Sunday, March 31, 2013

You Are Here

Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Released: 2009
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Emma and her neighbor Peter are both lonely in a way that only bothers them on occasion. They both come from families they don’t quite understand. They both feel like something big is missing from their lives—and they’re both about to search for answers. When Emma makes a discovery that shakes the foundations of her identity, she convinces Peter to join her for a road trip. Each of them has something to find: For Emma, it is a grave—a grave that may be her only connection to her family. Peter is seeking something harder to define, but perhaps easier to navigate—a freedom, a sense of something more than what he has. Together, they take to the open road, engaging in a universal quest to make sense of who they are and where they come from…and learning a thing or two about love along the way.
I read this because of Jennifer's more recent book, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. In that book, I was overwhelmed by the honesty of the character's feelings, and I felt like I was experiencing their momentous and spontaneous decisions and choices along with them. You Are Here is no different.

Peter and Emma are both misfits, but both of them don't realize just how much of their own doing this is. Peter at least has some sense of his problems in a wider context - he keeps responding to Emma's complaints about her family that "most families are like that." But Emma is safely ensconced in her misery in thinking that she is the most unfortunate person in the world because she doesn't fit into her family. By the end of the book, by the end of their journey, they both learn - with a lot of mishaps and starts-and-stops - how to break out  of the cycle of loneliness they've built around themselves.

Oddly enough, I identified with both Peter and Emma though they are supposedly very different. I recognized Emma's feeling that she was born into the wrong family, but it was for Peter's reasons that I was able to see myself in her - that he is interested in knowledge and education and seeing the world more than his family. It's odd because that is precisely what Emma sees as her non-fitting-in - that her whole family is smart and overly educated. But combining the two, I found myself in there.

Emma ends up being a lovable but self-centered character. You root for her even when she is making the most selfish decisions, even when she uses Peter for days at a time, never once stopping to think about his life, wrapped up in her own woes. You wonder at times why Peter likes her, what he sees in her - but by the end of the journey, you understand why he likes her. As he says, he knows her. And of course, by the end Emma changes and begins to see the world around her, not just herself.

Peter's quirkiness is immediately endearing. His obsession with maps seems strange and possibly OCD-ish at first, but I quickly came to understand what it stands for, what it's symbolic of, and began rooting for him too. His journey is much more subtle than Emma's, but it's maybe even more moving. Emma sees her family in a different light, but Peter begins to see himself in a different light.

That's what I love most about this book. It's not only about finding and understanding love. It's also about finding and understanding yourself - like stumbling across the signs that say "You are here."


Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Harper (HarperCollins)
Released: March 5, 2013
Genre: YA Dystopian
Series: Delirium #3
Source: Library
Now an active member of the resistance, Lena has transformed. The nascent rebellion that was underway in Pandemonium has ignited into an all-out revolution in Requiem, and Lena is at the center of the fight. After rescuing Julian from a death sentence, Lena and her friends fled to the Wilds. But the Wilds are no longer a safe haven. Pockets of rebellion have opened throughout the country, and the government cannot deny the existence of Invalids. Regulators infiltrate the borderlands to stamp out the rebels. As Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous terrain of the Wilds, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland as the fiancĂ©e of the young mayor. Requiem is told from both Lena and Hana's points of view. They live side by side in a world that divides them until, at last, their stories converge. With lyrical writing, Lauren Oliver seamlessly interweaves the peril that Lena faces with the inner tumult she experiences after the reappearance of her first love, Alex, the boy she thought was dead. Sophisticated and wide-ranging, Requiem brings the Delirium trilogy to a thrilling conclusion.
I usually cut out the last few lines of Amazon's summaries, since they're usually reviews in and of themselves,  giving opinions about the book. And since I'm going to give you my opinion after the summary, I usually feel like it's either unnecessary or counterproductive to include their review. But this time - this time, Amazon's reviewers got it just right. The writing is lyrical, the weaving of peril and tumult is seamless, and the whole book is definitely sophisticated and wide-ranging. As for my own feelings...

I love the alternating points of view from Lena to Hana. The juxtaposition of the war Lena is fighting, with all the danger and narrow escapes, against the silent struggle Hana has as a cured, paired, soon-to-be wife, heightens the sense of urgency and necessity for rebellion and revolution. Of course, I was hoping throughout that they would meet up and somehow reconcile. And we sort of get that - but it's much more beautiful than I could have imagined. Because Hana is cured, after all, but the hints of her not being totally cured and the horrors that she is uncovering mean that her choices are not all according to the rules. I love that she is instrumental in the final battle. After seeing her struggle every second chapter, that little bit of fight means so much.

But as for Lena - her tragic love story continues, and only gets more tragic as Alex reappears in her life after she thought he was gone, after she found another love. And worse, Alex seems to hate her now. She wants to go back to Alex, but she doesn't want to hurt Julian, and Alex doesn't seem to want her anyway. She struggles to find her place in this new and shifting territory, to suppress her seemingly doomed love for Alex, and I love the way the interactions between the two boys mirror her inner struggle. There are a lot of symbolic gestures in this plotline, and when it finally comes to a conclusion, I was relieved that Lena could find peace and love, and that she felt that as she was fighting for the right to choose, she was able to be happy with the choices she was allowed to make.

The rest of the story - the fighting and danger - is beautifully written. It feels so immediate, every time the characters go into battle. Twice, people are carrying bombs to be detonated at a certain point, and Lena worries that the bomb will go off in the carrier's bag. I think that's symbolic of how the whole story goes - they plan things, but with all the variables and the danger, they never know when the whole thing will blow up in their faces - and not just in terms of the fighting but also in terms of all the relationships. Some of the people we've grown to love end up dying, and the others are left to cope with these expected but still shocking losses.

The final few pages, with the images of the walls around Portland being torn down, remind me of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. I couldn't help comparing the Delirium series, then, to East Berlin and Communism. Not to go too deep, but then, too, there were "regulators" and people were denied the right to choose. And that gave me more of a rush as the people of Requiem finally got their freedom, finally tore down the barriers to love and feeling and emotion, finally reclaimed the basic right to choose, even when those choices could bring heartache and anguish.

One thing - I don't think the final few paragraphs, a sort of essay about tearing down the walls, was necessary - we got it from the descriptions of the act itself. 

Definitely a thrilling conclusion to a really great trilogy!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Nobody But Us

Author: Kristin Halbrook
Publisher: HarperTeen
Released: January 29, 2013
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Will and Zoe are on the run. They're running from everything that's happened to them, all their whole crappy lives. Will wants to save Zoe from her abusive father, Zoe wants to save Will from his hidden demons and fear of abandonment. They have a plan. They're going to start a new life. But the rest of the world refuses to see it that way.
 Nobody But Us creates a world within itself, a world that only Zoe and Will inhabit - nobody but them. The two of them seem to be cocooned in their own fantasy to the point that they seem almost surprised when they come into contact with outside people. And I guess that's what makes them so doomed - every interaction with other people (well, almost every interaction) is based on the way they just don't know how to relate to people, and their reactions get them into more and more trouble.

The way the chapters alternate between Zoe's and Will's points of view adds to this illusion of separateness. I love how their narratives all pick up where the other one left off. It gives the impression that every moment is precious, that Will and Zoe are making every second count. It's amazing how each event, no matter how small, is so significant to the story that even though every second is narrated, I never felt slowed down by it. It just means that I was fully immersed in Will and Zoe's worlds.

This is a great book, if somewhat depressing, looking at things like what true love really looks like, how desperate teenagers could be, especially in these situations, and how one wrong choice, even for the right reasons, can lead to horrible consequences.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Out of the Easy

Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin)
Agent: Ken Wright
Editor: Tamra Tuller
Released: February 12, 2013
Genre: YA/New Adult Historical Fiction
Series: No
Source: Library
It's 1950 and the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie Moraine wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.
This was a really enjoyable ride through the underbelly of 1950s New Orleans, and because it's told from the perspective of a girl trying to get out of it, all the details come that much more alive. The varied faces of each character and each event add to the lushness, and I liked how no character is absolutely good. Some are absolutely evil, but there are layers to all the good and in-between characters - depending, of course, on your definition of good, which is a part of what this book is about. Josie learns a lot throughout the journey that is this upheaval of her life, and she comes to see things and people differently than she did when she just wanted out. Each character is so deeply developed, even the characters who appear for only a brief time, like Charlotte. Although she is actually there for two brief scenes, and after that appears in the story only through correspondence, we really get a full picture of what she's about, how she fits into society and how she views Patrick and Josie.

The schemes to get out of New Orleans lie behind every shocking and devastating event in the book, and I like the way it builds up naturally, so that it seems an obvious thing that Josie is applying to Smith, although at the beginning of the book, both she and the reader would never dream of anything like that. I especially like the way Josie gets out at the end. The whole book is essentially about seeing things in a different light, about getting to the bottom of what each person is really about. And though Josie gets to leave New Orleans, the way she leaves is a statement about what she's learned. I love that it's not a fairy-tale ending. Josie has a hard life, and it will never get totally better - her past will always be a part of her. And that, i think, is what she is meant to understand from all the events of the book.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Author: Ally Condie
Author's Website:
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Agent: Jodi Reamer
Editor: Julie Strauss-Gabel
Released: November 13, 2012
Genre: YA Dystopian
Series: Matched #3
Source: Library
After leaving Society to desperately seek The Rising, and each other, Cassia and Ky have found what they were looking for, but at the cost of losing each other yet again. Cassia is assigned undercover in Central city, Ky outside the borders, an airship pilot with Indie. Xander is a medic, with a secret. All too soon, everything shifts again.
This is a good conclusion to the series. I was a bit puzzled by it, since the focus seems to have shifted from rebelling against the inability to choose to fighting a Plague, but I did enjoy the book. On its own, not as part of an ideological trilogy, the book provides a hint of intrigue and a bit of suspense.

I'm having a hard time writing about the book, because I don't want to give the impression that I don't like it. I do. But it's a low-key, slow-paced book. There's a sort of elegant understated quality to the tone of the storytelling, whether it's Cassia, Xander, or Ky narrating that chapter. For me, it gave a sense of the naivete that these three have, even as they've gone through so much. They still know so little about the Society and the Rising and Pilot. By the end of the book, they grow out of this naivete, and in fact the focus turns back to the gift of choice winning out over security.

I love how the love plays out in this series. By this point, Cassia has no doubts about who she chooses, and the way she handles Ky and Xander is beautiful. It's also great that Xander gets his own resolution in the love department, not just that Cassia and Ky live happily ever after. Again, the end of the book goes back to the issue of choice, and it plays out nicely for the emotions of the characters.

I just felt like the book was longer than it had to be, with the pacing a bit slow. It was a great read for a slow day at work when I had a lot of downtime! But there's very little sense of urgency through most of the book, even when finding a cure now or a few minutes later means the life or death of a few hundred people. Still, I enjoyed the slow ride of the book.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Just One Day

Author: Gayle Forman
Author's Website:
Publisher: Dutton Books (Penguin)
Agent: Sarah Burnes
Editor: Julie Strauss-Gabel
Released: January 8, 2013
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: #2: Just One Year
Source: Library
When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night  in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.
I love love love love love this book! I actually hadn't read any Gayle Forman before this, but you can bet I'm rushing to check out her other books! 

You can actually feel the emotion emanating off every page with every one of Allyson/Lulu's thoughts and emotions. I felt like I myself was going on this rollercoaster of emotions, the giddiness of breaking free and doing something totally out of character, the despair when that plan seems to have backfired, and the subsequent questioning of her own personality and point to life. I love that section when she's totally withdrawn and depressed. It's described so beautifully, so painfully. And of course I love the "day," the way Allyson experiences it all with such wide-eyed wonder and utter glee. Fantastic.

As a story about self-discovery, this book does amazing things with a common theme, delving deeper and further than any book I've read recently into what a teenager could feel as she moves out of adolescence and tries desperately to claim her life as her own.

Mind Games

Author: Kiersten White
Agent: Michelle Wolfson
Editor: Erica Sussman
Publisher: HarperTeen
Released: February 19, 2013
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Series: Mind Games #1
Source: Library
Fia was born with flawless instincts. Her first impulse, her gut feeling, is always exactly right. Her sister, Annie, is blind to the world around her—except when her mind is gripped by strange visions of the future. Trapped in a school that uses girls with extraordinary powers as tools for corporate espionage, Annie and Fia are forced to choose over and over between using their abilities in twisted, unthinkable ways…or risking each other’s lives by refusing to obey.
The first thing I noticed about this book was the depth with which I entered each girl's world. When Annie was talking, I slid into seeing the world through blackness, into being blind and having to see the world differently - which meant that when she had a vision, I felt the joy and excitement she felt at finally being able to see, even in this odd way, and along with that, the fear and horror that comes along with what her visions mean. With Fia, it was more subtle, but again, when she was in action, the action is described so fluidly that I felt her killer instincts kicking in and taking over her mind.

The tragic choices the girls both have to make, the way they're kept separate from each other, the way they're spied on and kept under constant watch so they can't even coordinate their choices and perhaps gain the upper hand with their captors, makes the whole situation all the more scream-worthy. Because if they just pooled their knowledge, they might figure out how to get out, and they might even figure out what's going on.

The mystery of what exactly is going on, what the purpose of this all is, propels the story into the sequel. And I love how this volume ends, with the horror of what Annie sees in her vision, the way she deals with it, and then the --- when it finally happens. I can't tell you what emotion I felt then, or I'd give it away. And it's worth waiting for.


Author: Marie Lu
Agent: Kristin Nelson
Editors: Jen Besser, Ari Lewin
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin)
Released: January 29, 2013
Genre: YA Dystopian
Series: Legend #2
Source: Library
June and Day arrive in Vegas just as the unthinkable happens: the Elector Primo dies, and his son Anden takes his place. With the Republic edging closer to chaos, the two join a group of Patriot rebels eager to help Day rescue his brother and offer passage to the Colonies. They have only one request—June and Day must assassinate the new Elector.
It’s their chance to change the nation, to give voice to a people silenced for too long.  But as June realizes this Elector is nothing like his father, she’s haunted by the choice ahead. What if Anden is a new beginning? What if revolution must be more than loss and vengeance, anger and blood—what if the Patriots are wrong?
Just as in Legend, in Prodigy there's a perfect blend of action and emotion, scheming and loving, heartache and heartbreak. It's a constant mass of twists and turns, so that you never know what's going to happen next, though there are clues that have your heart in your mouth wondering what it all means and how everything will work itself out.

I love the ups and downs of both June's and Day's emotions - and Tess's as well. I love that Day himself is not sure of the answers to what Tess challenges him with about June. And June doesn't always know either. Though no one is asking her those questions about her loyalty, she is conflicted and doubts her own motives, whether she thinks Anden is different because he really can be the change the country needs, or because she is deep down a Republic girl, part of the elite, and will always sympathize with them. Both Day and June being unclear about all this adds a twist to the actual events, as each of them makes decisions that could affect a whole nation.

The action is great also. I like that there's not that much real killing, that for the most part the action is people running, climbing walls, and blowing things up. It produces just the right amount of urgency in their missions, just the right amount of danger should they mess up or be caught. 

And, oh, the ending! I can't wait for the third book so that gets cleared up - and I hope it somehow works out for good! Though I can't see how any of that could be good, I'm trusting Marie Lu to keep us connected to our favorite characters...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Daughter of the Earth and Sky

Author: Kaitlin Bevis
Author's Website:
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Released: December 2012
Series: Daughters of Zeus #2
Source: for review
Some vows can never be broken. Persephone thought she could go back to her normal life after returning from the Underworld. She was wrong. The goddess Aphrodite is born among the waves with more charm than she can control. Zeus is stalking Persephone and her loved ones, and Thanatos is no longer content with Persephone's silence. He wants her soul. Persephone can't tell anyone about Thanatos' betrayal, and it drives a wedge between her and Hades. Her mother is still keeping secrets, and Melissa's jealousy of Aphrodite threatens to tear their friendship apart. Alone, Persephone turns to a human boy for comfort. But will their relationship put him in danger? Sacrifices must be made, and Persephone must choose between her human life and her responsibilities as a goddess. If she doesn't, she could lose them both. But will either life be worth choosing once Zeus is through with her?
Less action than the first (though not by much!) and more emotion... Persephone's relationships are all challenged by her status as a god, and as a god desired by many different beings for many different things. 

I love the way Persephone's struggle to tell Hades about Thanatos plays out. I really felt her pain and frustration every time she tried and failed to tell Hades, and her desperate tears when the whole situation seemed to overwhelm her. Her fear that Hades will hate her once he finally finds out, for not telling him and for making that foolish promise to begin with, colors her whole relationship with him throughout this book, and I love the way I really felt the distance between them growing. In the first book, Hades resisted the relationship, but now Persephone feels guilty letting the relationship proceed when she knows she's hiding things from him. But the way that all plays out, when Hades finally learns the truth, is just beautiful.

And don't worry, there's plenty of action in this book also. There's more introspection, but the action is just as compelling as in the first book. Everything happens quickly, things change suddenly, and when a scene begins peacefully, expect disaster very shortly. The pain Persephone goes through physically, besides from her constant emotional pain in this book, is excruciating, and heightens the sense of danger, of what will happen if Zeus wins.

A thoroughly satisfying middle book! I love the twist at the end, and am looking forward to the final book and finding out how this all plays out! 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

In My Mailbox 42

In My Mailbox is a meme created by Kristi of The Story Siren, where bloggers share the contents of their mailbox that week - books bought, borrowed, received... It's a great way to see lots of new books all at once, and leads to great coveting and more buying!

Here's my haul this week: