Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Sky Inside by Clare B. Dunkle

Summary:  13 year-old Martin lives in a dome where babies are advertised on television and delivered by storks, window decals mark the changing of seasons and no one is allowed to ask questions.  When Martin’s six year-old sister Cassie is recalled along with all the other kids in the dome aged six and under, Martin is the only one who seems to care.  His love, loyalty, and curiosity, along with his faithful Alldog, Chip, lead him on a dangerous journey to find his sister and discover the truth behind the world he lives in.

Dystopian Issues:  Totalitarian Government, Eugenics
Part of a Series: Yes
Next in Series:  The Walls Have Eyes
Age of Main Character: 13
Number of Pages:  229
Year of Publication:  2008
Publisher:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Review:  There are so many things I love about this book.
     First, the characters.  Martin, a smart, caring thirteen year-old who promises his sister he will find her when she is taken away and does everything he can to keep his promise.  Cassie, the extremely precocious six year-old who wants to know the why behind everything and loves her older brother deeply.  And Chip, the faithful Alldog who will do anything to win Martin's affection and help him out.
     I loved specific things like when Cassie is describing an updated version of Peter Pan to her family, and how Chip, as a robot contained by a jelly-like substance, has the ability to morph into pretty much whatever Martin needs and get him into secure places.  I also love the part where Martin's friends hack a zombie video game to merge it with a SimCity type game and have the zombies take over the frightened Sims. 
     Dunkle pulls together elements from Stephen King's The Running Man (book and film versions), George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and her own unique ideas to create a world where everyone is being watched and controlled to be good consumers and sheep.  Her attention to detail and love of her characters makes this book a joy to read and not depressing, even though it contains serious dystopian issues such as living with a totalitarian government and using eugenics to create the younger generations.
     The Sky Inside feels like a cautionary tale about the dangers of designer babies and believing propaganda.  Dunkle explores what would happen to society if babies were bred in labs with specific characteristics that are not valued by a totalitarian government.  Talk about using the system to subvert the system!
     Ultimately though, this book is a moving story about the bond between a brother and his sister, and his unwillingness to simply accept that her recall is the best solution.  Martin isn't out to fix society, just save the people that he loves.
     At the end of this book I have just one thing to say.  I want to be a fourteen.

Real-Life Dystopia:  I've been reading Eugenics by David Galton and am fascinated by the increasing role eugenics is playing in our society.  Eugenics is used in in-vitro fertilization to ensure a fetus without a genetically inherited disease is implanted in its mother.  Unfortunately, eugenics has the ability to be misused quite easily, as in the case of Nazi Germany's ideas of exterminating the Jews and in India and China where ultrasounds that determine the baby's sex often lead to the abortion of female fetuses.

Memorable Quotes: "It was the distance that fascinated him first.  After a lifetime of living with a steel ceiling and a concrete floor, the vastness of the living landscape was like a drug.  He stood on the top of a hill, a concept he had known before from sandbox games, but this hill was an enormous thing, and the ground fell gradually from it for a long, long way.  The ground below the hill wasn't flat either.  It undulated, rising in curves and falling in scoops.  Off to his left, high hills like a fence seemed ready to blockade the clouds themselves."
     -  The Sky Inside by Clare B. Dunkle, pg 144-145

     "The trees straggled down a nearby ridge and spilled into the field, like a crowd of people who had followed two or three leaders.
     Martin stood in their shade, put his hands into the ribs their bark, and felt wonder deep in his heart.  They were not tall and powerful like the I beans that ribbed the steel dome, but their branches swayed, and their leaves rustled in the wind.  He could tell that they were alive."
     -  The Sky Inside by Clare B. Dunkle, pg 148

Author Web Site:  http://www.claredunkle.com/

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Summary:  In ninety-five days, Lena will undergo a procedure and be protected from amor deliria nervosa, the deadly disease of being in love.  After witnessing this disease claim the life of her mother, Lena is eagerly looking forward to the day when she will be free from the fear of contracting it herself.  Before the deadline arrives however, Lena finds herself accidentally infected by Alex, a guy she runs into in the oddest places.  Now, instead of embracing the future planned for her by the powers that be, Lena begins to wonder if the disease is preferable to its cure.

Dystopian Issues:  Totalitarian Government, Mind Control
Part of a Series: Yes, it is the first book in the Delirium trilogy
Next in Series:  Pandemonium
Age of Main Character:  17
Number of Pages: 441
Year of Publication: 2011
Publisher:  HarperCollins Children's Books

Review:  At times, I thought this book was more of a romance novel in a dystopian novel's covering.  I'm not a huge fan of romance novels, and Lauren Oliver's style of writing drives me up the wall.  Her 441 pages contain so many descriptive paragraphs that I found myself zoning out and having to force myself to go back and re-read paragraphs and pages I had skimmed in boredom.
      Oliver's idea is intriguing though.  In this version of the United States, love is considered to be a disease that needs curing.  When a person reaches the age of eighteen and it is safe, they undergo a procedure that ensures they will never have to feel the symptoms and consequences of love.
     Lena is seventeen years old and ninety-five days away from undergoing the procedure.  Ninety-five days proves to be too long away though when she contracts the disease and starts experiencing the symptoms of love for a guy named Alex.  It's a twist on Romeo & Juliet, but Oliver makes it clear that she is trying to draw a parallel between the two stories.  Both are about forbidden love.
     I like what Oliver is trying to do: explore what society would look like without love.  But instead of being profound it comes off like Scott Westerfeld's Uglies, where the totalitarian government is using and encouraging the fear of something to perpetrate brain damage and the creation of humans that act like sheep and do not cause trouble.
     Where Oliver gets my respect is in the fact that she has mixed in literature and poetry from our world, while also inventing a vast amount of literature from the world she has created.  I love when authors create supplementary works for their novels because it shows how invested they are in their work and makes their creation even more interesting and believable.

Real-Life Dystopia:  In Delirium, the most important choices are made for a person.  Things such as who they will marry, what job they will hold, if they will receive post-secondary education - even how many children they will have.  This is mirrored in our world in the cultural practice of arranged marriages, and in China where a reproductive policy of one child per couple exists.  Although according to The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/25/china-one-child-policy-benefits-rules), China's policy is more nuanced than it appears to be.

Memorable Quotes: "One of the strangest things about life is that it will chug on, blind and oblivious, even as your private world - your little carved-out sphere - is twisting and morphing, even breaking apart...
     And still the sun rises and clouds mass and drift and people shop for groceries and toilets flush and blinds go up and down.  That's when you realise that most of it - life, the relentless mechanism of existing - isn't about you.  It doesn't include you at all.  It will thrust onward even after you've jumped the edge.  Even after you're dead."
-  Delirium by Lauren Oliver, pg 302-303

      "For the first time in my life I actually feel sorry for Carol, I'm only seventeen years old, and I already know something she doesn't know: I know that life isn't life if you just float through it.  I know that the whole point - the only point - is to find the things that matter, and hold on to them, and fight for them, and refuse to let them go."
-  Delirium by Lauren Oliver, pg 383

Author Web Site: http://www.laurenoliverbooks.com/

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Summary:  Elizabeth is nervous but thrilled when she escapes living with her father, step-mother and their impending spawn by getting shipped off to live with her aunt and four cousins in England.  For once in her life Elizabeth, renamed Daisy by her cousins, is undeniably happy, discovering the delight and security of family that loves her and falling into a forbidden relationship with her cousin Edmond.  The outbreak of war in England ends up separating Daisy from the people and places she loves so dearly, inspiring a desire to get back to her old life by any means necessary.

Dystopian Issues:  War, Anorexia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Part of a Series:  No
Age of Main Character:  15
Number of Pages:  194
Year of Publication:  2004
Publisher:  Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Inc

Review:  If the five little Peppers from Margaret Sidney's book Five Little Peppers and How They Grew had to deal with a war, I feel like How I Live Now is how things would have turned out for them.
     Rosoff writes characters that I want to know about.  Right from the start, Daisy's (Elizabeth's) voice comes out strong and clear, and I love her spark and honest perception of things.  Her cousins, Piper, Edmond and Issac readily accept Daisy as their own and not only teach her how to live on a farm but how to love and be loved as well.
     When it comes to writing books, authors seem to focus on different things: plot, character development, or telling a good story.  A well-round author does all three.  Not all authors are able to create characters that a reader cares about but Rosoff does so beautifully.
     The trouble I did have came from some of the plot elements.  I understood why Daisy became anorexic but I wish it had been developed more or not included at all.  Yes, it was ironic that Daisy was anorexic in the middle of a war where everyone was starving anyway, but I didn't feel it really added to the plot.
     As for the storyline about Daisy and Edmond falling in love and seeming to have sex like rabbits in the absence of adult supervision, yes, it was weird.  Although I kind of see their relationship as a way of clinging to what they had in the face of the unknown.  Would they have still fallen in love if they had received proper adult supervision and the war had never come?  I don't know.  In any case, Daisy's anorexia was useful in that sense because she was no longer getting her period and was therefore unable to get pregnant.  Could have been a completely different story if she had no eating disorder.
     War is a dystopia, and one that we deal with in real-life around the world.  Here in North America we haven't been as affected by war as we were during World War II, but for people in other countries it is an ongoing reality.  Rosoff is very apt at outlining what happens when the rules suddenly change and the world as you knew is overturned.  For Daisy and her cousin it started with little changes that grew to be life changing as the war continued.
     Rosoff is also good at showing that war has a cost.  Loved ones die.  People are changed by horrible things seen and experienced that will never be forgotten.  And being separated from family creates longing for a simpler time when life wasn't upside-down.  There is also the continuing fear that it could happen again.
     This book is currently being made into a movie and I am looking forward seeing it when it comes out.

Real-Life Dystopias:  Hmm..., an act of terrorism that sparked a war?  How about the bombing of the Twin Towers in the United States and the subsequent "War on Terrorism?"  I guess the difference between that example and How I Live Now is that the terrorists invaded England after the terrorist event and there was no invasion of America.  Although I'm sure some of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq regarded the American troops as terrorists when they bombed and invaded those countries.  Sometimes it's a matter of perspective, and this is only one example of terrorism and war.

Memorable Quotes:  "It's a shame, starting out your first day on the planet as a murderer but there you go, I didn't have much choice at the time.  Still, I could live quite happily without the labels I picked up because of it.  Murderer or Poor Motherless Lamb.
     Which one would you choose, the rock or the hard place?"
     -  How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, pg 19

Author Web Site:  http://www.megrosoff.co.uk/blog/

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Summary:  Tally Youngblood is three months away from having her only desire fulfilled: escaping her natural Ugliness by becoming a Pretty on her sixteenth birthday.  Shay, Tally's new friend, tries to convince her there is a life outside of being Pretty in a place called Smoke but Tally refuses to give up her dream.  When the opportunity to become Pretty is taken away from Tally because of Shay's disappearance, she is forced to turn spy and undertake a perilous journey or face the unthinkable idea of being an Ugly forever.  Little does Tally know that there are worse things than being Ugly.

Dystopian Issues:  Government Control, Mind Control
Part of a Series:  Yes
Next in Series:  Pretties
Age of Main Character:  15 at the beginning of the book, 16 by the end
Number of Pages:  406
Year of Publication:  2005
Publisher:  Simon Pulse

Review:  Vapid.  That is the first word that came to my head when I thought about how to describe this book.  A world where a person's only ambition is to escape a brainwashed idea of ugliness is not appealing to me.  Tally, the main character, believes her life will be perfect after she is turned Pretty on her sixteenth birthday.  She is right, but for reasons far more sinister than she suspects.
     I feel like Westerfeld is trying to make a statement about our society's focus on physical appearance but it isn't a strong one.  Yes, in this book being Ugly is actually preferable to being Pretty because being Pretty is usually accompanied by a lobotomy (okay, I'm being a bit dramatic here - a brain lesion that has similar properties as a lobotomy), but Pretties aren't aware of what they are missing and are happy in a mindless kind of way.
     I was left unsatisfied by a lack of explanation for how the society developed.  Westerfeld's reasons of avoiding anorexia and war by having freedom of thought altered were uncompelling.  Westerfeld also could have been more succinct in his execution as it felt like the story took a long time to develop - mind-numbingly slow in some parts yet a page turner in others.
     I grew to like Tally more as she developed over the course of the book but I don't know if I like or care about her enough to tackle Westerfeld's sequel, "Pretties."  I didn't find the depth I usually enjoy in the characters I read about in any of the people Westerfeld presents.
     But if there is anything I took I away from this novel, it is that getting a society to focus solely on something as meaningless as looks sure does grant the governing body a lot of leeway to do whatever they want.  It has a kind of 'smoke and mirrors,' 'pay no attention to the man behind the curtain' feel to it.

Real-Life Dystopia:  Any reality television show about cosmetic surgery or the Kardashian sisters.

Memorable Quotes:  "History would indicate that the majority of people have always been sheep.  Before the operation, there were wars and mass hatred and clearcutting.  Whatever these lesions made us, it isn't a far cry from the way humanity was in the Rusty era.  These days we're just a bit . . . easier to manage."
     -  Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, pg 258

     "Sometimes Tally felt she could almost accept brain damage if it meant a life without reconstituted noodles."
     -  Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, pg 350

Author Web Site:  http://scottwesterfeld.com/