Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Delirium and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

What would happen if we could not feel love? Would there still be hate if there was no love? Would we be able to know happiness if there was no love? These are the tantalizing questions posed in these two dystopian YA books by Lauren Oliver, Delirium and Pandemonium.

In Delirium, Lena is approaching her 18th birthday, the day when she can receive "the cure" that is mandated by the government as necessary. It is a vaccination against a type of killing illness they call the "deliria nervosa" which in essence, is love. Love has been deemed the root of all evil and conflict, as it is apparent that the U.S. has experienced a devastating war (although this is not talked about in the book.) The theory is that if people cannot feel love, then they will also not feel any kind of passion at all, and so conflicts such as wars will be a thing of the past. Lena is all for the cure. She wants to protect herself from this infection - that is until she meets a boy named Alex. At first she thinks that Alex is "cured" and so poses no danger to her. But the more she gets to know him, the more she finds out about his past and his goals for the future. The question then is, will Lena risk everything in her life - security, family, friends - in order to experience love? Pandemonium continues the saga and leaves you with a shocker for an ending.

I could not stop reading this compelling story, one book right after the other. There is just something about this dystopian trend in YA right now. And I'm loving it. Now, tell me what you think!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Submission by Amy Waldman

Of all the wonderful books on our Valley Book Club reading list this year, this was one that I was really excited about. I mean, what a premise! A Muslim architect is chosen as the winner of the 911 Memorial design contest. He's as American as anyone in America. Will they let him win? Will his design be seen as truly American, as he is, or will it be shoved under the carpet as a cruel joke, a terrorist plot in the making, or just a visual that people cannot stand to visit?

I know, wow, right? And this premise really works as a catalyst for good discussion, thought, contemplation of our own prejudices. But the story surrounding this premise was, unlike the idea, utterly lacking in excitement. The back story of the beautiful woman on the memorial jury who lost her husband was bland. The story of the deadbeat turned hero and activist because he lost his older brother in the tragedy seemed contrived. The only story line that created any interest was that of the designer himself, Mohammad Khan, who while being sort of the hero in the story because of his willingness to fight for what is right (his win and his memorial) becomes someone I don't even really like very much, and I can't really say why. I like him because he has overcome the prejudices he faces in America to become a brilliant designer and successful man, but for some reason, by the end of the book it becomes hard to root for him. His fight for what is right becomes more about his ego. He is totally unable to express to anyone what the memorial means to him, what it should mean to the people of post-911 America, and he refuses to answer questions about it, even from those who are fighting with him to do what's right.  At some point I just wanted to scream, "Come on! Make your point! Don't wait for others to think it's so obvious and don't wait for them to do it for you!" 

I did think the book did an excellent job of expressing all the points of view that were possible in way that didn't make anyone's view look crazy or stupid. Even those who fought against the memorial and against Khan as a person seemed to really have reasons that most readers would sympathize with. They had reasons. Everyone has reasons.The author really leaves it for the reader to decide which reasons are legitimate and which are extremist in their own right.

So, if you're looking for a fast-paced political page-turner, this is not it. But if you like to take your time and read a story about issues that affect us every day, then this is it. Give The Submission a fair review, and then let me know what you think!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

This is the Valley Book Club's pick for this month, and when we voted for it, I believe it was the one with the most votes overall. Its timely topic of Alzheimer's disease and its first person narrative had everone intrigued.
The book documents a year in the life of Alice Howland, a Harvard linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. It begins with those little "forgetfulness" symptoms, and progresses with a diagnosis for the hereditary gene for the disease. This finding is shocking to her three children, who must then decide how they want their lives to proceed, in fear, in normality, or in joy. The symptoms that Alice experiences progress month by month, and seem very realistic, and so increasingly frightening both for the characters and the reader.
As I read, I felt that it was wonderful for an author with such knowledge to write such a needed book on the topic. As I said, I felt it was an extremely realistic portayal, although I have no real experience with the disease. I did find the writing very dry and hard to get through, but perhaps it was this way for a reason, as it did fit the character's personality to some degree and the straightforwardness of her diagnosis. The first time I started the book, I got about a third of the way, and I had to stop. I forced myself to pick it up again and finished it in about an hour. Am I glad I did? I'm not sure. I know this is a part of real life, but perhaps that's why I didn't enjoy it. It was just too real for me, even though I have never had a close loved-one go through this. It was extrememly depressing to me, and while this is natural with such a topic, it left me exhausted and not very satisfied.
The character of Alice was very miserable as time went on, but she did seem to still find joy in some things, and that was uplifting. She also didn't seem to get very upset or agitated at the very end of the book with all the "not knowing." She seemed to somehow grow accustomed to her life. I'm just not sure that that is realistic. But maybe it is, and caregivers should take solace in the fact that perhaps Alzheimer's patients do grow comfortable with the simplicity of their world. There are no real decisions to be made and no real conflicts for them other than the physical day-to-day workings of their bodies. So maybe it should be comforting to know that those like Alice can be happy in their simpler lives as long as those around them are caring and comforting always. I will continue to pray that this is true.
In the same way that the book A Million Little Pieces was a  realistic account of a life, one that helped thousands of people who read it come to terms with and understand drug addiction, so will Still Alice help those dealing with Alzheimer's. If you need to understand Alzheimer's without getting bogged down in a lot medical terminology or confusing articles on the Internet, then this book could really help.But let me know what you think. Post a comment. I'd love to hear from you.

The Power of Six and The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore

The I am Number Four series for young adults is a fascinating mix of sci-fi, love story, supernatural heroes, and thriller plot. I loved the first one and its movie counterpart, so I had to continue the next two, and I anxiously await another.
The premise is a great one, although a bit more sci-fi than I usually go in for. It goes like this: ten children and their Cepans (or mentors) were sent from the planet Lorien to Earth in order to escape the evil Mogadorians who took over their planet for its life-giving resources. The children grew up on Earth, trying to stay hidden and protected until their special powers developed that would enable them to protect themselves and Earth from the Mogdorians. There is an interesting curse put on them that will only let them be killed in their preordained numerical order. At the start of the first book, the first three children were already dead, and so the hunt began for Number Four, also known as John Smith. He is aided by Number Six, who is the female focus of the second book, and it was my favorite. More characters/children are introduced and their backstories unfold: how they have survived, what their lives are like on Earth, and what their unique powers, or "legacies" are. They each also have a "chest" that is filled with cool gadgets from Lorien which they must learn to use to fight the Mogadorians.
It seems like a lot of weird details to get bogged down in, but the pace of the books is super fast. The action literally never stops and sometimes gets a bit exhausting, but all the characters are interestingly intertwined, and they fight not only for themselves, but each other and their human helpers. The writing is much simpler than books like Divergent and The Hunger Games, and the plot not as complex, but these stories are full of action and are easy reads for teens and adults alike who are trying to escape reality and just get involved in a page-turning thriller. I would also recommend them to middle grade girls and boys as well, as the love interest is not central or very detailed,the themes are quite inspiring, and as I said, the language and dialog are timely and simple.
So, if you're in the mood for a quick, involving thrill ride, try the rest of the I am Number Four series. And then wait impatiently for the next movie, as I will!

Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr

This was the Valley Book Club's pick for last month, and the person who suggested it should be applauded. Revoyr's writing style and personal touch made this story of childhood struggle and racism come alive.

Michelle, a Japanese American girl born to "free-spirited" parents, must go to live with her white, paternal grandparents in Wisconsin when her mother unexpectedly disappears. Her father swears to her that he is just going to find her mother and will return, but this is postponed over and over again by his lack of commitment to Michelle. Meanwhile, Mikey, as her grandfather Charlie comes to call Michelle, grows very attached to her grandfather and her life in a small town despite its obvious prejudices against Japanese Americans following the war. Charlie keeps her close and protected from abuse as much as possible, despite his own racism toward the black couple who move to their town. It is this conflict, both in their small community and within the characters themselves that create the struggle and ultimate catalyst to disaster in the book. How can someone be color blind in one instance and totally prejudiced in another? What are we willing to do for love and family ties in such a conflict? In the end, it is Charlie who is put to this ultimate test.

Wingshooters is a poignant and beautiful look at many things: childhood, prejudice, abandonment, and loyalty. There is much here to talk about in a slim, easily readable volume. Put it on your list of "must reads" today!