69 posts categorized "Dystopia / Post-Apocalypse" Feed

A Matter of Days: Amber Kizer

Book: A Matter of Days
Author: Amber Kizer
Pages: 288
Age Range: 12 and up 

I am a long-time fan of post-apocalyptic survival stories. I particularly enjoy those that are straight-up survival stories, with no zombies, magic, etc. And I'm happy to say that Amber Kizer's upcoming A Matter of Days delivers. It has the attributes that I love most about Stephen King's The Stand (which I re-read every few years), without all the weird stuff. I was not surprised to learn, in an end note, that The Stand was a formative book for Kizer. The homage is there, in a way that's not derivative. 

A Matter of Days is narrated by 16-year-old Nadia. Nadia's mother dies on day 56 of a virulent global pandemic. Nadia then sets out from Seattle with her 11-year-old brother, Rabbit, to find their uncle and grandfather in West Virginia. (I couldn't help but be reminded by Rabbit's name of one of the very first post-apocalypse stories that I read, H.M. Hoover's The Children of Morrow, though that's a very different book.) A Matter of Days recounts Nadia and Rabbit's journey, as they struggle to find necessary supplies, and encounter dangerous people along the way. 

I read A Matter of Days in less than a day. I couldn't put it down. I felt constant tension, wondering what would happen to Nadia and Rabbit. A Matter of Days has some wish fulfillment details of what it would be like to be kids more or less alone in the world (cooking food in an abandoned hotel, visiting an empty mall, another teen who takes over a small town for himself). But there are also lots of details regarding survival. These are set against the near-constant worry about whether people the kids encounter will be good or evil.

Kizer does a fine job of refraining from moralizing about what led to the end of the world (something that I find a common flaw in post-apocalyptic novels, particularly those of the environmental collapse variety). She just focuses on telling the story. Flashbacks throughout the book fill in the details of how Nadia and Rabbit survived the pandemic, and why their mother didn't. I found these details plausible, which added to my appreciation for this book. There is a reason that these particular kids survived - nothing magical about it.

A Matter of Days reminds me a bit of Mike Mullin's Ashfall, but it's a bit less grim, particularly in the treatment of women. It's about a global pandemic that kills nearly everyone, so there are the obligatory bad smells and bodies encountered everywhere you go. But Kizer doesn't wallow in those details - she gives the kids a mother who was a nurse, and explained basic processes to them, and she allows enough time to have elapsed for the worst to be over. I think that A Matter of Days strikes the right balance in this regard. Like this:

"When I was little, I used to leave my Strawberry Shortcake dolls in the car in the sun with the windows rolled up. I didn't do it on purpose, but I took those dolls everywhere. Mom threw up once because the sweet chemical perfume of fake fruit in the hot car was overpowering. I'll take fake fruit, Mattel style, over decomposing human any day.

The blast of putrid air doubled me over and I puked into the wilted potted pansies. No one was alive in there. No way.

I shut the front door and jogged back to the vehicle. Sweat dripped down my forehead as my stomach continued to spasm. Rabbit handed me an open bottle of water to swish out my mouth.

We didn't speak. There weren't words."

Kizer's writing is tight, suspenseful without being overly melodramatic. Nadia's relationship with her brother is realistically distant at first - the reader gets to know these siblings as they are getting to know each other. There's no sappiness between them. 

For me, A Matter of Days is as good as it gets for post-apocalypse survival stories. Realistic and suspenseful, with characters that the reader wants to see succeed. And although I loved it, I'm still happy to report that A Matter of Days appears to be a standalone novel, a rare thing these days. A Matter of Days has my highest recommendation. Fans of the genre will not want to miss it. 

Publisher: Delacorte Press (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Source of Book: Advanced 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


The 5th Wave: Rick Yancey

Book: The 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey (@RickYancey)
Pages: 480
Age Range: 13 and up 

I enjoyed Rick Yancey's Alfred Kropp books (see reviews here and here), but somehow never made it through the first Monstrumologist book. Still, when I started seeing rave reviews of The 5th Wave, I simply had to read it. I purchased it on Kindle on publication day, and read it within 36 hours. In case this isn't already obvious from the huge marketing push, The 5th Wave is going to be big. I predict a movie, or movies (there are two other books planned). 

But let's talk about the book. The Fifth Wave is set in a near-term post-apocalyptic world in which aliens have decimated most of the world's population. The devastation occurred in waves. In the first wave, an electromagnetic pulse took out electricity, engines, computers, etc. The second wave toppled the population centers on the coasts. The third wave sent a deadly plague throughout the world, killing 3.5 billion people.

But the fourth wave is the one that shakes 16-year-old survivor Cassie to the core. Because the fourth wave reveals that the aliens can look just like humans. Which means that she can't true anyone. Well, except for her five year old brother, Sammy. But Sammy has been taken away from her, and it's up to Cassie to find him.

To say that The 5th Wave is suspenseful is an understatement. The narration shifts (via sections of the book) between Cassie and three other characters. This allows Yancey to ratchet up the suspense via the traditional cliffhangers, as well as through conflicting information. The 5th Wave is a book that readers will puzzle over, asking questions like "How can that be true?" and "But why would they do that?" and so on. It is certainly a book that readers will think about whenever they put it down. If they can put it down. 

Although the primary action reaches a resolution at the end of The 5th Wave, I was left with questions. It seems like these may or may not be resolved in the remaining books, but I can't share them here without risk of spoilers. I also felt that the choice to include narration from 5-year-old Sammy's point of view wasn't completely successful, even though it wasn't written in the first person. I understood why this was necessary (to convey certain information to the reader), but it's not easy to make narration as seen by a five-year-old feel authentic in a YA novel. Still, this was only a brief section of the book.

Cassie's voice, in the other hand, totally worked. And having the chance to see Cassie via the viewpoint of other characters clarified her image for the reader. She is delightfully sarcastic. While she doesn't really see her own bravery, she is otherwise insightful (if not always polished in her language). Like this:

"That's the hard part, the part that, if I thought about it too much, would make me crawl into my sleeping bag, zip myself up, and die of slow starvation. If you can't trust anyone, then you can trust no one. Better to take the chance that Aunt Tilly is one of them than play the odds that you've stumbled across a fellow survivor. That's figgin' diabolical." (Page 9)

"The unofficial boss of the camp was a retired marine named Hutchfield. He was a human LEGO person: square hands, square head, square jaw. Wore the same muscle tee every day, stained with something that might have been blood, though his black books always sported a mirror finish." (Page 58)

"We told the stories of our lives before the Arrival. We cried openly over the ones we had lost. We wept secretly for our smartphones, our cars, our microwave ovens, and the Internet." (Page 61)

I've always thought that I would really miss the Internet if there was an apocalypse. This sounds shallow, perhaps. But there's something about constant access to any sort of information that you might need that is very comforting. Now that we're used to that, I think it would be very hard to let go of. I was pleased to see Yancey touch on that. He also (and this is something one rarely sees mentioned in post-apocalyptic stories) addresses Cassie's worry about her dwindling tampon supply. Extra points for this realism coming from a male author. 

I found Yancey's post-apocalyptic world to be a bit harsher in the details than some, though the world-building is also pushed to the background a bit relative to the action. You mostly just get occasional snippets like this:

"You know how you can tell when you're getting close to one? The smell. You can smell a town from miles away." (Page 39)

There are also some grim scenes involving the use of children to dispose of bodies. Although there isn't a lot of language, and only a fairly tame romance thread, I think that these scenes make The 5th Wave more of a high school book than a middle school book. There are, as you might expect in a post-apocalyptic book about an alien invasion, plenty of guns and other weapons. 

Fans of post-apocalyptic novels will not want to miss The 5th Wave. It's a book that will make readers think, both in a "what's going on?" sense and in a larger "what is it that makes us human?" sense. It could be an interesting book for discussion with teen readers, with some parallels to the Holocaust, and the open questions that I wondered about after finishing the book. My only complaint is that I wish I had waited to read this after the second and third books were published, so that I could have immersed myself even more fully in Yancey's post-Arrival world.

Highly recommended for teen and adult readers.  

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (@PenguinKids)
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source of Book: Purchased on Kindle

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


Beta: Rachel Cohn

Book: Beta
Author: Rachel Cohn
Pages: 336
Age Range: 14 and up 

Rachel Cohn's Beta, the first installment in a new YA dystopia series, is exactly the kind of book that I enjoy. It's set in a post-apocalypse, high-tech world, and features both action and ethical questions (about the nature and treatment of clones). Elysia looks and feels like a 16-year-old girl (somewhat), but she was actually born in a laboratory on the posh island enclave of Demesne. She is a "Beta", one of the first clones to be copied from a teenager. Adult clones do all of the mundane work on the island. Elysia is purchased by the wife of the Governor. She is meant to be a sort of replacement for the family's teenage daughter, now off in college on the Mainland. This makes her part servant and part pseudo-family member. And, of course, 100% property. 

The clones on Demesne are supposed to exist to blindly serve the humans. When Elysia starts to have thoughts and feelings of her own, she finds out just how dangerous humans can be.

Cohn renders the island setting vividly, like this:

"I have never lived anywhere but Demesne so I cannot compare it to other places, but even without a chip telling me so, I think I could understand that this island is an ideal, an embodiment of perfection. Breathig in the silken air is like having warm honey trickling sweetly down your throat. The contrast of colors--Io's violet-blue, the lush green plants and tall trees, the flowers' bursting plumes of bright pinks, yellows, oranges, reds, purples, and golds everywhere--intoxicates the eyes." (Chapter 1)

I like that Demesne is beautiful and apparently safe. This is a nice contrast from some of the physically bleak dystopias I've read of late (though of course there's a darker underside). I found some echoes of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, which I also enjoyed. 

I like Elysia's voice. WIthout sounding completely wooden, she also doesn't sound quite like a human teen. She has gaps in her knowledge that sometimes lend humor. Like this:

"It's like my wiring is tripping all over itself. My chip tells me to express delight at the humans' food, but my stomach says it is indeed delighted. Whoever invented adding melted cheese over starchy goodness was surely the most brilliant human ever." (Chapter 5)

"Now that I've learned what sarcasm is and that it cannot cause physical injury, I have privately renamed this lady Mrs. Red While for the amount of pinot noir she drinks while complaining about pretty much any topic up for discussion." (Chapter 12)

The plot in Beta has quite a few threads, some of which are left open for the next book. It's a fast-paced, entertaining read, and I look forward to the next installment. I also found the lack of implied judgement around the societal developments (impact of global warming, etc.) refreshing. 

That said, there are a couple of things that didn't quite work for me. One was that the book is set well into the future, after The Water Wars. Demesne is part of a whole new chain of islands that emerged from the ocean. There have been some big technological advances, like the method of copying newly dead people to create clones. But ... the day to day technology, and the way people speak, just didn't see that different from today. This felt like a disconnect, though I understand why the book is written this way (practicality and accessibility). I also found Elysia to become a bit ... easy for my personal taste, as the book progresses. I agree with the Amazon classification of this as a book for ages 14 and up. There's a fair bit of sex, and although there's not a lot of violence what there is is a bit disturbing.  

Beta doesn't explore the science aspects of the situation very much (how the clones are created, exactly). People looking for pure science ficiton may be disappointed. But people looking for an engaging novel with an intriguing premise and an unusual and memorable heroine will want to bive Beta a look. I liked it. 

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: October 16, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you). 


Yesterday: C.K. Kelly Martin

Book: Yesterday
Author: C.K. Kelly Martin (@ckkellymartin)
Pages: 368
Age Range: 14 and up 

I became interested in reading C.K. Kelly Martin's Yesterday after reading a joint review by Presenting Lenore and Galleysmith. When a copy of the book showed up on my doorstep, I moved it up high on my stack (despite what I personally thought was a rather unappealing cover). And I'm glad that I did. I found Yesterday fascinating on multiple levels. It's a bit difficult to describe and review without spoilers, but I shall do my best.

Yesterday begins with a brief, 6-page prologue set in a the future. The first-person narrator, Freya, is trapped in a forcefield-protected room, traumatized by something that's happened to her brother, Latham. Then the SecRos, humanoid robots, come for Freya and her mother, on her father's orders. She loses consciousness.

The next thing the reader knows, Freya is a teenager living in 1985, mourning the tragic death of her diplomat father in Australia. She has just moved with her mother and younger sister to the Toronto suburbs, and is nervous about starting a new school. She remembers her 1970's childhood, and a seems to know the things that are expected to her. But something is off for Freya. She feels disconnected with her own life. And when she sees a boy on the street who she is sure she knows, and knows well, even though she can't remember him, Freya is off on a dangerous quest to understand her past, and her future. 

The prologue leaves the reader with a suspicion about what must be happening, but things don't really become clear until later in the book. For a while, it's almost just a story of a girl adjusting to a new school, making friends, and meeting boys. This makes Yesterday an unusual mix of 1980's John Hughes novel and bleak dystopia, liberally sprinkled with a 1980's new wave soundtrack. As a dystopia aficionado who was in high school in the 1980's, this mix is irresistible.

Yesterday is the kind of book that you wonder about every time you put it down. How did Freya get to 1985 Toronto? Why did someone send her there? And lots more. The last part of the book, when many of the secrets become clear, is thought-provoking and suspenseful. There is a pretty strong environmental message to Yesterday, but for the most part, the message doesn't overwhelm the story. It certainly makes a person think about global warming and such.

C.K. Kelly Martin's writing is clear and to the point. Yesterday isn't full of flag-worthy, lyrical passages (as was Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys). But that's ok. It's like the writing stays out of the way of the story, if that makes any sense. Freya's first-person, present-tense voice is realistic, in the use of contractions, etc., but without any dialect or particularly distinctive voice patterns. Like this:

"The dark-haired boy haunts me in the car trip with my grandfather and once we're home he haunts me throughout my mom's rant about the school being neglectful and irresponsible in abandoning me at the museum. When my mother says she'll call tomorrow and let them know leaving me in Toronto to fend for myself was totally unacceptable, I don't argue."  (Page 54)

Freya's voice feels neither strongly 80's to me nor strongly futuristic, which allows the reader to stay focused on the action, without distraction. And there is plenty of action to be found. Just as a note for librarians, there is also some fairly detailed, almost-sex in the book. It's probably better at the high school than the middle school level. 

Overall, I found Yesterday to be compelling and thought-provoking. I spent my weekend snatching moments during which I could read it. I quite liked the ending, and continue to ponder some of the questions raised by the book. I recommend Yesterday for dystopia fans of all ages (14 and up), but it offers a special treat for those who came of age in the 1980's (or just love first wave music). Although Yesterday is (apparently) a standalone novel, I kind of wish that it was the start of a series, so that I could visit Freya's world again. 

Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Monument 14: Emmy Laybourne

Book: Monument 14
Author: Emmy Laybourne (@EmmyLaybourne)
Pages: 304
Age Range: 14 and up

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne is a post-apocalyptic survival story set in near-future Monument, Colorado. On Dean's way to school, a terrific hailstorm proves to be only the first of a string of terrifying events. Dean is rescued, along with five of his high school classmates and a busload of smaller kids, by bus driver Mrs. Wooly. Mrs. Wooly takes the kids (surviving bus and all) into a local Greenway store (like a Target, with a grocery section, and a bit of everything else). Mrs. Wooly goes for help, and doesn't return. Then the store's riot gates go down, leaving the 14 kids on their own, sheltered from the rapidly crumbling world outside. What follows are the kids' responses to the larger world events and their development of a society inside the store.

There are power struggles and personality clashes, alongside the more fundamental struggles to survive. I read this book quickly and compulsively, eager to know what would happen next. Even though pretty much the whole book takes place within the Greenway store, it didn't feel limited to me. (A bit like Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It, which mostly takes place inside Miranda's home). I've always found the "getting back on your feet" aspects of post-apocalyptic novels fascinating -- establishing food, water, and order. And Laybourne's characterization is strong, particularly that of Dean and his younger brother, Alex.

I quite enjoyed Dean's first person voice, a little bit sarcastic, but also insightful, and honest in all of his insecurities. Here are a couple of examples:

"Mrs. Wooly, she was an institution in our town. A grizzles, wiry-haired, ashtray-scented tough-talking institution. Notorious and totally devoted to bus driving, which you can't say about everyone." (Chapter One)

"Behind me, Josie Miller and Trish Greenstein were going over plans for some kind of animal rights demonstration. They were kind of hippie-activists. I wouldn't really know them at all, except once in sixth grade I'd volunteered to go door to door with them campaigning for Cory Booker. We'd had a pretty fun time, actually, but now we didn't even say hi to each other.

I don't know why. HIgh school seemed to do that to people." (Chapter One)

"People called Niko "Brave Hunter Man," a nickname that fit him just right with his perfect posture, his thin, wiry frame, and his whole brown-skin-brown-eyes-brown-hair combo. He carried himself with that kind of stiff pride you get when no one will talk to you." (Chapter One)

The interpersional dynamics among the kids ring true, for the most part. There's a bit more emhasis on sex than I would have personally preferred (and that makes this book more a high school book than a middle school book). But I suppose if you were to put a ground of adolescents together with no adult supervision, well, sexual relationships probably would be a factor.

All in all, though, I thought that the setup of the book (how the apocalypse occurred and why the kids remainded on their own) was plausible and less contrived than many. (The device of a virus that only attacks people above a certain age, for example, has really worn thin with me.) I found the setting fully rendered and relatable, and the plot to be a good mix of excitement and analysis.

But the real strength of Monument 14 lies in Laybourne's gift for making me care about her characters. That's what will have me ready and waiting for the sequel as soon as it's available. Recommended for anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic survival stories, age 14 and up.

I chose this book as part of Dystopian August. For other reviews of post-apocalypse-type stories, check out Dystopian August at Presenting Lenore

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle.

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Partials: Dan Wells

Book: Partials
Author: Dan Wells (@TheDanWells)
Pages: 480
Age Range: 14 and up 

ImagesPartials is a new YA post-apocalypse dystopia novel by Dan Wells. The story takes place in a near-term future world in which genetically engineered "Partials" have been created by humans. The Partials are virtually indistinguishable from humans, except for being stronger, faster, better fighters, etc. 11 years earlier, the Partials rebelled, and released a virus that killed nearly the entire human population. About 40,000 immune human survivors have made their way to Long Island, where they live barricaded away, out of sight of the Partials. This society is doing ok in some ways. They have plenty of food, entertainment, clothing, homes, etc. The problem is that their babies are not immune to the virus. All of the babies born over the 11 years have died. Kira, a 16-year-old medic, desperately wants to find a cure. When Kira comes to believe that the only cure lies with the dangerous Partials, she sets out on a dangerous quest. 

As you can see, the premise of Partials is pretty complex. I couldn't do it justice in a couple of sentences. As is sometimes the case in first books of dystopian series, a fair bit of the book is taken up with setting the stage, and building this world for the reader. But I can't say that I minded. I think that the world-building in Partials is excellent. I could really picture Wells' kudzu-covered, decaying Long Island. I could understand the conflicts facing a society desperate for an immune baby to be born. (Do you coerce women into having babies that they know will probably die? As a woman, is it your responsibility to try?) 

Even the Partials themselves are solidly constructed (in a story sense). Wells understands their physiology, as well as the makeup of their society. There are a number of questions about them that remain at the end of the book (as their should be, if there are going to be future books), but they are far from being one-note villains. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the characterization of Kira's Partial potential love interest is quite a bit stronger than the characterization of Kira's actual human boyfriend. Here's a quote that I liked:

"A human face. A human mouth and nose. Human eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. A young man, handsome, with short, dark-brown hair and the beginning of a bruise on its jaw. The greatest enemy mankind had ever faced, the vicious monster that had ended the world." (Page 174)

In general, I found the characterization in Partials a little thin. Kira is a bit too consciously (on the author's part) channeling Katniss from The Hunger Games (there's actually a quote in which someone calls Kira a "firebrand"). Many of Kira's actions are motivated by her affection for her friend who is practically a sister, Madison. But I didn't really get a fix on Madison as a character, or feel their friendship. Similarly, I didn't even understand what Kira was doing with Marcus in the first place, even though he seemed to have a good sense of humor.

I did find Kira's willingness to risk her life to cure the virus and keep babies from dying moving. And I liked how much conflict their was among the characters. Even between friends, and certainly between different interest groups on the island. Wells pretty much left no stone unturned in building conflict. He wraps Partials up well, but leaves plenty of scope for future books. 

I also liked how much science there is in Partials. Kira does research to try to cure the virus. She uses lab equipment, and studies viral structures. There's not enough science to be offputting, but there is enough to, perhaps, make a few teens think "hmm, medical research could be cool." And that's a wonderful thing. There's also a quote comparing the movement of a rioting crown to "fierce Brownian motion", which I liked a lot. 

I expect teens to like Partials quite a bit. It's got a similar feel to Veronica Roth's Divergent and Insurgent, and would make a great next book for fans of that series. Personally, even though I'd like a bit more depth to the characters, I'm dying for the next book in the series. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, age 14 and up.  

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (@balzerandbray)
Publication Date: February 28, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

 


Children of Morrow: H. M. Hoover

Book: Children of Morrow
Author: H. M. Hoover
Pages: 240
Age Range: 10 and up 

ImagesMy 9th book read for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge was Children of Morrow by H. M. Hoover. Children of Morrow is post-apocalyptic science fiction novel for kids, published in 1973. I suspect that this book was one of the first post-apocalyptic novels that I read when I was a kid. It doubtless contributed to my life-long fascination with the genre. I've been meaning to re-read it for several years, ever since my childhood copy turned up, and decided that this was the perfect opportunity. 

Children of Morrow is about 12-year-old Tia and 9-year-old Rabbit, who live in a struggling, patriarchal society, many generations after global disasters have nearly destroyed the world. As far as they know, their village is all that remains of mankind. Tia and Rabbit are both outcasts in the village, and they both dream of people from a technologically advanced civilization called Morrow. When a crime puts Tia and Rabbit in imminent danger, they learn (through telepathy) that the people of Morrow are real, and want them. They set out on a dangerous journey, pursued by men from their village, hoping to find a new home.

Most of the story is told from Tia's viewpoint. However, interspersed chapters show the people of Morrow, and fill in details about how Tia and Rabbit came to be, and what happened to civilization. 

Children of Morrow is fast-paced and suspenseful. The details of the old world that Tia and Rabbit run across (including a crumbling city) are interesting. Tia and Rabbit are sympathetic characters (unlike just about everyone else from their village). I enjoyed revisiting Tia and Rabbit's world, and I'm curious to re-read the sequel (though I don't believe that I have a copy). 

That said, I don't actually think that Children of Morrow holds up compared to modern-day dystopian science fiction. Hoover isn't consistent in her viewpoints. At one point Tia and Rabbit are discovering that an odd green fruit is edible, though they don't know what it is. A chapter or two later, they are eating avocados. When they discover the crumbling buildings, they see a series of balconies. But people raised in their primitive village would hardly have a word for balcony. I understand that using the proper words for things is easier, but this sort of thing took me out of the story. There's also not much emotion or character development to the story - Tia and Rabbit's trials seem to be more physical then emotional. I think that was the style of the day. 

I'm glad I took the time to re-read Children of Morrow, because I've been wondering about it, and only vaguely remembering it, for years. I know that it fascinated me as a 10-year-old. Fans of 1970s science fiction, or those interested in checking out older post-apocalyptic novels should certainly give it a look (though it's out of print and probably hard to find). But I'm not going to clamor for Children of Morrow to be brought back to print. The conventions of the genre have expanded since 1973, and I think that there are better, more recent novels to read instead. (But I'm still going to keep an eye out for the sequel, as a gift for my childhood self.)

Publisher: Penguin (@ThePenguinPeeps)
Publication Date: 1973
Source of Book: Bought it, used

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

 


Numbers 3: Infinity: Rachel Ward

Book: Numbers 3: Infinity
Author: Rachel Ward
Pages: 256
Age Range: 14 and up

4193pQ-2LvL._SL500_AA300_Infinity is the conclusion to Rachel Ward's Numbers trilogy, and I think that it's the best of the series. The first book, Numbers (reviewed here), featured Jem, a teenage girl living in present-day London, cursed with a psychic gift. Whenever Jem looked someone in the eye, she saw that person's "number", the day that he or she was going to die. I found the premise, and the adventure that resulted when people learned about her gift, fascinating. Numbers was a book that I thought about long after finishing it. [If you find the idea intriguing, I recommend that you stop reading here. This review may contain spoilers for the first two books.]

The second and third books of the trilogy, The Chaos and Infinity, feature Jem's son, Adam, who inherited her gift. In The Chaos, Adam's life intersects with that of Sarah, a girl with gifts (and problems) of her own.  

Infinity picks up two years later, after a massive earthquake has devastated England, leading to a time of chaos and deprivation. Adam, Sarah, and Sarah's daughter Mia are scraping by, camping in the woods with Sarah's two younger brothers. They move frequently, in part because Adam fears that the remnants of the government might still be looking for him. This fear proves correct, as a man named Saul arrives asking Adam to come with him, to use his gift to help the re-emerging government. Saul isn't above using Sarah and Mia to get Adam to do what he wants. Perilous times follow, for Adam, Sarah, Mia, and Sarah and Adam's unborn child.

Both The Chaos and Infinity alternate chapters between Adam and Sarah's viewpoints. I found The Chaos compelling, plotwise, but I found Adam's voice (he's meant to be poor and not very well educated) occasionally jarring. Infinity worked much better for me in that regard. I'm not sure if this is because Ward toned down the slang/poor grammar, or whether the fast pace of Infinity distracted me from noticing. I suspect a bit of both. Certainly it would be reasonable that two years spent with the much more posh Sarah would have smoothed Adam's rough edges a bit. (And it's not the I mind reading the viewpoint of someone from a poor, urban background - the particular voice just didn't scan right for me in The Chaos.)

In any event, Infinity is a real page-turner. Mysterious psychic gifts, underground government bunkers, a truly creepy bad guy, and babies (born and unborn) in peril. There are also intriguing relationship dynamics between Adam and Sarah concerning young Mia's apparent ability to extend her life indefinitely by taking other people's numbers. I read Infinity in a single sitting, scarcely able to put it down to go refill my water glass. I found Infinity particularly suspenseful because Rachel Ward had shown in the first two books her willingness to kill off important characters. I really wondered how she would end the book, right up to the last page. I can't often say that.

Here are a few quotes, to give you a feel for Infinity (and interestingly, after what I said about Adam's voice, all of the passages that I highlighted as I was reading Infinity are from his perspective):

"I was only on the telly once, but it was the last TV most people saw. There are no TVs or computers in England now, no screens or phones. The networks and transmitters got put back after the quake, at the beginning of the Chaos." (Page 6)

"I'm seventeen, with a girlfriend and three children to look after, a baby on the way, and no home and no food, and it's never gonna get better. All I know is it's gonna end one day because I see the end everywhere, in everyone, and I wish I didn't. And even that isn't certain because it could all change. It could all be over tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. Do you think I want this?" (Page 15)

""We all carry burdens," he says. "My theory is that we're given what we can cope with, some of us more than others."

His eyes are bright, almost like there's a fire inside him. I've got no choice but to look at him, listen to him. His number dazzles me, skewering me again with its pain. Why does this death hurt so  much more than other people's?" (Page 95)

Infinity, the conclusion to the Numbers series, has a fascinating premise, strong characters, and edge-of-your-seat plotting. It is not to be missed by fans of science fiction, paranormal, and post-apocalyptic YA, or by anyone who enjoys a good story. But do start with Numbers and The Chaos first. I highly recommend the Numbers series.

Publisher: The Chicken House (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Starters: Lissa Price

Book: Starters
Author: Lissa Price
Pages: 352
Age Range: 12 and up

51byoFMiQsL._SL500_AA300_Starters is a new post-apocalypse dystopia for young adults, by Lissa Price. The premise is a little contrived, but works for the setup of the story. In a not-so-distant future America, medical advances have led to people routinely living to 200 years old. A bacterial weapon, spread by a hostile Pacific Rim country, has wiped out the population between ages 16 and 60 (because the more vulnerable segments of the population were vaccinated first). Kids orphaned by the virus, unless they have grandparents to take them in, become "unclaimed minors." They are not allowed to work (because that would take jobs away from the older people), and if captured by Marshalls, are placed in horrible state institutions. The young are called Starters. The old, Enders.

Callie lives on the streets as a scavenger until concern for her ill younger brother leads her to take part in a frightening new initiative. A company called Prime Destinations offers her the chance to essentially rent out her body. An Ender will control her, via neural chip, while her own brain sleeps. The Ender gets to live for a time in a young, vital body. And Callie gets the promise of enough money to rent a home for her brother, and buy him medicine. It seems almost too good to be true. Until Callie learns that her Ender plans to use her body to commit murder.

Starters is fast-paced and compelling. The plot has plenty of twists and turns. The fact that people can inhabit other people's bodies lends a constant sense of intrigue. You never quite know if someone is who they say they are. In tone and certain themes, Starters reminded me of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series.It's a book that readers will devour quickly. It's almost impossible to put down.

And yet, Starters raises intriguing questions, too. I'd like to be able to say that Starters isn't plausible. Not so much the science (though that's a scary concept), but more the utter callousness with which the dominant Enders treat the vulnerable young Starters. The gap between the haves and have-nots in Price's world, like the gap between the old and the young, is enormous. But neither gap is an inconceivable extrapolation of current trends. Thoughtful teen readers will find Starters chilling.

I also think that Price did a good job of conveying near-post-apocalypse nostalgia. Like this:

"I added pajamas to my internal list of things that I missed. Flannel, warm from the dryer. I was tired of always being dressed, ready to run or fight. I ached for fluffy jammies and a deep, forget-the-world sleep." (Chapter One)

"The smell of cinnamon filled the kitchen and made my heart ache. It reminded me of happy weekend brunches Mom, Dad, Tyler, and I used to have when we were a family." (Chapter Six)

She uses a light hand with such passages, but there are enough to make any reader stop for a moment of gratitude for day-to-day life and family. I think that these moments of gratitude are one of the reason that I enjoy post-apocalyptic novels so much, actually. I wonder how many teen readers feel the same?

It's not really possible for Price to include a lot of character development for most people in Starters. Many aren't even the same person from scene to scene. And it's often unsafe for people to reveal much about themselves anyway. That's ok. It completely works for the book. But Callie, the first person narrator, is likeable and has a solid teen perspective. Like this:

"My brain, no less. Probably my favorite body part. No one ever complained about a fat brain. No one ever accused their brain of being too short or too tall, too wide or too narrow. Or ugly. It either worked or it didn't, and mine worked just fine. I prayed it still would after the surgery." (Chapter Two)

Who wouldn't like her? She includes a little Cinderella sub-theme to some of her internal musings, too, a nice contrast to a generally more cynical worldview.

Starters ends not quite on a cliffhanger, but certainly with questions outstanding. I look forward to the sequel, Enders, due later this year.

I'm expecting Starters to be a hit. It positively oozes teen appeal, for boys or girls. It raises intriguing moral and scientific questions. And the twisty, action-packed plot will keep readers of all ages turning the pages. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
Source of Book: Advance review copy from NetGalley

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


All These Things I've Done: Gabrielle Zevin

Book: All These Things I've Done
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Pages: 368
Age Range: 12 and up

IMAG015All These Things I've Done is the first book in a new dystopia series by Gabrielle Zevin. All These Things I've Done is the story of Anya Balanchine, sixteen years old in 2083 (told in her first person viewpoint, looking back from many years later). Anya's parents are both dead, and her grandmother is dying. Anya is responsible for her 12-year-old sister Natty and her developmentally disabled older brother Leo. Anya's life is complicated by the fact that she is the heir apparent of her father, legendary crime boss Leonid Balanchine, founder of Balanchine Chocolates.

What I think is noteworthy about All These Things I've Done as a dystopia is that Anya's 2083 New York isn't fundamentally different from the New York of today. Oh, sure, there are some changes. Chocolate and caffeine are illegal. Public funding has deteriorated to such an extent that most museums have been turned into nightclubs. Water is heavily rationed, and riding anywhere in a car is extremely rare. International travel is prohibitively expensive, because of fuel costs. But really, it's a logical extension of today's world, as public and environmental resources have become scarcer and scarcer, and public perceptions of what constitutes an illicit substance have shifted a bit. Kind of depressing, though reassuring in some ways.

But the dystopia is a backdrop, anyway. All These Things I've Done is a character-driven coming of age story that focuses squarely on the tribulations of Anya. She is mercurial in temperament, fiercely loyal to her family, and as cynical as one would expect from someone of her background. But she's a good Catholic girl, too, refusing to have sex before she's married, and confessing her sins in chapel. She's surrounded by a slightly zany cast of characters, and she only gradually finds her place among them all.

I listened to the audio edition of All These Things I've Done. I thought that the narration and pacing were well done. The narrator's voice felt like Anya's to me, and listening to the audio version increased my empathy for the character. (The audio version made it harder for me to flag passages as I was reading, however, one of the reasons that I rarely review audiobooks).

Here are a couple of passages from the print edition of the book, to give you a feel for Anya's voice, and Zevin's world-building:

"The first day of school stunk more than most first days of school, and they tend to stink as a rule. Everyone had already heard that Gable Arsley and Anya Balanchine were over. This was annoying. Not because I had any intention of staying with him after the foul he'd committed the night before, but because I'd wanted to be the one to break up with him. I'd wanted him to cry or yell or apologize. I'd wanted to walk away and not look back as he called my name. That sort of thing, right? (PAge 10, ARC)

"We had missed our regular crosstown bus and, due to MTA budget cuts, the next one wasn't for another hour. I liked to try to be home when Leo got back from work and I decided that it would take less time for us to walk across the park back to our apartment. Daddy once told how the park used to be when he was a kid: trees and flowers and squirrels, and lakes where people could canoe, and vendors selling every kind of food imaginable, and a zoo and hot-air balloon rides and in the summer concerts and plays, and in the winter, ice skating and sledding. It wasn't like that anymore.

The lakes had dried up or been drained, and most of the surrounding vegetation had died. There were still a few graffitti-covered statues, broken park benches, and abandoned buildings, but I couldn't imagine anyone willingly spending time there." Page 21, ARC)

I wasn't wholly won over by Anya's relationship with the son of the acting District Attorney, Win. Despite the story being told in the first person, it felt like Anya wasn't really sure how she felt, or wasn't admitting how she felt, so it was difficult as a reader to invest in the relationship. Anya's relationships with her siblings and her best friend, and even with Win's father, on the other hand, all felt real.

All These Things I've Done features an intriguing premise (What if chocolate was illegal? How would that affect society and the black market? Would a black market around something as benign as chocolate still breed violence?), and detailed, plausible world-building. But its real strength as a book is Anya, a compelling and admirable character faced with a series of difficult situations. I will certainly read future books in this series, because I want to know what happens next to Anya and her family. I'd like to know if she lives up to her birthright, and if she ends up happy or not. Recommended for dystopia fans, or anyone who enjoys reading about strong characters facing moral dilemmas.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers / Macmillan Young Listeners (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: September 6, 2011
Source of Book: Listened to review CDs from the publisher, and then pulled quotes from the print advance review copy (also from the publisher).

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Ashfall: Mike Mullin

Book: Ashfall
Author: Mike Mullin
Pages: 476
Age Range: 13 and up

AshfallCoverThe disturbing thing about Mike Mullin's new post-apocalyptic young adult novel, Ashfall, is how real (and possible) it feels. Ashfall features a near-term apocalypse based on a natural disaster, the eruption of the enormous volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park. Ashfall is told from the first-person perspective of 15-year-old Alex, who strikes out from his destroyed home in Cedar Falls, Iowa to find his family in Warren, Illinois, 140 brutal miles away. Ashfall begins:

"I was home alone on that Friday evening. Those who survived know exactly which Friday I mean. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing, in the same way my parents remembered 9/11, but more so. Together we lost the old world, slipping from that cocoon of mechanized comfort into the hellish land we inhabit now. The pre-Friday world of school, cell phones, and refrigerators dissolved into this post-Friday world of ash, darkness, and hunger." (Page 1)

What fan of post-apocalyptic fiction could resist continuing? The post-eruption world traversed by Alex is bleak and ash-filled, with a shortage of food, and an abundance of dangerous people. I found Ashfall reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (though not quite so hopeless as that). I also found echoes of Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It. Like LAWKI, Ashfall made me wonder whether I shouldn't go ahead and stockpile a few supplies in my garage, just in case.

The world in Ashfall is vividly, chillingly rendered, albeit from the ever-so-slightly melodramatic viewpoint of a previously sheltered teen. Here's a snippet:

"I might have been skiing on the surface of the moon for all the activity there was. I passed four or five farmhouses but saw nothing moving. Everything I normally saw in Iowa countryside was missing: There were no people, no cars, no cows--not even a solitary turkey vulture circling in the sky.

The weird, rainless thunder and lightning continued. My eyes had adjusted to the darkness, so every time a series of lightning bolts lit up the landscape, it hurt. The thunder seemed strangely muted. Maybe the falling ash muffled it somehow, or maybe my ears hadn't fully recovered from the first enormous explosions." (Chapter 12)

Also like LAWKI, in addition to being a survival story, Ashfall is a coming of age story. Alex grows through the course of the book from a sullen teenager with a "bratty little sister" and a World of Warcraft addiction into a man who takes responsibility for himself and others. The transformation is incremental and realistic, given the series of epic trials that Alex passes through in a short time.

On thing that I found particularly interesting about Ashfall is that it's a localized apocalypse. All of civilization doesn't come to an end (as in most books). It's just that the characters in the book are unable to reach the presumed civilization that still exists on the East Coast. Many people still revert immediately to their worst selves, ranging from the shotgun peeping out of the window to scare off passers-by to the men who commit atrocities, just because they can. Ashfall is not for the faint of heart.

Ashfall is compelling and suspenseful. Mullin makes excellent use of cliffhangers at the end of paragraphs, to keep pulling the reader forward. Moments of calm are brief, and liable to be punctuated at any moment by peril. Like this:

"Darren rested his hand on my shoulder. "It'll be all right, Alex. The phones will probably be back up tomorrow, and we'll get your folks and the insurance company on the line. A year from now, the house will be good as new, and you'll be cracking jokes about this."

I nodded wearily and straightened up, Darren's hand still a comfortable weight on my shoulder.

Then the explosions started." (end of Chapter 2)

I did feel towards the later part of the book like a bit more editing could have been employed, to make the book leaner. But this didn't keep me from moving forward, and it certainly won't keep me from reading the sequel, Ashen Winter, when available.

Ashfall is a straight-up post-apocalyptic story that feels like it could happen tomorrow. There are no zombies or invading aliens, and no heavy-handed environmental messages. There's a gigantic volcano that explodes and wreaks havoc across the Western half of the United States (at least), followed by a classic survival story of a teen on his own in harsh and unforgiving landscape. Ashfall is a must-read for fans of this type of realistic post-apocalypse novel and anyone who enjoys survival stories. Recommended!

Publisher: Tanglewood Press
Publication Date: September 27, 2011
Source of Book: Purchased as Kindle eBook

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Ashes: Ilsa J. Bick

Book: Ashes
Author: Ilsa J. Bick
Pages: 480
Age Range: 12 and up

9781606841754Ashes is a near-term post-apocalyptic novel in which a massive EMP (electromagnetic pulse) destroys all modern electronics, kills everyone except for the very young and very old, and turns most teens into bloodthirsty, zombie-like creatures. Seventeen-year-old Alex has a massive brain tumor and is hiking on her own, planning to scatter her parents' ashes in a remote part of Michigan. After the pulse, she finds some of the side effects of her tumor gone. She finds herself the protector of a combative young girl named Ellie, and then teams up with Tom, an attractive if mysterious former soldier.

I very much enjoyed the first part of Ashes. The post-apocalyptic elements are set against a rural, survivalist backdrop. Alex and Ellie fight against wild dogs and raging rivers, with little to no food and water. It's quite compelling to watch them, especially as they are still figuring out what's happened to the world. Alex's chemistry with Tom is strong, even as their reluctance to fully open up to one another is believable. And Ellie is believably bratty (especially at first), rather than being a boring, sweet child.

Ashes flagged for me a bit in the second half of the book, though, when Alex ventures out into the wider world (and a creepy small town called Rule). I think that once the initial adrenaline was out of the way, the overall premise started to feel a bit contrived. The pulse manages to take out everyone except kids and the elderly, and also get rid of all modern conveniences in one fell swoop. AND it creates zombies (or close enough), while giving Alex enhanced abilities. It's a lot, and feels perhaps a tad convenient. I know that much of this sense of the contrived is inherent in post-apocalyptic novels (I mean, the whole point is creating a setting that causes society to crumple). But I found myself more reading to find the end result than reading to linger in the world-building.

Once Alex reaches the town of Rule (about which I'll say very little, to avoid spoilers), she feels like a pawn (and a bit like a petulant child, at times). Why go to the trouble of getting rid of most of the adults if you're still going to make the heroine be a pawn of the ones that are left? I don't know. I know it's a bleak, post-apocalyptic novel, but I found the later part of the book even more depressing than one would expect.

I do like Bick's writing style, though. Alex's viewpoint is ever-so-slightly sarcastic, with a black humor that fits her situation. Bick's writing is descriptive and multi-sensory without sacrificing pace. Here are a couple of examples:

"What no one warned her about was that when you had no sense of small at all, a lot of memories fizzled. Like the way the smell of a pine tree conjured a quick brain-snapshot of tinsel and Christmas lights and a glittery angel, or the spice of nutmeg and buttery cinnamon made you flash to a bright kitchen and your mother humming as she pressed pie crust into a glass dish. With no sense of smell, your memories dropped like pennies out of a ripped pocket, until the past was ashes and your parents were blanks: nothing more than the holes in swiss cheese." (Chapter 1)

"Birds. There were birds. Not just a few or a flock, but hundreds and hundreds, thousands. All kinds, all shapes, all sizes. And the birds were everywhere, in the sky above and exploding up from the valley below in a spiraling, screaming funnel cloud. They weren't organized, not following the way a flock does, but smashing into one another, either because there were so many or the pain that had her in its iron grip had them, too." (Chapter 4)

All in all, Ashes is a compelling story, with a strong heroine, and ends on a serious cliffhanger. There are lots of open questions to which I definitely want to know the answers. I look forward reading the next book. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic stories and YA paranormal novels. I look forward to hearing what others think about the world of Ashes.

Publisher: Egmont USA (@EgmontUSA)
Publication Date: September 6, 2011
Source of Book: Bought it, read with Kindle App on iPad 2

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.