Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

The thing I really love about dystopian and post apocalyptic fiction is the way the world is revealed.  I love it when the differences and similarities between our world and the future world of the novel are unveiled slowly and seamlessly.  Ship Breaker did that perfectly.  There is that delightful confusion at the beginning, followed by complete understanding of a complex world.  What I loved even more about Ship Breaker was that you were still discovering things about the world by the last page.  There was always more to learn, nothing was told, everything was shown slowly and perfectly.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s dystopian novel is about Nailer, he himself is what is known as a ship breaker, or a worker who goes through the ducts of old oil tankers, now immobile and deteriorating on the beach of the US gulf coast, looking for useful metals to scavenge.  Ship breaker crews live in hope of finding a Lucky Strike, or a hidden collection of oil that can be sold on the black market.  A Lucky Strike could bring in enough money that a ship breaker can buy his or her freedom and be secure for the rest of their life.   When Nailer does get his Lucky Strike, it’s in a way that he doesn’t expect.

I loved pretty much everything about Ship Breaker.  It is original, the characters are believable and sympathetic, the villain is very villainous.  One thing that made me particularly happy was that we never quite learn everything about this world.  There are still more things to discover, explore and understand.  It’s not necessarily that Bacigalupi left things out intentionally for a sequel, it’s just that this world is so rich that there will always be more to flesh out.

This book is made even more poignant by what is happening in the Gulf Coast right now.  To top it all of it is all action, a never ending tour-de-force, without sacrificing emotion.  I can’t wait to read The Wind-Up Girl and whatever else Paolo Bacigalupi writes.

Favorite quotes:

“You think they even know we’re here?” Moon Girl asked.

Pima spat in the sand.  “We’re just flies on garbage to people like that.”

The lights kept moving.  Nailer tried to imagine what it would be like to stand on deck, hurtling across the waves, blasting through spray.  He’d spent evenings staring at images of clippers under sail, pictures that he had stolen from magazines that Bapi kept in a drawer in his supervisor’s shack, but that was as close as he’d ever gotten.  He had spent hours pouring over those sleek predatory lines, studying the sails and hydrofoils, the smooth engineered surfaces so different from the rusting wrecks he worked every day.  Staring at the beautiful people who smiled and drank on the decks.

The ships whispered promises of speed and salt air and open horizons.  Sometimes Nailer wished he could simply step through the pages and escape onto the prow of a clipper.  Sailing away in his imagination from the daily mangle of ship-breaking life.  Other times, he tore the pictures up and threw them away, hating that they made him hungry for things he hadn’t known he’d wanted until he’d seen the sails.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Also reviewed by: Reading Rants!, Presenting Lenore, Fantasy Book Critic, Kids Lit, Becky’s Book Reviews, Wordbird, The YA YA YAs, Charlotte’s Library, Killin’ Time Reading, Sarah’s Random Musings, Bart’s Bookshelf, books i done read, Dreams and Speculation.

Fat Cat & Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

I know this post is long, but it’s full of LOVE.  So let me give you a tl;dr version, because I’d hate for you to miss out on these two books: I LOVE Fat Cat and Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande TO PIECES.  They are fabulous.  GO READ THEM.

A couple months ago, when I was still doing the awful commute to work and school, I listened to Fat Cat by Robin Brande.  Guys, I loved that book so hard that I couldn’t even review it.  I know, that doesn’t make any sense, but somehow I just never got around to writing up a review of it.  I don’t know why; maybe I just couldn’t articulate what was so awesome about it.  Now that I’ve read Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature, I think I have a better idea about why I love Brande so much.

Fat Cat and Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature are two of the best YA books I’ve read in recent memory.  The two stories are very different, but both feature a strong young woman as the protagonist, both heavily feature high school science and high school science teachers, both have wonderful romances.  Whereas  Fat Cat is about a young woman who decides to change herself, Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature is about a high schooler who unknowingly begins to change her entire community.

Mena belongs to an extremely conservative church, but when she is witness to something that she finds to be very wrong, her entire church turns against her, including her parents.  All of the people that were once her friends become her enemies, but it just might be the best thing that ever happened to her.  Her lab partner in Biology class, Casey, broadens her horizons, introducing her to a lot of things that her strict religion kept her from, like Lord of the Rings and science fiction and science in general.  With the help of Casey’s older sister, they try to stop Mena’s ex-friends from taking on the best teacher in the school, Ms. Shepherd by disputing evolution and trying to introduce intelligent design into the curriculum.

This book is relevant, it’s smart and it’s different.  These kind of things are happening all the time.  This book will give kids like Mena the courage to step up and say something when being silent is the easier option.  This book completely refutes the idea that a scientist can not be religious and a Christian cannot be a scientist.  Though Mena has been excommunicated from her church, she still maintains her beliefs.  This was so entirely refreshing, even though I personally don’t share Mena’s beliefs, because Mena never once turns on what is true to her, she simply is open to new ideas and incorporates her new knowledge into her belief system.

I like YA books that have the ability to affect change, especially in teenagers who have formed such strong opinions because an adult has told them too, not because they understand the issue.  The teenagers in this book do some truly awful things, but how much can we blame them when all the adults in their lives were telling them they were doing the right thing?  Maybe Mena can change their minds; if they see someone who is so much like them, altering their opinion and becoming more open to what the world can offer, maybe they will too.

Just look at this passage, it’s perfect:

“And this,” [Ms. Shepherd] said toward the end, “is why evolution rules the day.  Because nothing is static.  Everything changes.  That is the BEAUTY of life.  And the successful organisms – the ones like you and me and viruses and sharks and everything else that’s out there today – we owe our existence to the genes that kept mutating and adapting all along.  THANK YOU, MUTATIONS.”

I love it when she says things like that.   Like she doesn’t even care how weird it sounds.

“If you think about it,” she went on, “not a single one of us is exactly like anything that came before.   In a way we’re all truly freaks of nature.  That’s what it takes to survive – the freaks shall inherit the earth.  Look how well viruses are doing.  They mutate and adapt constantly – it’s why we have to develop new vaccines all the time to keep killing them.

“Which raises an interesting question,” Ms. Shepherd said, glancing over at the Back Turners.  “Because if  you don’t believe  in evolution, then you must not believe that diseases change over time.  In which case there would be no need for anyone to get new flu shots every year, because obviously if we’ve vaccinated once, that should last forever, right?”

“Brilliant,” Casey whispereed.

“Just something to think about,” Ms. Shepherd said.  And then the bell rang.

And I just sat there.  I didn’t want to move.  I wanted to sit there and understand everything I’d just heard. […]

Not to be too dramatic, but when Ms. Shepherd explained that about the flu shot and about us all being freaks of nature, it was like something reached inside my chest and yanked on my soul.  Like somebody opened up my head and shouted down into my brain, “Do you get it?  Mena, are you listening?”

It’s just that it all makes sense. In the same way that God makes sense to me sometimes and I really think I can feel Him. I can see the order  to things, His purpose behind them. I wish I felt that way more often – about God, I mean – but whenever I do, it’s like someone has pumped up my heart with helium,and I can barely keep from floating off into space.  (75-76)

Where Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature has Mena taking on her entire church and finding out about herself along the way, Fat Cat is about the main character Cat finding herself.  She believes a lot about herself, a lot of which has to do with her weight, but she finds out that she just might be a completely different person, and her longtime enemy might not be everything she thinks he is, either.  Cat is amazing as a narrator.  I loved every single thing about her, I wanted to be her best friend.  I saw parts of myself in her, parts of my best friend, parts of my sisters.

I thought Fat Cat could go a lot of ways – the plot is essentially that Cat uses herself as a science experiment, to live as prehistoric hominids did.  She begins to lose some weight, a lot of weight, and her life changes along the way.  This is not a book about fat being bad and skinny being good.  This is a book about getting healthy – for you.  Not for the boys,  not for your family, but for yourself.  At the same time, that is not really what this book is about at all.  It’s not a preachy book about weight loss, by any means.

What it all boils down to is I saw myself in Mena and Cat, and I think every girl could.  I want to give these books to my sisters, my cousins, my friends, my mother, my grandmother.  That’s not to say that boys wouldn’t enjoy them too, there’s a lot of crossover appeal here.  The other big plus here?  There was romance, but THESE BOOKS ARE NOT ABOUT THE ROMANCE!  When Cat loses weight, there are a lot of boys interested in her, but the way the romance plays out is perfect,when it could have so easily failed.

Please. Robin Brande, write more books.   I feel like you’re writing them just for me and I need some more!  Right now!  Please?

So… if you haven’t figured it out, go read these!: now | tomorrow | next week  | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: (Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature) Teen Book Review, Liv’s Book Reviews, Lesa’s Book Critiques, Ten Cent Notes, A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, Reading Rants!. (Fat Cat) Confessions of a Bibliovore, Becky’s Book Reviews, Lesa’s Book Critiques, Steph Su Book Reviews, Reading Rants!, Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf, Reading to Myself.

Girlhood friendship in Woodson’s “After Tupac and D Foster”

When I read If you come softly by Jacqueline Woodson back in spring, I was completely blown away by the beauty and the tragedy of it.  It’s a simple, lovely novel that has the power to change lives.  So really if you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this review and go read If you come softly. You won’t regret it.   After reading it, I wanted to read every Jacqueline Woodson book I could get my hands on, so when I saw After Tupac and D Foster on my library shelf, I grabbed it right away.

Where If you come softly was a story about romantic love, After Tupac and D Foster is the story of three black girls who are best friends, Neeka, D and our narrator.  D mysteriously enters their lives the summer before they turn twelve and just as quickly leaves right after they turn 13.  Tupac plays an important role in the girls’ lives, with the book beginning when Tupac was shot for the first time and ending with his death.  D looks up to Tupac and she feels as though he is talking directly to her through his music.  They become closer friends through their passion for the musician and it gives the novel the perfect arc.

What I loved best about After Tupac and D Foster was the narrator and her voice.  She’s very mature, but not unbelievable, and she is just looking for a little bit of beauty in the world.  The novel captures an era and a place perfectly.  The love that the three girls share is so perfectly described, but it manages to be about bigger things than that.  It is a short book, but one that encompasses so many parts of life, from the challenges to the perfect moments.   I loved the inclusion of Tupac in this book because it puts it in a precise moment of time, New York in the 90s.  Tupac is a fascinating man and I highly recommend the VH1 documentary about his life.  There are so many things that I didn’t know about him, but having watched the documentary beforehand really gave me a greater sense of the emotional way that the girls reacted to Tupac and just how important he really was (and is).

But Woodson does not stop at the girls’ friendship or their relationship with Tupac.  There is so much more in this book and it’s amazing how much Woodson captures in 150 pages.  One of the most touching scenes is when the narrator and Neeka go visit Neeka’s brother Tash in jail.  He was wrongfully accused of assaulting an old friend, but really it was a crime against Tash, in which he was beaten as well.  Tash, a gay man, must avoid being beaten or worse in prison and he has a conversation with his mother that will absolutely break your heart.

“Why did you roam, though?” I asked.  Whenever D talked about her roaming, I always asked why.  I wanted to understand — deep — what it was like to step outside. […]

“Uptown they got those fancy buildings.  Out in Brooklyn they got those pretty brownstone houses.  West side got Central Park and people going all over the place in those bright yellow taxicabs.”  D looked at us and I knew a part of her knew how much me and Neeka lived for the rare moments when she showed us where she’d been and, by doing so, we got to go to those places too.

And then it made sense to me — crazy-fast sense in a way it hadn’t before.  D walked out of her own life each time she stepped into one of those other places.  She got off the bus or walked up out of the subway and her life disappeared, got replaced by that new place, those new strangers  — like big pink erasers.  Before me and Neeka started asking D about her life, we were erasers too — she got to step into our world with all the trees and mamas calling from windows and kids playing on the block, and forget (18).

And that is exactly what Woodson does for her readers.  You so perfectly step into this world, onto this  street and you are completely with the three girls that it does not feel like you are reading a story, it’s more real than that.  There are many other passages that I want to quote for you, but I think I’ll let you discover them for yourself.  Jacqueline Woodson has done it again and I plan on reading everything she has ever written, because if all her books are only half as good as If you come softly and After Tupac and D Foster then they will all be  excellent.

So go read  this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: Color Online & The Happy Nappy Bookseller.

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Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X Stork

I read Marcelo and I loved it.  I could end this review there and call it a day, but I figure you’re probably here for more than that.  You’re here for all the pertinent review questions.  Sure, it’s great that I loved it, but why? I’m having difficulty articulating that because I read Marcelo in the Real World so long ago and haven’t had the chance to sit down and review it.  So I’m going to tell you in the simplest words I can:

I loved Marcelo because I loved Marcelo.

I loved Marcelo because I loved every other character, too.  There is not a secondary character in here – they are all beautifully realistic.  Stork, through Marcelo’s voice, breathed life into these people; they felt real in the best way that characters can.

I loved Marcelo because it has some serious cross-over potential.  In fact, I think the publishers might have made a mistake.  Why is Marcelo YA?  Well, because it has a young, teenage protagonist with a voice that sounds younger in some respects, but also much older.  This novel is often compared to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, understandably: but why is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time an adult novel and Marcelo in the Real World a young adult novel?  But where, for me, The Curious Incident lacked feeling and left me cold and unconnected, Marcelo was filled to bursting with emotion and feeling and discovery.  What Marcelo in the Real World can offer an adult is completely different from what it can offer a young reader (as is true of most books, but bear with me).  Marcelo is almost 18, but he has an autism-like condition that makes him very brilliant, but socially and emotionally different.  Marcelo’s dad is convinced that he can make it in the real world, if he just tries.  So he hires him in the mail room at his office.  What Marcelo learns there is a very grown up lesson and it would do any adult some good to look at this conflict with eyes as fresh as Marcelo’s.

So none of that is to say that this book isn’t fit for young adults, because it definitely is.  It’s just to say give me an adult who “doesn’t like YA” and I will give them Marcelo.

I love Marcelo because of this:

Actually, I am asking myself if conversations with friends always feel like this — two minds bound together by their focus on the same subject (89).

And this:

I stay up listening to her fall asleep, feeling how it is not to be alone (261).

And this:

I take as long as I can wiping my hands.  Now it seems funny to me that I got so nervous at the thought of sleeping next to Jasmine.  What is happening?  Yesterday, Jonah asked me if was sexually attracted to Jasmine and that notion seemed shocking to me.  And now there is this.  I touch my abdomen where I feel a tingling.  That’s what “butterflies in the stomach” feel like.  These butterflies were let loose by what?  The first one or two came out when Jasmine talked about the Internal Music and how I could be flesh and blood like her, for instance, and then thousands fluttered when she pointed at the spot where we will sleep together.  They are not unpleasant, these butterflies.  Their tiny wings are pulling me out, tickling me with the anticipation of lying next to Jasmine (257).

So, if I haven’t convinced you yet that I loved this book, I’m not sure what else I could tell you.  Get out there and get reading.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: 1330v, The Compulsive Reader, Book Addiction, Fledgling, The YA YA YAs , bookshelves of doom, TV and Book Addict, stuff as dreams are made on.

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Tying up loose ends

Come tonight at midnight, it will be a new year.  Time to start keeping track of my books in a new spreadsheet, time to officially begin reading challenges.  I have quite a few book reviews to write from books I read in 2009, but I’d like to keep all my 2009 reviews in 2009, so here goes!

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy reading Shiver as much as a I did.  This novel is as much atmospheric as anything; Stiefvater creates the cold, winter landscape beautifully and I loved the sparse prose.   There has been a lot of controversy around this book, though I’m not sure why.  I’m sure those who love Twilight, will love Shiver. Maybe they’ll even appreciate the more skilled writing and beautiful language, which is why I bought this book for my sister for Christmas.  The biggest complaints seem to be Grace’s lack of independence and a couple mentions of Grace’s parents.  It is really convenient that Grace’s parents are never around, but at least Stiefvater attempts to weave this into the story with Grace’s frustration with her parents absence.  After reading the complaints about Grace, I was very prepared to feel the same way, but I was surprised.  I thought Grace was very independent, not perfect, but sometimes I want to read a novel about an all-consuming passionate love.  Okay?  All in all, I thought Shiver was decent, if not perfect.  The plot could have used some cleaning up, the conflict was kind of boring to me.  But I know my sister (14) will love it, so that’s all that really matters.

Liar by Justine Larbalestier is an exercise in form that also doesn’t lose important characterization or plot.  Even though I knew the plot and the fact that Micah is a liar, I was still unprepared for the twists and turns this novel surprised me with.  I literally shouted out loud when certain things were revealed.  It seriously was nothing I was expecting, even though I’ve been following the novel since its release earlier this year.  I really appreciated that!  Highly recommended.  This was also a gift for my sister.  She read it in under 24 hours on Christmas day and really loved it as well.  Over at the blog Fledgling, Zetta Elliot compared this book to works by Octavia Butler and it seems really appropriate (and definitely a high complement) and I completely agree with it.  If that doesn’t get you reading this novel, I don’t know what will.

How to Ditch Your Fairy, also by Justine Larbalestier, was a very enjoyable novel that I gave to my younger sister for Christmas because I thought she would appreciate the sports aspect.  My favorite thing about this novel was the alternative reality that the book is set in.  Everyone goes to a special high school based on your talents.  For example, the main characters attend a sport school, where all of their classes are focused on sports: sport medicine, the economics of sports, the business of sports, the literature of sports.  It’s really a clever idea and one I wouldn’t mind seeing in the real world one day.  Some people even have fairies, though some people just call them luck.  Charlie has a parking fairy, so every car she rides in ends up with the best possible parking space, and she hates it. She hates it so much she hasn’t ridden in a car in weeks in an effort to get rid of her fairy.  In this alternative reality all skin colors, cultures and sexual orientations are normal, but it’s not necessarily a big deal in the book.  And it’s not necessarily a perfect world either, which is just as important.  Highly recommended!

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival is beautiful.  There are no words in this story, instead it is told in a series of intricate, unbelievably lovely pictures.  It is the story of immigration, of entering a foreign world and trying to fit in there, told through a fantastic conceit.  Go get this one, you won’t regret it.  Savor it slowly and really appreciate its  beauty.

I loved loved loved this graphic novel.  Everything about it was beautiful.  Ehwa is a young girl who is slowly discovering what it means to be a woman and have a woman’s body.  Set in a timeless Korea, she lives with her widowed mother in their inn.  I can’t wait to read the next in the series because this was really wonderful.  There are so many wonderful scenes that I could have picked  to show you, but I love the melancholy nature of the drawing above.

Well now I’m all caught up and ready to start anew and fresh.  Anyone else trying to pick the perfect book to be their first read of  2010?  I think I’m going to read Anne of Green Gables.  Happy New Year everyone!

Review – The Silenced by James DeVita

the silenced The Silenced is a plausible dystopian YA novel set in the not-so-distant future, where dissenters are “disappeared”, there is no due process, children are sent to training camps instead of school, and people live in a closed compounds.  It’s fast-paced and exciting, but it is not the best dystopian novel I have read.  What it does have going for it are two things: 1) the White Rose, the covert group in the novel, was based off of an actual group of young people who called themselves the White Rose in Nazi Germany and 2) it’s much more plausible than some other dystopian novels.

You will see the modern world in this novel.  DeVita did an excellent job drawing from real life, both in the United States and abroad.  I wish I had known more about the White Rose before reading the novel because I think that would have enhanced reading the novel.  The book is over 500 pages, but the ending manages to feel forced and rushed.  The first half of the novel was great, but there were just some things that frustrated me.  There were times when the sentence structure completely confused me and there were a lot of acronyms that I had difficulty keeping straight.  There were also some things that were never explained and confusing.  I recommend other novels over this one, but it is a well-crafted world and I think this would be a good one to teach in schools for its historical connection.

So go read this!: So go read this!: now | tomorrow |next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Also read and reviewed by: Did you read and review The Silenced?  Leave a comment and I will link to your review here!

Review – Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

life“It seemed like everyone on the road was out tonight.  Some of the people were on their decks having late barbecues, but most everyone else was in front of their houses, like we were.  The only one I didn’t see was Mr. Hopkins, but you could tell from the glow in his living room that he was watching on TV.

It was like a big block party.  The houses are so widespread on our road, you couldn’t really hear anything, just a general happy buzz.

When it got closer to 9:30, things got really quiet.  You could sense how we were all craning our necks, looking toward the sky.  Jonny was at the telescope, and he was the first one who shouted that the asteroid was coming.  He could see it in the night sky, and then we all could, the biggest shooting star you could imagine.  It was a lot smaller than the moon, but bigger than anything else I’d ever seen in the sky.  It looked like it was blazing and we all cheered when we saw it.

For a moment I thought about all the people throughout history who saw Halley’s Comet and didn’t know what it was, just that it was there and frightening and awe inspiring.  For the briefest flick of a second, I could have been a 16-year-old in the Middle Ages looking up at the sky, marveling at its mysteries, or an Aztec or an Apache.  For that tiny instant, I was every 16-year-old in history, not knowing what the skies foretold about my future.

And then it hit.  Even though we knew it was going to, we were still shocked when the asteroid actually made contact with the moon.  With our moon.  At that second, we all realized that it was Our Moon and if it was attacked, then we were attacked.

Or maybe nobody thought that.  I know most of the people on the road cheered, but then we all stopped cheering and a woman a few houses down screamed and then a man screamed, “Oh, my God!” and people were yelling, “What?  What?” like one of us knew the answer. (pg 18-19)

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