69 posts categorized "Dystopia / Post-Apocalypse" Feed

The Ark Plan (Edge of Extinction, Book 1): Laura Martin

Book: The Ark Plan (Edge of Extinction, Book 1)
Author: Laura Martin
Illustrator: Eric Deschamps
Pages: 368
Age Range: 8-12

EdgeOfExtinctionThe Ark Plan is the first book in a new middle grade post-apocalyptic series by Laura Martin called Edge of Extinction. The premise is irresistible, and the execution is both suspenseful and entertaining. The premise is that scientists have brought dinosaurs to life, shades of Jurassic Park. The dinosaurs, however, brought with them a global pandemic that nearly wiped out the human race. Humans (in the US, anyway) have retreated to four underground bunkers, led by a man calling himself Noah. Dinosaurs roam the earth. 

150 years (and 3 Noahs) later, 12-year-old Sky Mundy lives in the underground North Compound. She has been ill-treated and ostracized ever since her father escaped from the compound 5 years earlier. When she discovers a long-hidden letter from her father, Sky and her best friend Shawn set out on a dangerous journey aboveground. As they struggle to survive in a dinosaur-dominated world, they gradually learn that not everything they've been told in the North Compound is true. 

Sky is a great character: brave, smart, and impulsive, driven to learn as much as she can about dinosaurs, and to uncover the mystery of her father's disappearance. Shawn is smart and mechanically-oriented, but ill-equipped to handle the world outside of the compound. Their strong friendship, with occasional spats and genuine worries, feels realistic. The gray underground bunker where the kids live is convincingly portrayed, and reminded me a little bit of Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember

But it's the dinosaur-filled, post-apocalyptic setting that makes The Ark Plan stand out. Again and again, Martin reminds us of how different the real world is from the sheltered underground life that Sky and Shawn have lived. Like this:

"It turned out that we weren't very good at hiking. After spending all twelve years of our lives walking on smooth tunnel floors, we found ourselves on uneven earth for the first time. Rocks, tree branches, and animal holes seemed to come out of nowhere. We both fell. A lot." (Page 95)

and:

"A small herd of what I thought were triceratops grazed about a half mile to our right, and tiny dots of green and red to our left had to be dinosaurs, but they were too far away to make out what kind. I looked up, and for the first time in my life, I saw more than just a small patch of sky. Fluffy white clouds piled on top of one another as they shuffled across a blue sky so vibrant it made my eyes hurt." (Page 102)

Occasional pencil illustrations from Eric Deschamps help to bring the underground and aboveground worlds to life. A village set in the treetops is pure, kid-enticing perfection. 

The Ark Plan also has one of my favorite aspects of long-term post-apocalyptic books: hints about the previous world. Like this:

"I stopped to inspect a crumbling brick wall. It had been decorative once, but time and passing dinosaurs had collapsed huge sections of it. A metal plaque had fallen off the front and now lay half buried in the dirt. Curious, I bent and pulled it out. White Oak Estates was etched elegantly into its surface." (Page 249)

So basically, The Ark Plan has:

  • A post-apocalyptic world with humans struggling to survive;
  • An oppressive government with secrets;
  • Strong friendship dynamics between kids out on their own;
  • A fast-paced, danger-filled plot;
  • A mysterious quest; AND
  • Dinosaurs!

What is there not to like? The Ark Plan is a wild ride of pure, kid-friendly fun, highly recommended and certainly belonging in elementary and middle school libraries everywhere. This is summer reading at it's best. I can't wait for the next book!

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the author

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Big Dark: Rodman Philbrick

Book: The Big Dark
Author: Rodman Philbrick
Pages: 192
Age Range: 8-12

The Big Dark, by Rodman Philbrick, is an apocalyptic survival story for middle grade readers. On New Year's Eve, narrator Charlie Cobb is outside with his family and friends watching for an expected dramatic display of the Northern Lights. Following an enormous flash in the sky, however, the residents of Harmony, NH (population 857) discover that nothing requiring electricity or using a battery works anymore: not cars, not generators, not flashlights. Certainly not central heating or water pumps. As some in the town band together, and others try to take control, Charlie and his sister stack wood and worry about their mom running out of medicine for her diabetes. Charlie ends up on a dangerous quest to try to find medicine, while the school custodian tries to keep things running smoothly in Harmony. 

The Big Dark reminded me a lot of One Second After by William R. Forstchen, an adult novel with a very similar premise (right down to diabetes of a loved one being a factor). The Big Dark is not nearly so bleak as an adult story, but does include enough danger to feel plausible. People die (offscreen) from cold, men with guns threaten Charlie at various points, and there is an instance of arson. Yet most of the people in Harmony, and the people Charlie encounters elsewhere, are fundamentally good. They line up for supplies. They tithe firewood to support the elderly residents. They have town meetings to decide what to do. While this may not all be entirely realistic, it works in this middle grade content. 

Although I love reading about the "what do we do now" kinds of practical questions that follow an apocalyptic event, my favorite part of The Big Dark was Charlie's quest for medicine, for which he skis out of town and into an unfriendly winter landscape. This is the part that I think will really hook young readers who crave adventure. 

The Big Dark is a quick read with short chapters. Charlie's first-person viewpoint lends an immediacy to the story that I think will work well for more reluctant readers. The characterization isn't especially detailed, but Philbrick keeps the action moving, while exploring themes or right and wrong. I didn't flag any passages to quote, because I just wanted to keep reading. And that's my best endorsement of a book these days: it made me want to keep turning the pages. Definitely recommended for library purchase, and a good introduction for middle grade readers to reading about post-apocalyptic landscapes. 

Publisher: Blue Sky Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Hunted (The Enemy, Book 6): Charlie Higson

Book: The Hunted (The Enemy, Book 6)
Author: Charlie Higson
Pages: 464
Age Range: 12 and up

I am fascinated by Charlie Higson's The Enemy series, unable to resist reading these books. I've purchased most of the series in hardcover, and just read Book 6 (received as a review copy) within a week of the publication date. This is true despite the fact that the books are gorier than I generally prefer, and the fact that Higson has no problem killing off protagonists. In fact, he seems to rather enjoy it. I had actually considered dropping this series after the bleak ending of Book 5, but I'm glad that I didn't. Because Book 6, The Hunted, is the best of the series so far. 

The Enemy series is set in and around a near-term post-apocalyptic London. A mysterious virus has infected everyone over the age of 16 - killing many adults outright, and turning the others into nearly mindless, kid-hunting, zombie-like creatures. Various pockets of children and young teens have survived, remaining in peril from the grown-ups and (sometimes) from one another. There are frequent, bloody battles with said grown-ups. No one is safe, and it's best not to get too attached to any of the characters. This is actually not that hard, because Higson doesn't go very deep with most of the characters, instead juggling a large, shifting cast.

The primary things that make this series work for me (and, I would imagine, for teens) are:

  • Fast-paced suspenseful plotting. Higson clearly planned out the whole series prior to writing the books. There are flash forwards and flashbacks, and kids whose paths intersect in unexpected (but clearly long-planned) ways. Higson shifts viewpoint between characters at times, to ratchet up the suspense. These books are difficult to put down once you start reading. [I kind of want to go back someday and read all of the books in a short time, to really see how the plot threads weave together. But I'll have to wait a while, until I forget more of the details.] 
  • The socio-political dynamics between the kids. Different groups establish different types of communities. Some leaders are strong - others are smart. There is conflict between the groups, but also, sometimes, partnership. The world-building is fascinating. 
  • The underlying puzzle of where the virus came from, and how it is continuing to affect the monstrous grown-ups. These questions are addressed relatively slowly, from book to book, adding interest as well as an underlying menace. 

I have previously reviewed the first two books of this series, The Enemy and The Dead. I believe that Book 7, The End, will conclude the series next year, making this a good time to start in with the series, if it sounds intriguing to you. Stop reading now if you haven't read books 1 to 5. 

The Hunted primarily follows two related plot threads. A young girl named Ella has survived a grown-up attack thanks to the rescue of a mysterious, misshapen man. He takes her to a barricaded farm out in the country. Meanwhile, a small group of kids has set out from the Natural History Museum to try to find Ella, and reunite her with Sam, the brother she believes is dead. Opportunities for danger and heroism follow. While maintaining the suspense level of the earlier books, two things made The Hunted even better for me:

  1. More of a focus on a small group of the characters whom the reader starts to hope will specifically survive. Ed, the leader of the rescue mission, is worth rooting for, as is Ella. There's also an intriguing new character.
  2. More hints about and study of what caused the virus in the first place, and where things might be going in the bigger picture. 

So, for fans of the series who were put off by the super-depressing ending of Book 5, don't give up. Give The Hunted a try. I think you'll enjoy it. And really, anyone who has made it this far in the series - don't you want to know what's going to happen? Who will survive, and how? I know I do. I can't wait for Book 7. 

For readers with a fairly high tolerance for gore, violence, and suspense, The Enemy series is a solid pick. Book 6, The Hunted, is my favorite yet of this "can't put it down" series.

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Infinite Sea: The Second Book of the 5th Wave: Rick Yancey

Book: The Infinite Sea: The Second Book of the 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

The Infinite Sea is the second book in Rick Yancey's Fifth Wave series. The Infinite Sea begins a few days after the events of The Fifth Wave (STOP here if you have not read The Fifth Wave), as Cassie, Ben, and the remaining survivors from Ben's unit wait in a crumbling hotel to see if Evan Walker (human/alien hybrid) has survived the destruction of Camp Haven. Tough girl Ringer sets out on her own to assess some caves, where the team hopes to be able to hide and stay warm for winter. Given the bleak world of the Fifth Wave, it should come as no surprise to readers when danger and destruction find both parties.

The Infinite Sea is fast-paced and action-packed, set against a cold midwestern winter. A shocking prologue gives new insight into the depths to which the enemy will go to destroy the remaining humans. Answers to some of the questions left dangling at the end of the first book are gradually revealed, while others surface. A dangerous new enemy appears, as well as a potential love interest for Ringer. There are deaths, and there is one sexual interlude (though the details are decidedly vague, in a good way). The deaths are not as painful for readers as they might be, because Yancey's characterization is the tiniest bit thin, particularly for non-viewpoint characters. 

The Infinite Sea does suffer a little bit from middle book syndrome (is that a formal thing?). The premise isn't as exciting as it was in the first book, yet things also are not fully wrapped up. This is, to some extent, inevitable. I think that Yancey managed the pitfalls pretty well, including dropping one significant bombshell near the end of the book. and leaving readers with one happy surprise. 

I don't tend to flag as many passages when I read on Kindle as when I read in print, but here are a couple of highlights:

"It was simple. It was complex. It was savage; it was elegant. It was a dance; it was a war. It was finite and eternal. It was life." (Chapter 8, Ringer musing on chess)

"It's all connected. The Others understood that, understood it better than most of us. No hope without faith, no faith without hope, no love without trust, no trust without love. Remove one and the entire human house of cards collapses." (Chapter 12, Cassie)

"He abandoned any attempt at stealth and hit the highway, loping down the center of the road, a solitary figure under the immensity of a leaden sky. A murder of crows a thousand strong whipped an wheeled over him, heading north." (Chapter 27)

As these passages show, The Infinite Sea isn't all action. It's also a book that asks (though it doesn't always answer) profound questions. The questions are why I have been eager for Book 2 ever since finishing Book 1. I was not disappointed. 

The Infinite Sea is a book that you shouldn't start unless you have a clear chunk of time in which to utterly immerse yourself. And you certainly shouldn't start it unless you have read The Fifth Wave first. In fact, I listened to The Fifth Wave immediately prior to reading The Infinite Sea, so that all of the details would be fresh for me. I have no doubt that this contributed to my enjoyment of The Infinite Sea. I look forward to the final book. 

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (@PenguinTeen) 
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon and iBooks affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


H2O: Virginia Bergin

Book: H2O
Author: Virginia Bergin
Pages: 336
Age Range: 12 and up

Virginia Bergin's H2O is a young adult novel about an apocalypse that occurs when rain turns deadly, leaving only 0.27% of the population alive. I have mixed feelings about this book. I found the first-person narrator, Ruby, off-putting, and her chatty narrative style (with many diversions) annoying. And yet ... I couldn't put the book down, and consumed it in record time. 

The plot of H2O carries echoes of various other apocalyptic survival stories (the loss of the immediate family, the quest to find a lost relative, the teaming up with someone who one would never have teamed up with before, the presence of authority figures of questionable intent, the shopping in empty stores and scrabbling for food, etc.). There's a reason these elements are found in so many apocalyptic stories - they are compelling, and keep readers turning the pages. 

But I think that what hooked me with H2O was the sheer menace of the premise. Imagine if a single drop of rain could kill you. Imagine that the tap water, not to mention lakes and swimming pools, is corrupted. You would learn, as Ruby does, to be an expert at watching cloud formations. But eventually, someone, somewhere would have to figure out a longer term solution. Wouldn't they? There's only so much bottled water out there, after all...  So, H2O made me think, and Ruby's near constant peril kept me turning the (virtual) pages. 

Here are a couple of sample quotes, to give you a feel for Ruby's voice:

"I was sitting in a hot tub in my underwear kissing Caspar McCloud. Ha! That also sounds like a great beginning, maybe from some kind of kiss-fest romance, or maybe Caspar would turn out to be a sexy vampire." (Chapter One)

"All those people's lives--on the coffee table, in one long, neat row. People (like Simon) go on about people (like me) and not being able to be apart from their cell phones. They're missing the point; it's not the cell phone--it's the life that's in it you don't want to be apart from...even when they don't work anymore." (Chapter Twelve)

""Bye!" I shouted, which I thought was very charitable of me, considering. Charitable and also a further sign of how serious the situation was: girls like me don't even acknowledge the existence of boys like Darius Spratt. It's a basic law of nature." (Chapter Fourteen)

That last quote gives you a bit of insight into Ruby's character. She's run into a boy from school who is a bit of a nerd, and she just can't let go of their social differences. In the middle of an apocalypse. She's vain (constantly looking for makeup and cool clothes, in the middle of her travels) and selfish. Now, the target audience of actual teen readers might be able to relate to Ruby better than I did, of course. And she does try to do the right thing here and there, and improves over time. But overall, Ruby's voice didn't work well for me. 

And yet, on another level, it did work for me. I could picture, and practically smell, Ruby's surroundings. She does not shrink from talking about things, even disgusting or embarrassing things. She reveals her flaws and her insecurities. She is loud and out there and alive. I was impatient with her digressions because I wanted her to get on with the story. I wanted to know what would happen next. I was invested.

So, if you like apocalyptic survival stories - ones that tell you exactly what someone was going through during and immediately after the disaster, H2O is one to check out. It has many of what have become conventions of the genre, and the narrator is (in what may be a refreshing change for some), not particularly heroic. But the premise is compelling and downright creepy. I don't think I'll ever look at rainclouds the same way again. 

PS: Tanita Davis has a much more comprehensive review than mine at Finding Wonderland. 

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire 
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon and iBooks affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


In the After: Demitria Lunetta

Book: In the After
Author: Demitria Lunetta
Pages: 464
Age Range: 13 and up

In the After is the first of a two-book series by Demitria Lunetta (the second book was just released, though I haven't read it yet). In the After is set in the wake of a world-wide apocalypse caused by an invasion of predatory, man-eating creatures. 17-year-old Amy has lived for three years in hiding, alone except for the company of Baby, a young girl she rescued from a grocery store. Amy and Baby live in silence, for fear of drawing Them. They use sign language to speak, and have never even heard one another's voices.

They actually have things pretty good, all things considered. Amy's mother held an important government position, and their house is surrounded by an electric fence that keeps the monsters out. Her dad was an environmentalist who kept their home as off the grid as possible. Amy and Baby have electricity and water. But they do have to venture out among the creatures to scavenge for food. An encounter with other survivors on one of their trips starts a process that changes Amy and Baby's lives forever. 

In the After is a compelling read, one that will keep the reader guessing. The first part of the book takes place in and around Amy and Baby's home in Chicago. Without giving too much away, I'll say that the second part of the book takes place elsewhere, among other people. This is where Lunetta's storytelling really starts making the reader think. In brief, italicized scenes, Amy is in a mental ward. The rest of the story is told in intermittent flashbacks, as a mentally foggy Amy tries to pieces together how she got there. Because of Amy's fragile state, the reader isn't always sure how to interpret the flashbacks, which makes the story even more thought-provoking. 

The characters apart from Amy are distinct, though not always highly nuanced. Basically, we get to know Amy very well, and the other characters not so well. But Amy is great. Here are a few snippets, to give you a feel for her voice:

"I only go out at night.

I walk along the empty street and pause, my muscles tense and ready. The breeze rustles the overgrown grass and I tilt my head slightly. I'm listening for them." (Page 1)

"So much of who I used to be was about being good in school and having friends who were also good in school. We were, to put it simply, arrogant little know-it-alls. But I miss that." (Page 78)

"The arts were probably pointless now that everyone was focused on survival. I thought back to all my time alone, reading, as the world crumbled around me. It was the only thing that gave me solace and hope." (Page 191)

In addition to keeping the reader wondering about plot points, Lunetta is good at creating atmosphere. She makes the reader feel the creepiness of walking down a dark street where silent monsters might be a only few feet, and the helplessness of being trapped in a mental ward. 

In the After grabs the reader from the first page, and doesn't let go. Recommend for fans of YA dystopias, particularly of the alien invasion variety. Particularly recommended for those who enjoyed Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave. Readers who have read many dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories will notice certain universal themes, but I don't think this takes away enjoyment of the story. I think that In the After is a book that will especially appeal to adult readers, actually, though I would expect teens to enjoy it, too. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: HarperTeen (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


The Young World: Chris Weitz

Book: The Young World
Author: Chris Weitz
Pages: 384
Age Range: 14 and up

The Young World by Chris Weitz is a post-apocalyptic survival story, this one featuring a mysterious illness that kills everyone except teens (they continue to catch it as they reach age 18 or so). The Young World ought to have felt like "been there - done that" to me. But it didn't, for some reason. Well, because of a combination of strong characterization, well-delineated settings, and intense action, I think. With bonus points for the inclusion of diverse characters, and for tackling race relations head on. I quite enjoyed it, and look forward to the sequel (the book ends with a cliffhanger). 

The Young World is set in New York City. Rival groups of teens have formed armed encampments. There's a considerable amount of rivalry, political maneuvering, and violence. In this, The Young World reminded me a bit of Charlie Higson's Enemy series, though without the zombie adults, and with considerably more three-dimensional characters. 

The story is told in alternating chapters by Jefferson and Donna, two kids who were friends before the Sickness came, and who seem destined to be more than friends in the aftermath. If they can survive that long, that is. Jefferson and Donna are very different from one another, and keeping track of their separate first-person voices is not a problem. (The publisher also helped in the digital version that I read by using different font sizes for the two narrators.) Jefferson is a half Japanese / half white younger son of an "oldie" father. He is introspective and hopeful, a self-declared "nerd philosopher king", genuinely trying to find a better way for the survivors. Donna is a "trigger-happy feminist sniper", and calls herself "the pixie-ish, wacky best friend". She's all tough talk, but she secretly cries while watching iPhone videos of her deceased baby brother. 

Jefferson and Donna live in a kind of commune in a protected Washington Square Park. However, they soon set out on a quest to help find a journal article that their resident evil genius (and apparently person with Asperger's), Brainbox, thinks may hold a key to understanding the Sickness. Jeff, Donna, and Brainbox are joined by Peter, a gay, Christian, African American boy who is a bit of a wise-ass, and SeeThrough, a tiny Chinese girl who excels at Martial Arts, but doesn't talk much. They make friends and enemies in the course of their journey, and even have to fight a bear. 

Here are a couple of quotes, to show you the difference between Jeff and Donna's voices:

"Taped to the pedestal, mementos of the dead. Snaps of moms, dads, little brothers and sisters, lost pets. What Mom used to call "real pictures," to distinguish them from digital files. Hard copies are where it's at now that millions and millions of memories are lost in the cloud. An ocean of ones and zeroes signifying nothing." (Jefferson, in his first chapter)

"Not enough hands or time to get rid of all the bodies, though. And they're still out there, millions of them, slowly turning to mulch, pulsing with maggots. It's been a banner year for carrion eaters. Hope I didn't spoil your appetite." (Donna, her first chapter)

In looking through my clippings, I find that I highlighted a ton of passages, mostly from Donna. She has a real flair for getting to the heart of things. Like this:

"But books--books are handy. You can keep ideas on paper for, like, centuries. And if you want to find stuff out, it's right there. You don't have to grab it out of the air, call it up from some data center in, like, New Jersey. So books had the last laugh. Nobody is going to know what the hell me and Jeff and the crew did five years from now. Unless Jefferson writes it down in one of his fancy notebooks or there's space aliens who can read things from people's bones or something. But Huck Finn is gonna be chillin' on the Mississippi forever." (Donna)

I love that last bit. The Young World is an adventure story that I could see reading again, even after I know how things turn out, just to enjoy hanging with the characters. On the first read, I did read pretty quickly, curious to know how things were going to turn out. There is plenty of suspense.

I also quite like the attention that Weitz pays to the details of New York. One of my favorite scenes is when Donna finds Pooh and friends in the New York Public Library. I don't know New York all that well, but there are plenty of other details that enhance the sense of place, without being too insider-y. Like details about the exhibits in the Met.  

One has to get past the contrived nature of the premise of The Young World, of course, but that's true of all post-apocalyptic stories, particularly ones that strive to leave the teens in charge. However, I found other aspects of Weitz's world-building are refreshingly realistic. The kids scrounge up generators and solar panels, so that they still have some access to gadgetry. They run around clutching their iPhones even if there's no cell service, and they can occasionally listen to music or watch movies, too. It's not all "technology is now dead" as in many stories.

The characters also maintain certain aspects of their pre-existing social structures. The rich, white kids band together, call themselves the Uptowners, and have a fully separate society from the kids from Harlem. The Harlem kids are strong fighters, and some of them believe that they are actually better off than they were before the apocalypse. The kids from the alternative school end up in Washington Square Park, and remain cool with alternative lifestyles. I found it all fascinating. 

Bottom line: even though this post-apocalyptic scenario of killer virus leaving only teens might seem on the face of it a bit tired, Weitz's execution made The Young World totally work for me. I can't wait for the next book, and I highly recommend The Young World to fans of near-term post-apocalyptic teen fiction. It's a bit violent, though, and has some cursing and sexual references, so I would call it a high school, rather than middle school, read. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids) 
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Source of Book: Advance digital review copy from the publisher

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


Expiration Day: William Campbell Powell

Book: Expiration Day
Author: William Campbell Powell
Pages: 336
Age Range: 12 and up

Expiration Day is set in a dystopian near-future England a generation after fertility levels have dropped precipitously world-wide. Hardly any babies are born anymore, though most people don't realize how bad the situation is, because they parents are able to purchase uncannily lifelike robotic children. These children don't even know (unless some incident occurs) whether they are human or not.

Expiration Day is related primarily as the diary of a girl named Tania, who lives with her parents just outside of London. Tania's diary has somehow been discovered, "encrypted and forgotten, but surviving through uncounted millennia" by someone from a future alien race. His comments and responses to Tania's story are included as brief "intervals" throughout the story. The title refers to the fact that the robot children must be returned to their manufacturer on their 18th birthday - the parents have them only lease. 

The world in Expiration Day is reminiscent in tone to that of P.D. James' Children of Men. In Willam Campbell Powell's world, however, the artificial children serve to keep society under control, filling an innate need that people have to form families and pass things along to a future generation (even if that generation expires at age 18). 

I found the philosophical underpinnings of Expiration Day thought-provoking. And I quite liked Tania as a character. Parts of the book, which begins when Tania is only 11, drag a little bit, plot-wise. But my concern for Tania's fate kept me reading. The end includes a couple of twists (one of which I'm still trying to wrap my head around), which will keep readers guessing. 

One thing that I really liked about Expiration Day was the importance of Tania's father as a character. Not a placeholder, or someone to be rescued, as is a common convention in books, but an intelligent, caring man who puts everything on the line in support of his daughter. 

Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Tania's voice:

"There's a word for legs like mine. Gangly. I count my knees, sometimes, and I know I have just two, one on each leg. But dressed like that, I felt like it was more--a lot more, with different numbers on each leg." (Page 18)

"I love words, though, and I wish I could control them better. Like Humpty Dumpty, to have them line up and do my bidding. So I read, as I said, from Chaucer and Shakespeare, via Dylan Thomas and Rupert Brooke, to Ray Bradbury and Roger Zelazny, and try to see how they get their words to behave." (Page 182)

"Nobody truly dies who shapes another person. Does that make sense, Mister Zog?" (page 227)

Fans of speculative and dystopian fiction, particularly that which questions what makes someone human in the presence of advanced technology (like The Adoration of Jenna Fox), won't want to miss Expiration Day. Tania's participation in a band, and her issues with dating and growing up, are also addressed, and make the book accessible to those who prefer more realistic coming-of-age fiction. For those who need to know, there are discussions about having sex (including a boy who wants to), but no real action to speak of in Expiration Day. This is a book that will stay with me, and made me think. I learned about it from this review at Ms. Yingling Reads

Publisher: Tor Teen (@TorTeen)
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


The Living: Matt De La Peña

Book: The Living
Author: Matt De La Peña
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

The Living by Matt De La Peña has it all. It's a high stakes survival drama, with a mysterious conspiracy, containing the seeds of a possible apocalypse. There are also teen interactions that include racial and socioeconomic conflicts. I read The Living in less than a day, simply unable to stop, regardless of what was going on around me. And as soon as I closed the book I said to my husband "You have GOT to read this" (something I reserve for only a select few titles each year). 

The Living is told from the limited third person perspective of Shy, a half Mexican teen from a small California town near the border of Mexico. Shy is spending the summer before his senior year working on a luxury cruise ship (setting out deck chairs, handing out towels, etc.). Shy is in mourning for his Grandma, who died recently and suddenly from an illness called Romero's Disease. He is also reeling from his unsuccessful attempt to stop a passenger from committing suicide, an incident related in the prologue.

As his next 8-day voyage begins, Shy learns that a mysterious man in a black suit is asking questions about him. He also gets worrying news from his family at home. And he's confused by his interactions with beautiful and slightly older fellow staff member Carmen, who has a finace. All of these concerns fade into the background, however, in the face of a natural disaster that leaves Shy fighting for his life. 

Shy is a solid character. He lives with his mother, older sister, and nephew (Grandma lived with them, too). The family members are close, but struggle financially. Shy is good-looking and plays for his high school basketball team, and he's not inexperienced with girls, but Carmen knocks him off balance. On the cruise ship he encounters racism and rudeness from the wealthy passengers, and starts to develop an understanding of the socioeconomic chasm in front of him. But this is all reasonably understated - he's also a teen boy who likes girls, worries about his family, and tries to do the right thing. 

There is some kissing/making out in The Living, though no on-screen sex. There is also quite a lot of death, and some gore. But no more so than in many apocalyptic type novels (and less gore than some). I wouldn't hesitate to give this to anyone who was able to handle The Hunger Games series.  

De La Peña's plotting is tight and fast-paced. Short chapters help keep readers turning the pages, and make The Living a good choice for reluctant readers. The action really flows starting mid-way through the book, and then rarely lets up. The Living is not a book to start when you only have a few minutes to read. This is a book to save for when you have a free afternoon, and can devour the whole thing. 

Here's a snippet to give you a feel for De La Peña's writing:

"In the morning the sea had been perfectly calm and beautiful, like a postcard. Now it was a thousand hostile waves crested in white foam and crashing into one another. The massive ship moaned as it pitched and surged under Shy's shell tops--the bow bucking slowly into the air and then falling, bucking and then falling. Thick black clouds hung so low in the sky it felt like the ship was traveling through a rain tunnel." (Page 88)

There is definitely a cinematic flavor to The Living, helped out by the deluxe cruise ship setting, and the acknowledged fact that the young crew members are chosen for their good looks (this point felt a bit overdone for me, but it is true to the survival story genre). The Living would make a great movie, though I think it would be expensive to film due to required special effects. It ends with many threads left dangling, and I am eager for the next book, The Hunted, due out in fall of 2014. Highly recommended for teens and adults. 

Publisher: Delacorte Press (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: November 12, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


Sky Jumpers: Book 1: Peggy Eddleman

Book: Sky Jumpers
Author: Peggy Eddleman (@PeggyEddleman)
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-12

I'm grateful to author Peggy Eddleman. Because Sky Jumpers got me out of a bit of a reading funk. I've been slow to get through books, and have actually abandoned several of late. But as soon as I started Sky Jumpers, well, I just wanted to keep reading. And that's what we're looking for, isn't it? Books that you just want to lose yourself in? Sky Jumpers fits the bill. 

Sky Jumpers is middle grade post-apocalyptic fiction with a strong female protagonist. Sky Jumpers is set in a largely depopulated world, following the "green bombs" of World War III. Twelve-year-old Hope lives with her adoptive parents in White Rock, a small (apparently mid-western) town that is struggling to survive. Besides undertaking basic activities (like growing food), the folks in White Rock pour all of their energy into trying to invent things. The green bombs have changed just enough, including the chemical properties of steel, to make this a tricky business. And Hope, our heroine, though courageous and decisive, well, Hope is singularly bad at inventing. But when her family and her town,are in danger, Hope doesn't hesitate. 

The world building in Sky Jumpers doesn't feel contrived, despite the obvious editorial convenience of the green bombs having changed some things but not others. It feels like realistic fiction, with a dash of unconventional science. As an engineer myself, I enjoyed the focus on inventions (even though the inventing life wasn't a good fit for Hope). This is the kind of book that will make kids want to invent things themselves. 

Hope is a solid character. She's a bit reckless, and ends up in trouble a lot. But she has her vulnerabilities, too. Like this:

"When Carina finished showing her invention, she sat next to me and put her hand on my knee. "It's okay, Hope. I'm sure you're not the only one bad at inventing."

Maybe I wasn't. But it definitely felt like I was the worst. Like everyone else was at least good enough." (Page 48-49)

And this:

"I couldn't help wondering how many times my parents had wished they had a kid with their own genes, someone they could have passed on their talents to. Someone who didn't keep messing things up." (Page 65)

(For the record, she has great parents. It's not them making her feel like this.) Only gradually does Hope come to recognize some of her strengths. 

Other things I liked about Sky Jumpers:

  • Sky jumping is very cool, though I won't spoil it by telling you what it is.
  • The plot, particularly in the second half of the book, is action-filled and suspenseful, and steers away from being too grim for middle grade readers. 
  • Hope has a male best friend who is not a love interest, and another male friend who might be. But it's all very PG so far. No visible love triangle, which is refreshing.
  • There's a very cute five year old who tags along with the big kids, and adds opportunities for being protective. But Brenna is strong-willed and fun, not a helpless doll. 
  • There's a little bit of looking at "relics" of the previous society, which is something that I always enjoy. The kids in Hope's class are fascinated by the idea of wall to wall carpeting, for example. And they don't really believe what they hear about cell phones at all. Sky Jumpers is set 40-odd years after World War III, so there are people who remember "before". Hence the emphasis on inventing things to make life easier. 

In short, Sky Jumpers has an action-filled plot, a pleasing emphasis on science, and likeable characters, all set against a compelling backdrop. I was pleased to see Sky Jumpers listed as "Book 1", because, although the plot is thoroughly wrapped up in this book, it would be a shame for this level of world building to be squandered on a single book. Sky Jumpers is highly recommended for middle grade readers, or anyone who enjoys adventure. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


Monument 14: Sky on Fire: Emmy Laybourne

Book: Monument 14: Sky on Fire
Author: Emmy Laybourne (@EmmyLaybourne)
Pages: 224
Age Range: 13 and up

Monument 14: Sky on Fire is the sequel to Monument 14 (reviewed here), in which a group of 14 kids end up living in a big department store after a series of apocalyptic events. A third book is due out next May. Sky on Fire begins immediately after the end of Monument 14 (stop here if you don't want spoilers for the first book).

The narration alternates, chapter by chapter, between sixteen-year-old Dean and his thirteen-year-old brother Alex. Alex is on the school bus that brought the kids to safety in the store in the first place, together with seven of the other kids. They're on a quest to travel  67 miles to Denver International Airport, where they believe there may be government evacuations to safer locations. The journey is quite dangerous for the kids, because exposure to toxins in the air will cause terrible side effects. These vary according to each person's blood type. The kids have gas masks and multi-layered clothing, but don't know whether or not this will be enough.

Meanwhile Dean has stayed behind in the Greenway store with his crush, Astrid (who is pregnant), and three of the littler kids (including the absolutely adorable five-year-old twins Henry and Caroline). Former big man on campus Jake (father of Astrid's baby) is missing, having gone for help and never returned. Dean and Astrid have to contend with people attempting to break into the store, and with taking care of the smaller children. They've stayed, in part, because Dean, Astrid, and eight-year-old Chloe are all Type O, and react with extreme violence (towards everyone) when exposed to the air outside. 

I must admit that I had to pause mid-way through in my reading of this book, asking myself "Can't these kids ever get a break?". Because this is a pretty bleak book, and bad things just keep on happening. Despite some dark events, the first book also had a certain sense of fun - the idea of being trapped in a big department store, with no adult supervision is cool. But the idea of traipsing through a hostile post-apocalyptic landscape in which the people who are still alive will kill you for your water bottles, well, it's not as appealing.

Sky on Fire is compelling, however. Laybourne uses the alternating narration to ratchet up the suspense. The kids on the bus receive information from someone on the way suggesting that the airport isn't safe after all, and they (and the reader) don't know what to believe. There are interpersonal tensions, particularly between Astrid and Dean, and there is personal growth on the part of several characters. 

There's also growth in the general relationship between the kids. It becomes clear in Sky on Fire how much these kids have bonded into a family. Not an idealized family with no tensions, but a family that is loyal to one another above any outsiders. 

I particularly enjoyed Alex's intelligent voice. Like this:

"If we two were the two last people on earth--not, by the way, as statistically implausible as it was a month ago--she would still be rude to me and I would still pretend that it didn't bother me." (Page 45)

And Dean's more poetic voice. Like this:

"Was it wrong to feel a heart-spike of happiness in the middle of the Apocalypse?" (Page 97)

Because what they were experiencing was so different, I never found the two first-person voices confusing. 

For the second book of what appears to be a trilogy, Monument 14: Sky on Fire wraps things up quite well. It's suspenseful, and has emotional impact. Despite many loose ends being tied up, there are still questions left unanswered, large and small. I am eager for the next book. Recommended!

Publisher:  Feiwel & Friends (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Source of Book: Purchased on Kindle

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


The Shade of the Moon: Susan Beth Pfeffer

Book: The Shade of the Moon: Life As We Knew It Series, Book 4
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer (blog)
Pages: 304
Age Range: 12 and up

The shade of the moon is the fourth book in Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It series. Here are links to my reviews of the first three books: Life As We Knew It, the dead & the gone, and this world we live in. This review will contain spoilers of the earlier books. If you haven't read them, go now.

I loved Life As We Knew It. It's a post-apocalypse (while, during apocalypse) novel that I still think about sometimes, when I'm throwing away spoiled food, say, or watching a disaster movie. The main character, Miranda, started out a bit self-absorbed, but grew up over the course of the book. I liked book 2, the dead & the gone, very much, too. The second book featured a different character, Alex, and was set in New York (plenty of haunting imagery there). Book 3, in which Miranda and Alex ended up meeting, and falling in love, wasn't my favorite of the series, but I still found the world that Pfeffer created quite compelling. 

Book 4, the shade of the moon, is set 2-3 years after the events of this world we live in. The protagonist is Miranda's younger brother, Jon. Jon is living with his three-year-old half-brother, Gabe, and his stepmother, Lisa, in Sexton, an Enclave. The Enclaves are protected towns in which important people ("clavers") live, while most other survivors struggle to survive as "grubs". Basically, the clavers have rights and privileges, and the grubs don't. Jon, Lisa, and Gabe got in using "slips", special passes that Alex received in the dead & the gone, and gave to them as having the greatest need of the family. The remaining members of Jon's family, including Alex and Miranda (now married), live outside of Sexton, as grubs. 

I thought that Miranda was a little self-absorbed at the start of Life As We Knew It. But Jon is definitely worse. He's kind of a jerk, really, thinking of himself as inherently better than the grubs (some of whom are his relatives). And going along with some nasty things that his friends do, because his status as a "slip" is a bit more precarious than theirs. But starting out bad does give Jon plenty of room to improve over the course of the book. And he comes a long way. 

I think that Jon being, well, not such a nice guy muted some of the emotional resonance of the book for me. There's a scene in which Jon sees something devastating, and, well, I wasn't devastated. Because I wasn't in there with Jon, the same way I had been with Miranda and Alex in the first two books. Not until near the end of the book, anyway. 

And yet ... I read the shade of the moon in not much more than 24 hours, staying up late two nights in a row, which is a rare thing for me these days. I think that the societal aspects of the book are fascinating. How would people treat each other four years after a major apocalypse left billions dead? In a world of limited resources, would the dichotomy between the "haves" and the "have-nots" widen? Yes, I would think it would. Here's a key tidbit:

"But Jon knew better. Maybe everyone was equal, of had been before, but everyone didn't live equally. That was the way the system worked. Clavers had more because they deserved more. Grubs had only as much as they needed to survive, because their survival was important. Not essential, the way the claver survival was, but important enough to justify their being fed and sheltered. Grubs could be replaced. Clavers, except for Zachary's granddad, were irreplaceable." (Page 60-61)

Yikes! Tough times indeed. I think that giving Jon that perspective was the right choice on Pfeffer's part, because it was the strongest way to really get the point across to readers. But it did make me wonder a little why new girl Sarah, with different views, gave him the time of day. 

Pfeffer goes even further in making Jon a difficult protagonist. Without giving away any details, Jon is not a boy who treats girls well (at least at first). A brave choice on the author's part. Perhaps a learning opportunity for male readers (one can hope) on potential consequences (both for others, and for oneself, in terms of guilt). 

Personally, I think it's a testament to the power of the book, and the strength of Pfeffer's world-building, that I liked it in spite of Jon's flaws. I liked it better than this world we live in, actually. Perhaps because of the larger themes. 

the shade of the moon ends on a note of hope. Personally, I hope to see another book in the series in the future (though it's not necessary - things wrap up reasonably well in this book). Perhaps jumping forward a few years, until Gabe is a teen... 

Publisher: Harcourt (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: August 13, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook