“Divergent”—A Book Review

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“I am Divergent. And I can’t be controlled.”

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth: I finally got around to reading it! I wanted to wait until the third and final book was released before I started the series, and I’m glad I did. Fans of books like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Matched by Ally Condie, and The Pledge by Kimberly Derting are sure enjoy this series.

Most of you have already read this book, or know what it is about, so I’m just going to give you a very brief summary:

Typical dystopian setting, people are crazy, so the area around Chicago has divided itself into five different factions. Each of these “factions” hold a characteristic to be most important: Dauntless=bravery, Erudite=brilliance,  Amity=peace, Candor=honesty, and Abnegation=selflessness. With each faction upholding a certain characteristic above all others, the societies can cohabitate. Or so is the theory.

Belonging to one of the factions is the most important thing. If you fail to become a functional member of one, you are kicked out and are forced to live a life of the factionless, roaming the boarders, belonging to no one.

 

“To live factionless is not just to live in poverty and discomfort; it is to live divorced from society, separated from the most important thing in life: community.”

 

Upon your 16th year in school, you are administered a test that tells you which faction you would function strongly in, and you are given the choice to stay in the faction you were born into, or pick another.

 

“Faction customs dictate even idle behavior and supersede individual preference.”

 

Beatrice “Tris” was born into Abnegation, but never quite got the hang of being selfless and quite. When her test results are inconclusive, she discovers that she is something rare—she is Divergent. This means that she holds too many strong characteristics to belong to just one faction. Warned that she must keep this a deep secret, or people may try to harm her, she chooses to become a member of the Dauntless community.

 

“Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it, that’s the point.”

 

Tris quickly learns that people aren’t always what they seem. Everyone has a hidden secret. Can she keep her secret hidden, and can she make it through the Dauntless initiation alive?

 

“I am deeply suspicious of people in general. It is my nature to expect the worst of them.”

 

I give this face paced read four out of five stars. The characters were strong, the messages were clear, and the story was intriguing. The only reason I didn’t award it five stars, is because it almost feels like it’s been done before, just with a different setting and different names. I was seeing a cross between Vampire Academy combat training, The Hunger Games districts, and every other YA novel implication of “there is something special about you, main character.”

Looking forward to the movie and the next two books in the series 🙂

“The Book Thief”—A Book Review

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a remarkable tale. Set in Germany during the Holocaust, this story is narrated by Death. Yes, I’m talking about the Grim Reaper himself. You can only imagine the things he has witnessed.

 

“It’s probably fair to say that in all the years of Hitler’s reign, no person was able to serve the Fuhrer as loyally as me. “

“I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling amount the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs.”

 

At the beginning of the story, Death meets a little girl named Liesel. She is on her way to live with a foster family outside of Munich, because her mother can no longer adequately care for her. Death becomes enraptured by this little girl, and (even though he shouldn’t) he begins to follow her.

Liesel is a child growing up in the midst of a world war. Times are tough, money and food are scant. What initially draws Death to Liesel is her book thievery. Liesel was very poorly educated upon arriving in Munich, and her foster father, known to the girl as “papa”, takes the time out every night when Liesel awakens from her usual plaguing nightmares, to read to her and teach her to read and write properly.

As you can guess, throughout the book the war progresses, as do the hardships Liesel must come to bare. Liesel is forced to join Hitler Youth, and be a “good little German girl.” But what happens if you don’t agree with what Hitler says?

The answer is: You keep quiet about it.

Many of the characters in this story completely disagree with Hitler’s message and agenda, but they say nothing out of fear. Because to reveal anything other than complete compliance is basically suicide. You would be publically shamed and taken away from your family. Submission was the key to survival.

At one point, Liesel’s foster family ends up harboring a Jew, because of a long ago promise and a debt to be paid. This is an extremely dangerous act of courage. If the family is caught with a Jew in their basement, the outcome isn’t even imaginable.

“Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew.”

The one thing that Liesel has found to keep her going is reading. It is through books that she learns to build self confidence, imagination, and find an escape from the horrible times. But the thing is, in 1940s Germany, books aren’t easy to come by. Most everyone has lost their job and rations are limited, making things like books nearly impossible to acquire.  

The solution? To steal them. Now, Liesel doesn’t go on some rampant stealing spree, taking everything she can get her hands on. In fact, the acts of stealing are far and few between. She only takes a book after she has read one in its entirety.

“As Liesel would discover, a good thief requires many things. Stealth. Nerve. Speed. More important than any of those things, however, was one final requirement. Luck.”

As the story continues, you are not only shown Liesel’s life, but Death describes to you the pitfalls of his job. For during a war, deaths are plentiful.

“They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.” So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss however, does not thank you. He asks for more.” 

Through the eyes of the narrator, you will see that the war was not only difficult for the humans that had to endure it, but for Death as well. Witnessing firsthand the destruction Hitler caused, Death so desperately wanted a new hope—a hope that humans had a purpose and were capable of something other than causing another’s demise.

“Prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.”

It is through following Liesel that his faith in human kind is constantly restored.

“That’s the sort of thing I’ll never know, or comprehend—what humans are capable of.”

 

I have to tell you, while reading this novel, all I could think was, “As much crap as I have to deal with and suffer through in my life, at least I didn’t have to live through that.” The way the life of a Jew was painted was truly heartbreaking, for they were made to feel like they didn’t even deserve to be alive. Their lives weren’t worth the jeopardy they put the people hiding them in. Many often had the mindset of, “Why do I deserve to be the one who got away?”

To be made to feel like you are so insignificant of a specimen that you aren’t even worth trying to save is a thought that nearly brings me to my knees. And you can barely even call the conditions they endured “living.”  And all of this brought on from the thoughts and words on one horrible human being.

I give this tale four out of five stars. This definitely isn’t a read that can be rushed through. It’s a long narrative, but it definitely makes you think.

“Ender’s Game”—A Book Review

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Ok, let me start off by saying, I get why people love this book. I get the psychology and mental aspect of being a soldier in the midst of a war. But, it’s just not my cup of tea.

Ender Wiggin is a Third, the third child born in a society where the limit of offspring a couple can have is two, unless they have been granted special permission from the government. Ender, like his older brother and sister, is genetically gifted—meaning, he is a child genius.

At the fragile age of six, Ender was handpicked by the government to attend battleschool aboard a spaceship, where he will receive military training. The smallest of his group, Ender has been separated out from the beginning, making him a continuous target for bullying.

For some reason, the government thinks that Ender is the key to human survival. For the “buggers” (aliens) are preparing to strike Earth again, and if there is any hope for the survival of humanity, we need a fierce Commander. Constantly pushed to his limits, Ender will be tested and challenged to extents unimaginable.

Can he save us?

 

Again, I state, I understand why certain people would absolutely LOVE this book. I’m just not one of them. I really tried, but I found most of it pretty boring. I absolutely appreciated the “mind-fucking” aspects, but overall, I just didn’t really like it.

I found the “battle” scenes boring because they weren’t descriptive enough for me to get a clear picture in my head. And in general I don’t like the whole “military” thing anyway, because I am much too stubborn of a person to ever allow anyone to completely control me in any way. In being a “good soldier”, you completely forfeit all ability to think or act for yourself. And I don’t agree with that. I guess I can understand why it would be necessary while in battle to never question your authority figure, and blindly do everything they tell you to do, but I just couldn’t do it.

“No one with him to tell him he must eat, he must go to practice, he must sleep. Freedom. The trouble was, he didn’t know what to do.”

And the fact that they are taking all of these kids and turning them into their own personal tools…it’s just f*cked up.

“Human beings are free except when humanity needs them. “

“Individual human beings are all tools, that the others use to help us all survive.”

“Frightened children are so easy to win.”

 

I do think the book sends a good overall message with this line:

“So the whole war is because we can’t talk to each other.”

Isn’t that pretty much the cause of most disasters? From personal relationships all the way up to world wars, communication is usually the key. One party always tends to have their head so far up their own ass that they lose their ability to see reason. Such a simple thing, listening, yet no one really seems capable. 

And at first, Ender was a very free thinker:

“All he had to do was watch the game and understand how things worked, and then he could use the system, and even excel.”

He was brilliant. He knew how to read people and machines and figure out how to trump them against all other logic. Every time the “teachers” threw a curve ball at him he figured it out. He had a kind heart, but was ruthless when he needed to be. He quickly figured out their game, he just couldn’t seem to stop it. Also, I would like to point out the irony of them turning these kids into soldiers to “save humanity”, when in doing so, they are basically stripping them of their humanity.

“I’ve got a pretty good idea what children are, and we’re not children. Children can lose sometimes, and nobody cares. Children aren’t in armies, they aren’t commanders, they don’t rule over forty other kids, it’s more than anybody can take and not get crazy.”

“The power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can’t kill then you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you.”

To push one kid that far, it just pissed me off. They made Ender into something he wasn’t and didn’t want to be. They broke him and killed his spirit to achieve their goal.

“There was no doubt now in Ender’s mind. There was no help for him. Whatever he faced, now and forever, no one would save him from it.”

So, I guess it’s because I don’t have a military mindset and am completely hard headed, but Orson Scott Card’s celebrated book Ender’s Game just wasn’t for me. I will see the movie, because it has an outstanding cast, and I’m hoping that maybe the visual representation will help me get a better feel for what was actually going on during the battles, as the text just didn’t quite get me there.

Thus, for my own personal rating I will give it three out of five stars. I feel the writing could have been better, but it did keep me reading.

“Out of the Easy”—A Book Review

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Out of the Easy is another amazing piece by Ruta Sepetys. Like her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, this historical fiction tale is beautifully told.

 “My mother’s a prostitute.” This is the opening line for the book. That right there will get anyone’s attention. Taking place during the 1950’s in the infamous Big Easy (New Orleans, Louisiana), Josie is the daughter of a call girl.

Growing up, Josie has learned all about the inner workings of a brothel and is beloved by the house’s Madam. Having moved out at the age of 12 to live in the bookshop where she is employed, Josie still visits the brothel every morning to clean and catch up with Willie, the Madam of the house. Josie’s mother was never a nurturer, and Josie grew up under the wing of Willie, and the house’s driver, a kind-hearted quadroon man named Cokie.

Josie swore at an early age that she would never be like her mother. With a brilliant literary mind and always at the top of her class, Josie hasn’t seriously considered college before. That is until a rich man from Memphis stops into the bookstore and plants the seed in her head. Not long after, a young woman Josie’s age stumbles into the shop and tells her all about her life at Smith College in Massachusetts. After attending an Uptown party with the girl, Josie makes up her mind. Someway, somehow, she is getting out of New Orleans.

“I wasn’t certain of anything anymore, except that New Orleans was a faithless friend and I wanted to leave her.”

Josie soon discovers, though, that your past will always haunt you and she beings hating all aspects of her life. Why is it that some people have it so easy? They are born into wealth and can have their pick of schools and just about anything else they desire in life. While she has a less than satisfactory application due to her lack of extracurricular activities (because she has worked two jobs since she was a small child), Josie’s chance of admission to an elite school is a long shot. But everything isn’t always as peachy as it seems from the outside looking in. You know what they say, “The grass is always greener on the other side.”

“Let me tell you something ‘bout those rich Uptown folk. They got everything that money can buy, their bank accounts are fat, but they ain’t happy. They ain’t ever gone be happy. You know why? They soul broke. And money can’t fix that, no sir.”

Living in a city full of scandalous temptation, where climbing up from the bottom seems impossible (especially if you have a selfish mother, who refuses to let you go, and just keeps trying to drag you down with her), Josie has some pretty tough decisions to make.

“I was a scrappy girl from the Quarter, trying to make good. No matter how I parted my hair, I couldn’t part from the crack I had crawled out of.”

Sometimes trying to better yourself appears to be an impossible task. And sadly, still relevant today, money always seems to be at the root of our problems. You must have a fierce determination to accomplish your dreams. And often it’s hard to remember that no matter how bad and out of control things get, it’s always worse inside your own head. If you lean on someone you love, you’ll find a much lesser burden weighing you down. That’s what family is for. Holding it all inside to blows things up to an epic proportion.

Reminding you what it’s like to fight for your dreams, when they seem much too far away to reach, I give this elegantly woven story five out of five stars. I can’t wait to see what Ruta Sepetys has in store for us next!

“In The After “—A Book Review

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In The After by Demitria Lunetta is a superb debut. Fans of Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave are sure to love this apocalyptic survivalist novel.

 

“Nothing this broken can ever be fixed.”

 

Amy’s world completely changed the day They arrived. Both of her parents were out when Amy saw the story on the news. A spaceship had landed in a park. Vicious green creatures were now running rampant through the streets, consuming any human in their path in mere seconds.

Lucky for Amy, her mother was a paranoid researcher for the government, so their house was incased in a tall electric fence. And her dad just so happened to be an environmentalist and had equipped the house with solar panels that kept the fence, and everything else in the house, running.

After the days/weeks of self pity and wallowing, survival mode finally kicked in. With her food supply dwindling, Amy ventured out into the night (because the creatures are drawn to the light and can’t see in the dark) to pillage local food store’s canned good aisles, careful not to make any noise that would alert Them to her presence. For even though they have crappy sight, their hearing is superb, as is their speed when prey is within reach.

One night, while on a food run, Amy found a toddler stuffing her face with rotten food in an old supermarket. Amy took her home and quickly discovered that the young girl (given the name Baby) had quickly adapted to making zero noise in the After. Together, the girls learned how to communicate through signs, and how to live and pillage in the After.

After three years of surviving on their own, the girls are rescued and taken to a government research compound. This is where the novel transitions from “The Hunger Games” to “The Giver.” Everything is controlled and monitored. Everyone has a certain job, working together to create a fully functioning, self-sustaining, society. But with such strict rules, many freedoms are taken away. Can Amy blindly push aside her instincts and give complete trust to these “saviors”? Or is there something deeper at play?

“Doesn’t he know there will always be someone out there who wants to destroy good?”

Heart pounding and thought provoking, I give In The After five stars. This book is definitely worth the read.

“This is What Happy Looks Like”—A Book Review

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This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith is a cute coming-of-age book…sort of. Not quite as awesome as her first novel, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, but still an enjoyable read.

Perchance, two teenagers start swapping emails due to a small typo in the “send to” email address. Knowing nothing about the other originally, other than the fact that they both have a pet and have read Charlotte’s Web, the witty banter flows much too easily.

After a smidge of investigating from context clues gathered, the original sender discovers where his Internet Pen Pal lives. And because he just so happens to be no other than Graham Larkin (teen celebrity heartthrob), he pulls some strings and gets the production of his newest movie moved to small town Main.

Upon discovering that her mystery guy friend is insanely famous, Ellie wasn’t quite sure how to handle the news. Not one drawn to spotlight and drama, Ellie pulls away. But she can’t help how Graham makes her feel…the real Graham (the boy she spent several hours a day writing to), not Graham Larkin the movie star.

Figuring out what we think is important in life and what is truly important can be a hard truth to wrap your head around. A lot of the time, overcoming our own fear and learning to lower our personal self-preserving safety net is a difficult feat, indeed.

A pretty cute coming-of-age novel, with some pretty deep self-examination thrown in (not to mention coming to the realization that the whole world doesn’t revolve around you, no matter who you are, and you have absolutely no way of knowing exactly what other people are thinking, unless you happen to be telepathic), I would say This is What Happy Looks Like was worth the read. Three out of five stars!

 

“All that was left was the boy with a smile that seemed intended only for her”

“In Honor”—A Book Review

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In Honor by Jessi Kirby is more than just a story about grief. It’s a story about how to find and except yourself after you lose a love one, and how to being rebuilding your life.

Honor’s brother, Finn (a marine), was killed in action in Afghanistan. Aside from the aunt that raised them from children, he was the only family she had left. Ever since their parents died, Finn was always there to protect honor and with him gone, she can’t seem to make since of her life without him there to guide her.

After they find out Finn has been killed, the last letter he wrote to Honor arrives in the mail. When she opens it, she discovers concert tickets for the last show their favorite singer will ever perform. Trying to find a way to honor her brother, Honor decides to take his ancient “classic” Impala on a road trip from their hometown in Texas out to California, with an unexpected travel companion for company.

Traveling several miles through the desert in an old car, Honor and her brother’s best friend argue, sit through mounting awkward silence, and even exchange unforeseen sexual glances.

Not only does Honor have to figure out how to navigate this world without Finn, but she has to find a way to forgive herself and others for not being exactly who she thought they were. Sometimes learning that the world isn’t strictly black and white can be a tough pill to swallow.

I give this coming-of-age novel three out of five stars.

 

“He always told me to look strong, even if I didn’t feel it, because sometimes that’s all you can do.”