’m sorry, I know that must be difficult to hear. You’ve been in stasis for just over a century.” (17)

Tegan Oglietti is sixteen years old in 2027 when she becomes the victim of a botched public shooting. When she wakes up 101 years later, her homeland Australia has changed almost beyond recognition. Slang, computers, culture, and homes have been refashioned in this world that, amazingly enough to Tegan, still suffers the same wars, environmental issues, and political problems that Tegan left behind in her past. The first successful revival, Tegan is placed under massive amounts of scrutiny as she navigates the publicity caused by her “undead” status. But warring political and religious factions are vying for her influence as an instant celebrity, and some will stop at nothing to claim her as their own. Is she really a person, or is she the property of the government that awakened her and trying to control her? Who can she trust when everyone and everything she knew and understood is gone?

Just look at that gorgeous cover! Almost three years ago, I read Karen Healey’s debut novel Guardian of the Dead and loved it. While I missed reading her sophomore novel The Shattering, this third book shows she hasn’t lost her touch. Full disclosure, this was my work out book at the gym, and I almost wanted to continue my time on the treadmill, just to finish a chapter or scene. If only every book I read while working out was as successful a distraction, I would be running miles by now! Yes, it’s that good.

Fans of The Hunger Games I feel would enjoy this book. Tegan is definitely not Katniss, as she really has no idea what she’s getting herself into when she signs the papers prior to her death volunteering her body to post-mortem science exploration. She also is much more involved in deciding her future than I feel Katniss ever was, from hunger strikes to running away to covert actions and threatening …. I’m getting ahead of myself. But like Katniss, she soon discovers that her intended use as a political pawn is NOT what she wants in life. While her school friends and their skills seem REALLY convenient for her purposes, I was willing to overlook it as Tegan struggles to figure out what’s really going on and claim of future of her own.

But the book isn’t all political intrigue, and we have some very funny and realistic moments between Tegan and her friends. One for sure stands out:

“Look, I’m not sure how to put this. So I’ll just ask. Are you sure you’re straight?”
My chin jerked up. She was sitting on the edge of the bed and swinging her feet. Her head was tilted at the ceiling, as if my answer was the least important thing in the world.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve never–yeah.”
She looked at me for a long, searching moment and nodded. “Oh, well,” she said. “It’d never work, anyway. I’m too bossy, and you’re too stubborn.”
“Plus, we don’t screw the crew,” I reminded her.
“Except for you and [spoiler] and your eighty gazillion babies.”
“Not happening.” (156)

A second thing I really appreciated is that Tegan doesn’t immediately jump into bed with the first person she lays eyes on, and while there is obviously romance mentioned in the book, it’s not the instantaneous teenage swooning that is so often attributed to young adult books. Tegan is athletic, religious, emotional, complicated, and multi-faceted — in other words a fully realized character who comes alive on the paper. She has a self-assurance about herself that’s refreshing. While I don’t think a sequel was necessarily required, the open ending definitely leaves readers guessing how she’s going to get her friends and herself out of this mess. Hopefully book two, coming out next year and titled While We Run, will find Tegan in a much better spot than this one left her.

Robopocalypse

Title: Robopocalypse
Author: Daniel H. Wilson
ISBN: 9780385533850
Pages: 347 pages
Publisher/Date: Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. c2011.

“Stop. You have to stop. You’re making a mistake. We’ll never give up, Archos. We’ll destroy you.”
“A threat?”
The professor stops pushing buttons and glances over to the computer screen. “A warning. We aren’t what we seem. Human beings will do anything to live. Anything.”
The hissing increases in intensity. Face twisted in concentration, the professor staggers toward the door. He falls against it, pushes it, pounds on it.
He stops; takes short gasping breaths.
“Against the wall, Archos”–he pants–“against the wall, a human being becomes a different animal.”
“Perhaps. But you are animals just the same.” [...]
His breathing is shallow. His words are faint. “We’re more than animals.”
The professor’s chest heaves. His skin is swollen. Bubbles have collected around his mouth and eyes. He gasps for a final lungful of air. In a last wheezing sigh, he says: “You must fear us.” [..]
This is the first known fatality of the New War. (19-20)

After this initial uprising, it takes this highly intelligent and adaptable robot a year to hack into the computers governing every robot on the planet and coordinate a highly effective plan of attack. The robotic aids for the elderly, the computerized auto pilot cars, the military machines and computer controlled weapon systems, even the mechanized elevators and mail delivery systems, all systematically and simultaneously turn on their owners and controllers. Some survive the initial attack, either fleeing into the wilderness away from civilization or burrowing into what remains of the city, fighting for survival and standing against the machines. But with these scattered groups of resistance fighters unable to communicate with each other and barely able to move, it’s going to take all their ingenuity, unpredictability, and human spirit to fight off machines that can think, learn, and evolve.

This book is eye-opening and fear inducing, simply because it’s portrays something that could happen in the not so distance future. This isn’t just Star Trek’s Data going haywire and revolting. This book’s concept is so scary because it’s not just humanoid robots, it’s every computerized mechanism in the world that communicates with other things. Think about that for a second, because Wilson sure did. The smart cars of the future (Or even of today!) that can drive themselves start running over their owners and crashing into things, killing the occupants. The planes that talk to the tower and even today contain autopilot also take over the controls. Keypads on doors can lock people in or out of areas. Water and air purification and filtration systems can malfunction at a moments notice. Even houses today have computers where the lights, locks, mechanicals, and even your fridge can talk to each other and be controlled remotely. We saw a brief glimpse of what could happen during the 2003 Northeast Blackout that affected eight US states and people in Canada, and that was just an inconvenience. What if robots had gained control of the facilities and withheld the electricity for over two years?

The presentation of the story as collected flashbacks gives readers a vision of this war from the beginning to the climatic end. It also however proves to be a little choppy, and I found myself flipping through to read the accounts and actions of specific characters, rather than from the beginning to the end for a more well-rounded view. However, it gets better when the counter assault gets underway, as the various perspectives give you a clear view of how the war effort is progressing.

I’m presenting a review of this book during Banned Book Week because it’s inclusion on a summer reading list this year for a STEM-based class at Hardin Valley Academy in Tennessee was challenged by a parent for language. I’m actually somewhat surprised that language was the only complaint behind Mr. Lee and his wife’s objection to the book, although their counting the number of f-words (93 according to this article) leads me to believe that they did not read the entire book and simply searched for the objectionable word. There are some rather graphic descriptions of people getting injured and/or killed throughout the war that I would think some parents might find more objectionable than the language. If their excuse for the violence falls under the reasoning of “Well, that’s what happens when robots and humans enter all out war,” then I would think strong language would be just as justified by that reasoning. Ironically enough, this book is one of four choices that students at a local high school can read for required reading. We’ll have to see if they are faced by the same challenges and objections.

One of ten books to receive the Alex Award from YALSA for “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18″, Robopocalype is an involving read and I can see the comparisons between Wilson’s writing and that of Michael Crichton in weaving science and scary together. But where Crichton had tension, Wilson relies heavily on action, technical details, and coincidences. I can see the appeal as the story because the fear it generates and questions it raises stay with you, but ultimately this is yet another robots take over the world tale similar to Transformers. The unique aspects of the story is the insidious nature and patience involved in getting to that point.

Stuck on Earth

Title: Stuck on Earth
Author: David Klass
ISBN: 9780374399511
Pages: 227 pages
Publisher/Date: Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, c2010.

“Please don’t eat me,” he whispers. “I have a rash and it’s highly contagious, so if you eat me you’ll catch it and die.”
“I have no plans to ingest you,” I tell him. I try to recall some other typical human fears about extraterrestrials and attempt to set his mind at ease. “Nor am I interested in dissecting you to learn about human anatomy. And here’s some more good news, Tom–I also do not intend to try to impregnate you.”
My reassurances do not have the intended soothing effect. His blood pressure surges and he begins hyperventilating. He moistens his lips with his tongue again and whispers, “Take my sister.”
Human though processes are notoriously difficult to follow. “Take her for what?” I ask.
“For whatever,” he says. “She’s fatter than I am so she’s probably more delicious to eat. And she’s a girl so she can have your babies. And she gets A’s in school so if you want to dissect a human brain, hers would be much better than mine. That’s her window, right there. She’s alone, practicing her cello. Take her, and put me back. I swear I won’t tell anyone.” (7)

Although fourteen-year-old Tom Filber tries valiantly to convince the alien that is taking over his brain to take his sister instead, Ketchvar is insistent that they need a fourteen-year-old. Ketchvar’s mission is to determine the worth of the human race. If deemed unworthy, then the humans will be annihilated and the planet’s resources will be given to the Lugonians, whose planet is about to be destroyed. Ketchvar had no way of knowing that this randomly chosen teenage boy is already bullied constantly and seen as weird, alien, and an outsider by his classmates. The only person who is sort of kind to Tom is his next door neighbor, and even she thinks he’s weird. Ketchvar is convinced he has either really bad luck in choosing Tom, the humans have no redeeming qualities amongst their violent and angst ridden society,… or maybe he’s mistaken about his own reasons for inhabiting Tom’s brains.

This book was not what I expected. If I remember correctly, I first heard about this book at a conference where the gentleman presenting read the quoted section to get us laughing. However, the book isn’t consistently written in that humorous tone. Ketchvar’s conversations become more and more humanized in tone, which as readers discover the undisclosed secondary plot makes sense in a way. I thought this secondary plot, which is the main thing that sticks out in my brain and is probably intentionally left unresolved, detracted from the humor of an alien blindly navigating human teenage life. On the other hand, this secondary plot is not one that I have ever seen in a children’s book, and for this reason alone makes it a very unique book, but also a little unsettling and a bit of a mind-bender.

That being said, our copy of this book has obviously either been well-loved or heavily abused, as the spine is coming undone already, and it’s less than a year old. I’m not sure what the reaction of kids who have read it have been towards that secondary plot element. There was still some great humor in several of the scenes, and I think the things that Ketchvar/Tom experience are accurately portrayed as the bullying escalates and the bullies take their cues from his behavior, but…

Oh, if only I could say more without spoiling anything! Does anyone else feel the same way, that the inclusion of the secondary plot doesn’t jive with the rest of the humorous, coming-to-age, oblivious boy angle? Or am I just obsessing over that element?

I Am Number Four

Title: I Am Number Four
Series: Book one of the Lorien Legacies
Author: Pittacus Lore
ISBN: 9780061969553
Pages: 440 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: August 3, 2010

In the beginning we were a group of nine.
Three are gone, dead.
There are six of us left.
They are hunting us, and they won’t stop until they’ve killed us all.
I am Number Four.
I know that I am next. (9)

John one of nine Loriens that traveled to Earth with their caregivers, and after a scar on his right ankle appears, he knows that he is next on the list to be hunted down and killed by the same enemies that attacked their home world almost ten years ago. A charm on each of the nine guarantees that as long as they stay apart, they can only be killed in numerical order. John and his caretaker Henri try to hide in a small town in Ohio, waiting for John’s abilities to develop that will help keep him safe. Finally making friends — and a possible girlfriend — John isn’t looking forward to their next move. He doesn’t want to leave behind the people he’s begun to care about. But every day they are getting closer, and John might not be able to keep his secret, or himself, safe for much longer.

I had heard some horrible reviews of both the movie and the book, so I was a little hesitant to pick this one up. Other reviewers had talked about it being an unedited piece. And yes, there is one glaring typo on page 5, where “a soft wind bxlew” instead of blew. And something that is supposed to be invisible is suddenly visible with no explanation later in the book. But overall, I didn’t find that many typos that interfered with my reading pleasure.

I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would. John is a likeable character who is struggling with the constant moving because he sees what he’s missing. He wants a normal life, instead of moving from small town to small town, loosing track of how many small towns he’s passed through in an effort to stay unnoticed. I liked the romance that blossomed between him and Sarah, their real estate agent’s daughter who happens to be in some of his classes. I liked Sam, another classmate who is obsessed with aliens and conspiracy theories for his own reasons.

I was reading along fine and was engrossed in the book until the battle scenes, which, to be honest, is when I started losing interest. Maybe I was just too tired at that point, since I’d been reading for a couple of hours. More than likely though, it was the numerous improbable saves that occur, where John is ALMOST killed, and then not, and the he’s almost killed again, but someone or something comes to his rescue at the last second every single time. Once or twice, maybe, but I think he was saved from death four or five times. I honestly lost track. I don’t feel bad revealing that he’s not killed, since there’s a sequel coming out on August 23, 2011 titled The Power of Six that according to different website stars Number Seven, but something does happen during the fight at the end of I Am Number Four that might affect readers.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and while I’m shocked that the movie rights were picked up for the book before it was even published (according to Wikipedia, the rights were purchased in June 2009), I don’t doubt that there was interest in the story as it was being written. It’s an interesting story, even if the aliens with special abilities hidden among us plot has been done before. While I might pass on the movie, I might pick up the next book after the die-hard fans get their chance at the library’s copies.

This World We Live In

Title: This World We Live In
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer
ISBN: 9780547248042
Pages: 239 pages
Publisher/Date: Harcourt (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company), c2010.

“We came to see about the food,” Matt said. I could tell from his shaky voice he was near tears himself. “Is there any?”
Mr. Danworth nodded. “We’re not delivering anymore,” he said. “You can take your regular amount home with you today.”
“Do other people know?” I asked. “Or didn’t you tell anybody?” [...]
“I’ll tell you what I know,” Mr. Danworth replied. “A lot of the big cities–New York, Philadelphia, even Washington–they’ve been shut down. New York, I know, was hit hard by the waves. I guess the other cities weren’t safe, either. But the cities were getting food deliveries until everybody got moved out. There was some food left over, and it’s being distributed to a handful of towns. It’s all connections, and we were lucky that Mayor Ford has some. His wife’s cousin is married to the governor. We got our share, maybe even more.” (16-17)

Miranda has been surviving with her two brothers and mother after the moon’s gravitational pull caused massive disasters and disruption around the world. While the rain has finally returned, and the instances of electricity seem to be increasing, the food deliveries have stopped and they must make a weekly trek into town for their rations. The family makes routine scouting trips to abandoned homes in search of forgotten supplies, but making an attempt for a larger city is starting to sound better and better. Then visitors, both known and new, stop at their house and challenge not only that idea, but also their beliefs in family, friendship, and the future.

The book says that it’s a companion novel for two previous books, Life as We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone because the main characters of those two novels meet in this book. Although I haven’t read these other two books, I really didn’t miss anything. I actually found myself thinking that fans of Hunger Games might enjoy this book, as they share the same post-apocalyptic survival theme. While Hunger Games is more militant and political, This World We Live In is more homily, familial, and just… well, every day. I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense considering we’re talking about a post-apocalyptic scenario, but this book portrays a typical family and the lengths they would go to survive and keep each other alive.

The range of characters and emotions portrayed in this book is impressive. The reactions are raw and completely believable. Readers are introduced to older brother Matt who is intent on being the man that he feels he’s supposed to be, and Jon who doesn’t want to be left behind. Miranda is anxious to prove her worth but doesn’t know how and is limited in her ways. The whole family is isolated from the rest of the world, and while they question whether they would be better off in a larger community, they’re terrified of leaving what they’ve known behind. When disaster strikes towards the end of the book, it’s just as surprising and traumatic to readers as it is to the characters experiencing the events. That’s actually the best thing about this novel, is how thoroughly you’re pulled into the world Pfeffer has created, and even as she’s dedicated the book to “anyone who ever wondered what happened next,” you can’t help but continue to ask yourself “What next?”

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