Posts tagged ‘dystopian’


SP4RX.jpgTitle: SP4RX
Author/Illustrator: Wren McDonald
ISBN: 9781910620120
Pages: 116 pages
Publisher/Date: Nobrow Ltd., c2016.

“Well the thing is, STEVE, they’re literally removing people’s brains and replacing them with manufactured ones —”
“That’s where you’re wrong, DANA, it’s the same brain, just altered for efficiency.”
“And what? That makes it ethically sound?? These impoverished low-level people are now being forced to work 36 hour shifts for God’s sake! And they are supposed to take ELPIS PROGRAM as a blessing?!”
“Dana, Look. Do you know how much these workers can make in a 36 hour shift? ELPIS gives them the means to provide for their fam-”
“PLEASE! Is that what you tell yourself[…]?!” (27)

In an unspecified dystopian future, SP4RX is a Bitnite, a hacker for hire. He doesn’t ask questions, only delivers the goods, until another hacker named Mega steals the program he heisted. It leads him to meet with a small resistance force with the self-assigned mission to stop a corporation implanting people with upgrades that allow them to be controlled remotely. Initially opposed to joining them, SP4RX realizes that their way might be the only way to maintain the slim direction over his own destiny.

Reminiscent of Fifth Element meets the Matrix, with maybe a little bit of Futurama and Dr. Who’s daleks thrown in for good measure, it’s not uncommon in this world for people to have cybernetic enhancements, communication takes place in person as often as in the virtual world, and the word “eliminate” has replaced “exterminate”. The art work is done in black, white, gray and purple, with the story segmented by full page graphics that feel like filler, or chapter or volume dividers, even though they aren’t labeled as such. A distracting feature is that characters are drawn sometimes with noses and sometimes without with little consistency as to which or why one way is chosen over the other. The story feels like a generic end of the world mashup, with little in the way of a back story explaining how they got to this point. By the end of the book, I was most interested in the minor character of the OBD droid, whose bodyless head steals every scene it’s in, as its implanted empathy drives the dogged search and loyalty it shows for SP4RX. Give that little guy its own series next time, and leave the rest to become more efficient.



Firefight.jpgTitle: Firefight
Series: Reckoners #2
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
ISBN: 9781501278099 (audiobook), 9780385743587 (hardcover)
Pages: 416 pages
Discs/CDs: 9 CDs, 11 hours 41 minutes
Publisher/Date: Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC c2014. (Audible, Inc. and distributed by Audible, Inc. and Brilliance Audio)

I pass through the crowd and knelt beside the corpse. She’d been a rabid dog, as Prof had put it. Killing her had been a mercy.
She came for us, I thought. And this is the third one who avoided engaging Prof. Mitosis had come to the city while Prof had been away. Instabam had tried to lose Prof in the chase, gunning for Abraham. Now Sourcefield had captured Prof, then left him behind to chase me.
Prof was right. Something was going on. (31-32)

David and the Reckoners have fought off three new Epics successfully, but something isn’t adding up as to why they are making the effort to travel to Newcago and engage a team of Epic assassins. All clues point to Babylon Restored, formerly known as Manhattan but currently ruled by a mysterious High Epic named Regalia, who flooded the city in order to maintain control. David, Tia, and Prof leave the rest of the team behind and join up with a new team that has become entrenched in the city. Their plan involves taking out Regalia before she takes out them, but with Regalia seemingly one step ahead of them at every turn and secrets being kept on all sides, David’s famous improvisational skills may be put to the test.

If you enjoyed Steelheart, you’re going to love Firefight. MacLeod Andrews is back as narrator, and the one scene that swept me away was when David is getting choked to within an inch of his life by an Epic. You hear the distress, you hear the rasping, frantic breath leaving his body, and you hear the fear. We leave behind in Newcago Cody and Andrew, and get Mizzy, a manic pixie like character who is a new recruit training to be sniper and point who also does equipment repairs, operations leader Val who is just as close mouthed and serious as Jonathan, and Exel, an ex-mortician giant of a man who is half gregarious infiltrator/reconnaissance  and half big man of muscle. Each new character and Epic are given equally appropriate voices. Mizzy is delightful in terms of comic relief. In one of my favorite scenes early in the story, she is given “scribe duties” during a meeting, and her notes include:

Reckoner Super Plan for Killing Regalia at the top of the sheet. Each i was doted with a heart. […]
Really important, and we totally need to do it on the paper, with three big arrows pointing at the heading above. Then after a moment, she added Boy, it’s on now in smaller letters beside that one. […]
Regalia totally needs to get with the business. […]
Excel needs to pay better attention to his job […]
Step One: find Regalia, then totally explode her. Lots and lots. […]
Step Two: put Val on decaf. […]
Step Three: Mizzy gets a cookie. […] (131-135)

She plays off David extremely well, maybe because they are both the newest ones to their teams, or maybe because they are closest in age to each other.

“Well, trust me,” I said. “I’m more intense than I look. I’m intense like a lion is orange.”
“So, like . . . medium intense? Since a lion is kind of a tannish color?”
“No, they’re orange.” I frowned. “Aren’t they? I’ve never actually seen one.”
“I think tigers are the orange ones,” Mizzy said. “But they’re still only half orange, since they have black stripes. Maybe you should be intense like an orange is orange.”
“Too obvious,” I said. “I’m intense like a lion is tannish.” Did that work? Didn’t exactly slip off the tongue.
Mizzy cocked her head, looking at me. “You’re kinda weird.” (115)

And yes, David’s bad metaphors are back, but it seemed like they were less frequent than in the first book, which is okay by me. Although as someone determines near the end of the book “You’re not actually bad at metaphors […] because most the things you say are similes. Those are really what you’re bad at.” (414) It, among other things, shows David’s growth from the last book. The intensity of the Reckoners’ situation has also changed, as they fight not just one but two Epics that are intertwined in a long term goal that no one sees coming. David starts questioning what they are doing as more information about Epics comes to light and he starts to wonder what makes Epics go bad and if there is a way to prevent them from being consumed by their powers. We see David in true assassin mode, questioning his motives and beliefs as he tries, usually unsuccessfully, to come to grips with his feelings and hatred towards most Epics but with an ever growing list of exceptions.

We get way more information about the creation of Epics then I ever expected. All the pieces of the puzzle start coming together, and the ending simultaneously wraps up the problems found and creates whole new ones that we need to face in the recently published third and final book in the trilogy. We may have lost some friends in the process (shhhh, no spoilers here), but knowing David, he’ll figure something out, and being in a tight spot just makes him try harder to succeed.


SteelheartTitle: Steelheart
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Series: Reckoners #1
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
ISBN: 9781480569133 (audiobook), 9780385743563 (hardcover)
Pages: 386 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 12 hours 20 minutes
Publication: Brilliance Audio, c2013. (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. c2013.)

Eventually the Reckoners led me around a corner that looked like every other one–only this time it led to a small room cut into the steel. There were a lot of these places in the catacombs. […]
I took a hesitant step backward, realizing I was cornered. I’d begun to think that I was on my way toward being accepted into their team. But looking into Prof’s eyes, I realized that was not the case. He saw me as a threat. I hadn’t been brought along because I’d been helpful; I’d been brought along because he hadn’t wanted me wandering free.
I was a captive. And this deep in the steel catacombs, nobody would notice a scream or a gunshot. (48-49)

Ever since his father was killed by the Epic Steelheart, David has been spending the last decade studying these super powered people who inevitably battle each other for control over the cities and populations of the dystopian United States. They all have a weakness, and David knows he holds the key to Steelheart’s, if he could only figure it out. David’s not the only one fighting the Epics, and he’s been following the Reckoner’s efforts for years. After intentionally stumbling into an assassination attempt and helping (sort of) he’s able to convince the team of Reckoners to let him join them on their quest. But convincing them to go up against the most powerful Epic ever is going to take a lot more than hunches and guesswork. It’s going to take stealth and strategy, neither of which David is particularly good at imbuing.

Think of the X-Men world, but only with the Magneto team and not Professor Xavier’s humanity; then add Superman’s obscure weakness, only it’s different for every Epic, and you’ll have a good approximation of the world Brandon Sanderson has created for his Reckoners series. And what a world it is, with adaptations to the culture while still maintaining enough recognizable references to modern day to orient readers. It’s a bloody existence being a Reckoner, surrounded by war and death. The opening scene of David’s father’s death is also gritty and gruesome in it’s realism, which might turn off some more sensitive readers. I was somewhat disappointed that we didn’t see more of the day-to-day life during an Epic’s reign, but what we do glimpse is impressive. With only one or two chapters of info-dumping back story, readers are submerged into David’s internal monologue.

David’s life after his father’s death is like those of kids during the Industrial Revolution, working grunt jobs due to his size and ability to be exploited, although he doesn’t mind as it guarantees him a roof and food. Much has been said about David’s horrible yet humorous metaphors, and they definitely are memorable and add to his personality.

I tried not to stare, but that was like trying not to blink. Only . . . well, kind of the opposite. (48)
Megan’s eyes could have drilled holes through . . . well, anything, I guess. I mean, eyes can’t normally drill holes through things, so the metaphor works regardless, right? Megan’s eyes could have drilled holes through butter. (103)
“It’s like . . . a banana farm for guns.”(142)
They looked so dangerous, like alligators. Really fast alligators wearing black. Ninja alligators. (149)

But there is also depth and incredible insight from David. He objects to being called a nerd because not only does he make a distinction between smarts and persistence, but he also realized that the smartest students lost their freedoms by being scrutinized and under surveillance working for an Epic. He recognizes he’s been living a life motivated by revenge and death, but isn’t quite sure how to focus on anything else.

Not just David, but all the characters are multidimensional, and readers focus on what little information they can gleam from the narrative about everyone. MacLeod Andrews has been added to my list of top narrators. David’s youthful and playful but committed demeanor, Cody and Abraham’s back-and-forth banter, the more serious and solemn tones of Prof, the skeptical and scholarly Tia, and Megan’s sarcastic quips are all captured with precision and excellence. Cody is the spot of humor, with his southern accent, Scottish vocabulary, and intentionally insane side-comments. He throws you off guard leaving both readers and David wondering just how much of this is an act and how much of what Cody says does he actually believe, but rest assured he is much more than the village idiot. Abraham is a mystery, with Andrews alluding to a James Bond character with his clipped accent, but Abraham’s personality is probably the most predictable and stable out of all of them. Megan is the stereotypical unrequited love interest for David, who hasn’t had much past experience with girls. But Megan is anything but stereotypical, as David realizes when she turns out to be an extremely capable point-man with an astonishing knowledge of weapons. She challenges him, which is good for both of them. Rounding out the team is Tia, the typical brains of the bunch who holds information and her cards close to her chest, and the esoteric and reclusive leader Prof, who leads with equal parts discipline and democracy. The whole cast is memorable, not just because of Sanderson’s writing but Andrews’ portrayal of them.

Like the movie Saving Private Ryan, team members share only the basics about their life in an effort to avoiding tipping off the Epics if one of them ever gets captured. Prof actually asks David how old he is and if he would have anyone who would come looking for him if he were to disappear. By the end of the book, we’ve realized not everyone is as they appear, and it’s questionable where and how the story will continue. We know more about all the members of the team then we did when we started, but there is one big question that needs answering, and hopefully will be resolved in the sequel.

The Fog Diver

Fog DiverTitle: The Fog Diver
Author: Joel Ross
ISBN: 9780062352934
Pages: 328 pages
Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2015.

My name is Chess, and I was born inside a cage.
Imagine a wooden platform jutting from a mountain cliff. Now picture a chain falling from that platform and vanishing into the Fog, a deadly white mist that covers the entire Earth.
That’s where I was born: locked in a cage, at the end of a chain, inside the Fog.
And I would’ve died there, too, if Mrs. E hadn’t saved me.
When she saw my face for the first time, wisps of Fog swirled inside my right eye, shimmering white shapes that marked me as a freak. That’s why I’ve spent thirteen years keeping my head down, staying quiet and afraid–but now Mrs. E needs help, now <em>she</em> needs saving.
It’s time to stop hiding. Everything is going to change. (1-2)

Scientists built nanites to clean up the polluted Earth, only they made them too smart. The nanites turned on their creators, scrubbing the Earth clean not just of pollution, but of the creators of the pollution. Now mankind has retreated to the mountain tops, and fog divers like Chess literally dive into the fog from flying barges to scavenge for resources. He and his rag-tag team of orphans were brought together by Mrs. E. Dreams of ascending to the safer parts of the mountain have always been a dream, but now they need money and resources to get Mrs. E the help she needs as fog sickness starts taking over. Fog sickness isn’t the only risk though, as the past Mrs. E rescued Chess from comes back to haunt him and hunt for him. Will they be able to escape all the dangers, or will Chess take his last dive?

For fans of the television series Firefly (which I’m watching right now for the first time), this street urchin crew may seem familiar. Maybe author Joel Ross, making his middle-grade debut, is a fan himself? Chess takes the place of River, being hidden in plain sight and with skills no one fully understands. But he is also part Zoe, serving as a second-in-command position to Hazel. Hazel is the captain of the crew, and much like Mal she has her unexpected soft side. Chess says she “wore long, flowing skirts, dreamed of fancy dances, loved pretty sunsets . . . and could bark out orders faster than the toughest junkyard boss.” (28-29) Pilot Swedish has the skills of Wash but the attitude of Jayne. Bea is Kaylee, the spunky, overly enthusiastic and optimistic mechanic, down to talking to the electronics and naming them.

The crew members are unique and highly developed, with characteristics and flaws that will allow readers to relate with at least someone, whether it’s the snarky asides of sarcasm, quick-witted thinking, or the more vulnerable moments of emotion. They form a tight-knit family who cares about and trusts one another, even when they are surprised by another’s actions or a never-before revealed secret. It reads like a swashbuckling pirate adventure, with rigging and scavengers, hidden treasures and double crosses. Highly recommended to those readers looking for something unique, or maybe those too young for the airships of Westerfeld’s Leviathan series.

The allusions to the world before are the basis for most of the laughs in this post-apocalyptic, dystopian world. There is little in the way of modern day conveniences, but that goes unremarked upon as they wrap their heads around what little they do know, and make up their own explanations for what they don’t understand. The characters routinely improvise, interchange, and just plain invent references. Primarily, these confusions come from Chess, who has a scrapbook made by his father of various cultural references from before the fog.

  • Chess decides against repeating the “old tale of ‘Skywalker Trek,’ about a space war between the Klingons and the Jedi, set in a future when people lived on distant planets and fought Tribbles, Ewoks, and Borgs.” (17-18).
  • He describes Valentine’s Day as “an old holiday […] when they used to wear green and say ‘be mine’ and kiss under a shamrock. […] They gave flowers to their sweethearts.” (82)
  • “I’m not sure the shell actually snaps.”
    “Of course it does! A snapping turtle is a turtle that snaps, like a bobcat is a cat that bobs. It says so in the name.”
    “Sure,” I said. “And grizzly bears loooove to grizz.” (178)
  • There’s also a reference to weird animals of the past like spelling bees and Hello Kitties which of course I can’t locate currently.

There are a lot of tight escapes, narrow misses, and nail-biting excitement, which is completely inline with the life they lead. While their actions are slightly more legal than the ones seen in Firefly, they are still the underdog in a rigged system. They don’t even own the ship outright, renting it from corrupt folks, making every effort to get out from under the debt and find that big score that will put them on the top. The technology is slightly steampunk in nature, although I would have liked more details on how they were able to adapt to this world above the clouds that today we would deem uninhabitable. While Chess’s rumored existence is initially stereotypical and his ability to go unnoticed for 13 years remarkable, the sudden interest in his skills and presence is explained adequately. The climatic end is just that, and it’s only at the last heart-stopping page that you receive a sudden but satisfactory resolution to the story, worthy of Ocean’s Eleven. While enjoyable as a stand-alone, there is definitely a sequel in the making, with The Lost Compass arriving in May 2016 which will hopefully bring more answers.

Ship Breaker

Title: Ship Breaker
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
ISBN: 9780316056212
Pages: 326 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2010.

He called up to her. “Hey, Sloth! I got me a way out. I’m coming for you crewgirl.”
The movement stopped.
“You hear me?” His voice echoed all around. “I’m getting out! And I’m coming for you.”
“Yeah?” Sloth responded. “You want me to go get Pima?” Mockery laced her voice. Nailer again wished he could reach up and yank her down into the oil. Instead, Nailer made his voice reasonable.
“If you go get Pima now, I’ll forget you were going to let me drown.”
A long pause.
Finally Sloth said, “It’s too late, right?” She went on. “I know you, Nailer. You’ll tell Pima no matter what, and then I’m off crew and someone else buys in.” Another pause, then she said, “It’s all Fates now. If you got a way out, I’ll see you on the outside. You get your revenge then.” (33)

Nailer works on the light crew, stripping copper from sunken and grounded rigs and ships in the future’s Gulf Coast region, where oil, gold, and any industrial scrap is even more precious than it is today. Everyone dreams of hitting a Lucky Strike, of hitting an unknown pocket of resources and secretly siphoning and selling it off so they can make their own way instead of crewing up. It’s a hard life, one that gets even more complicated after a big storm strands a rich girl on his tiny island. After his own recent brush with death, it’s impossible for Nailer to kill her and claim her riches. Instead, he finds himself on the run from everyone, including his own father, who are intent on using the girl as their ticket out of Bright Sands Beach. But the girl is hiding secrets of her own, and as she slowly and grudgingly reveals them to Nailer, Nailer’s prospects of getting rescued from his rash actions become bleaker.

I’ve been trying to get to this book for a while now, ever since my coworker finished and raved about it shortly after it was published. My first thought upon finishing is that this book has extraordinary world building. Located in what amounts to a distant future shanty town somewhere in the Gulf, readers are lead to believe that the area finally succumbed to the severe storms that slice through the cities. It’s similar to the movie Water World in that resources are so scarce they are scavenged. What sets it apart though is Nailer. The sheer brutality of this world is both astonishing and frightening, yet completely understandable as it’s every man for himself, and the descriptions bring everything into focus.

Bacigalupi sets up the story so that we have a clear idea of how conflicted Nailer is when he finds his stranded mystery girl. Any other time, he would have had no qualms killing her and taking the Lucky Strike for himself and his good friend Pima, getting them out of the slums. But he is also desperate to distance himself from his father, and he realizes that killing the girl would be the same thing that would have happened to him if he hadn’t been so lucky; killing the girl would be the same thing his father would do, no question, and he hates the idea of becoming his father.

Not knowing who to trust is a common theme running through everyone’s story. Nailer and the girl must trust each other as they flee for their lives. The girl is completely out of her element in this foreign environment and has no one else to rely on. Nailer must trust that she is telling the truth about who she really is, even though time and again that identity changes and her honesty is called into question. Neither one though can turn back once they start, because they know that there’s a better chance of surviving — of keeping each other alive — if they stay together.

I’m not the only one who sees this book as an examination of the humanity, trust and courage. It received a boat load of recognition, including being named a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, winning the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award and the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book nominated for the 2010 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy and included on the 2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list put together by the Young Adult Library Services Association.

I read this as an e-book, where they provided a sample of the companion novel Drowned Cities which features one of the secondary characters who I’d definitely be interested in learning more about, as he seems to be an anomaly all his own. A good industrial strength read (pardon the pun).

Ready Player One

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
ISBN: 9780307913142
CDs/Discs: 13 CDs, 15.5 hours
Pages: 374 pages
Publisher/Date: Crown Publishers, Random House Audio, c2011.
Awards: 2012 Alex Awards

“You’re first instinct right now might be to log out and make a run for it,” Sorrento said. “I urge you not to make that mistake. Your trailer is currently wired with a large quantity of high explosives.” He pulled something that looked like a remote control out of his pocket and held it up. “And my finger is on the detonator. If you log out of this chatlink session, you will die within a few seconds. Do you understand what I’m saying to you, Mr. Watts?” (142)

In the year 2044, humanity escapes from what is left of the world by plugging int the OASIS, a virtual utopia similar to the Sims where people can be anything and do almost anything. It’s here we meet Wade Watts, a seventeen-year-old who has been competing against millions of other people in the biggest scavenger hunt ever created. The massive fortune of the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, has been put up for grabs for the first person to complete a series of challenges and puzzles that range throughout the virtual OASIS. Based on aspects of 1980s pop culture, including movies, music, books, and especially video games, the hunt has gone on for five long years, and quite a few players have lost hope. Then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle, and the frenzy of the hunt resumes. Wade must outwit and outplay the entire world in order to win, but he’s especially worried about the Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of a conglomerate company who’s only goal is to monopolize and monetize the free virtual escape.

Full disclosure: I was not a teenager in the 1980s like James Halliday was, but I still throughly enjoyed listening to Ready Player One. I was yelling at my speakers, laughing along at Wade’s exploits, and was pleasantly pleased at how many references to 1980s culture I was already familiar with, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Star Wars and Star Trex, Pacman, and Dungeons and Dragons. Some of the more obscure trivia I think would have even people who lived during that era scratching their heads, unless they are well versed in hacking history.

While the start is somewhat slow as Cline takes the time to explain his world building and the background behind the events, it quickly escalates after the first clue is found. Geeks might actually enjoy knowing the ins and outs of the OASIS, although non-geeks might get turned off by the technical talk. The characters are all most certainly grandiose geeks, and while there are some spots where the information is repeated, in my opinion it’s better to have a refresher of the information than not receive it at all. I think the action moved a little too quickly for my tastes towards the end, as clues are deciphered very quickly by multiple players, when the first clue took everyone five years to figure out, but listeners get caught up in the excitement and the hunt and really don’t have time or an inclination to quibble about the breakneck, escalating frenetic pace and epic battle at the end.

Wade is a likeable enough character, participating in the competition as an underdog since he has almost no experience points, financial assistance, or even a secure physical home where he can reside. Sorrento, the head of the commercial conglomerate (the company is nicknamed the Sixers in the book due to their avatars six digit identification numbers) is a stagnant and one-dimensional, stereotypical greedy bad-guy type character. Wade’s four top human competitors are a little more three-dimensional, although still stereotypical in certain ways.

Although Wil Wheaton struggles with female voices, most of the narration is first person from Wade’s perspective, which allows him the ability to really develop Wade and delve into his role. It’s an added nod to the 1980s culture to have him narrate, since Wheaton portrayed Wesley Crusher in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television show in the 1980s and 1990s. I can definitely see geeks and gamers of both genders gobbling up this book.


Title: Mockingjay
Series: Sequel to Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
ISBN: 9780439023511
Pages: 398 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, c2010.

The president allows a few moments of unrest, and then continues in her brisk fashion. Only now the words coming out of her mouth are news to me. “But in return for this unprecedented request, Soldier Everdeen has promised to devote herself to our cause. It follows that any deviance from her mission, in either motive or deed, will be viewed as a break in this agreement. The immunity would be terminated and the fate of the four victors determined by the law of District Thirteen. As would her own. Thank you.”
In other words, I step out of line and we’re all dead. (58)

I’ve always tried really hard to avoid spoilers in this blog. I’ve really, truly, desperately tried to avoid spoilers. And Mockingjay is one of those books that really challenges me to NOT reveal anything. I’m sure by this time that the die-hard fans have probably read it. If you haven’t and you’re still patiently waiting on the hold list (like I was) for your turn at the library’s copy, then what I say probably isn’t going to change your opinion of the author, the series, or the book, and you’re still going to want to read it.


That’s right, I said it, and I’m risking alienating myself from the rest of the reading community with this review that I’ve been working on for over a week now. But I did not like this book. Well, I guess that’s the wrong way to say it. I liked the adventure, the action, and the premise behind the story. It was just as suspensful as the others, although a little rambling at times. I think I should have listened to the book as opposed to reading it, because it would have prevented me from skipping around and skipping ahead while reading it. It was Katniss who really, REALLY got on my nerves. And talking it over with my coworker, I’m not the only one. And seeing this other brave reviewer’s thoughts, I know I’m not the only one. So for all those people out there who are afraid to say it, here’s why Katniss really, REALLY got on my nerves.

So there’s only so much I can say without ruining anything. Because in typical Hunger Games style, there are a lot of twists and turns that Collins throws at readers. I think most people realize, especially after reading my review of Catching Fire, that there is an impending revolt in the Districts as they finally realize how awful their living situations have been. Katniss is still stressed beyond belief trying to protect the people she loves and she is still being manipulated by groups of people, most of whom seem driven by their own agendas.

I know that’s a vague summary, but in essence that’s the best I can give you. Because there’s a lot of pages in this book where Katniss is considering the situations she’s in. I cut her some slack in the first book. I even cut her some slack in the second book. But now we’re in the third book, and she is still relying on other people to make her decisions for her. She keeps putting other people before herself, other causes before herself, and while some people might see that as selfless, I see it as spineless. She assumes the role that is most likely to keep her and her family and friends safe, but then when she finally has everyone together she STILL refuses to act on her gut instincts. She STILL agrees to serve as the pawn, prancing around as the spokesperson to a cause towards which she really isn’t committed. Katniss is not a fighter. Oh sure, she plays one on tv really well (she plays one in the games really well too), but she wants to live her life out of the spotlight. She’ll fight to save herself, but I think she ultimately wants peace. It’s frustrating to see her cave to the pressures that everyone around her is forcing on her. The only real responsibility she has is to take care of her family, but she has all these other things placed on her. I guess is it any wonder that she caves, and wouldn’t we do the same if in that position?

I was EXTREMELY angry with how things ended in the epilogue, as I’m sure some other people as well, and not because of who Katniss ends up with in the end. I’ve always been torn between Peeta and Gale because I never saw either of them as very good options. There’s this great blog about how Peeta people like Peeta because that’s who we see in the stories, and Gale people like Gale because of the mystery surrounding his responses if he was in Peeta’s situations. (And if anyone knows who posted that discussion, please provide me the link, because now of course after a week of searching I can’t find it!) But Gale is too timid for me, Peeta is too manipulative, and both lay the guilt trip on Katniss for trying to keep herself and basically EVERYONE alive. Although, I have to admit that seeing Katniss and Gale together pulled at my heart strings, just a little bit.

I roll my eyes. “So when did I become so special? When they carted me off to the Capitol?”
“No. About six months before that. Right after New Year’s. We were in the Hob, eating some slop of Greasy Sae’s. And Darius was teasing you about trading a rabbit for one of his kisses. And I realized . . . I minded,” he tells me. (199)

And, in an effort to keep things fair, here’s an equally touching half of a scene with Peeta. Just try reading the whole thing without getting goosebumps.

It’s a long shot, it’s suicide maybe, but I do the only thing I can think of. I lean in and kiss Peeta full on the mouth. His whole body starts shuddering, but I keep my lips pressed to his until I have to come up for air. My hands slide up his wrists to clasp his. “Don’t let him take you from me.” (314)

And while I appreciated these moments where the action slowed down and we got to see the Katniss and Gale and Peeta and… everybody that we’d grown to love, they were few and far between. Most of the time, readers would witness the preceading action, and then it would fast forward to the next day, or an hour later. Part of that is due to the cliff hanger endings that are present with most of the chapters and that lead to the breakneck pace of the novel. And I think that’s the appeal, is that readers want to be swept away into this distopian world and forget everything. And she succeeds with the break neck speed maybe to well, because I at least really wished for some more of those quiet moments. But I can’t forget the other problems with this book.

I think my biggest problem with this book is that there is really no happy ending for Katniss, there is no joy, and she caves. She gives up. There are a lot of deaths in this book. Heck in the series there are a lot of deaths, but it was characters that we really didn’t know and really didn’t care about. In Mockingjay, people we’ve grown to love and cheer for either die or leave. And Katniss loses all of that drive to succeed and loses her hope for a better, quieter future. Blaming herself for every bad thing that has ever happened, she resigns to live the life that everyone has dictated for her. Katniss, by the end of the novel, has lost the spitfire personality that encouraged so many people to root for her in the beginning. And it’s disheartening for everyone who saw her as such a strong capable woman see her cave under the pressure the way she does.

The professional journals rave about this book. Booklist gave it a starred review, stating that Collins “brings readers to questions and conclusions about war throughout the story. […] Yet readers will instinctively understand what Katniss knows in her soul, that war mixes the slogans and justifications, the deceptions and plans, the causes and ideals into an unsavory stew whose taste brings madness. That there is still a human spirit yearning for good is the book’s primrose of hope.” Publishers Weekly says that “the latest installment being the best yet, a beautifully orchestrated and intelligent novel that succeeds on every label.” I can’t accept that.

Yes, I realize that war is horrible. I think we all know that war is horrible. And I’ll admit that Collins portrays the horrors of war beautifully. People are shot at and stabbed and burned and blown up. But is that really what we want to be able to remember about a book? Is that really what we promote to our teens five years down the line? “Oh, here’s this novel about a girl who finds herself a pawn in a war and is trying to save all her friends and family members by serving as spokesperson for a revolutionary movement she doesn’t completely believe in. You’re going to hate what she becomes and be flabbergasted by what happens that pushes her in that direction, but war is portrayed realistically.” Is this something you’d want to read.

Actually, I just might want to pick up a copy of that book. Oh wait, I did.

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