Wednesday, May 29, 2013

In Which I Review More Books

Confession: I read a lot of young adult fiction. I don't believe there is a time in which you're supposed to stop reading young adult literature; so long as the quality is there who is to say you're too old for such works. I find the characters in YA much more relatable  (I am only 26 after all. I was a young adult in the not too distant past) and that the authors of YA are able to express the conflicts of becoming an adult more accurately than jaded "adult" literature authors. The only caveat is that most of the young adult fiction I read is either supernatural or dystopian in nature, but that genre is merely a vehicle for discussing the realities of growing up. 

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
I was first drawn to this series after seeing a movie trailer for the upcoming City of Bones film, based on the first book. In many ways, it follows normative supernatural young adult fiction tropes: young girl meets mysterious (overly gorgeous) boy who is not what he appears; love triangle; vampires, werewolves, fairies, warlocks; mustache-twirling, black hat wearing-type bad guy. The series follows Clarissa (Clary) Fray as she encounters and then becomes a Shadowhunter. Now here's where my interest was first peaked: Shadowhunter's are the Nephilim of the Hebrew Bible (and external legends/texts). Part human, part angel, Shadowhunters protect mundanes (us) from the Downworlders (the supernatural typical baddies) who break the Accords and kill humans. The overarching plot of the first three books finds Clary, her obvious love interest (and potential brother) Jace, her best friend Simon (and third side of the triangle), and fellow Shadowhunter's Isabel and Alec fighting to preserve the Shadowhunter way of life while the devious Valentine plots to end the Accords and subsequently destroy all the Downworlders. Along the way there are revelations and battles and demons and lots of teenage coming of age angst before the second half of the series (books 4-6) changes direction ever so slightly. Besides the interesting religious aspect, what makes this series well worth the read is the way Clare wrote her hero, Jace. While Jace is typical leading man material (beautiful, talented, and special) he is far from polite or courteous or respectful. Most the books best bits of dialogue come from Jace making inappropriate comments which are sarcastic and caustic at the same time. Jace recognizes that he is incredibly special and plays that up but at the same time he is a very troubled soul, rushing into battle faster than his comrades. Jace has what would amount to a death wish based very heavily on how he grew up, who raised him, and the guilt he feels over his feelings for Clary (which is very hard to read until the third book). Overall, Clare is a very good writer and she keeps my interest for the entire series.
Grade (overall): A-

The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie
 Imagine a future society where you could not pick your future spouse but instead the society in which you lived matched you with a stranger. Such is the world in which Cassia lives, where the Society dictates her every move: who she marries, her career, what music she can listen to, what movies she can watch, what activities she can participate in, and the type of poetry she can read. It has all been dictated by the Society. Like Tris in the Divergent series, Cassia spends the first bit of the first novel oblivious to the fact that her world is inherently flawed. Cassia, in the opening chapters, attends her Matched banquet where she is matched with, surprisingly, her best friend Xander. It is only later that Cassia questions this choice when a brief "error" is made whilst she is viewing Xander's electronic profile: the Society matches her with a different boy, Ky. This is the start of Cassia's journey into figuring out free-will, love, and poetry. Unable to resist exploring the idea of loving Ky, Cassia is soon awakened to the evils of her society. This mostly comes through getting to know Ky (who has a rather tragic story) but also through poetry, which Cassia is drawn to because of its beauty and its forbiddeness. Cassia's love of poetry is reflected in Condie's novels, her words are lush and have a certain kind of movement to them. The first book is undoubtedly the strongest and does a great job of setting up the world and the central conflict. Sadly, the second and third book do not reach their full potential. The third book in particular felt as though I was reading a different series; while it was a good book, the idea of resistance--a heavy theme in the first two books--is relegated to a secondary position when the resistance itself happens in a few pages and it is the aftermath that is given more weight. For people who like stories to be wrapped up in nice tidy packages, they will find the ending of book three frustrating: the future of the world is left up in the air and the love story is the only aspect of the three stories that is fully completed.
Grade (overall): B-

The Diviners by Libba Bray
The 1920s are probably one of the most talked about (in print and media) eras in American history. There is something about the 1920s that screams: freedom, sex, drugs, alcohol, loose women, loose morals. Probably because that how the 1920s were for those who had the means. Evie is a young flapper; she loves parties, drinking, fashion, and generally having a good time. She has been sent from her dull town in Ohio to the Big Apple to live with her uncle. Evie is not a normal girl, however. She has the ability to see people's memories when she is holding one of their possessions, a secret Evie keeps to herself (except for drunken party tricks, of course). New York City isn't all fun and games, though.  A dark force has been brought back after years asleep and is performing ritualistic killings on New York men and women. Evie's uncle, an occult specialist, assists the policemen investigating the deaths, and with Evie's help they discover a supposedly dead religion that wishes to bring about the end of the world by fulfilling these murders. The book is character heavy at times; Evie is not the only one with special powers and we meet several others who do not play an integral part in the murder investigation but clearly set up future sequels. This book is both creepy and fun; Evie is a swell character and she makes the reader wish that they too lived in the 1920s. The author nails the feelings of the 1920s with dancers, drinks, and debauchery. The mystery itself (and the killer) are very frightening and the book itself reads very quickly.
Grade: A-

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