Tag Archives: Veronica Roth

My Top Reads of 2013 (Children’s and YA)

And so, as promised, here are a few of the books (in the categories of ‘Children’s Literature’ and ‘YA Literature’), read over the past year, which made enough of an impression on me to stick in my memory. As with my previous list, they’re not all books published in the last twelve months, for reasons pecuniary and otherwise, but maybe some of them will be new to you anyway.

Image: mychildbook.com

Image: mychildbook.com

Favourite Reads of 2013

I read R.J. Palacio’s Wonder in one sitting, like taking a long drink of water on a hot day. The story of a young boy named August who has a facial deformity – and, crucially, of his sister Olivia (or ‘Via’) who struggles to cope with her feelings surrounding August’s condition, and the way people treat him as a result – it’s a beautiful little book. Some critics have called it ‘maudlin’ and ‘over-the-top,’ and, to a certain extent, it is, but I loved it anyway. I loved August, and his wonderful voice, and I really loved the way we hear from Olivia, too, and how she deals with her own feelings of jealousy (because August is ‘the special child’), as well as her overprotective tendencies and her absolute devotion to her brother. Some of the characters, particularly the adults, are a little one-dimensional in this story, but that’s not even important. This book is not about adults – it’s about one little boy, doing the best he can with what he has. Its catchphrase, ‘Always be Kinder than Necessary,’ is something I particularly remember from my experience of reading it.

I finally managed to read Frances Hardinge’s Verdigris Deep this year, too. In contrast to her other novels, this one is set in a contemporary setting, and tells the story of Ryan, Chelle and Josh who, when stuck for money to pay for the bus home one night, steal some old coins from an abandoned wishing well. From that moment on, their lives begin to change. Strange events start happening, and – in a brilliantly creepy piece of ‘body horror’, white bumps start to erupt on Ryan’s hands, which turn out to be more than just a skin infection. Then, Ryan begins to have visions of a woman who tries to speak through a torrent of water gushing out of her mouth, and he understands enough to know that this is the Well Witch, and by stealing her coins the youngsters are now bound to do her will. Ryan and Chelle try to break the spell and release themselves from the Witch’s bonds, but Josh seems to enjoy the new-found power that granting the Well Witch’s wishes gives him, and breaking him out of it is not so easy… An utterly brilliant book, ‘Verdigris Deep’ is a quick read by comparison with Frances Hardinge’s other work, which tends to be set in fantastical times and places with huge amounts of world-building. That doesn’t mean I loved it any less than her other books – on the contrary, it has become my second favourite, behind ‘A Face Like Glass.’

Image: franceshardinge.com

Image: franceshardinge.com

All Fall Down and Ways to Live Forever are novels by Sally Nicholls, and they couldn’t be more different – well, besides the fact that they both deal with death, that is. ‘All Fall Down’ is set in England during the time of the Black Death, and tells the story of Isabel and her family, who live in a small village called Ingleforn. They are peasant farmers, but seem happy – Isabel is part of a loving family, and her future has already been mapped out for her. She will marry Robin, her childhood friend, and they will raise their family the same way her parents have raised her, and so on forevermore.

Then, the pestilence comes, and everything changes.

This story isn’t so much about ‘suspense’, because anyone who knows anything about the Plague will understand what’s going to happen. It’s more a story about family, bonds between people, the sheer human tragedy of the death toll during 1348-9, and one teenage girl’s indomitable will to survive.

Ways to Live Forever is the story of Sam, who is an eleven-year-old cancer patient. He is inquisitive and wants to know everything he can – and there’s so much he wants to do before his time comes to die. He makes a list, and then his doctor tells him he has much less time left than he thought… This book made me cry in great shuddering sobs, but it’s still one of my favourite reads this year. Sam made a little nest in my heart, and he’ll never leave. I loved it, but it’s a challenging read if you’re emotional. Fair warning.

Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines was finally read by me this year. How did I leave this one so long? Heck knows. Anyway, we’re in a world where cities move on huge tracks, trundling across the land devouring one another when they can, and the principle of Municipal Darwinism rules all – the town which moves the fastest lives the longest. One of New London’s chief Historians, Thaddeus Valentine – a man seen as a hero by most everybody – is the victim of an attempted assassination by a young girl with a hideous scar running across her face. Valentine is saved at the last moment by the heroic actions of a young Historian, Tom Natsworthy, but when Tom he sees the young would-be assassin, the passion and hate in her eyes intrigue him. When she flings herself off the moving city, presumably to her death, Tom follows her. What follows is a story of intrigue, conspiracy, airships, battle, resurrected corpses used as unbeatable soldiers, heroism and sacrifice which stands with the very best SF, let alone SF aimed at young adult readers. It’s an amazing book, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of the series.

Image: bookzone4boys.blogspot.com

Image: bookzone4boys.blogspot.com

The novels of David Walliams were a present last Christmas, and I devoured them with great glee. The Boy in the Dress, Gangsta Granny, Billionaire Boy and Mr Stink have lots of things in common, including compelling and lovable protagonists, several recurring characters, a focus on family and love, and not making snap judgements about people based on their appearance, and to top all that off they’re well written and extremely funny. I haven’t yet read Walliams’ new books, Ratburger or The Demon Dentist, but I plan to. If you’re looking for a gift for a child from about 7 or 8, or you just want to laugh your socks off (and cry a little, too), you can’t go wrong with these.

Image: ashclassbookblog.blogspot.com

Image: ashclassbookblog.blogspot.com

A few runners up:

I also read The Fault in Our Stars, along with the rest of the world, and I wept (like everyone else), but it wasn’t one of my favourite books this year, for a lot of reasons; I read The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket and enjoyed it right up to the end, which I felt was a disappointment; I finished Veronica Roth’s YA series which began with Divergent and was left a little underwhelmed by the conclusion (in Allegiant, the third book in the series.) ‘Allegiant’ is unnecessarily long, I thought, and the double-narration style is difficult to follow because the voices sound exactly the same.

So, there you have it. My list of favourite reads, as of today. Hopefully I’ve given you some gift ideas, or even some reading ideas, or maybe I’ve bored your socks off. Either way, happy Tuesday!

Book Review Saturday – ‘Divergent’

Sometimes, I’m a little ‘behind the herd’ when it comes to blockbusters. This book has been out now for a couple of years, and the movie version is being released early in 2014. The final book in the series (of which ‘Divergent’ is the first instalment) was released in October (I am currently reading it); my beloved husband decided to buy me the entire trilogy for a birthday gift (which means I shouldn’t even be reading them yet – but that’s irrelevant, surely.) It really makes a trilogy work when you have all three books available to read, one after the other – I did the same thing with ‘The Hunger Games’ and I found it to be most satisfactory – and I was really looking forward to finally getting stuck into the phenomenon that is Veronica Roth, and her dystopian novels that have set the YA world on fire.

Image: musingsofanoverlord.wordpress.com

Image: musingsofanoverlord.wordpress.com

Now that I’m over two-thirds of the way through them, all I can say is – what?

So, there are several things about the book (and this goes for ‘Insurgent’, the second book in the trilogy, too) which are great, namely the fight scenes and the descriptions of physical intensity at times of great stress or fear, and the occasional gem of language beautifully used. However, I have to say that, overall, I was a bit let down by ‘Divergent.’ Perhaps ‘let down’ isn’t the right way to put it; frustrated, maybe. Irritated. Forced to prop up my suspension of disbelief once too often.

In the world of ‘Divergent’, a vision of a future Chicago, people are divided into five factions. We have the Dauntless, who are brave (apparently, though they just seem reckless to me), the Candor (those who cannot tell a lie), the Amity (those for whom life is about love and friendship), the Abnegation (those who prize selflessness above all things) and the Erudite (those who live for knowledge, and the acquisition of knowledge). In a strange version of sumptuary law, the people belonging to these factions each wear different styles of clothing and have unique hairstyles and ways of talking and walking which make it clear whether they are Amity, or Abnegation, or whatever. We are not given any real, concrete explanation for how or why society ended up this way, only that a long-ago war had split humanity so badly that the leaders of the postbellum society decided factions were the way to go in order to ensure peace would reign forevermore. Wars were caused, apparently, by human nature and the tendency for humanity to do evil due to greed, or anger, or cowardice, so somehow – logically (or not?) – dividing people up like this into traits for which they showed a natural inclination, and keeping them all separate, with separate roles in society all of which are meant to be complementary, was seen as a good idea.

Here’s my first problem with ‘Divergent’. This idea – the basic strut upon which the book, and the world, is built, makes no sense to me.

That is completely illogical. Image: freerepublic.com

That is completely illogical.
Image: freerepublic.com

Our heroine is a sixteen-year-old named Beatrice Prior who, along with her brother Caleb (not described as her twin, yet somehow the same age) must face the test that every sixteen year old in the city has to undergo – the aptitude test, which will determine what faction they have a natural inclination toward, followed by a ceremony where they publicly choose a faction. They can stay with the one in which they were raised, or choose another. Beatrice and Caleb have been raised as Abnegation, and Beatrice has never felt like she fits in. Her brother seems too good to be true – perfectly selfless, living his life to serve others, the perfect Abnegation – and so Tris is sure he will choose to spend the rest of his life there, keeping their parents company.

However, Caleb’s choice shocks Beatrice, and her choice shocks everyone.

Then, the book basically takes us through Beatrice’s (or Tris’s, as she renames herself) initiation into her faction. Mostly this focuses on (I hate to say it) repetitive and boring descriptions of simulations which are designed to make her face her fears, pointless training which sounds at once so brutal and so stupid as to be irritating, and her love for Four, one of the trainers in her faction. As the book comes to a conclusion (and, I’m talking, about 400 pages into a 500 page book), we finally start to realise that there’s more to this world than Tris learning how to fire a gun and cope with being almost beaten to death on a regular basis. There is, in fact, a Conspiracy in place – a Conspiracy to bring down the factions.

The end of the book is its strongest point, though Tris does one extremely selfish and stupid thing that I can’t mention here for the sake of spoiling it. However, I am glad to note that the repercussions of this act haunt her throughout book 2.

It’s hard to believe that all this is going on inside one city, and one city only. Having read a little further in the series, I’m now beginning to see that Roth intends to expand on this in subsequent books, and perhaps explain what happened to the rest of the world – but, really, it shouldn’t be something a reader is only coming to in book 3 of a trilogy. This should be clear from the start. There are things in the book like the train that brings the Dauntless around the city – it seems not to run on tracks, because one minute it’s seven storeys up, the next it’s at ground level, and it goes, apparently, wherever the Dauntless want it to go – which irritated me because, frankly, I found them silly. I didn’t like Tris, who seemed unnecessarily cold to her family – particularly considering the sacrifices her parents make for her at the end of this book – and who is definitely courageous, but also hot-headed and impulsive, and I really found her relationship with Four hard to warm to.

The most annoying thing about the book is this, though – the Divergence of the title refers to people whose minds are too complex to fit into one faction alone. Those who have an aptitude for two or more factions are Divergent, and apparently dangerous. Tris, of course, is one of these people. But – if a person can be raised in one faction, and still choose another when they turn sixteen, to which they are then expected to devote their entire life, how is it possible that more people are not Divergent? Why is it such a terribly dangerous thing? This isn’t explored at all.

The book is exciting and different and, at times, well written. It was interesting enough to keep me reading (though, I will admit, I was thinking ‘blah, blah, blah’ as I read, some of the time), and book 2, ‘Insurgent’, is a whole lot better. ‘Divergent’ is a touch repetitive, a little derivative, and built on utter illogic. But it’s worth it, I think, just for ‘Insurgent.’ Let’s hope ‘Allegiant’, the last book, is an improvement on the second. If not, I think I’ll be avoiding YA blockbusters for a while.

A still from the forthcoming movie showing Tris and Four in a training session. Image: hypable.com

A still from the forthcoming movie showing Tris and Four in a training session.
Image: hypable.com