Backlist Bonus: Divergent

8306857by Veronica Roth
YA Dystopian
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – April 25, 2011

Right after The Hunger Games, the YA shelf needed a dystopian series to catch readers, and the Divergent series won that battle. This trilogy follows 16-year-old Tris, who faces the momentous choice of which faction (and virtue) to dedicate her life to: will she remain in Abnegation (the selfless) with her family, or follow her heart to the Dauntless (the brave)? And what consequences will she face as a result?

I heard about this book from my best friend, who happened to attend the same university as Roth and wanted to share the excitement that somebody our age could sign a 3-book + movie rights deal. This was my first exposure to peers writing best-selling material for teens and I was thrilled that this was becoming more commonplace–honestly, I still am!

This was a fun story to read, and several key scenes were so cinematic and beautifully written through Tris’ sparse, direct voice that I couldn’t wait for the next installment.  As it turns out, I feel the first book is the strongest of the trilogy, but it was worth following Tris to the end, and this is still one of the better dystopian options out there, in my opinion. As an added bonus in this genre, there is no love triangle. Tris is a complicated heroine and her world has plenty of mysteries to unlock, but which boy she’ll choose isn’t one of them. I also enjoyed her constantly evolving relationship with her brother Caleb; he challenges her commitments in the best way. Jeanine is an excellent antagonist, with her own complexity and motivations. This small core cast of characters is what pulls you through the wreck of Chicago and its faction systems as Tris struggles to solve her identity and why the Erudite faction believes it should eradicate the Abnegation. Although the series didn’t go where I expected, I appreciated the author’s creative freedom and choices, and I’m curious to see what she does next.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Divergent is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – The most obvious comparison, but it is very similar. Twelve districts must send two tributes to the capital to fight to the death on live TV as a reminder of the brutality the totalitarian state saved the people from decades earlier. Katniss volunteers to save her sister, but she quickly learns half of the game is mastering the politics and alliances surrounding her. See my review here.
  • Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve – As a literal interpretation of municipal darwinism, the largest cities are mobile and sweep across the world consuming and absorbing each other for resources and labor. Tom finds himself stranded on solid ground and must find a way to survive in this stark post-apocalyptic world.
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – Mary spent her life in the fenced village deep in a forest, and she knows what happens if she leaves its protection – death by zombies – but she can’t stop dreaming about the ocean, and whether the Sisterhood is telling the truth when they say no one else survived. See my review here.
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver – I haven’t read this yet, but Roth recomends it as an engaging dystopian trilogy that explores a world devoid of all love, and the consequences that brings to the very fabric of society.

The Handmaid’s Tale

38447by Margaret Atwood
Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, in order to complete my trifecta of totalitarian futures – the first two being 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. All three had different visions for how the government would seize control of our daily lives, and although I view this one as the least likely scenario, it had enough merit to encourage some good questions.

In a world where a woman’s only value is getting pregnant and she has no rights of her own, Offred guides us through her existence as a Handmaid, a mistress of sorts for men whose wives are sterile. She still remembers the time before, when she was independent. She had a family, a career, her own bank account and an education, but those memories are fading. Offred’s narration jumps between present and past tense, and occasionally she sees something that sparks a memory tangent.

The beginning was a bit slow, but as she reveals more about her world and how women were suppressed it becomes harder to put down. As a protagonist she’s passive for the most part, but since that’s her expected behavior this isn’t an annoyance like it can be in other genres. I enjoyed the ending, and of the three books I mentioned this is the easiest to read. It’s worthwhile, although in my opinion the previous books I mentioned have more realistic views, if that’s what intrigues you about this genre.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Handmaid’s Tale is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • 1984 by George Orwell – The quintessential novel about a totalitarian state. Eerily accurate, engrossing, depressing, and a must-read. Control of the common man through surveillance and fear of violent retribution.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – A more pleasant but just as disturbing version of the future under a totalitarian government. Control of the common man through pleasure and societal pressures.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – A YA take on the same concept. Control of the common man through lack of resources, knowledge, and fear of violent retribution. If you like this, the realm of YA dystopian novels is open to you, but be warned, this is one of the best. See my review here.

Rook

23399192by Sharon Cameron
YA Fiction / YA Dystopian
4 of 5 stars

This is a genre-mashing action-packed read and I loved it! Centuries after a global cataclysmic event, the Sunken City that was once Paris finds itself on the brink of revolution once again. The Razor beheads anyone who disagrees with the new regime. The Red Rook liberates prisoners from their fate in the dead of night, and everyone wonders who he is and how he does it. Everyone except Sophia Bellamy, because she is the Rook.

This story of spies and smugglers takes place over the course of a few weeks, as the Rook evades capture and the net tightens around Sophia’s secret identity. It’s full of plots, counter-plots, betrayals and surprises and the pacing is marvelous! I’ve never read The Scarlet Pimpernel, so I’m not sure how much of the plot would be easier to guess thanks to the intentional homage by the author, but that being said, everything comes together in the end in a satisfactory way, rather like an old movie.

It’s a bit long, and the characters don’t experience much of an arc, but it’s a standalone novel and it was too fun for those critiques to annoy me. I’d recommend this for something different in a very genre-based market.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Rook is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – This is a similar tone and way of wrapping up the plot strings. Alliances are formed and changed as Echo and her companions seek the Firebird to save their world from destruction. See my review here.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar – An older story that has a similar feel of narration. We follow Stanley Yelnatz as he tries to break an old curse on his family while at a summer camp with questionable activities.
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – A zombie who doesn’t want to be undead finds himself experiencing strange feelings around Julie, a beautiful girl who doesn’t want to accept the zombie apocalypse as the end of the world.

Red Queen

17878931by Victoria Aveyard
YA Fantasy
2 of 5 stars
Debut novel – February 10, 2015

I finally picked up this book based on all the good reviews, but unfortunately I can’t add my own. Points for good cover art and a couple of good buzz lines…and that’s about it. It’s marketed as a YA fantasy novel but it felt more dystopian in actuality. The “fantasy” aspect was more political than anything.

Mare Barrow is a dumb protagonist. I hate saying that, but what is it with all these characters growing up on the streets and yet knowing nothing about how to survive? How does she have no people skills whatsoever? She can’t charm anyone or read anyone either? Despite repeating the mantra “Anyone can betray anyone” a million times, she’s still shocked that the Silver royalty has its own agenda. Worse, she’s the kind of dumb that hurts her allies–anyone who tries to help her ends up dead.

The world-building is the typical shallow realm of the rich vs. the working-class poor that supports them, and that isn’t the worst cliche. We also have the best friend with slight romantic leanings who joins the rebel cause that becomes too extreme. We have the rebel HQ in a land “destroyed” by radiation. We have the perfect younger sister whom everyone loves (no doubt slated to die near the end of the trilogy, possibly leaving the best friend at fault). And finally we have the “sentinels,” a police security force that highlights how unjust the justice system is. Additional lost points for having no-name maids that Mare doesn’t bother speaking to.

The story was slow to start, hard to get through, and the ending failed to engage me despite its chaotic attempts at drama. I was just relieved it was over. It’s clear that the author grabbed some key bits from The Hunger Games, Divergent, and the X-Men but this felt like a bad, boring mashup instead of a blockbuster.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Red Queen is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – The narration and political intrigue are highly similar here. Katniss is an unwilling pawn in the game of government and it’s her internal struggle to do what she feels is right not just for herself but for the world that resonates. This is a bleak book, and while I didn’t necessarily enjoy its length, seeing how the machine of war, politics, and media works is invaluable for broadening your perspective. See my review here.
  • The Named by Marianne Curley – Time-travelers trying to subvert the Order of Chaos’ attempts to change time meet up and struggle to outwit the evil alliance. Again, the similar narration and the characters coming to terms with their various powers are in the same vein as Red Queen.
  • Dragonfly by Julia Goulding – A somewhat typical character pairing of opposing monarchs are brought together to fight a common enemy. I remember enjoying the world-building and the character development of Tashi and Ram as they learn to understand one another and what they can do to save their kingdoms.
  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Another teenage girl discovering her powers and identity against the backdrop of war must fight to free her kingdom, even if it means giving up her own dreams. See my review here.
  • Allegiant by Veronica Roth – Another teenage girl at the center of a revolution must decide what to do with the information that explains divergence. Equally full of political intrigue and power struggles.
  • The Selection by Kiera Cass – This features a girl chosen for a competition to win the prince’s hand (Queenstrial anyone?). It has a similar premise and narration, though I personally haven’t read it yet.

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