Tag Archives: dystopian

Heirloom (Seed Savers, book 3), by S. Smith, 2013

heirloom front finalI was thrilled to be invited as a participant in the Heirloom book tour. In fact, I was thrilled to find the series for my tween son, who loves nothing better than to help me in our large garden on a warm summer morning. It’s sufficiently scary for tweens without being overwhelmingly so. It’s definitely middle grade, but this adult has also enjoyed it immensely. (Read my sons reviews of Seed Savers: Treasure and Seed Savers: Lily.)

The setting of Seed Savers is futuristic, the government more oppressive than it is today. Large corporations have taken over the food supply and the government agencies that regulate it. Growing food has become illegal for private citizens. Yet a thriving Seed Savers movement, those individuals dedicated to preserving the old way of life, won’t let the art of food production and preservation die.

treasure Heirloom is actually the third book in the series. In the first (Treasure), three children—siblings Clare and Dante and their friend Lily—get caught up with this grass roots movement. When GRIM, the government’s food policy enforcement agency, catches up to them, Clare and Dante must flee. The second book (Lily) tells what happens to Lily when she is left behind. Of course, she is drawn ever deeper into the movement and learns she has some startling connections to its beginnings. Lily was my favorite so far.

lily

Heirloom continues a split story. Clare and Dante are living with a host family in Canada and taking advantage of that country’s freedom to learn all they can about gardening. While this story line is a bit slow, it does give some information about the history that led up to the present food situation in America. The politics are probably beyond most tweens—they’ll most likely gloss over it—but it makes logical sense to an adult and fills in some holes. The real excitement takes place in Lily’s half of the story. GRIM gets very close once again, and Lily’s not sure who to trust. She finally takes off on a personal mission of her own, much as Dante and Clare did, but in an entirely different direction and with an entirely different motive.

blog tourI love the premise of this series, and as a gardener I identify strongly with it. While I absolutely loved the smoothness of the story and the beautiful prose found in LilyHeirloom had some rougher moments, particularly as Lily’s story is told in the first person. It’s more stylized, with more fragmented sentences and many, many phrases set off with commas, which portrays the tumultuous thoughts playing in her brain. I personally prefer the smoother beauty of a third person narrative. However, Heirloom is not lacking in truly artistic moments.

I was startled by several minor profanities this time around. Usually I just mention them in passing so parents know they’re there. But as they’ve been happily absent in the first two books, I thought I’d express my regret to find them in book three. I understand why they’re used. The character they are associated with is a rough, backwoodsy sort, and they fit him well. I could forgive them in an adult book, but this is very much middle grade fiction. In particular, it’s a series I have urged my kids to read because of the high quality of the writing and the absolute absence of negative factors. Finding profanity now feels a bit like a betrayal. I think the readership would be better served if this particular individual spoke with more creative, colorful expletives (sam hill, goldurned, dagnab, thunderation, blasted, etc.) rather than vulgarity. Just one mother’s opinion. (Ms. Smith answered this by mentioning there is also one d*** in Lily (that I totally missed), beside one in Heirloom along with three h***s. Mild, but there. A tough decision for a writer.)

In conclusion, however, I thought this third installment was a strong addition to a very enjoyable series.

Grab the books: (includes Kindle and paperback links)
Treasure
Lily
Heirloom

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smith 5x7 authorS. Smith grew up on a farm with a tremendously large garden. She maintains that if you can’t taste the soil on a carrot, it’s not fresh enough. Although she now lives with her husband and three cats in the city, she still manages to grow fruits and vegetables in their backyard garden.

A licensed ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, Ms. Smith has enjoyed teaching students from around the world.

Ms. Smith is a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and an OSU Master Gardener. She gardens and writes at her home in the beautiful and green Pacific Northwest.

Want to catch more stops in tour? Find the schedule here.

Open Minds (Mindjack Trilogy, book one), Susan Kaye Quinn, 2011, Book Review

open mindsI am so excited to share this book! I have read over two hundred MG/YA books since reading The Hunger Games, a series that totally floored me. Out of those hundreds, Open Minds is the only one that glued my butt to my couch as The Hunger Games did. In fact, this review will be a little off-the-cuff, because I didn’t slow down to take notes like I usually do.

In an aside, the world of juvenile self-publishing does seem to be a small one. I first saw this book on D. Robert Pease’s design website. He’s the one who created this incredible cover art. (He’s also the indie author of the very excellent book, Noah Zarc, which I loved. I have to get the newly released book two.) I remember being totally struck by this cover. But it wasn’t until I saw the book again, in a BookBub promotion, that I picked it up.

Open Minds has a dystopian feel to it. Kira lives in Chicago in a world very different from ours. Because of a mutation linked to chemicals in the water supply, people have developed the ability to communicate telepathically. The skill kicks in roughly with the onset of puberty, and the rare child who fails to develop it is destined for life as a zero, the bottom of society. Kira is one such child. By age 16, she still hasn’t changed to a reader. She’s become something far worse.

Kira is a mindjacker. She can control other people’s minds.

Kira’s confusion, anger, and fear draw us into her story. We learn about her new skill as she does. Fortunately, she has Simon, a classmate and fellow jacker who guides her development. Unfortunately, Simon carries an undercurrent of danger, a hint of the underworld. Kira can’t tell her family about her new abilities for fear of their safety. Neither does she tell Raf, her best friend, and their relationship fills with lies.

Then Kira learns there are far greater dangers when one is a jacker. And in a world that reads minds, a secret is a very difficult thing to keep.

Let me say again, this is a riveting read, one I highly, highly recommend. And I’m proud to say it’s written by an indie author who did an amazingly professional job. The huge popularity of the book is testament to that. I do have a few negatives to mention, though. First, the terminology alienated me in the beginning, but that was probably just me. I was overwhelmed by the new culture (slang/music) as well as new technology like “hydrocars” and “nove-fiber.” Also, the catalyst that prompted this monumental, worldwide mutation felt coincidental and insufficiently explained. Finally, the flow felt a little rushed in some places, particularly at the seams where hard-hitting scenes mesh together or when Kira is reflecting. The prose grows a little matter-of-fact in these few spots. I found myself wishing the author had lingered a little longer, fleshed these moments out, given us more detail to savor.

But don’t let my little quirks sway you from checking out Open Minds. (At .99 it’s a steal!) They certainly didn’t affect my five star rating. Rarely has a book mindjacked my attention like this one. The premise is wonderfully unique, the action fast and hard-hitting, the prose clearly and smoothly written. Details tuck into a tight, intelligent package. All around, it’s the best book I’ve read in a long time, Big Six offerings included. I’ve already downloaded book two.

Geared for a YA audience, but completely appropriate for 10+. I’d honor it with a Bookworm Blather Squeaky Award except for a few omg’s.

View the Mindjack Trilogy trailer.

Crossed (Matched, book two), by Ally Condie, 2011, Book Review

This is a continuation of the story of Cassia and the two men she loves. She is leaving behind Xander, perfect Xander who is destined for greatness within the Society, Xander, to whom she is Matched, and looking for Ky, the Aberation who has been sent to die in the Outer Provinces, the man who has stolen her heart.

And Cassia does find Ky. It’s almost too easy, the way this soft and pampered girl jumps an airship, escapes from a doomed village, runs twenty-five miles into the bleak Carvings, and catches up to Ky, who just happened to escape from the same village two days before. The journey changes her. For now, along with finding Ky, she has a second goal of finding and joining the Rising. This really isn’t the Cassia I came to know in the first book. Unfortunately, Ky doesn’t feel the same way about the revolution. And Cassia doesn’t yet know that Xander has already joined.

Again, I’m finding the dystopian genre to be pretty predictable. I wasn’t crazy about the alternating points of view, either—a chapter from Cassia followed by a chapter from Ky. Their voices don’t differentiate that much. I often forgot who was speaking and had to look back to the beginning of the chapter to find out. And the romance, while physically mild,  is still too over the top for this reader: “The way he says it, the way his mouth looks and his voice sounds, makes me want to leaves these papers alone and spend my days…trying only to solve the mystery of him.” (I’m rolling my eyes here.)

But Ms. Condie’s writing has a definite beauty, a thoughtfulness to it, that I did enjoy. The characters are unique from each other, though sometimes they say or do things that seem incongruent, and the wilderness setting feels beautiful and real. I’m especially intrigued by her theme of death. The Society preserves tissue samples of every individual they deem worthy with the goal of one day bringing them back to life when the technology is perfected. But Cassia rebels at this. “The Society can’t do this for us. We can’t do this for ourselves. There is something special, irreplaceable, about the first time living.” I like that.

Now I have to give my thoughts on the love triangle, just because it is the driving force in the series. Xander is Cassia’s perfect match. Her falling for Ky felt forced in book one. And even though I just spent an entire book with Ky, I still feel the same way. Their relationship just doesn’t have the grounds for this level of involvement and committment. So which man will win out in book three, heart or reason? Passion or familiar and comfortable? Either way, I’m guessing the other fella will get killed off.

I appreciate that Crossed is cleanly written. There is no heavy physical intimacy or profanity, and the violence is pretty tame.  I’d say it’s appropriate for younger fans of dystopian romance (10+). I’m not dying to get my hands on the last installment, but I probably will read it.

Book one: Matched

Insurgent, by Veronica Roth, 2012, Book Review

Veronica Roth has created a page-turning second novel in Insurgent, which continues the dystopian YA series set in futuristic Chicago. There, society is split into factions based on predominant character traits: Dauntless, Amity, Erudite, Candor and Abnegation. These exaggerated strengths have always helped maintain balance and morality among the whole. Until Erudite sought to overpower the others.

In Divergent (book one), Erudite developed a serum that, once injected, can control groups of individuals. Using Dauntless as involuntary mercenaries, Erudite initiated their destructive plan. Insurgent continues the story of Tris and Four, two loyal Dauntless who are working to end the violence, but a faction no one considered is rising in the chaos: the factionless, those poor and misfit souls who failed initiation of their chosen faction. The factionless want to utterly destroy Erudite and do away with the old system completely. Can Tris and Four stop them even when a difference of opinion threatens to rip their relationship apart? Even when they become privy to information that could change everything—including known history?

This was intense! I liked the first one just a bit more, but Ms. Roth does a tremendous job keeping the momentum moving through a sequel. I sympathize with Tris, but I don’t like her quite as much in this one, yet I admire her courage and still rally behind her. I missed the honesty and sweetness that so defined her relationship with Four. This time around, they bicker and hide things from each other constantly until I just wanted to shake them! Yet there’s still enough between them to hope they continue. And this book contains a tremendous element of suspense. What is the information the Abnegation leaders were going to make public, the information that started the war? It’s alluded to often, and Tris risks everything, including Four, to learn it. In the end, I thought the info was a little anticlimactic, but then I haven’t really taken the time to work out all the implications. I’ll leave that for Ms. Roth and simply anticipate book three!

Contains some war-type violence and a few mild profanities. Ages 12+

Gathering Blue (The Giver Trilogy, book two), by Louis Lowry, 2000, Book Review

gathering blueMs. Lowry wrote The Giver in 1993 (Newbery winner), Gathering Blue in 2000, and finally Messenger in 2004. It is a series of loosely related dystopian novels. A very depressing series, if truth be told, but engaging and well written. Though I’ve read the first one several times (long before my blog), I’ve never reviewed it–yet. Last year I got ahold of the final book (my review), not realizing it was part of a series. I’ve just now read the middle one, and the whole thing makes a bit more sense. Imagine that.

All three novels are set in a repressive, futuristic society where the weak are put to death. It’s a place where mothers beat their children till they bleed, where ‘gift’ is not in the vocabulary, where murder, selfishness, and manipulation are the rule. A world described by words like arguing, cursing, accusing, shouting, muttering, bragging, and blood. It’s a dark and disturbing place. But this is where Kira, a young girl with a crippled leg, makes her home. Fortunately she has an incredible gift with thread, one that makes her useful.

The book opens with Kira mourning her mother’s death. Her father died on a hunting trip before she was born. Despite threats by village women who now want her property, the Council of Elders allows her to stay. In fact, she’s given preferential treatment in the Edifice, the one remaining building with glass windows and running water. It is her job to preserve the special ceremonial robe that records the world’s history. In the Edifice, she meets two more children with phenomenal skills of their own. The precious friendships that develop between them glow like a pink and orange sunset against this culture of hate. But these children, too, are both orphans. If you’re thinking something smells rotten in Denmark, you’re right.

I didn’t love this book. Like the others in the series, it’s not a happy read. I knew it wouldn’t be. But unlike the other two, it didn’t drive me to the end. I expected more of a page-turner. It was kind of like taking a bite out of a s’more and getting a mouthful of graham cracker. Don’t get me wrong; I like graham crackers. But I like them a lot more with chocolate and marshmallow. This book was just missing the filling.

In a way, however, it made me feel better. I, too, have written a trilogy, and it was the middle one that gave me the most fits. Maybe it’s something about second books. Or maybe nobody, not even a Newbery-winning author, hits the mark dead on every single try. That’s a rather reassuring thought.

Though this series is written at a fourth to fifth grade level, it isn’t really geared for young kids. I’d say middle school is a good age to tackle such disturbing social themes.

My reviews:

Book one: The Giver
Book three: Messenger
And there’s now a Book four: Son

Divergent, by Veronica Roth, 2011, Book Review

divergentI’m becoming more and more a fan of the dystopian genre. I’ve read some very good ones this year, and Divergent ranks high.

Beatrice lives in what used to be Chicago, but it has become a land of factions. Five faction, to be exact, which all follow their own philosophy about how to live in peace: Abnegation, in which she grew up, steeped in the ways of selflessness. Candor, who value honesty above all else. Dauntless, the brave. Erudite, who figure knowledge will keep the world safe. And Amity, who dislike aggression. At sixteen years of age, the time has come for Beatrice to make the decision that will affect the rest of her life: stay in Abnegation or choose a different faction. The problem is, Beatrice knows she isn’t selfless, at least, not selfless enough. How can she stay in Abnegation knowing she’ll never live up to the standard? But what other faction would she choose? And how could she abandon her family? Even worse, aptitude tests show she has tendencies toward three different factions, making her a Divergent. And if that information became public, it could cost her her life.

Author Veronica Roth is only 23 and she’s already spent weeks on the best-sellers list (I’m so jealous!). She does a fabulous job creating this beautiful, complex character of Tris (Beatrice). The evolution of this character is fascinating as she identifies her strengths and weaknesses, her loyalties, beliefs and friends. And as she discovers an attraction for her instructor, Four, who also ranks among her list of fears.

Roth made this futuristic world come alive for me. Details are tight and believable, fully explained. It felt real, possible. And with it came a sense of dread. The tensions created by competing factions add a tremendous amount of suspense. I had huge sympathy for Tris, and she ends up in such a horrible predicament, I had to keep reading. But it also caused me to reflect, which I don’t tend to do in a novel of this sort. How would I respond in such a situation? What kind of influence would my beliefs and upbringing have on my decisions? What would I learn about myself? How would I change?

I love that Roth kept this one clean. (There are two instances of OMG, and one minor profanity.) Tris’s developing sense of her own sexuality after her Amish-like upbringing is beautifully and appropriately rendered. She and Four share some intimate moments, but I love the respect between the characters, the high value Four places on Tris, and the way Tris thinks things through. There is desire, but there is honesty and restraint. If anything, the restraint adds to the suspense of the story. I’m not a romantic by any means and usually like a very subdued romantic element, but I’m captivated by this relationship. And I’m curious to see if Roth maintains a sense of propriety in the sequel or if she takes it to an easy, predictable ending.

Divergent didn’t glue me to my seat quite like The Hunger Games trilogy did, but I’d be much quicker to recommend this one to my own daughter.

The sequel, Insurgent, is due out in May 2012.

The Maze Runner (The Maze Runner Trilogy, book 1), by James Dashner, 2009, Book Review

the maze runnerWhoa!  Can you say “suspense”? How about “intense”? This is one of those books that sticks to your fingers the moment you pick it up. Meanwhile, your house goes to pot all around you and the kids start complaining that they’re hungry. Minor details–I could not put The Maze Runner down!

Thomas wakes up in a creaky elevator with no recollection of his past life. His memory has been wiped clean, and he has no idea where he’s going. After a long ride, he emerges in the Glade, home to about fifty other boys who came there in the same way.

The Glade is a huge courtyard with massive walls all around it. Inside the walls the boys are safe. There, they farm, sleep and tend to their survival while trying to comprehend their situation. Who are they? Who put them here? And why? The answers, they believe, lie in the Maze.

In the middle of each of the Glade’s walls there is a doorway leading to a whole network of corridors. Miles and miles of corridors fashioned of the same towering walls. Each day, runners are dispatched to all corners to map the Maze. There must be a way out, if only they can find it!  But each evening the runners are careful to return to the Glade. For each evening the doors close, and Grievers stalk the corridors at night. And each night, the walls of the Maze shift.

Dashner does an extraordinary job crafting this novel. We enter the glade just as clueless as Thomas, learning as he does, in little bits and pieces, driven always to understand this baffling situation. When events beyond the ordinary begin to happen, the tensions between the  boys are superb, especially when the elevator delivers a girl! And little hints of memory, little smatterings of guilt seem to indicate that Thomas isn’t as innocent a participant as we hope.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about this story was the lingo. Instead of using common swear words, Dashner makes up a whole vocabulary of profanity unique to the Glade. It really works, illustrating frustration and anger without becoming offensive, and it adds a degree of humor. I’d much rather my kids call each other klunk, shuck, and slinthead than the usual litany of choices.

This book is intended for an audience of teens. It’s pretty mild, for the most part, with more suspense than violence, but at the end, after the boys understand the desperation of their situation, things heat up. The Griever attacks are bloody, and the climax ends in a fair amount of death. But it isn’t dark and senseless slaughter, rather it’s bravery and sacrifice.   enjoyed it immensely.

**Disclaimer added after reading books 2 and 3: While The Maze Runner is a fairly mild read, its sequels turn up the violence. Let me emphasize a 12+ recommendation. 

Watch for my upcoming reviews of the rest of the trilogy:

The Scorch Trials, book 2
The Death Cure, book 3