Thursday, June 30, 2011


 Matched, by Ally Condy

For Cassia, nothing is left to chance--not what she will eat, the job she will have, or the man she will marry. In Matched, the Society Officials have determined optimal outcomes for all aspects of daily life, thereby removing the "burden" of choice. When Cassia's best friend is identified as her ideal marriage Match it confirms her belief that Society knows best, until she plugs in her Match microchip and a different boy’s face flashes on the screen. This improbable mistake sets Cassia on a dangerous path to the unthinkable--rebelling against the predetermined life Society has in store for her. -Plot summary borrowed from Amazon

Both The Giver and City of Ember are more for the tween set, but now we're getting to the truly YA dystopias. I picked up Matched on the recommendation of a co-worker (and, ok, because of the beautiful cover design!) and was not disappointed. This is mostly an intellectual adventure story- no breaking into government buildings or joining guerilla resistance movements here. Condy focuses more on Cassia's growth away from the dysfunctional society that has shaped her life and into a new awareness.

I enjoyed seeing this different way of telling a familiar story (Protagonist dutifully follows Society, slowly realizes Society is Bad, Rebels against Society). There does seem to be subtrend of Dystopian Romances, and this clearly fits into that category, and throws in the ever-present love triangle for good measure. I was less interested in the romance aspect, although I think Condy did a better job with her triad than most. What I really liked was Cassia's introspection and quest to understand the world around her with new eyes, and to balance her newfound views on life with her relationships.

The ending ramps up the action and will leave readers anxious for the sequel, Crossed, which is due out this fall.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

City of Ember

The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau
It is always night in the city of Ember. But there is no moon, no stars. The only light during the regular twelve hours of "day" comes from floodlamps that cast a yellowish glow over the streets of the city. Beyond are the pitch-black Unknown Regions, which no one has ever explored because an understanding of fire and electricity has been lost, and with it the idea of a Moveable Light. "Besides," they tell each other, "there is nowhere but here" Among the many other things the people of Ember have forgotten is their past and a direction for their future. For 250 years they have lived pleasantly, because there has been plenty of everything in the vast storerooms. But now there are more and more empty shelves--and more and more times when the lights flicker and go out, leaving them in terrifying blackness for long minutes. What will happen when the generator finally fails?

Twelve-year-old Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet seem to be the only people who are worried. They have just been assigned their life jobs--Lina as a messenger, which leads her to knowledge of some unsettling secrets, and Doon as a Pipeworker, repairing the plumbing in the tunnels under the city where a river roars through the darkness. But when Lina finds a very old paper with enigmatic "Instructions for Egress," they use the advantages of their jobs to begin to puzzle out the frightening and dangerous way to the city of light of which Lina has dreamed. As they set out on their mission, the haunting setting and breathless action of this stunning first novel will have teens clamoring for a sequel. -Plot summary borrowed from Amazon

I had been wanting to read this book for awhile, partially for its slighlty steampunk setting, but mostly because a non-reader friend of mine raved to me about how he couldn't put it down. It was pretty interesting and reluctant-reader friendly: fascinating setting, sympathetic characters, and the plot was definitely nail-bitingly tense towards the end. There were a few things that seemed really contrived (really, the box containing the key to the city's survival sat, forgotten, in a closet for a few hundred years? And is discovered Just in the Nick of Time?), but it's still a solid starter-dystopia. I'd suggest this to kids who are still reading the early Harry Potter books and other fairly easy chapter books with a (very) slight edge to them.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Giver

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

One of the overwhelmingly popular genres of YA fiction at the moment is dystopian. Having loved classics like 1984, Brave New World and Watership Down (hey, anthropomorphic allegories count! Just look at Animal Farm), I thought I'd give some more a try.

Somehow, I'd missed out on this one during school and felt that, as one of the classic and original YA dystopias, I needed to give it a shot.

In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community's Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. -Plot summary borrowed from Amazon

I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed by this book. I understand that it is intended for a much younger reader than myself. Still, it seemed incredibly simplistic to me. For one thing, Lowry does not give many details about how the society has come to be, or how it really functions. Despite that I thought it was a great thought-provoker for younger/more reluctant readers, and provided some truly chilling scenes. One more quibble: the ending was open-ended and unsatisfactory. I know, I know, it's supposed to make the reader think. But, argh.

That being said, a movie adapatation is in the works and Jeff Bridges has stated that he would be interested in playing the Giver. After his zen-mentor gig in Tron: Legacy, I think he could pull it off.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Princess of the Midnight Ball

Princess Rose and her sisters Lily, Jonquil, Hyacinth, Violet, Daisy, Poppy, Iris, Lilac, Orchid, Pansy, and Petunia are trapped in a curse. Every third night, they have to dance at the Midnight Ball with the twelve sons of the King Under Stone, who lives in a realm below the earth. To get there, they descend a staircase hidden beneath a carpet in their room, walk through a silver and pearl gate and a forest of silver trees, and ride golden boats across a lake of shadows. They have tried to tell others of their secret, but the curse prevents them from speaking of it.
Galen Werner is a soldier who is returning from the Westfalin-Analousia war. On his way to the city of Bruch to live with his mother's sister Liesel Orm, Galen meets an old woman. After he shares his food with her, the woman gives him white and black yarn and an invisibility cloak, saying that he would have to use them when "He" tries to get to the surface.
When Galen meets Rose, she knows that he can try to break the curse, but will he succeed despite the complications they come across? -Plot summary borrowed from Amazon

In my review of Ash, I suggested some readalikes for that Cinderella re-telling, namely Wildwood Dancing and this offering by Jessica Day George. Like Wildwood, this is a re-imagining of the Brothers Grimms' "The Twelve Dancing Princesses." In fact, that is what originally drew me to this title.

Galen is a likable protagonist (although really, it's hard not to root for a hero who knits!), and I enjoyed getting the story from his perspective as well as Rose's. As a re-telling it was quite good, retaining most of the original details while fleshing out the setting and characters with interesting details. If the portal in Wildwood Dancing led to the glittering, enchanting realm of fae reminiscent of the Seelie court, the princesses in this version are definitely compelled (cursed, really) to visit the cruel Unseelie court night after night.

I thought this book was much better written than George's Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. The characters were better developed, the world was much more believable, and I couldn't wait to see how/if Galen would solve the mystery of the worn out dancing slippers!


Ash is a teenage girl whose loving father has died, leaving her alone with her cruel and violent stepmother. Ash's sole source of comfort is reading fairy tales by the dying light of the fire in her room each night. Ash dreams that, one day, fairies might find her and spirit her away to their world where all her wishes will come true. One night, the mysterious and sinister fairy prince Sidhean finds Ash and begins to prepare her to enter fairyland. But shortly thereafter, Ash meets Kaisa—a noblewoman and the King's Huntress. Ash and Kaisa not only form an immediate and deep friendship, but Ash begins to fall in love with the beautiful, strong woman. Ash's feelings seem be reciprocated but Sidhean returns to claim what he says is rightfully his due, and a battle for Ash's body and soul will push Ash to the brink. -Plot summary borrowed from Amazon

I really loved this book. As a fairytale retelling it was in some ways only loosely based on the original- despite the frame of a girl orphaned and "cared for" by her stepmother and a ball scene, this is a very original novel with plenty of welcome plot/character additions. At the same time, there were bits and piences that were straight from original tellings of Cinderella. For instance, Ash finds solace sleeping at her mother's gravesite, recalling the Grimm's "The Juniper Tree."

Overall I really enjoyed this book. The world building was solidly done, dialogue was believable, and I found myself really caring about not only Ash but her relationships with Sidhean and Kaisa. If you enjoyed other fairly lighltly romantic fairytale re-tellings like Juliet Marillier's Wildwood Dancing or Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball, you might enjoy Ash.