Although I loved this story, I understand that it may not be for everyone. It jumps back and forth between the past and the present, and there are multiple points of view, so some readers might not be able to follow so easily. Plus, there isn’t much in the way of action and adventure, which might turn some people off. But there is love, and loss, and yearning, and learning about self and family and friendship. So much emotional depth! I hadn’t really heard anything about this book before I saw the audiobook was immediately available for download via my local library, but I did recognize Jenny Downham’s name because I recalled sobbing my eyes out as I read Before I Die. (I often search and see which YA titles are “available now” rather than searching specific titles because I like to find hidden gems and, well, I am impatient!) So, yeah… I decided to give it a go. And, boy am I glad I went for it!
Katie is seventeen and she is struggling with several things. First, and foremost, she is struggling with her sexuality. Not only is she not totally sure how she identifies, but she is being bullied at school because of it. On top of that, she has an overbearing mom (Caroline), who often needs her to help care for her special needs brother (Chris). And, as if that all wasn’t enough, she also discovers that she has a grandmother (Mary) whom she never really knew and who now requires a place to live and constant care because she has Alzheimer’s and her long-time partner/caregiver (Jack) just died of a heart attack. When Katie decides to record stories in a memory book, to try to help preserve Mary’s memories, she discovers so much more than family history and secrets. She uncovers a variety of reasons her mother is so up-tight and the realization that “truth” varies greatly with perspective.
Contrary to popular belief, heroes are not always perfectly behaved and villains are not always evil. In fact, heroes sometimes act out of spite or self-interest, and villains sometimes act selflessly to help other people. In this story, both the Renegades and the Anarchists are comprised of prodigies — people with special powers, much like the X-Men — but their vastly different ideologies have placed them on opposite sides of the hero-villain spectrum. The Anarchists honestly believe that society would fare better without so much governmental oversight and interference, i.e. with anarchy. The Renegades, on the other hand, think that they are doing society a favor by overseeing everyone and bringing back law and order. Though both sides think their way would be best for the greater good, neither side seems capable of seeing the other side’s point of view.
Enter Nova, aka Nightmare.
Nova was raised by her Uncle Ace [the leader of the Anarchists] after the Renegades failed to protect her family. Nova has been consumed by a desire to avenge their deaths for as long as she can remember, but none of her plans seem to work out. Luckily, the Anarchists have an alternate plan that just might work. Because the Renegades don’t know Nightmare’s true identity, the Anarchists decide to send Nova to Renegade try-outs so that they can use her to gather intel and take down the Renegades from the inside. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Nova, who takes on the Renegade name of Insomnia, to start to feel conflicted. Not only does she start to fall for a guy who is a part of the Renegades, but she starts to see *why* the Renegades operate the way they do and that their methods actually have some merit to them. What’s a girl to do?!?
Sadie was more than prepared for a boring summer. Her best friend was going away to work at a summer camp and she was going to work at a farm stand selling fruits, veggies, and $12 chunks of cheese to “citiots” who were on their way from NYC to the Hamptons. Then, something completely random happened. When a drunk and belligerent man pulled in to the farm stand, Sadie became a bit of a hero. Rather than let him drive away with his toddler screaming and crying in the back seat, Sadie physically stopped him from leaving. It wasn’t all that simple, though. As she struggled to take away his keys, she actually had her head smashed off a toolbox and ended up with a major concussion and a terrible scar to show for her efforts. Video of her daring deed went viral and she was nominated for an award at a “homegrown heroes” luncheon that honored local teens.
Though they would have been unlikely to come together on their own, these teens felt an instant connection and decided to start hanging out as a group. Before long, they were working together to take down internet trolls while leaving care packages for the people who had been bullied. I don’t want to give away too much, but I think it’s fair to say that their good deeds soon escalated with the help of a generous benefactor. Though I was glad to see a book featuring brave and generous characters from a wide variety of backgrounds (both ethnic and socio-economic), I have concerns about the dangerous situations into which these teens placed themselves and can only hope that readers will know better than to emulate those particular acts of heroism.
Before Salvadore started his senior year, his life seemed to make much more sense. Applying to colleges and thinking about both his history and how his life might change in the near future, though, started him questioning everything he thought he knew and understood. Sal was adopted, but it wasn’t a “typical” adoption. His dad, Vincente, and his birth mother were very good friends before she ever met his birth father and became pregnant. So much so, in fact, that Vincente was the “birth coach” when Sal was born. Although Vincente was gay, he even married Sal’s mother so that he could adopt Sal more easily before she died of cancer. Sal never missed his mother too terribly because he had been too young to really remember her, but also because he felt so loved by his adoptive family. Despite their different ethnicities (he was white and his adoptive family was Mexican-American), he never felt like an outsider. When a few kids at school started directing racial and homophobic slurs at him and his father, nevertheless, Sal even started questioning his place in his family.
I don’t want to spoil any of the plot for y’all, but I think it is fair to say that this story includes several major, life-changing events that affect Sal and the people he loves most. As he did with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Sáenz handled coming of age, family dynamics, and evolving friendships with both realism and beauty. I was especially grateful for the adult characters, like Vincente and Mima. Sal’s best friend, Samantha, and new friend, Fito, were amazing characters as well, but I find that it’s far less common for a YA novel to have such fully-developed, accessible, vulnerable, and honest adults. If you haven’t read anything by this author, you need to fix that problem immediately…
When Corey moved away from Lost Creek, Alaska, she promised to come back to her best friend Kyra. And Kyra promised to wait for Corey. But, only a few days before Corey was scheduled to go back, she received word that Kyra had died. In the middle of the harsh Alaskan winter, Kyra had supposedly fallen through some ice and drowned. To Corey, who knew that Kyra suffered from Bipolar Disorder (and how very thick the ice could get in the middle of winter), it seemed much more likely that Kyra had chosen to break that ice and taken her own life. The insistence that it was an accident wasn’t even the most bizarre thing, though, as far as Corey was concerned. Even more bizarre was the way the small town’s people reacted to Kyra’s death. For her entire life, the people of Lost Creek had never cared for Kyra or her art, but they were suddenly displaying her artwork all over the place and talking about how well liked and respected she had been. Instead of acknowledging that Kyra had been suffering from depression, her mother insisted that Kyra was truly happy near the end. And, even though Corey had grown up in Lost Creek and only moved away a short time ago, people suddenly treated her coldly, called her an outsider, and warned her not to “pry into other people’s business.” When she carried on asking questions to try and understand what had happened, Kyra’s mother simply said, “Her death was inevitable, and so be it.” Say what?!?
I absolutely loved Nijkamp’s first book, This Is Where It Ends. I saw on Facebook that a friend had read this ARC, so I immediately messaged her and asked if she had an actual physical copy and, if so, whether she would *PLEASE* send it on to me. Luckily, it was and she did! Just like TIWIE, I could not put this book down! I read the first 150 pages in a single shot and only stopped at that point because my husband would have been upset if I chose my book over dinner with him and our daughter. 😉 I read the rest of the book in one more sitting and almost considered re-reading it to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Sadly, this book is not slated to be published until January 2018, so it looks like most of y’all will need to wait to read it. But just trust me and put it on your TBR list now… It will be worth the wait.
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
Jane led a relatively quiet life. She was raised by her Aunt Magnolia, who was an adjunct professor best known for her work as a wildlife photographer. Sadly, Aunt Magnolia was lost on one of her adventures in Antarctica, and Jane was left completely alone. Though able to make ends meet, Jane barely did more than mourn her aunt, work, and construct umbrellas. Construct umbrellas? Yes, you read that right. Jane was a bit of an artist, but her works were elaborately themed umbrellas rather than photographs or paintings. (One of her favorites, for example, looked like a speckled bird’s egg.)
Everything changed, though, when Jane was visited by an acquaintance named Kiran Thrash. Kiran insisted that Jane should come home with her — to her estate, Tu Reviens, for a gala. Though Jane was reluctant to go, she recalled a time when Aunt Magnolia had made her promise that she would go to Tu Reviens if she was ever invited. With nothing much to lose, she agreed. And this was where everything went wacky… Not only did Jane meet a variety of people — everyone from Kiran’s family to the caretakers of the Tu Reviens property — but she also found herself in the midst of a great heist. Right as everyone was ramping up and preparing for the gala, some very famous (and very expensive) artwork went missing.
This was nothing like the Graceling [fantasy] stories, though I don’t think fans of that trilogy will necessarily be disappointed. Jane, Unlimited was very much a mystery/spy story, but it had coming-of-age, romance, and science fiction elements as well. In fact, I can’t imagine having to pin it down to a single genre. Since it is very character driven, and there are SO MANY characters to get to know, it was a little slow for me to get into this one at first. I think that perseverance paid off, but I feel compelled to “warn” readers, nevertheless, that this book has a bit of a Groundhog’s Day feel to it. There were several times where I wondered if I had lost my place and read something over again only to realize that only some, not all, of that information had been revealed before. I can’t say much more without giving away any spoilers, so I will just have to ask you to trust me on this one and read it when it comes out in September. (Hope you like it as much as I did.)