23 June 2012

Book Reviews: Two YA Novels

I always take a few YA  novels with me on vacation and this year it happened that the first two books I read fell into that category. My coworker, Marika, gave me both books as suggestions without having read either of them based on the dark & depressing aspects of the first one and the multiple awards that the second one has won.

Lara Avery's book would have been more appropriately called Pretty Ordinary. It's a story whose beginning hit somewhat close to home: Bryce is a 17 year old girl preparing for her Olympic diving trials when a miscalculation lands her in a coma. When she wakes up five years later, nothing in her former life is the same. Two years ago, my own 18 year old granddaughter was diving on her college team when she had a terrible accident that rendered her unconscious, knocked all of her front teeth out, and caused a great deal of trauma.  Luckily for our family, her similarity to Bryce ends there.

I always "test drive" my vacation books by reading the first chapter before packing them, and I had such high hopes for this one that it was my airplane book for the trip down, but that turned out to be a big mistake.  This book has narrative inconsistencies, factual inaccuracies, two-dimensional characters, parents whose actions simply cannot be believed, and dialogue that is both flat & insipid. Still, it's a quick read and once Bryce, the main character, gets her last bit of bad news, somewhere around page 275, the book marginally improves.

Many teens will, no doubt, enjoy this book because they'll think it's dramatic (OMG--my boyfriend and my best friend are getting married?! OMG--my new love interest has a younger sibling in a coma--what are the chances?!). More discerning readers (no matter what their age) will know otherwise: the book is one, big, long tell-not-show. I actually think the story arc is a fairly interesting one, so my hope is that in time this very young author will develop a better sense of pacing, dialogue, narration, and character.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is a strong read, with interesting and well-developed characters, a not-too-futuristic dystopia, and a setting that is richly atmospheric. It's set in the Gulf Coast region of the US, where category-six hurricanes have pummeled the coastline and destroyed New Orleans not once, but twice.  The completely melted polar ice caps have radically brought the coastline inland with the rise of the sea level, and the weather patterns have shifted dramatically to bring monthly "city killer" storms.

Into this world, Nailer is born.  He's a ship breaker on light crew, meaning that for now, he's small enough and wily enough to clamber through the darkness of beached freighters, scavenging for scrap metal.  His father is a monster and the closest thing he has to family is boss girl Pima and her mother. When one day Nailer & Pima discover a wrecked clipper ship with a lone survivor on it, they are faced with the ultimate decision: preserve their humanity by reviving the survivor, or rescue their family permanently from a life of hardship, toil, and starvation by letting her die. It's a hard-earned decision, and one that will make both of them repeatedly question the bonds of loyalty and the importance of honor in a world where cruelty and brute force are valued above all else--and make them question everything they thought they knew about humans versus half-men, a new breed of creature whose combined DNA derives from people, mastiffs, and jungle cats.

Ship Breaker is well written and it covers several themes without feeling like an overt political agenda: the environment, public health care, the rise of globalism, social justice, and the potential dangers that arise when our technology outstrips our empathy and our capacity for greed eliminates our ability to recognize human suffering.  I found it to be a quick read, yet a thought-provoking one, and while I didn't exactly love it, I admire it very much for what it accomplishes.  The paperback version that I read also includes the first chapter of the sequel, in which my favorite character (and arguably the most interesting one in the book), presumed dead, makes an escape from prison.  I will, in all likelihood, read the second book sometime after I get back from vacation.

NB: Anything But Ordinary is slated to be published in September of this year by Hyperion and I received from the publisher a free ARC.  I purchased my own copy of Ship Breaker.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)