Posts from the ‘Young Adult Literature’ Category

Obsidio

Obsidio.jpgTitle: Obsidio
Series: The Illuminae Files #3 (sequel to Gemina)
Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Full Cast, including Olivia Taylor Dudley, Johnathan McClain, Carla Corvo, MacLeod Andrews, Erin Spencer, Andrew Eiden, Lisa Cordileone, and Lincoln Hoppe, with Matthew Frow, Olivia Mackenzie-Smith, and Ryan Gessel
Illustrators: Start Wade (ship insignia illustrations), Meinert Hansen (military map and ship blueprint and schematics), Marie Lu (select journal illustrations), Lisa Weber (select journal illustrations)
ISBN: 9781101916728 (audiobook),
Discs/CDs: 11 CDs, 13 hours 1 minute
Pages: 618 pages
Publisher/Date: LaRoux Industries Pty Ltd and Neverafter Pty Ltd., Listening Library, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, c2018 (audiobook), LaRoux Industries Pty Ltd. and Neverafter Pty Ltd. (text), Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2018.

“Ladies and gentleman,” Boll interjects. “The facts are these: Hypatia‘s current damage levels mean she’d take at least seven months to return to Kerenza IV, even if she had the fuel to get there. The Mao‘s engines appear entirely intact, so it seems we have no choice but to leave Hypatia behind. Once we transfer her population to the Mao, we’re going to have nearly thirty-four hundred people aboard a freighter designed for what I suspect is a thousand at best. Our life support will be working overtime; we’ll have limited H2O, limited food. Presumbing we even make it back to Kerenza IV, we have no idea what’s gone on planetside while we’ve been away. The best we can hope for is the colony is still somehow intact, and that we don’t starve to death or suffocate on our way back there. Do I need to go on?”
It’s enough for Garver to forget his outrage, and he’s quieter when he speaks again. “Is there any good news at all, Captain?”
Hanna pipes up from by the wall. “BeiTech thinks we’re all dead?”
“Hooooraayyyyy,” Kady adds helpfully, shooting Hanna a wink. (63-64)

Survivors from the attacked colony Kerenza IV and the collateral damage Jump Station Heimdall have finally opened formal lines of communication. While reunions and introductions should be happy occasions, as you can see by the quote there’s the pressing need of supplies and a way home for both stranded ships and their passengers since the jump station has been destroyed. Captain Boll’s plan to board and commandeer the Mau (over Chief Garver’s objections) and head back to Kerenza IV to save themselves, but then an intercepted transmission makes the mission more vital; there are people still planetside, but some of them aren’t going to be friendly to their arrival. Among the remaining colonists is Kady’s cousin Asha, who’s resistance group is getting desperate as word spreads that the BeiTech “goons” are going to leave no survivors, once they harvest enough fuel. Enter Asha’s ex-boyfriend Rhys, a BeiTech tech who wasn’t involved in the original invasion team but has been called planetside because someone keeps messing up the invader’s equipment. They haven’t spoken in over a year, and miracles aren’t the only thing in short supply, but will any of these characters ever find their way safely home?

The groups previously introduced in the first two installments of Amie Kaufman’s and Jay Kristoff’s sprawling space odyssey have now met in real life. And at over 1800 pages, a day and a half worth of audio narration, and over seven months of action in the story, not counting the two years of elapsed time between the “now” and “flashbacks” that make up the majority of the story, it definitely feels like an odyssey. The production team behind the audiobooks continues to excel at their translation of a very visual creation into an audible one. Other audiobook companies, take note, this is a ******** radio drama! The first one won the Audie for Multi-Voice Performance, and the second one was a finalist in the Young Adult Category (remember those slight errors I mentioned in my review? I wonder if that played a factor in their loosing out on the gold.) I see this one being recognized as well. From sound affects to modulations, to the number of people involved, they pulled out all the stops. There was one pivotal scene where I think at the end of the chapter they should have held the pause between tracks just a little longer in order to allow readers time to process what they just heard, but that is minor compared to everything else they did right. I recognize that some people prefer the visual experience of reading the books and seeing the ephemera portrayed, but I started this series as an audiobook and there was no way I was going to end it any other way. Do check out the book, if only to flip through it and see the illustrations contributed by Marie Lu (famed author in her own right) and Lisa Weber.

I thought Asha and Rhys deserved more screen time and more development, but considering we only had access to them for a short, limited time, I understand that things were probably cut. Their involvement with each other felt inevitable, and I would have liked to have seen the evolution of their feelings just a bit more, especially Asha’s. The quick-quipping conversations between the returning characters are just as I remembered, with back and forth banter that shows just how well they know each other and also how much they have been through. I burst out laughing at some of the comments, like Nik messing with Ella making her think the language file was corrupted by quoting random bits of Latin and other languages, or when AIDAN (yes he’s back) tells Ella “My systems still have difficulty interpreting certain human mannerisms. If you could avoid speech modes involving false ambivalence and irony, that would decrease the risk of terminal failure of my synaptic network.” Ella’s response is “ur saying i could literally kill you with sarcasm” [sic]. In fact, the most humorous bits of conversation feature either Ella or Nik as participants, probably due to their upbringing. When Niklas finds himself trying to work a part of the ship (all hands on deck during this time of need), he relays over the coms “Um . . . yeah, all the lights are green back here, too. Wait, no … [thump thump] Yep, there it goes.” (615) Oh, and as an added bonus, we learn the identity of the Analyst ID who has been narrating the entire story thus far.

Kady, Hanna, and Ezra all grow in their character development. Hanna learns her father has died, and she struggles with how to process but also hide her grief as she is called on to help. Ezra has to deal with authority, both assuming it and accepting it, and we all realize that he might not ever fully achieve either. Kady has a pivotal scene where you really get to see her strength in character. Ian Grant (her father) makes a lovely gesture that lets you know where she gets her strength from. New characters or those we haven’t had much contact with emphasize these are still teenagers who are essentially taking control of the situation and doing most of the planning. In quieter moments, which are so rare in their world of everything falling apart around them, and in heart-wrenching and shocking scenes that we see how invested these characters, especially Kady, are in saving not only their lives but the lives of everyone else. Everyone has been changed completely by this experience, and we see a little glimpse at the very end of how they try to handle, cope, and recuperate. As they remember their fallen, I will remember this story for a while.

Overall, I’m looking forward to their next series by this pair. Aurora Cycle, the first one titled Aurora Rising is slated for release in April of 2019.

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Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together.jpgTitle: Piecing Me Together
Author: Renee Watson
ISBN: 9781681191058
Pages: 264 pages
Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, c2017.
Awards: Newbery Honor Award (2018), Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner (2018)

The front of the folder shows a group of black women–adults and teens–smiling and embracing one another. Woman to Woman: A Mentorship Program for African American Girls. Mrs. Parker is smiling like what she’s about to tell me is that she found the cure for cancer. But really, what she has to tell me sounds more like a honking horn that’s stuck, a favorite glass shattering into countless pieces on the floor. […]
“Why was I chosen for this?”
Mrs. Parker clears her throat. “Well, uh, selection was based on, uh, gender, grade, and, well, several other things.”
“Like?”
“Well, uh, several things. Teacher nominations . . . uh, need.”
“Mrs. Parker, I don’t need a mentor,” I tell her.
“Every young person could use a caring adult in her life.”
“I have a mother.” And my uncle, and my dad. “You think I don’t have anyone who cares about me?”
“No, no. That’s not what I said.” Mrs. Parker clears her throat. (17-18)

Junior Jade has a scholarship to attend St. Francis, a mostly white, expensive private school on the other side of Portland from where she lives with her mother and uncle. When she is called down to the counselor’s office, she thinks it’s about the study abroad to trip to Spain, a trip she’s anticipated for the last two years, learning Spanish and making money for by tutoring her classmates. Instead, Jade learns she’s been nominated for Woman to Woman, a mentor program that pairs her with Maxine, a graduate of her high school. Maxine however, doesn’t seem to be the best person to mentor, showing up late to or completely forgetting about plans and being more concerned about her ex-boyfriend then Jade. Jade doesn’t want to forgo the “opportunity” to get a full-ride scholarship if she completes the program, but the things they do make her feel more out of place then ever. She’s tired of being someone who needs help, and wants to get out of town and out of her circumstances; the trick is finding someone who can listen and help in the way she needs.

I finished Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson and it’s given me some things to consider as a mentor and a librarian. There’s a lot of excellent passages that I could quote from that provide insight and an evaluation of who we feel is “in need” and what we feel they need. After much self-doubt, Jade finally gets the courage to voice her concerns about the program to her mentor Maxine. Jade tells Maxine that just because her parents aren’t around doesn’t mean she needs a mentor. (In actuality, her mother just works an nontraditional schedule and is highly involved in Jade’s life and is not like other non-existent mother characters that are cliche characters in other books.) Just because she has the opportunity to go other places doesn’t mean she wants to see what she can’t afford. Just because she lives in a “wrong side of the tracks” neighborhood doesn’t mean there aren’t still things to see and people who can help from within. Why is Jade “only seen as someone who needs and not someone who can give?” (direct quote from page 199) While it was a little preachy in places, I would recommend it for anyone who finds themselves with who we typically consider “underprivileged youth.” Sometimes even mentors need a reminder that the people they mentor are capable of contributing in their own way, and don’t need to be rescued by someone.

The material is also very relevant in relation to the Black Lives Matter conversation. Although that phrase never makes an appearance in the narrative. About two-thirds of the way in, an incident makes the news regarding a fifteen-year-old black female named Natasha Ramsey receiving a broken jaw and fractured ribs as a result of police breaking up a house party due to a noise complaint. Jade’s uncle E.J. (who is only a few years older then Jade) responds with scorn at Jade’s suggestion that they say a prayer.

“And what is prayer going to do?” E.J. asks. “Prayer ain’t nothing but the poor man’s drug.”
“What?”
“Poor people are the ones who pray. People who don’t have what they need, who can’t pay their rent, who can’t buy healthy food, who can’t save any of their paycheck because every dollar is already accounted for. Those are the people who pray. They pray for miracles, they pray for signs, they pray for good health. Rich people don’t do that,” he tells me. […]
“Be careful today, Jade. For real.” (182-183)

Jade is hyper-aware of her classmates’ response to the event, which seems nonexistent as there is no talk in the hallways, no discussion in the classroom, and from her perspective everyone is acting oblivious, except for her Spanish teacher whom she finds watching new coverage during his break. There are small instances of racism that keep frustrating Jade, especially because the only other person she talks to at school, a white classmate named Sam who also comes from her neighborhood, doesn’t seem them as racism. When Jade is the only one who gets in trouble for laughing at another student’s disrespectful comments about a staff member, Sam blames it on wealth disparity. “Her parents donate a bunch of money to the school every year. She can say and do whatever she wants,” Sam says. “That had nothing to do with her being white and your being black.” Jade responds “You know that’s what people are going to say about Natasha Ramsey. That it had nothing to do with her being black.” and Sam asks “Who?” Another time, Jade questions why she is always the one given these opportunities instead of Sam, who lives in the same area, is also lacking parents, and sees Jade as being ungrateful at having these opportunities to go places like the symphony. This is definitely a perfect scene to spark discussion for students and adults. When have their been times where two people have been in similar situations and the outcomes have been treated differently, and what factors played a role in the resulting outcomes?

We as readers will never know the real reason why her classmate doesn’t get punished for saying the comment but Jade gets in trouble for laughing at it. I think both reasons could be validated, as money and race both talk, but I also fear that as a white female I’d be accused of implicit bias if I brought up this possibility, just as Sam does. I can’t claim to understand what African Americans have to face in terms of racism, both overt and obvious, but I do understand that if you face enough situations with racial overtones, everything starts getting colored and about color. And there was at least one instance in the book of overt racism that Sam also discounts when faced with the account, that could be contributing to Jade’s mounting frustrations. Jade instead seeks out people who understand her feelings on the issue, and readers in turn gain an understanding of just how much the case has affected Jade and her friend from the neighborhood, Lee Lee. These girls are scared it could have been them or will be them, and the other white girls in Jade’s school don’t have that fear because they are insulated by their racial identity. Jade and Lee Lee feel a powerlessness that they are hesitant to admit, because then they fear it means they are, and they don’t want to see themselves or have others see them in that light. In studying Lewis and Clark and their slave York, which she finds out about from Lee Lee’s talking about her history teacher, Jade wonders if he ever “existing in a world where no one thought him strange” and I think Jade feels that otherness herself. Going to an all white school where she can’t relate her family life with that of other students, and then coming home where she can’t relate her options and experiences at school to her family, Jade and Sam share that feeling of isolation and being stuck in the middle.

I keep coming back to the previously quoted passage, “Why am I only seen as someone who needs and not someone who can give?” Jade and Lee Lee are scared, but they don’t want to be seen as someone who needs protection, reassurances, or special treatment. They are women of action, and by the end, it’s inspiring that they found a way to tie resources from their community into a proactive attempt at change. Jade responds to a question that she has learned from the mentor program she doesn’t “have to wait to be given an opportunity” and I think that’s really the most important thing that we can teach the people we mentor. This book is placed in the teen collection at my local library, but I feel it would be appropriate for middle school reading.

It’s making me consider how I can reach out more professionally and personally to fulfill the needs and the desires of the kid I mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters and the public I serve. What are we pressing on others versus providing others? How can we identify what patrons need but also what they can give, and how do we tie the two together? I welcome your thoughts in the comments, and also recommendations for further reading on either enacting these goals, or working with populations that are traditionally seen as underprivileged, but should never be seen as uninformed or unable to contribute.

Renegades

Renegades.jpgTitle: Renegades
Series: Renegades #1
Author: Marissa Meyer
ISBN: 9781250044662
Pages: 556 pages
Publisher/Date: Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC c2017 by Rampion Books

Nova had one dart handcrafted by Leroy Flinn, their own poisons master. She only needed one. If she missed, she wouldn’t get a second chance.
But she wouldn’t miss.
She would kill the Captain.
Once he was hit, Ingrid, the Detonator, would emerge from hiding and hit the Council’s parade float with as many of her signature bombs – made from a fusion of gasses in the air—as she could launch. Phobia would focus on Thunderbird, as she usually took to the air during a battle, giving her a frustratingly unfair advantage. They’d heard that Thunderbird was deathly afraid of snakes, which was one of his specialties. They were banking on the rumors to be true. Worst-case scenario: Phobia startled her long enough for Nova or Ingrid to take her down. Best-case: He gave her a midflight heart attack.
And that was it. The Council—the five original Renegades—all eradicated at once. (28-29)

But of course, the plan that Nova and her team have spent so much time concocting doesn’t go off as planned, and one of their own get captured. Plan B is a Hail Mary effort, sending Nova in deep undercover to train with their enemies. She succeeds, and is placed on the very team that thwarted her efforts to kill the Captain. Serving as a double agent becomes harder then she expected when she realized not only the people she is spying on, but also her own allies are keeping things from her. Plus, with a new prodigy (person with superpowers) in town that no one knows anything about, it’s anybody’s guess who is going to end up helping Nova in her hour of need.

Superpowers seem to be a rising trend in literature these days, possibly a result of the growing interest and excitement around the Marvel and DC movies. Personally a fan of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her newest series. But while I found her first series ground breaking in her reimagining of fairy tales, this one treads some well-worn ground of vengeance, vindication, villainy and virtues. We’ve seen this story told multiple times, of a “bad guy” who is out to kill the “good guys” with questionably justifiable reasons. In this case, seventeen-year-old Nova is focused on the Renegades, a group of five super-powered adults who are trying to restore order to a world taken down by chaotic and more selfish super-powered antagonists when powers were first starting to develop. The Anarchists, the group that Nova is originally a part of, is all that’s left of an organized front trying to enact revenge against the Renegades for hunting them down and confining the Anarchists to hiding and petty crimes necessary for survival. A variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, and powers are well portrayed, and reminiscent of Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series (which begins with Steelheart). We see the conflicting philosophies and responsibilities played out time and again, all the way back to Spiderman’s famous “With great power comes great responsibility” and more recently by V.E. Schwab in Vicious. The actual debate sparked by the different camps is explicitly laid out in a scene between Nova and one of the Renegades, where they discuss the influence that the prodigies had on the world, and whether non-gifted people could contribute to the rebuilding of something that the gifted but greedy individuals brought about.

Nova is very set in her ways and ideals, but even she is not immune to the altruism showcased by her team, which includes Adrian (superhero name “Sketch”), Oscar (“Smokescreen”) and Ruby (“Red Assassin”). Oscar, Ruby, and injured Dana are background characters to dual narrators Nova and Adrian. On the opposing side is Honey, Winston, Leroy, Phobia, and Ingrid, with Ingrid receiving more screen time then the rest as the default leader of the group. Everyone on both sides seems aware of the hype that they are obligated to live up to, with the Renegades being recognized on the street and the Anarchists being villainized and characterized by public displays and paraphernalia.

Adrian has his own secret, which readers are privy to within the first few chapters. Trying to live up to the legacy of his adoptive parents, he’s experimenting with his ability in order to enhance and add to his powers. Assuming the secondary identity of “Sentinel”, Adrian’s actions end up in an unenviable position where he needs to right a mistake before revealing himself. Then he receives a tip about a new prodigy who might be involved in his mother’s death, and he’s ready to discover everything he can, even if it goes against the wishes of the Council. This unexpectedly also places himself in a position to realize that not all Renegades are as altruistic as the organization wants them to be, and he’s struggling to come to terms with that idea since he’s been indoctrinated with the goals and dreams his entire life. D

The tender romance for Nova that begins by the end of the book is expected. Hints of the spectacular double-cross during the climactic battle are also liberally laid as to come as little surprise. The true unexpected twist revealed on the very last page is what will leave readers gasping and struggling to wait until the sequel arrives later in November 2018. I expect more background information will have to fill in the blanks that readers realize the author has been purposefully hiding since the very first page.

Wires and Nerve: Gone Rogue

Wires and Nerve Gone Rogue.jpgTitle: Gone Rogue
Series: Wires and Nerve (#2)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Illustrator: Stephen Gilpin (based on art by Doug Holgate)
ISBN: 9781250078285
Pages: 324 pages
Publisher/Date: A Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, c2018

“So, can we all start by agreeing that there is absolutely no way we are letting Cinder sacrifice herself to this psychopath?”
“No one is agreeing to anything yet.”
“I know you, Cinder, and I know you started planning how to trade your life for theirs the moment you heard about his.”
“That’s not true. I started planning a way to get them back safely.”
“And have you come up with a plan yet that doesn’t involve getting yourself killed?”
“Thorne is right. Steele is trying to lure you into a trap.”
“Yes, OBVIOUSLY this is a trap! But what am I supposed to do? We can’t just ignore him!”
“He has Winter and Jacin!”
“And Wolf.”
“And Tressa…”
“And now he wants the Queen of Luna! Aces, Cinder, Would you think of your own self-preservation for once?” (168-169)

The conclusion to the Wires and Nerve series begins with Wolf considering his future with Scarlett when their farm is surrounded by Steele, the big bad wolf-soldier from the previous graphic novel. He recruits Wolf for his revenge towards Cinder, and after Cinder and her entourage arrives on Earth Steele kidnaps Winter, Jacin, and Tressa. Demanding Cinder in exchange for the hostages and threatening the lives of the Earthen public, the fight is far from over. Iko is tasked with a key part in the final showdown, but can she fulfill her role without tipping off Steele that she might be more than he thinks she is?

Firstly, I was slightly disappointed that we saw almost nothing of Thorne and Jacin in this episode of action. Heck, Jacin gets captured TWICE by the wolf-soldiers, and he’s supposed to be a former Lunar guard for the royal family, implying some fighting prowess even if he did want to become a doctor. Even Kai had some blink and you’ll miss them occurrences where he said the necessary “Yes we’ll have military support” or “I’m your emperor so you must listen to me” dialogue, then receded into the background, not contributing in the final battle scene except to tell Steele he’s lost and to ask Cinder if she was hurt. Cinder was a token character, less so then Kai and the others because we saw her navigating the political side of things on both Earth and Luna. It was emphasized repeatedly that Steele was after her for what she represented and not because of who she was, which also lent to the feeling that she was being typecast, although the fought it admirably by arguing again and again that she was nothing like the previous rulers. The few romantic scenes of her and Kai together will satisfy fans of the series (like myself). That was also probably the reason for Scarlett and Wolf’s scenes together, although seeing Wolf stumble over his obviously more submissive and overprotective nature towards Scarlet’s alpha role was a tender moment in an otherwise tense political thriller of double crosses.

The cast was there, and they served their purpose when called upon in a fight, but the main focus was Iko and Liam Kinney, which on the one hand disappoints me but also satisfies me that Iko got her opportunity to shine in the spotlight. I enjoyed the evolution of Iko and Kinney’s relationship because it felt natural. Besides a subtle nod to increased heart rate, there is nothing overtly romantic, which I had worried about it becoming after reading the first one. The story line as a whole seemed to emphasize Iko’s humanity, even though she was an android, and Kinney’s ultimate acceptance that there is more to Iko then wires and circuitry. We get glimpses of Iko’s original programming through some files that Cress recovers, but the underlying question of nature versus nurture persists through much of the story. Iko’s quirks have always been accepted by her friends and previously people who didn’t appreciate them were cast as outsiders. When she gets paired with Kinney, this is the first time that Iko has to continually justify and understand her existence. I like to think that they become really good friends due to this increased self-awareness, both of themselves and their assumptions towards the other person.

A satisfying and quick read that closes out the series that ties up the loose ends for the legion of fans. I got to hear the characters in the audiobooks, and now we get to actually “see” the characters in the graphic novels. I’m sad to see it end, but I think it’s a good place to stop and appreciate the format change.

Little Brother

Little Brother.jpgTitle: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
ISBN: 9780307711540 (audiobook), 9780765323118 (paperback)
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11 hours 54 minutes
Pages: 382 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2008.

I lost it. “Dad! Are you listening to yourself? They’re talking about investigating practically every person in the city of San Francisco!”
“Yeah,” he said, “that’s right. They’ll catch every alimony cheat, every dope dealer, every dirtbag and every terrorist. You just wait. This could be the best thing that ever happened to this country.”
“Tell me you’re joking,” I said. “I beg you. You think that that’s what they intended when they wrote the Constitution? What about the Bill of Rights?”
“The Bill of Rights was written before data-mining,” he said. He was awesomely serene, convinced of his rightness. “The right to freedom of association is fine, but why shouldn’t the cops be allowed to mine your social network to figure out if you’re hanging out with gangbangers and terrorists?”
“Because is’t an invasion of my privacy!” I said.
“What’s the big deal? Would you rather have privacy or terrorists?” (137-138)

Marcus is a computer nerd living in San Francisco. He’s cut out of school early with his friends to pursue a clue as part of an online scavenger hunt, when the impossible happens. A terrorist attack leaves them one man down after the Department of Homeland Security apprehends them and holds them for secret questioning. When Marcus gets out, the city is in a semi-militarized state as the government hunts down the perpetrators. That’s what they claim they are doing, but as their surveillance methods increase, Marcus isn’t the only one who begins to wonder who these people are and what or who they are really collecting and pursuing.

I don’t want to turn this into a rant about technology, surveillance, privacy, and how they intersect all too often these days. However, reading this book gave me the same creepy crawly feeling that Robopocalypse did almost 5 years ago. Written before Robopocalypse, nothing has really changed since Cory Doctorow wrote this a decade ago. The general public still blindly accepts that surveillance is happening, that information about them is being collected about their movements and habits and activities, and nobody questions where that information is going or how it is being used. We grant access to huge quantities of information because companies require it in order to use their services, and now these publicly owned companies have the ability to control that information, including selling it to third parties, analyzing it for their own purposes, and deciding whether or not the authorities can gain access to that stored information.

It’s hard to imagine any of this happening in real life, and that’s Doctorow’s point. It might be hard to imagine, but it could happen, and we have the technology already where it could. Obviously advocating for a more involved and informed society when it comes to technical privacy, the book ends with Marcus advocating in what feels like a public service announcement for “signing up voters and getting them to the polls.” It includes afterwards by a security technologist and the MIT student who hacked the XBox, both of whom encourage readers to evaluate the world. “Trading privacy for security is stupid enough; not getting any actual security in the bargain is even more stupid” says the security technologist Bruce Schneier, while Andrew Huang ends his essay with “Be like M1k3y [Marcus’ screen name in the book]: step out the door and dare to be free.”

As a result of the technical nature of the story, there are huge sections of info dumps, where action is forwarded and details are revealed in professorial paragraphs mimicking a classroom lecture. This means that readers might get more out of it when they read it over listening to it. While the background is necessary to understand the story and appreciated by this reader, I do wish there had been a better way to incorporate it into the narrative. Obviously Marcus, the main character, is going to surround himself with people who can aid in his digital exploits and who are already more knowledgeable than readers about hacking concepts, so explaining it in character to a character wouldn’t ring true to the story. But they do have an opportunity when they finally have to involve a less-tech savvy but no less paranoid character (I won’t reveal who) about two-thirds into the story. And five pages on key-encryption or an even longer passage on Marcus’ history of LARPing, while appreciated, seemed a little wordy.

The story is insular in nature, with the close-up focus of Marcus and his movements and point of view. As a result, we don’t get a detailed feel for any of his classmates, friends, or fellow hackers who aid in his attempted take down of the government overreach. There is a romance, and they do have protected sex off screen which might prevent recommending it to some audiences. In fact, I feel like we get more information and character development from Marcus and his parents then from any of his friends, most of them falling to the sidelines due to objections of Marcus’s activities.

It’s an important book to recommend in these times of digital sharing and oversight, and hopefully one that not only sparked discussion when it was published but will continue to encourage debate and free thinking, along with caution and thorough analysis of the world, both virtual and real.

Wires and Nerve

I originally intended to post these in October, but the end of the year got away from me. Since I can’t draw, in honor of Inktober 2017 I searched out a graphic novel to fit each daily theme presented. Now that October is over, I finally have a chance to catch up on my blogging. Here’s my submission for the theme from October 29th: united.

Wires and Nerve.jpgTitle: Wires and Nerve
Series: Lunar Chronicles series
Author: Marissa Meyer
Illustrator: Doug Holgate with Stephen Gilpin
ISBN: 9781250078261
Pages: 238 pages
Publisher/Date: A Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, c2017.

I’ve been hunting wolves for seventy-one days. I’ve tracked their packs through the jungles of Peru. The sewers of Rome. The abandoned shipyards outside Cairo. I’ve seen the devastation they cause with my own eyes. The mutilated bodies of their victims. The terror that lingers in those left behind. I’ve been hunting them long enough that I’m beginning to understand how they operate. Like the wild wolves they’re meant to imitate, they like to prey on the old and sick, singling out the weak from the herd. They strike fast, targeting heavily populated areas, then vanish back into the wilderness. I’ve even come to recognize the sorts of places they like to make their dens. The darker… the eerier… the better. (18-19)

Fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series will be happy to learn that the story didn’t end with Cinder ascension to the Lunar throne. Unfortunately, the wolf-hybrid soldiers that were sent to Earth by Queen Levana in anticipation of her taking control of the planet are still at large, and wreaking havoc around the world. Cinder can’t jeopardize her relationship with Earthen governments and citizens by sending Lunars, especially so soon after they were threatened by that very race. Humans are no match for the wolf soldiers speed and agility. So that leaves Iko, the plucky robot and loyal sidekick with a chip in her personality that makes her unlike any other android. When she runs into a spot of trouble and needs to call on members of the old gang, it sets into motion events that expose the head of the revolution, Alpha Lysander Steele, and his plans to revolt against both humans and Lunars alike.

I’m a biased, long-standing fan of the series from the very first book. I’ve enjoyed and listened to the audiobooks so often that some of the voices used in those are now in my brain. I didn’t expect the blue tones in the illustrations (considering the covers of the original series, I expected red), but the visuals are exceedingly well done. The pacing adds to the action sequences, building suspense and supplementing the dialogue and text with wordless panels that convey meaning and emotion. Holgate does have a tendency to end chapters by focusing on a singular character, especially with an extreme close up of eyes, but that does lend an episodic, cinematic feeling to the story, where you expect a “duhn duhn DUHN!” to play in the background along with the page flip. The plot reads naturally, and while you can more fully appreciate the plot if you’ve read the preceding titles, there is a short summarizing prologue, and additional back matter is provided within the story in a way that doesn’t feel like obtrusive. Characters relationships with each other and motivations are clearly displayed or stated.

It’s exciting to see Iko get her moment in the spotlight and her personality especially shines in her indignity at the salesman who tries to explain why Iko isn’t as celebrated as the rest of the heroes. There is a short scene where it alludes that we’ll learn more about Iko’s programming in the planned sequel. The relationship that Iko begins by the end of the book is slightly problematic to me right now, but I’m looking to see how it develops in the next installment. I was originally looking at her as a C3PO type character, where it wasn’t necessary for her to pair with someone like the rest of the original crew. I guess like a Shakespearean play or the second half of Little Women, fans might have requested this to happen, but I’ve seen some comments online that indicate I’m not the only one with some trepidation on how this will work out.

The sequel, Gone Rogue, comes out Jan. 30th, so soon you can pick them both up to complete your collection.

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All The Way Down.jpgTitle: Turtles All the Way Down
Author: John Green
ISBN: 9780525555360
Pages: 286 pages
Publisher/Date: Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2017.

Daisy and I were scanning stations in search of a song to a particular brilliant and underappreciated boy band when we landed upon a news story. “–Indianapolis-based Pickett Engineering, a construction firm employing more than ten thousand people worldwide, today–” I moved my hand toward the scan button, but Daisy pushed it away.
“This is what I was telling you about!” she said as the radio continued, “–one-hundred-thousand-dollar reward for information leading to the whereabouts of company CEO Russell Pickett. Pickett, who disappeared the night before a police raid on his home related to a fraud and bribery investigation, was last seen at his riverside compound on September eighth. Anyone with information regarding his whereabouts is encourage to call the Indianapolis Police Department.”
“A hundred thousand dollars,” Daisy said. “And you know his kid.” (15)

When news breaks of the disappearance of a local billionaire, sixteen-year-old Aza’s friend Daisy can hardly believe that Aza used to go to camp with his son, Davis. Aza and Daisy lead very different lives compared to Davis, and Daisy is definitely interested in the reward money. After Daisy and Aza are caught snooping around, Davis and Aza reconnect in a manner that only two lost souls who are looking for support can appreciate. However, Aza is more interested in simply getting through the day, as her spirals of thought prove more consuming and destructive. Her medicines and therapy visits aren’t helping, and even she is beginning to realize that maybe she can’t handle everything as well as she thinks.

Be warned, this review includes several longer quotes. I tried very hard to avoid any spoilers in their content. But if you want to be as blown away by the thought-provoking nature of the book as I was the first time you read it, this will probably impact your enjoyment and awe.

Aza suffers from an unnamed illness which appears to my uneducated brain as some combination of paranoia, anxiety, and OCD. She is constantly reopening a wound on her finger in an attempt to drain any infections or harmful bacteria from her body. I don’t think I have ever read a book that has so thoroughly described a mental disorder from the sufferer’s perspective. It begins a conversation about identity, awareness, and self-control that was started long before the phrase “I think therefore I am”. In fact, that quote is discussed at length in the book:

“It’s . . . like, I’m just not sure that I am, strictly speaking, real.”
Dr. Singh placed her feet on the floor and leaned forward, her hands on her knees. “That’s very interesting,” she said. “Very interesting.” I felt briefly proud to be, for a moment anyway, not not uncommon. “It must be very scary, to feel that your self might not be yours. Almost a kind of . . . imprisonment?”
I nodded. […]
“You’re imprisoned within a self that doesn’t feel wholly yours, like Molly Bloom. But also, to you that self often feels deeply contaminated.”
I nodded.
“But you give your thoughts too much power, Aza. Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.”
“But your thoughts are you. I think therefore I am, right?”
“No, not really. A fuller formation of Descartes’s philosophy would be Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum. ‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.’ Descartes wanted to know if you could really know that anything was real, but he believed his ability to doubt reality proved that, while it might not be real, he was. You are as real as anyone, and your doubts make you more real, not less.” (166-167)

I love the way that John Green presents mental illness in a manner that helps me empathize with sufferers but also allows me to see that there is still a lot to be understood about the brain and how it works. There is a lot to process as the book raises questions on self, awareness, identity, being, and thought. I would love to use this as a book discussion pick, and see what others have to say, either based on their own experiences with mental illness or how they interpret the interactions of biological, chemical, and mental responses.

There’s another passage that I quoted to a friend who is suffering depression right now who said that it pretty damn accurately describes her brain.

“I don’t understand how you can be so inhumanly calm down here, […] but you have a panic attack when you think your finger is infected.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “This just isn’t scary.”
“It objectively is,” she said.
“Turn off your light,” I said.
“Hell, no.”
“Turn it off. Nothing bad will happen.” She clicked off her light, and the world went dark. I felt my eyes trying to adjust, but there was no light to adjust to. “Now you can’t see the walls, right. […] Spin around a few times and you won’t know which way is in and which way is out. This is scary. Now imagine if we couldn’t talk, if we couldn’t hear each other’s breathing. Imagine if we had no sense of touch, so even if we were standing next to each other, we’d never know it.”
“Imagine you’re trying to find someone, or even you’re trying to find yourself, but you have no senses, no way to know where the walls are, which way is forward or backward, what is water and what is air. You’re senseless and shapeless– you feel like you you can only describe what you are by identifying what you’re not, and you’re floating around in a body with no control. You don’t get to decide who you like or where you live or when you eat or what you fear. You’re just stuck in there, totally alone, in this darkness. That’s scary. This,” I said, and turned on the flashlight. “This is control. This is power. There may be rats and spiders and whatever the hell. But we shine a light on them, not the other way around. We know where the walls are, which was is in and which way is out. This,” I said, turning off my light again, “is what I feel like when I’m scared. This” –I turned the flashlight back on– “is a walk in the fucking park.” (262-263)
There’s another scene where Aza is fighting her OCD, and the claustrophobic nature of the conversation is palatable in the prose. It’s these scenes that make the book a stand-out among young adult fiction.
The rest of the book was less effective from my point of view. The plot of Davis’s missing father is all but forgotten for most of the book. Now this was probably intentionally done to emphasize Aza’s point of view and how all consuming her mental health issues are from her perspective. However, for a book billed as being about a search for a missing billionaire, there is very little searching done. The search for clues that does take place is short, conveniently accomplished, and then the mystery is left on the sidelines until the very end of the book. I also wish we had seen more of Daisy. While the subject is broached of how self-consumed Aza can be, Daisy seems equally one track, talking exclusively about herself, her likes, her relationship, and making decisions for both of them. There are one or two scenes where their problematic friendship is broached, but then the disagreement is truncated and they return to each other without resolving the underlying issues. The above quote is one of the few times that I feel there is actual understanding and connection happening between these two life-long friends.

Davis was equally enigmatic. We see more of him through his blog posts and poetry than we do during his interactions with Aza. He’s memorable qualities are his fascination with astronomy, his apathy towards his father, and his uncertainty about his brother. His concern over what will happen to his brother and himself as opposed to what has happened to his father is heartbreaking and the one thing that made him a relatable character. He sees his life as reactive to his father’s actions, a life he has no control over, which is what really allows him to connect so easily with Aza. Both Davis and Aza see their lives as a result of reactions, Davis to external forces (his father, the media, his brother) and Aza to internal forces (bacteria, chemical reactions, the OCD inside her head).

The last two pages seemed unnecessary to me, as the whole tone changes and it’s added almost intended as an “It gets better” postscript” or epilogue to the story. While that might not stick with you, Aza’s struggles will. Don’t pick this book up for the mystery or the romance. Instead, read it for the thought-provoking portrayal of mental illness and the conversations, self-reflections, and empathy it will elicit. If that was the sole intent of the book, to wrap a discussion of mental illness into a digestible package bookmarked by a billionaire’s disappearance, than John Green succeeded in his goal.