Backlist Bonus: The Dark and Hollow Places

8535273by Carrie Ryan
YA Dystopian
2 of 5 stars

This is much better than the previous book but Gabry’s sister Annah still has a bit of an issue taking charge of her own life. The twins were separated in the Forest of Hands and Teeth and now that the Dark City has largely fallen to the Horde, Annah is alone waiting for Elias to come back for her.

Annah considers herself the ugly twin because of the barbed wire scars across her face, and much of her story is spent lamenting her appearance and how it will prevent anyone from having feelings for her. A bit much to worry about in a world of the undead where it’s difficult to survive, but priorities. But before Elias returns, Annah meets someone new: Catcher, tied to everyone and everything she wants to forget about the past but who sees more than her scars or “Gabry’s sister” when he looks at her.

This is much darker and bleaker than the previous books and really draws you into the depression humanity feels, knowing it’s on the brink of obliteration. We see more of the shattered infrastructure of America, and the group feels more and more desperation to escape—despite the fact that a safe place to escape to might not exist. Aside from a haphazard scheme at the end (which completely departs from reality) this one is better paced and written than its predecessor. Just wasn’t exactly fun to read.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Dark and Hollow Places is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – The only zombie book I enjoyed, probably because there’s more wry humor than dark introspection about Earth’s fate. “R” lost most of his memories when he became undead, but Julie stirs something in him he thought was lost forever.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Not exactly zombies, but Maren’s ability to consume anyone who loves her—bones and all—has all the gore and chills you’d expect. When her mother abandons her, Maren seeks out her estranged father, trying to find out why she is a monster. See my review here.
  • Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan – A departure from dystopian but a story of revenge by the same author that had me turning the pages until the end. Francis survived a cruise ship disaster that took her best friend’s life, but she has a plan to dispense justice for those responsible. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

zobieby Carrie Ryan
YA Dystopian
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 10, 2009

I came across this book in an unusual way several years ago: I found my mother’s TBR list lying around the house and this book of all things was on there (along with the usual crime novels, travel books, and sisterhood/friendship stories). My mom was *not* a YA consumer, aside from Harry Potter (my influence). 🙂 Why on earth was she going to read a YA story about zombies? I had to know!

The premise grabbed me within the first few pages. Of course, it’s pretty clear the Sisterhood is hiding something and there are lot of details about the world we don’t know. But I really enjoyed the fact that zombies already destroyed the country, and the characters are dealing with the aftermath, with not knowing any other reality. So many apocalypse stories focus on the event itself, and somehow humanity overcomes the aliens/predators/zombies and that’s the end. This book followed what would happen if we failed, and that was much more interesting to me.

Mary is betrothed to a boy she doesn’t love, and longs to see the world outside of her fenced village. She wants to know if things like the ocean are real. If there are places where the Unconsecrated (the undead) haven’t taken over. The Sisterhood says their village is the last human stronghold left, but Mary isn’t so sure. When a girl comes to her village from outside the fence—wrecking everything Mary’s village knows about the world—Mary is determined to find out the truth for herself.

It’s not the most original plot and the characters felt a bit flat, but it was a quick read and I did want to know what would happen next. The atmosphere is vivid enough to make up for some of the writing’s deficiencies, though for a debut novel it’s pretty good. Plus I have a weird obsession with the cover art for the paperback—I don’t know, I just felt it captured the feel of the book and Mary’s character perfectly.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Forest of Hands and Teeth is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – Another account of a post-zombie apocalypse America, this time from a zombie’s point of view. “R” doesn’t remember his life or much of anything else, but when he sees Julie he has a sudden urge to protect her from the horrors of his hunting group. Weird, right? Don’t worry, it gets weirder. The film is good too.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Maren is an average teenage girl looking for her biological father because her mother abandoned her on her sixteenth birthday. Why is she alone? Because Maren has this habit of eating everyone who loves her, bones and all. See my review here.
  • Mortal Engines by Philip Pullman – Instead of flesh-eating monsters, Thom and Hester contend with cities that devour one another for resources in the wastelands of the post-apocalyptic world.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Although Katniss and Peeta aren’t faced with eating their opponents, they are in an arena where only one of the 24 competitors will come out alive. See my review here.
  • Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard – Eleanor is a penniless society girl who must marry well to save her family. She’s more concerned with finding her missing brother, and the Dead that are sweeping through Philadelphia. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Mockingjay

mockingjayby Suzanne Collins
YA Dystopian
2 of 5 stars

This is an interesting case where my star rating isn’t for flaws in the book itself. This was not an enjoyable book to read, but only because it was so good. The final chapter in this trilogy is so realistically bleak there is no way to enjoy reading it. It’s dark, depressing, and gray. While I think it’s admirable to show what all these drastic, revolution/post-apocalypse/political-manipulation-machine stories would actually be like, it was like reading 1984. It’s good to have it checked off your list but you never need to read it again. My current rating scale would give this 3 stars, but I feel weird changing my Goodreads rating after the fact. I know, I’m weird.

We’ve spent hundreds of pages reading about Katniss. Her goals, her struggle to survive, her place in a world that is clearly more complex than she first thought. I cared about Katniss–I did not want to see her utterly destroyed as a person. “The girl on fire” who was burnt to ashes. Unfortunately, she’s the Mockingjay, not a phoenix. The capable, clever, determined girl from the first two books is reduced to a shivering, irrational creature suffering from intense PTSD and essentially paralyzed. These are all reactions I’d expect in a person coming off of two rounds of the Hunger Games–but it doesn’t fit the tone of the previous books and it’s a sucker-punch to the reader. It’s as if you were watching a Disney movie and suddenly the princess is actually reacting to being locked up/asleep for years instead of smiling and riding off with the prince.

Political and physical battles span the length of the book, but unlike the film we don’t get much perspective on Panem since Katniss isn’t very involved. Lots of death, lots of trauma, lots of moralizing on how each government regime eventually becomes what it fought against. True, but unpleasant. So although it’s definitely interesting to read the trilogy and experience Katniss’ complete journey, in my opinion this doesn’t have the re-readability of the first two books.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Mockingjay is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Allegiant by Veronica Roth – Another depressing end to a dystopian trilogy, but that series was my favorite after this one. In my opinion, another instance of the first two books being better, but book three is polarizing.
  • The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan – This trilogy about the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse started strong, had a rough middle, and then ended on a slightly weird/uplifting note. Again, I felt this was the most realistic of the three (in terms of perspective) and your level of enjoyment will depend on whether that suits you.

Backlist Bonus: Catching Fire

fireby Suzanne Collins
YA Dystopian
3 of 5 stars

Although a very good second installment for a trilogy, much of this seemed like the first book re-done. We go back to the arena for the Quarter Quell – a special version of the Hunger Games pitting victors against each other in another fight to the death. When Katniss and Peeta are chosen again for District 12, Katniss knows it’s because of their rebellion in the previous games. But Katniss can’t convince President Snow it was an accident born out of true love—he believes she is part of a wider rebellion.

The quicker pacing and better side characters in this version broaden our understanding of Panem’s districts and the Capitol’s hold on them. Katniss is placed in the interesting position of becoming the face of a rebellion she doesn’t believe in—she tries to halt the unrest but continually stirs it up instead. She fears for Prim, Gale, and Peeta as President Snow assures her that if she doesn’t succeed, he will stop everything by force and kill everyone she loves.

This kept my attention but I almost wished the twists and plot were combined into the first book rather than made into their own. The film version becomes an fascinating extension of this series because we aren’t confined to Katniss’ point of view, which gives us a lot more information than I felt we got in the book. Definitely worth reading because it doesn’t suffer from too much middle-book build-up.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Catching Fire is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel’s stakes keep climbing as both sides in the war suspect her of being a double agent for the enemy. She struggles to stay one step ahead of her father, the emperor, and most of all Arin, whom she’s determined to help without his knowledge. See my review here.
  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth – Tris’ initiation to Dauntless ended in war between Erudite and the Abnegation. She’s determined to find a way to restore balance, but Erudite has plans bigger than she knows.
  • The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau – Lina, like the rest of Earth’s survivors, has lived in Ember all her life, the only safe city left, stocked with supplies for survival. But the supplies are running out, and the lights are failing too. Lina thinks it’s time to go beyond Ember’s walls for survival, before it’s too late. A short, fast-paced read that’s a touch lighter than typical dystopian fare.

Backlist Bonus: The Hunger Games

hungerby Suzanne Collins
YA Dystopian
4 of 5 stars

This stands the test of time as one of the best examples of YA dystopian novels. All discussion (and pros and cons) of “the strong female character” redirect here. This created a sub-genre that thrived for years and, for better or worse, a character measuring stick in the form of Katniss Everdeen. Seen as the antithesis to Twilight’s Bella Swan, Katniss captured everyone’s attention with her gritty personality, archery skills, and determined love for her sister, Prim (now a trope in her own right).

The story is well-known by now thanks to the films, but as the Capitol’s TV spin-team points out, the beats of the story are what make us love it. As underprivileged children from the poorest district, Katniss and Prim struggle to survive already. When Katniss volunteers as tribute in place of her younger sister, she changes the mood and course of that year’s Hunger Games, unknowingly setting herself up as a model of hope for the rest of the districts. The underdog has more class than the richest patrons. The underdog might actually have the will and skill to win.

What I found most intriguing about Katniss was her sense of duty and honor. She didn’t care to survive the games for her own sake—only Prim’s request that she win drives her to play the game with any sort of effort. Her relationships with Gale and especially Peeta are all filtered through her goal of reuniting with her sister. It makes her cunning and unlikable at times, and it makes her unbeatable. When I first read it I remember being shocked by what Collins put her characters through—the horrors of the games and the political and social commentary she cleverly wove throughout the heart-pounding events. I was glued to the page and afterward I couldn’t stop thinking about Katniss and her world. Its unreality and similarity to ours.

Dystopian isn’t everyone’s favorite genre, but I think its popularity was an interesting cultural snapshot. It dominated the shelves when teens and young adults were feeling disillusioned with their leaders and their own lives—their forced places within systems that felt outdated and uninterested in them as anything more than pawns. I admit that if you’ve read a couple of dystopian novels it starts to feel like you’ve read them all, but this book should be one of them.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Hunger Games is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Divergent by Veronica Roth – In post-apocalyptic Chicago, Tris faces the same test as every other 16-year-old: choosing the faction where she will live. The five factions, Abnegation (the selfless), Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest), Amity (the peaceful), and Dauntless (the brave) each claim one virtue as superior to all others, and together they let their society function harmoniously. Tris has never fit in with Abnegation, but choosing Dauntless means rejecting her family forever. Her choice will steer the fate of the whole city as secrets come to light. See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – Although it’s YA fantasy, Kestrel reminds me strongly of Katniss in that they are both clever when they can’t be the strongest. Kestrel doesn’t want to be a soldier and she also doesn’t want to get married. These are her only choices, until she wins a slave named Arin and finds herself entangled with the highest political powers during a war with his country as she continues to avoid the army and the altar. See my review here.
  • Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve – Cities are mobile and consume each other to sustain their economic growth. Thom gets caught up in the dark struggle for power within and outside the city’s walls in this vision of the future.
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – Zombies have destroyed America, and Mary knows the only way to stay safe is within the fences of her village, sheltered by the nuns. But she doesn’t love her betrothed and she wants to see if the ocean is real. For that, she must leave the safety of the fences. See my review here.
  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – Pitched as YA fantasy but in actuality dystopian. Mare is a Red, and all Reds are slaves to the Silver-blooded elite. But then Mare exhibits powers previously only known to Silvers, and the ruling family must hide her as they try to find the best way to eliminate her. See my review here.

And now for the ones I skipped but that many people seemed to enjoy:

  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver and Matched by Ally Condie – The government controls every aspect of your life, especially your future mate.
  • Legend by Marie Lu – June (illustrious wealthy citizen) and Day (criminal) are brought together when June suspects him of her brother’s murder, but their cat and mouse game ends up uncovering sinister government secrets.
  • The Maze Runner by James Dashner – Thomas wakes in a mysterious maze with several other boys, all of whom have no memories. They continually fail to find a way out of the deadly maze. Then the first girl comes with even worse news.
  • The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken – Children surviving a terrible illness find themselves with dangerous abilities they can’t control. Naturally, the government locks them up, until rebellion ensues.
  • Red Rising Pierce Brown – Haves vs. Have Nots on Mars.
  • Pure by Julianna Baggot – The apocalypse has left most people irreparably damaged, but the few unharmed “Pures” are kept safe in a dome from the outside world. Pressia and Partridge are from opposite sides of the Dome, and aren’t meant to meet, but they do.
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey – Aliens are invading and Cassie just wants to save her brother and stay alive.

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