Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book review: if you liked the hunger games, then you might like…

Ok, confession:  I did not like the hunger games .  I read the first one when everyone was mooning over it, didn’t like it, and never finished the trilogy (a lesson learned after suffering through all three of the Stieg Larsson books, waiting for it to get as good as people were saying it was).  I thought the plot was nothing too original, I didn’t really like the main character, and I really hated the scene near the end where mutant wolves eat some poor guy.  While he is alive. 
That said, it seems if you want to read something classified as “young adult fiction” these days, your plot choices are 1.  I’m falling in love with a highly inappropriate vampire/ fairy/ werewolf**/ substitute your myth here  or 2. My utopian society is not so utopian (and may be trying to kill me!).   I’ve recently read two much-loved-on Amazon books that fall squarely into category 2. While they are by no means classics, they are fun reads in the “Hunger Games” category. Without mutant wolves.
 **totally had to spell check that.  Not a word you type every day.

Divergent, by Victoria Roth:  In this utopian society, people are divided into groups based on their most highly favored quality (courage, selflessness, intellect, honesty or friendliness).  Each faction has a role in society; for example those in the selfless group are the law makers, those in the courageous group defend the society.  People grow up in one faction of society, but at the age of 16 they can choose which group they want to spend the rest of their lives in.  Enter Beatrice, who doesn’t quite fit into any of the categories… and therefore maybe her utopian society is trying to kill her! This is an enjoyable fast read, but at the end I was left with a lot of questions, because many aspects of the character’s world are quickly described but never elaborated.  I’m not sure if there is a sequel, perhaps if there is more answers will emerge.

The Giver, by Loius Lowry:  This book has been out for years, but I had to include it because I think it was one of the first in this genre, and also because it is really good. Society has been “perfected” by making everyone equal.  Emotions and attachments are not allowed.  The leaders of society observe each person, and select jobs, a spouse, and even children for the couple based on aptitudes and compatibilities.  In the giver, 12 year old Jonas is selected to train for a unique position in his society; that of memory keeper.  He is to receive all the memories of what the world was like before the current way of life came into being.  His world is peaceful and fair, with no pain, lies, or discontent… at least on the surface.  As Jonas receives more memories, he begins to question aspects of his life that had been accepted without thought before.  One of the best features of this book is that the reader discovers how the world has been changed right along with Jonas, as he learns more about the past through memories.   Definitely a must read book.

Matched, by Allie Condie:  

"Lying in my bed, my body and soul bruised and tired, I realized the Officials are right.  Once you want something, everything changes. Now I want everything. More and more and more. I want to pick my work position. Marry who I choose. Eat pie for breakfast and run down a real street....Go fast when I want and slow when I want. Decide which poems I want to read and which words I want to write. There is so much that I want. I feel it so much that I am water, a river of want, pooled in the shape of a girl named Cassia."

This book reminded me a lot of The Giver in the first few chapters.  Basically the society is much like that in The Giver, where the past has been erased and every person’s action (and even dreams) are monitored. Life is simple because everything is predicted and provided according to a person’s unique needs.  Meals are brought every day, specially tailored to the nutrition needs of the person, jobs are selected for a person based on their aptitudes, and a “match” is selected for people if they wish to marry.  However, underlying this perfect existence is a fear of going against the norm, because punishment can be extreme demotions in quality of life or even banishment to far off places.  Cassia is the 17 year old protagonist, and we meet her as she is about to learn the identity of her match.  Up until that point, her way of life has been unquestioned, but a mistake is made and she is shown two men who could be her match.  Though officials quickly assure her of the correct match, doubts have been sewn.  What if the other man really is her better match?  From this initial doubt, Cassia quickly begins to question many aspects of her society.  She has to choose if she will continue to live as she is told to, or if she will rebel, and face the consequences. This book is really well written, the style flows and the integration of poetry beautifully contributes to the character’s development (it turns out the author is an English teacher).  Another trait I liked is that the character’s world is well developed, with little details that make it much more a realistic, even possible, future.   Cassia’s character is interesting and dimensional.  I’m glad this book is the first of a trilogy, I will definitely be reading the rest.  

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