Tag Archives: dystopian fiction

Book Review: Vox is a Chilling Dystopia with Current Events as Foundation

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Click to view the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, excerpt, reading guide, and author's bio.

Comparisons between Christina Dalcher’s Vox and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are nearly unavoidable. Both women are writing speculative dystopian Americas that oppress women by relying on a skewed, ultraconservative Christianity. Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985, but Hulu has recently brought the novel back to the zeitgeist with a streaming video series. I haven’t read it more recently than 2007 or seen any of Hulu’s series.

The chill of Dalcher’s speculative novel is in the near-past and contemporary, concrete news stories and (sub)culture that build the background of her horrific America. I remember reading about Supreme Court seats being filled with ultraconservative Justices during the extremely contentious Kavanaugh hearings in which a potential Justice’s emotional testimony was pitted against a woman’s even-keeled testimony of an assault allegedly committed by that nominee against her (and the man’s testimony was given more credence) and having to put the book down. It is too easy to see the building of this dystopia by tuning into the news—as is also true of Atwood’s book, but the details are not as immediate coming as they do from events from the 1980s.

In Dalcher’s America, a charismatic, ultraconservative, women-hating, mega-church televangelist has taken power, using the American president as a puppet. Women’s passports have been destroyed. Schools have been divided by gender, women relegated to an education that is glorified home economics. Women’s Bibles have been edited. Extramarital sex is punishable by public, televised humiliation, relocation to a work camp, and enforced silence. Dissidents and lesbians are sent to these camps too with the same imposed silence. (Dalcher to my recollection never really addresses whether two men having sex is punished in the same way.) Women of any age have been forced into monitors that count the words that they speak. Each day every word after 100 causes a shock, and the voltage increases in intervals after 100, one woman at one point discovering how to commit suicide using the monitor.

The protagonist, Jean McClellan, is a former Wernicke’s area specialist, seeking a way to reverse the effects of damage to that area, a cure for Wernicke aphasia, a condition that results in fluent speech devoid of meaning. Her husband works for the president.

In college, despite her roommate being an activist for women’s rights, Jean didn’t pay much attention to politics. She didn’t participate in any of the protests or rallies. Now it’s too late.

When she is given the chance to be released from the monitor and to win her young daughter’s freedom too, she reluctantly accepts and works for the president to complete the research and create the serum on which she was working before the changes in policy barred her from work.

But she begins to suspect a larger plan to further curtail women’s and dissidents’ voices and advance the pastor’s cause. The end hurries into a race to uncover the government’s true intentions for McClellan’s research, thwart the government, and escape punishment.

The chapters are short, and I was for a long while reading the book only for 5-15 minutes at a time as I got ready to go somewhere a little more quickly than I thought that I might. It was really only being laid up with a sprained ankle that sped me through the last ¾ of the book.

Dalcher’s seems to be a warning to those who say “it can’t happen here” and to those who choose the sidelines over the frontlines.  Her heroes are as much the ones who acted and called out the slippery slope before the government physically curtailed women’s voices as Jean, who acted to impede further curtailment.  Ultimately it is one of those early criers who continues the fight to overturn the oppression, not Jean, who escapes after helping to end the tyrannical administration.

Science is weaponized by both parties in this fight.

Violence is justified by both.

I read an ARC of this book.

The trade paperback of this novel comes out July 16, 2019.

***

Dalcher, Christina. Vox.  New York: Berkley-Penguin Random, 2018.

This review is not endorsed by Christina Dalcher, Berkley, or Penguin Random House LLC. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: The Giver Questions a World Without Choice

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, guides, and author's and illustrator's bios.

I am reviewing this book from memory; I don’t have it in front of me as I write this review.

Spoilers.

I am the rare reader for this graphic novel adaptation, vaguely aware—it’s true—of The Giver but who has never read the novel, never seen the movie, never seen the play. I was excited to see this graphic novel adaptation and more excited for the very good excuse to take it home to read (I was to lead a book discussion on the adaptation). So I can’t talk about this adaption as an adaptation.

I can only talk about the graphic novel as a separate, standalone entity—which I realize that it is not, but I am probably one of the few to read it who can talk about its conveyance of the plot and the world’s ideas without past experiences bleeding in to color my reading of this.

In a future, highly regulated society where almost every choice is sacrificed along with feelings of desire and perceptions of color and smell that would announce difference and the necessity of choice, and everything from how to dress to when to learn to ride a bike to a martial partner to a career to children that the parents did not birth is assigned by a committee. In order to live with this regulation, the society sacrifices its history, its memories of the former world, which are thrust on a successive line of Receivers only occasionally consulted by the committee before the committee announces its decisions. Each Receiver alone holds memories of war, pain, risk, joy, love, color, difference bar the brief time when an old Receiver trains the new one. The Receiver is chosen by the committee, but it seems that there is some innate quality that makes one a more apt choice (possibly signified by blue eyes though I am inferring this from what I know of Jonas and the second book’s title, Gathering Blue) Before being chosen, the story’s child protagonist, Jonas, begins to experience the color red.

The absence and emergence for Jonas of color was particularly well-conveyed in this form. The graphic novel begins in white and gray, pale blue, and tan for shadow and minimal shading, but color bleeds into the illustrations as Jonas’ Receives more memories of the past at first palely but ultimately in a deep, livid paint of many colors, and the past is always vivid, although the Giver begins Jonas’ Receiving with a red sled on a hill in the snow, easing him into the transition from non-color to color.

I read this story in a day, and the ambiguous ending had me leaving my nest of blankets to run to my housemate to demand to know what outcome the rest of the series reveals. I have to believe that I became invested in this story then, though I can’t say that I really enjoyed it. I don’t actually think that this is a story that is meant to be enjoyed—or if it is meant to be enjoyed, then it is only in the rebellion of the protagonists against the status quo.

Jonas’ is a hard world to accept, but it is not at all difficult to see how some could laud these sacrifices, could laud this version of peace, for “the greater good,” to borrow a phrase from Grindelwald’s propaganda. The Giver and Jonas decide that the world’s way of life is not worth defending, is in fact worth destroying, bestowing pain and memory on the populace by force, and I think the story would have us support the protagonists’ decision.

But the open ending of the novel, the failure to follow up with the community after Jonas has left and his memories have been dispersed among the community members leaves open the possibility that the decision is wrong, though irreversible. And the consequences of the decision on Jonas and on the toddler Gabe, whom he has taken under his care, are also open ended. They hide and live a life on the run, stumble through exhaustion and dehydration and starvation and cold and heat. They cyclically stumble upon the sight of the first memory that Jonas Receives and Jonas takes yet one more ride on the red sled down the hill towards a village celebrating Christmas.

I think The Giver is meant as a warning. And I think that it is meant to make us question what is most important in life.

In this format, it was a quick but impactful read, raising many questions in the comparison of Jonas’ world to our current society.

What would life be like without the burden of choices? Would we need to sacrifice every choice to be content without choice?

Did Jonas and the Giver make the right choice?

****

Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Adapted by and illustrated by P. Craig Russell. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 12-16, Grades 7-12.

This review is not endorsed by Lois Lowry, P. Craig Russell, or Houghton Mifflin.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451: A Fiery Critique of Modern Entertainment

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16280156After having read a lot of light, modern, conversational Riordan, I was craving something with more depth and more flowery flare. I floundered for a while and asked everyone I knew for suggestions of writers who have a mastery of language to rival Patrick Rothfuss’. In the end, I picked up this old favorite: Fahrenheit 451.

I can’t tell you when I read Fahrenheit 451. It might’ve been almost a decade ago. I didn’t remember as much of the plot as I thought that I had, though I remembered a great bit of the sentiment.

Ray Bradbury’s writing (I’ve already mentioned) has left a deep scar on my heart and mind. His poetic prose and command of language and meter is something to which I aspire and which I greatly admire.

This book was especially impacting to read now—now in the wake of all that is happening in the world and all that I fear may soon happen in the world.

It’s amazing how prophetic some science-fictions/future dystopias can be.

Guy Montag is a firefighter in a future America. Instead of fighting fires, he sets them; he sets fires to books and to the homes of those who are found in possession of books. Books are a source of chaos. Books foment rebelliousness. Books are a toxin to the world that has been sedated and made happy by noise and glitter and flash and distraction. Interaction has been replaced by walls—television screens that are as large as a wall, and of which a person is intended to have four, so that they can be fully immersed in the programming, which also can be set to include a viewer’s name, to further the immersive escapism.

The world outside of the walls is about to go to war, but the newscasters are quick to gloss over the fact, and quick to dismiss the possibility of loss or hurt.

Montag’s been long curious about the nature of the oppression of which he is a part. He has been sneaking books home and hiding them. But it takes a series of encounters with a girl who seems more awake and more alive than anyone he’s ever met to convince him to act upon those secret curiosities and begin to read. A few lines and a desire for real conversation after that girl dies quickly spirals him into the world of secret bibliophiles and thinkers, concerned with preserving the knowledge of the ages and the culture of the past beyond themselves.

I sort of remembered this book ending hopefully, and I suppose in a way it does, but the city as been bombed, and the fringe society of scholars and bibliophiles and thinkers are heading back to the city to see if they can help.

Bradbury never says what becomes of the society, but leaves it with only those few heroes and a bombed ruin, death and loss and pain that most Americans didn’t see coming because they were too distracted by the escape and the light and the sound.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about where this love and fascination with distraction and noise is present today. If I say much else, I’m writing a very different blog post.

Suffice it to say, this is a book that I’m glad that I read in high school, and I’m glad that I read it now.

Bradbury’s vivid prose is escapism of a different kind because it makes me think instead of distracting me from thinking.

There were a few passages that I found significant enough to mark both in high school and again this past June—and this was I think the first book in 2016 to make me get a pencil to mark its passages.  Because they seemed so significant both times, I want to share them here:

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up. That way lies melancholy.” (61)

“The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.

“So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.” (83)

“Most of us can’t rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. […] Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.” (86)

This book has a special place in my heart too for the reverential way that it talks about writers and book; I am something of a bibliophile or I probably wouldn’t have this blog.

*****

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Del Rey-Random, 1953.

This review is not endorsed by Ray Bradbury, his estate, Del Rey Book, Random House Publishing Group, or Simon & Schuster, who seems to have acquired the current rights, because sometimes publishing is weird.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Challenge: Legal Theft: Accusation (1010 words)

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Welcome to Legal Theft Round 11 (or 2 with the larger group of which I am a part).  Today’s first line has come from The Gate In The Wood.  Her original short fiction can be found here.

As he exited the inner planet transport Edan noticed The Academy Director, and his right shoulder jerked awkwardly as he caught himself halfway through the automatic salute.  As Judicial Mugwump of the System, he did not need to salute anymore.  He acknowledged the Director’s salute to him with a stiff nod.  Hard to do.  He was not used yet to acknowledging deference, especially from men who had once been his superiors.

“Welcome back to Earth,” the Director said, adding with a grin, “sir.”

Edan frowned at him.  “Not the time, Director.”

“I know,” the Director said, sobering, “but it’s still odd to see you in that uniform.”  The Director gestured to the long, black robe and white wig that Edan was made to wear as Judicial Mugwump, bygones of an ancient Earth tradition, returned to favor when the planet had begun to long for its traditional ways, when the galaxy’s problems had come knocking and had overwhelmed the more narrow-minded and planetist of the earthlings.  Edan couldn’t tell if the Director meant to compliment the uniform or scoff at it.

He decided it didn’t matter.  He himself was still afforded the respect due his rank by the Director.  If the Director believed that the outfit was ridiculous, he shared Edan’s opinion.

“Where are they?” Edan asked.

“This way.”  The Director turned, and together their heels clicked over the checkered floor.  Edan snuck glances at the familiar corridors, the locked doors with their plaques proclaiming “Lab 13,” “Dr. Holofernes Richards,” or “Broom Closet.”  Little had changed.  The academy was still sterile and white.  Cadets still paced the halls in their crisp uniforms.  One or two young men and women passed, joking, wearing jeans and t-shirts.  The band names on the fronts of those off-duty had changed, and so had their manners towards him.  Now he was saluted instead of being greeted with jovial cries, shouts for his ruling in petty arguments, or fist bumps.

Edan accepted these salutes reluctantly, missing the camaraderie he had once shared with those at the academy.  Judicial Mugwump was a lonely position by definition.

The Director led him down into the bowels of the academy, where they passed fewer and fewer until they were alone.

Edan thought about making small chat with the Director, but what would he say?

Then ahead he saw the two armed guards standing as still and straight as ancient jamb statues outside of a doorway.

“They’re in there,” the Director said needlessly.  “Take the guards with you.”

“One,” Edan agreed reluctantly.  He didn’t know what he’d find on the other side, and caution was not uncalled for, but he’d also found that trust begat trust and brute force, anger.

“Be careful,” the Director said, touching Edan’s shoulder briefly.

Edan nodded and walked forward alone.  The guards had heard their exchange.  One detached herself from the wall.  She unlocked the door and handed her companion the keys.  She held the door for Edan, who marched in ahead of her.

The room beyond was dark.  What light there was came from around the door, which was shut behind them, leaving only the small square of barred light from its minute window.

Then the guardswoman hit a button that drowned the room in florescent light.  The prisoners hissed and recoiled.

Edan looked into the cell.

“But they’re just children!” he cried.

“Rebels,” the guardswoman corrected him crisply.  “They came in here with jerry-built explosives.  The elder has already admitted that their intention was to destroy the academy, though with the amount of powder they’d collected, they’d have destroyed no more than a few rooms, even including what would have been done through the post-explosion fire.”

Edan knelt by the bars behind which the children crouched.  They wore ragged clothes, heavily patched, black.  The elder, a girl with lank hair, was about thirteen.  The boy was younger, maybe ten, more likely nine.  He nestled against the girl.  The cuffs in which they had been placed had rubbed raw the skin around their wrists.  Shackles around their ankles kept them crouched.  “Is this true?” he asked them.

“Yes,” the girl answered gruffly.

“Why?”

She looked straight at him with bright green eyes.  Red had gathered at their rims, whether from lack of sleep or tears, but she looked no less fierce for it.  “To take down the system.  Because you all sit here in your castle, and you let refuse like us die in the streets without batting an eyelash.”

“Do you know who I am?” Edan asked.

“Another one of the Great One’s dogs.”

“I’m Judicial Mugwump of the System.  Do you know what that means?”

“You’re a fancy dog.”

“I’m charged with impartial judgment, and not just for this planet, for all the planets in Solar System G2V 1090.”

“Then tell me that you think the Great One’s a good man.”

“I believe he is,” Edan confessed, looking down.

“Then you’re not impartial.  Or you’re dense.  Or both.  How can you say that while he carts away the best and brings them here then leaves the rest of us to rot?”

“He does take some of us off the streets, though.”

“And the rest of us just have to accept our fate?”

“Convince me,” Edan challenged.  “Your fate now rests in my hands.  I have to decide whether to charge you, with what, and what your sentence will be.”

The girl scoffed, “Any sentence you deliver will be better than the one I’d be living in otherwise.  Starvation is not a way to die.  Have you heard toddlers crying, their stomachs hollow, and seen what mothers will do to try and feed them?  I’ve watched mothers slit the throats of newborns to give them a quick death.  I’ve watched them nervously cook up a man’s corpse in a stew to disguise the taste of decay.”

“I’ve seen these things,” Edan confessed quietly.

“And forgotten them, then,” the girl accused, “forgotten us, like all you Elite.  You’ve joined them,” she said.  “I fight them.  Do your worst, dog.  I will still be better than you.”

Thus ends my homage to every YA dystopian sci-fi ever.

Book Review: Wolf Tower: Ahead of the Pack

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Click to visit the Amazon page, for links to order, reviews, and a preview.

Claidi is an unlikely, “plain” girl trapped in a love triangle.  On the one hand, there’s the golden prince, Nemian, with whom she is instantly, on sight in love.  Though he can be short with her, he always comes back and apologizes and assures her that he needs her.  On the other, there’s Argul, the leader of a “family” of bandits, of whom she is at first terrified.  He comes to her rescue, but she then has rather little interaction with him because he is busy looking after everyone in his train till during a celebration in a city of clockwork and colored glass he spends the whole night dancing with her.  She respects him.  He is a true leader, but she has promised to follow Nemian.

Now, that sounds like the plot of Twilight and all its hoard, but Tanith Lee wrote Wolf Tower and The Claidi Journals before Stephanie Meyer published a word and while Claidi may fall quickly and mushily for Nemian and while I think I would prefer the story if Claidi relied less upon her men (she really could have probably executed her escape from the City without Argul, though certainly it was convenient for him to provide the horse and to be about so that they could ride off together into the figurative sunset), there’s still much here to appreciate.

Wolf Tower is a journey book.  It begins with a disruption of Claidi’s life of drudgery and structure, which leads to her escape from that life, and then the majority of the novel is spent in Claidi’s discovery of the various cultures and wonders of the world beyond the House in which she grew up.  Lee paints vivid pictures of some of the places: Peshamba and the Rain Gardens.  Her cultures are varied and fairly well formed for the short amount of time that we get to spend with most of them.  All this too Lee paints while still having Claidi believably in the dark as to the people’s languages, picking up only slowly on the language of the Hulta, Argul’s train with whom she spends the most time.

Color might be the word of the novel, color and vitality.

Here, the epistolary format (journal) is done, I hope, to underscore Claidi’s disregard for rules, as foreshadowing for the rules that she will break.  It also helps to show the passage of time as sometimes Claidi simply puts “NTW” (nothing to write) (6) before her life becomes exciting.  Even in the Waste, some entries simply state “Depressed.  /  Have now been here eight days, also depressed.  /  Depressed” (77).

The epistolary form here is not too jarring or awkward, though Claidi’s frequently describes her current emotional or physical state before saying that she had better leap back and tell it from the beginning because we, her imaginary reader, would probably prefer that.  By referring to the imagined reader, Claidi draws the reader into her story.

My impression Wolf Tower is rather colored by the recommendation that I received from my friend at Building a Door, whose writing has, I think, been pretty heavily influenced by this childhood love of hers.  I enjoyed the game of drawing parallel’s between my friend’s writing and Lee’s.

Wolf Tower left me initially wanting just a little more resolution.

***1/2

Lee, Tanith.  The Claidi Collection, Book One: Wolf Tower.  New York: Dutton-Penguin, 2003.

Wolf Tower first published 1998.  British title, Law of the Wolf Tower.

This review is not endorsed by Tanith Lee, Dutton Children’s Books or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book and Film Review: Warm Bodies is Deliciously Meaty

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, synopsis, starred rating, and preview.

Beware spoilers.

Reading Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, I realized just how many escapist, donuts-for-dinner books I’ve been reading.  After all those donuts, it felt great to sit down to a real meat-and-potatoes dinner, the type of book that begs literary analysis of a classroom level—which Warm Bodies did despite being a zombie romance made recently into a motion picture.

Warm Bodies is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but also combines elements of “Beauty and the Beast” and of course the zombie apocalypse/post-apocalypse genre.  I saw the film before I read the book.  The Romeo and Juliet storyline did not fully register—though it did niggle—in my mind in the film till “the balcony scene.”  In the film, the balcony scene was subtly done, with camera angles echoing other, truer Romeo and Juliet adaptations mostly, though Julie echoes Juliet’s “if they do see thee, they will murder thee” (2.2.70) sentiment.  Marion’s book was a bit more blunt about the connection it wanted the reader to draw from this scene, where Julie uses a tape recorder to soliloquize to and wonders aloud what R is, what zombies are: “isn’t ‘zombie’ just a silly name we came up with for a state of being we don’t understand?  What’s in a name, right?” (127).  In this scene, I preferred the film to the book, but I wonder if that would still be the case had I not seen the movie already and already connected the story to Romeo and Juliet.

The film catered to its medium—as it should have done.  The plot was simplified, though it still asked the questions of “what is living?”, “what is death?” and all that must come up when a zombie begins to think about itself and its place in the pre-apocalypse and post-apocalypse world.

Prior to this story, I’d not seen any zombie films or read any zombie fiction, but I know enough about the genre to recognize that Marion has done something different with the zombie concept.  R is a zombie who questions himself and questions the structured zombie society of which he is a part.  Where the Boneys in the film were eaters of everything with a heartbeat, creatures of chaos and destruction, in the book they were priests more than anything else.  In Marion’s book they led the zombie church, preformed weddings, and reminded the undead about the dangers of the Living, a force for structure.

Yet ultimately, the Boneys are the enemy of both mediums.  Unable to return from the undead as R and the Fleshies are, they seek to destroy R and Julie and their hope and love for the threat that they pose to the new world order that the Boneys have created among the zombie hives.

I could not say that either medium presented the better story.  The humor of the film gave the action/adventure/zombie apocalypse a romantic comedy tone.  The mix of the genres was very appealing.  The book asked more of the deeper questions with more force than the film did and was more tragic ultimately than the film, though both ended with hope.  The book ventures more deeply into the effects of a zombpocalypse on humanity and on individuals and more dramatically portrays how the Living can be made dead by fear.

*****

for the book

Marion, Isaac.  Warm Bodies.  New York: Emily Bestler/Atria-Simon & Schuster, 2012.

Warm Bodies.  Dir. Jonathan Levine.  Summit, Make Movies, Mandeville.  2012.

This review is not endorsed by Isaac Marion, Emily Bestler Books, Atria Paperback, or Simon & Schuster, Inc or Summit Entertainment, Make Movies, or Mandeville Films.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Film Review: The Hunger Games: “Thank you for your consideration”

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Minor series spoilers.

I’ve just returned from seeing the much-touted cinematic adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, which was highly influenced by Suzanne Collins herself in her roles as co-screenwriter and co-producer (I applaud her victory on that count).  You might remember that I wasn’t a huge fan of the book itself.  I suppose it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that I wasn’t head-over-heels for the film either.

The film cleared up Katniss’ gender easily (reading the book, her first person voice was masculine enough to greatly confuse me, really, till I turned to the back and saw that she was given the feminine pronoun), and I enjoyed its insight into life outside the arena, in the Game room, President Snow’s garden, Districts 12 and 11….  These insights deepen the plot by showing the causes and effects of Katniss’ actions in the arena, about which Katniss might speculate in the book but of which she knows nothing for certain.  As someone who I think ships the (I believe, but remember I haven’t read the second or third books yet) star-crossed pairing of Katniss/Gale, the scenes of Gale’s reactions to Katniss and Peeta’s budding though potentially pretended relationship were particularly heart-rending.

Almost all around, this is a well-acted film.  The characters were easy to feel for (or hate as appropriate), and little interaction was required to express their feelings for one another.  Especially skilled were Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Liam Hemsworth as Gale, and Amandla Stenberg as Rue.

What this movie failed to express—or failed to express as clearly as the book does was Katniss’ and Peeta’s reactions to being pawns in the Hunger Games.  The focus seemed to be on the excitement and peril of the Games and less on the problem with the government that the Games exposes.  This, I think, is mostly the fault of the medium.  Katniss’ voice is a close one in the novel.  Her inner monologue is absent from the movie.  Peeta’s anti-government feelings, though, might have been played up more on film.

Much, really, overall might have been better explained, such as mockingjays’ and tracker jackers’ historical importance and the symbolism of three upheld fingers.

I’d be interested to hear opinions from those who haven’t read the books.  Was the story clear?  What did you or didn’t you understand?

I can see though where fans of the books would come away quite satisfied.  The movie’s plot adheres quite closely to the book’s (so far as I recall), so fans of the series will grumble about errors more quietly than, say, Tolkienites or Potter-heads tended to after seeing their films.

I almost think though, for all this and all my previous grumbles, that I prefer the book to the movie because it more strongly comes across as a political struggle, and I enjoy a strong focus on politics in my plots.

It maybe should be mentioned that, while I haven’t read Catching Fire or Mockingjay, I’ve read a few spoilers.  I’m not actually sure that I felt that The Hunger Games book did emphasize political struggle as strongly as I’d have liked; I think I’ve imposed a stronger emphasis on those stirrings of political dissent post-spoiler than I originally read in Katniss’ grumbles.

My film rating?

***

The Hunger Games.  Dir. Gary Ross.  Lionsgate.  2012.

This review is not endorsed by Lionsgate, Gary Ross, anyone in the cast, or anyone involved in making this film, nor Suzanne Collins or Scholastic. It is an independent, honest review by a viewer.

Book Review: Habibi Well Deserves Its Title

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I read a review in an October TIME Magazine of the graphic novel Habibi (Arabic for “my beloved”) by Craig Thompson and was intrigued.  When I walked into the library last Thursday night and saw it there, after not finding any books by Brian Selznick, I decided to bring Habibi home with me.

I’m so glad that I did.

This book is amazing, worthy of every poetic line of praise from TIME’s Douglas Wolk.

Set in the future where pollution poisons the water supply, Habibi’s world has returned to an Arabia replete with the old stories and mythologies, slavery, sultans, harems, and jinns.  The story tracks two runaway slaves, Dodola and Zam, through their youth, then through their maturation into adulthood.  It is a story of loss, reunion, love, belief, the fight for freedom, and the search for identity and for a role in society and for family.

The book is an exploration of sexual identity, femininity, masculinity, humanity, history, the dystopian future to which we as a race are condemning ourselves, religion, the relationships between different religions and races, belief….  It explores the art forms that it indulges: word, storytelling, visual representation, silence and white space—dare I include “magic”?

As a graphic novel for adults, though mature teens might be able to claim it as theirs too, Habibi is heavy with philosophy, theology, sensuality, history, and mythology.  The story might benefit especially any seeking to understanding or struggling with their sexuality.  Among other issues close to the modern heart and mind, Habibi explores too the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity.  Raising questions and offering examples without drawing a conclusion, the religions are handled very well.

Though the artwork in this book is stunning in its complexity, in the merging of text and pattern, for which Islamic art is so famous, and form, the story more so than the art draws me into the tale.  Unlike Brian Selznick’s books, Habibi still pays homage to the comic books and manga from which graphic novels emerged rather than returning to the earlier picture books, as I would argue Selznick seems to do (but then Selznick’s graphic novels are also intended for children while Thompson’s is intended for adults or older teens, and comics and manga are for an older audience than picture books).  Habibi still, though, escapes the static block forms of comic strips, including full-page spreads and creatively shaped containers for the images, such as the eye that highlights Dodola’s eyes by which Zam recognizes her.  In that way, it is almost more creative than Selznick’s books, which mostly seem to contain full-page illustrations, much as many picture books have throughout history.

This is a book that contains a lesson for everyone, I feel.  In reading a number of reviews, as many themes have been most highlighted by each individual reviewer: from the interplay of pictures and words by Wold, to the castration of Zam by Marcus Nyahoe in his intriguingly named Breaking the Fourth Wall blog, and Robyn Creswell of The New York Times claims that it’s “a work of fantasy about being ashamed of one’s fantasies.”

I may have been able to get even more from the book if I were familiar with Arabic, words of which language grace many of the pages.

 *****

Thompson, Craig.  Habibi.  New York: Pantheon-Random, 2011.

This review is not endorsed by Craig Thompson, Pantheon Books, Random House, Inc., TIME Magazine, Time Warner, Inc., The New York Times, or any of the reviewers cited here.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Hunger Games. More Than Favorable Odds: The Hunger Games’ Popularity Analyzed

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My friends at the Gwelsey Virus began with rules that, if broken, meant punishment for the rule-breaker. If any of my friends want to assign me a punishment, I will accept it. I am about to break the one rule I put in place for myself: that I kept things to 550 words or less.

This is the first review that I’ve written with the idea of getting it published somewhere other than this blog. I feel the writing is pretty tight, but it is over 1000 words long.  I just don’t know that I can trim that any further.  (If wants to offer a critique, do, because I haven’t submitted it anywhere yet.  Or if anyone knows where to submit reviews like this, I’d appreciate that even more.)  If I later find the energy to try, perhaps I’ll post the short review.

In the meantime, enjoy:

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games Trilogy has been receiving a lot of critical and popular attention of late, probably at least in part due to Lionsgate’s announcement of a film adaptation of the popular YA, post-apocalyptic series’ first and title book due to be released in March 2012. I am, I know, late to the feast, so to speak. I only recently finished the first book, The Hunger Games.

Perhaps because of the hype that has been built up around this series, I found it at first disappointing. Within the first ten pages of text, I was terribly confused and put-off. I found the voice suffered from gender confusion. I was confused why two boys—Gale and Katniss—were discussing having children and why there seemed to be a definite implied “together” within that discussion, having heard nothing of a pro-homosexual aspect to The Hunger Games, something that is unlikely to be overlooked in discussions, popular or critical. Giving my mother a basic summary of the book, I turned to the back cover, looking for clues to the plot, and only then discovered that the main character, Katniss Everdeen, is in fact not male as her first person voice had led me to suspect, but female. Even discussion of her name in a pool of all the girls in District 12 did not wholly convince me of her gender, so seemingly male is Collins’ narrative voice.

I lamented this among friends, who wondered whether the gender confusion of Katniss’ voice was not intentional. I don’t know whether or not it could be. It is possible. Katniss, a trade hunter, has been playing a more stereotypically male role within her family for many years. She is the breadwinner and looks after the basic needs of her mother and sister in a stereotypically male fashion: by hunting in the woods and haggling for the best trade.

Eventually, I overcame the confusion I felt, though not without setting aside the book for some time and reading the whole of Rick Riordan’s The Throne of Fire and a large portion of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. I can’t name the exact moment that I decided to believe that Katniss was female; maybe it didn’t even happen within the text so much as within my head. Perhaps Katniss’ voice became more feminine as I journeyed deeper into the book. But either way, I emerged with an image of Katniss as strong, fiery, rebellious, independent woman, though I doubt that she will actually emerge from the series as a single, independent woman.

Like the Gamemakers and ranking officials of the Capitol in her world, Collins seems to very well understand that sex and violence sell (though the romance of the book stopped short of sex), and she used this to write a best-selling series. In fact, Katniss bears some resemblance to a stronger, more active Bella Swan (of Stephanie Meyers’ supremely popular Twilight series), unable to decide between two good men who love her and waffling over which she should love while believing herself unworthy of the attentions of either, unable to see her own apparent allure. I can’t really fault Collins for utilizing these proven money-makers, but it does seem a bit ironic that while she faults the Capitol for staging the Hunger Games, a death-match for entertainment of the Capitol citizens, for food for the winning district, and a reminder not to rebel against the current government, she uses a death-match to lure readers.

Perhaps because I came into the series knowing the basic premise, I was not as horrified as I could have been by the concept. That knowledge that I’m reading a work of fiction might also have factored into my less-than-terrified reaction. Still, I recognize what Collins is saying. The Hunger Games do read a bit like a season of Survivor where players are killed rather than voted off the island and the participants are children below the age of eighteen and the majority are unwilling victims. Perhaps a better analogy, though less current, is to a government-sponsored, publicly viewed reenactment of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies.

Now, it’s time to admit it: Like so many others, once I was caught in the action, the book was a quick, capturing read. At several points, I was emotionally wrecked by the book, which is always high praise. I’m not sure that I was wrecked at the moments that I should have been, but Shakespeare proved years ago that audiences love a tale of star-crossed lovers. Those moments of doomed romance I found more compelling, more heart-rending than I did the deaths and descriptions of hunger, dehydration, poisoning, and oozing wounds. Further proving its merit, I left the book feeling that it was one that was going to take some sorting, that I was forced to think, but perhaps I merely missed the happy ending, which I ought to have known from the opening pages was not forthcoming.

At any rate, am I glad I read this book, beyond now having entered the conversation ringing in the halls of children’s literature criticism and popular culture? Yes, I think I am. The Hunger Games was far from the best book, technically or in terms of its plot, that I have read even recently (but then, I am reading Tolkien’s classic and few can really compare to that), but it was a book driven by questions of character, of plot, and of the future of our society that I think has made a lasting impression. Apart from Katniss’ voice of which I have still have my doubts, the majority of the characters were believable, though some were perhaps a bit overblown, like Haymitch, Effie Trinket, and Cato (who I wish was unbelievable). Collins has thought through characters’ motivations carefully and crafted a story that I think showcases the characters more than it does the situation and the plot, which I was not expecting in a post-apocalyptic tale. These seem like characters who will not quickly fade from memory, which when compounded with its exciting, peril-filled, anti-government plot, probably accounts for the series’ popularity as much as does Collins use of perennially and currently popular aspects of plot.

**

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008.

This review is not endorsed by Scholastic, Lionsgate, Suzanne Collins, the Capitol, or the Gamemakers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.