I recently heard about this book from a colleague who thought it was a fantastic read, and then I stumbled upon an available copy of the audiobook only moments after talking to a patron about the [then] upcoming Diwali celebration… I figured it was a pretty good sign that this was a perfect time to check it out. (Happy belated Diwali, by the way!) I am *so* glad I that decided to go for it. Menon wrote a fantastic YA romantic comedy, PLUS she managed to do so while incorporating a lot of Indian culture and kept it from getting clunky or didactic. Not to mention the fact that the narrators were really great!
I think what I loved the most about this story was how authentic both Rishi and Dimple felt. I think it is likely that many American readers will find it easier to understand where Dimple was coming from — wanting to strike out on her own, follow her dreams, and choose her own career and life path instead of having her parents arrange a marriage to an Ideal Indian Husband. But I think there are surely some readers who will completely “get” Rishi, who is a hopeless romantic and believes that an arranged marriage is much more likely to lead to compatibility and lifelong happiness. At the very least, #WeNeedDiverseBooks so readers can be exposed to people from different cultures and better understand *why* people do things differently than they do. Since I have only known a few people whose marriages were arranged, it is still a largely foreign concept to me and I appreciated having another opportunity to learn more about this approach to love and marriage.
This book is about SO MUCH MORE than two families working toward uniting their children in an arranged marriage, though. One of the things I most appreciated was the way Menon depicted the struggle to stay true to one’s familial and cultural traditions while also forging one’s own path. I think many people can appreciate that, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, because it is such a universal struggle. While we might feel constrained by tradition, we also find comfort in what we’ve always known. And though readers may have different traditions and/or coming of age experiences than these characters, anyone with a working heart will surely feel #AllTheFeels when they read this story.
“I regret to inform you that I have had to take my own life.” That was the beginning of the letter Cody received from her best friend, Meg — sent via email, with a time delay to ensure that her suicide had been completed before anyone could try to stop her. In that letter, Meg went on to apologize for the pain she knew she would cause the people who loved her but also to explain that she saw suicide as the only way to end her own pain. Something else she said in that letter, nevertheless, led Cody to question what actually led Meg to kill herself. She found it nearly impossible to believe that she had no idea her best friend would want to kill herself, and she set out to uncover the truth of whether this truly was a suicide or whether Meg had been somehow coerced.
I read this book a while ago, but actually forgot that I had read it when I was recently browsing through “available titles” on OverDrive… All I remembered was that I had loved Gayle Forman’s writing in If I Stay and Where She Went, so I checked it out. As I listened to it for a second time, though, I started to recall bits and pieces of the plot and felt compelled to keep listening in case there was anything else I had forgotten about the story. Then it hit me that this would be a perfect book to share when #SuicidePreventionAwarenessMonth and #BannedBooksWeek overlapped. Not only does this book inspire readers to think about and look for the possible warning signs of suicide, but it also helps to create a better sense of empathy for people who struggle with mental illness. Rather than calling people “cowards” or “selfish,” we need to recognize the sense of helplessness that mental illness creates. Hopefully, books like this will lead to a more open dialogue so that we can work to #EndTheStigma.
Devin never knew life before the Earth got too hot. All he knew of that time was what his grandfather told him. But, despite the fact that he grew up in the “after,” he wasn’t really aware of the hardships that affected most people. Growing up on the farm, he learned how to make due with what the animals and the land provided. As long as he and his grandfather worked hard, they had all they really needed. When his grandfather died, though, it became too much for a single person to manage. So, Devin set off to the city to see if he could find anyone to help him work the farm. For the first time in his life, Devin experienced true thirst and hunger. He was also exposed to the darker side of humans when he encountered people who were willing to hurt others and steal in order to survive as well as those who ignored the suffering of others.
After settling in with some other orphaned children who taught him to scam and scavenge enough to get by, Devin began to hear rumors about a special home for children. If the rumors were to be believed, it was a place in which children would have more than enough food and toys for all. Even better? There was a chance that the children could be adopted by families that could provide for them! Some of the orphans believed in this place, but others thought it was a mere fairy tale. When Devin met an older boy who promised to bring him to this home for children, though, he decided to take a chance. As it turns out, this home really did exist… but something was not quite right. This book is technically “middle grade” fiction, but teen and adult fans of dystopias should definitely check it out.
Danny Wright signed up for the Army National Guard when he was 17 years old because he felt compelled to both serve his country and to honor the memory of his father, who died while serving in the Army. At first, he was proud to wear his uniform and excited to get to train with high-powered guns… but that all changed only a short time after he finished bootcamp. Why? He was called in by the Governor of Idaho to help with protests in Boise (about a proposed new federal ID card) and things got very out of hand very quickly. One accidental shot turned into a firefight in which civilians were injured and killed, and people started making comparisons to the Kent State shootings that took place during a Vietnam War protest in 1970. Knowing that he fired the shot that started it all, and seeing how quickly people snapped to pass judgement when they did not have all the facts, he was glad that the Governor pledged to protect the identities of the guardsmen who were involved. But, how long would the Governor be able to protect them when the President of the United States of America was demanding answers?
I especially appreciated the way Reedy worked in both extreme news coverage and polarized social media reactions. I was impressed to see a YA novel tackle the very complex topic of federal government/federal laws vs state government/states’ rights, but the audiobook impressed me even more. Much like Countdown, this audiobook uses a variety of sound effects and multiple readers to create sound bites that mimic news broadcasts and to set apart the non-narrative portions of the book. The only “down side” to listening to this audiobook all at once (on a road trip) was that the “near future” setting seemed entirely too plausible and actually made me feel a little anxious as if I were really listening to the news.
Amadou (15) and his little brother Seydou (8) had already been harvesting cacao for two years before Khadija arrived on the farm. They came willingly when they thought that they would be working for a single season to help make money for their impoverished family, but they soon discovered that they had been fooled. The “bosses” told the boys they would only be able to go home after they earned back their purchase price, but no one would tell they boys how much they had cost or how much they earned each day. Between their long hours of dangerous work — harvesting cacao pods with machetes — and their beatings when they failed to make quota, they boys quickly learned not to focus on anything but the task at hand. They got along well enough with the other boys, but didn’t exactly make any friends. All of their time was focused on survival. Then Khadija showed up and their world turned upside-down. Not only did a single child show up, when the bosses normally waited for a bigger group before making the expensive trip out to the farm, but Khadija was a girl. A girl who was determined to escape from the very moment she arrived, and who tricked Seydou into helping her break free from her bindings… After Amadou took the blame and helped them bring her back, though, he was forced to spend time with Khadija while they both recovered from their beatings. Would he be able to help her adjust? Or at least keep her from getting himself and Seydou into further trouble with the bosses?
I really wish I could say that this book was a dystopia rather than realistic fiction… It’s just so heart breaking to read about child/slave labor as it relates to the farming and harvesting of cacao (aka cocoa) in West Africa. As someone who absolutely loves chocolate, I am going to have to spend some time with the Food Empowerment Project’s Chocolate List to see which companies they recommend and try to adjust my purchasing/consumption to more ethical companies. I highly recommend this book for both the lesson in modern day slavery and the message of hope, bravery, and courage despite terrible odds. I especially like how this book describes the brutality of the farm without getting overly graphic, making it appropriate for even younger tweens.
I am fairly certain that every person has something they look back on with regret. Some people, though, have much worse regrets than others. Take Sebastian Cody, for example. When he was only four years old, he accidentally shot and killed his four month old baby sister. Can you even imagine the shame and depression that could stem from such a horrific tragedy?
This story takes place ten years after that tragedy, the summer after Sebastian’s ninth grade year. His mom is insistent that he have a “productive” summer, but he really doesn’t see the point. After all, he plans to kill himself at the end of the summer. All of his troubles began with a gun shot, and he plans to end them the same way. But then, a new girl moves into his neighborhood. Aneesa isn’t like anyone he’s ever met before. Not only is she a Muslim girl who wears a hijab, but she is so straight-forward that she often surprises Sebastian with her blunt honesty. It’s nice just to have a friend who doesn’t judge him for what he did all those years ago, but he wonders whether everything would change if only she knew the truth. Much like Jay Asher’s What Light, this book expertly explores coming of age, friendship, and self-forgiveness.
As a child of the 80s (having been born in 1979), this book felt so much like coming home. All of the references to 80s pop culture, especially geek culture, were just so spot-on! I was not an arcade kid, since we didn’t have an arcade close enough to my house, but I definitely played more than my fair share of video games on personal gaming consoles like the Atari 2600 and NES. I also have fond memories of playing puzzle and sim games on the Commodore 64 and Mac Classic in “computer class” at school. I also watched waaaaaay too much TV and too many movies, so most of Cline’s references felt like a conversation with an old friend. It’s beyond obvious that Ernest Cline was a fellow geek and that he loved all the cheeseball 80s stuff just as much as my friends and I did. For real… If you are a fanboy/fangirl of geeky 80s pop culture, you NEED to read this book!
Even better than the reminiscing, though, was the foreshadowing of what could come to be if we (citizens of the world) don’t change our reliance on fossil fuels and unplug a little from the world of “social media” to actually interact with the people and the world around us — in real life! Imagine, if you will, a future in which most people around the world are so immersed in a virtual reality “utopia” known as the OASIS that they rarely leave their houses. Since most people no longer have their own vehicles or even the financial means to utilize public transportation, the OASIS was the closest thing they would ever get to traveling. Kids even started to attend school in the OASIS because the virtual world created it’s own schools to let pressure off of the failing public school system. When I read one quote, I wondered if Cline was really just that attuned to the forthcoming changes in our society back in 2011 or if he somehow traveled through time to 2016 before he finished his story — “Now that everyone could vote from home, via the OASIS, the only people who could get elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical televangelists.”
One of the creators of the OASIS, James Halliday, had very few friends and never married or had any children. By the time of his death, he had even been estranged from his former business partner and one-time best friend for about a decade. So, before he died, he crafted an elaborate “Easter Egg” hunt within his virtual world to determine who would receive his fortune. Halliday’s last will and testament was announced to the world with a video chock-full of 80s references and explained that his heir would need to use their knowledge of Halliday’s favorite things to puzzle out the location of three keys and three gates/trials he had programmed into the OASIS. Everyone went nuts at first, but excitement waned after the first five years and only hardcore Gunters (a condensation of “egg hunters”) like Wade kept up the hunt. When Wade finds the first key and his name shows up on the leader board, though, the OASIS is suddenly hopping again and the competition stirs up adventure, danger, and even romance. I can’t wait to see how the movie of this book turns out…
Posted in action/adventure, audiobook, book review, dystopia, GLBTQ, LOL, mystery, romance, sci-fi/fantasy, sports, you think you've got problems?
Tagged Ernest Cline, Ready Player One