Tag Archives: YA

Interview with Sherri L. Smith, Author of Orleans

Sherri L. Smith

Sherri L. Smith

Jaime Boler: Thank you, Sherri, for letting me ask you these questions.  Orleans blew me away!

 

Sherri L. Smith: Thanks, Jaime!  Coming from an avid reader, that means a lot!

 

JB: You have worked in film, animation, comic books, and construction.  What made you want to write novels?

 

SLS: Long before I did any of the above, I was a writer.  I’ve been an avid reader my whole life and started writing poetry and short stories in elementary school.  As a kid, I was always awed by novels—it was incredible to me that the author could hold an entire universe in his or her head.  Ever since then, I wanted to learn how to do it, too.

 

JB: You previously wrote FlygirlHot, Sour, Salty, SweetSparrow; and Lucy the Giant.  Orleans is so different from your other novels.  What made you want to explore dystopian and speculative fiction?

 

SLS: Again, blame my childhood.  I was a big fan of fantasy and science fiction growing up—give me Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Terry Brooks, Michael Moorcock or Frank Herbert, etc. and I was happy.  In fact, it was rather a shock to discover my first novel (Lucy the Giant) was contemporary.  I had to give myself a good hard look in the mirror and ask what the heck I thought I was doing.  But I loved the story and it worked.  From then on I decided I would just write what I loved, regardless of genre, and that’s what I’ve done.

 

JB: How did you come up with the idea behind Orleans?

 

SLS: I got the idea for Orleans from my family’s experience with Katrina.  At the time, the idea was born out of two things: an article I read about street gangs protecting their neighborhoods when the cops had all fled, and race issues that seemed to be part of the whole Katrina catastrophe.   It made me wonder: what if race wasn’t an issue?  What differences would separate people then?  What if it wasn’t something you could see?  I decided blood was an interesting answer.  And then, one day on the drive home, Fen popped into my head and started talking to me.  The street gangs became blood tribes, and it wasn’t long before Orleans was born.

 

JB: What kind of research did you do for Orleans?

 

SLS: I bought maps of the city, talked to doctors and scientists, read a lot of environmental studies and articles about hurricanes.  I researched blood types and the history of New Orleans, religious groups, and field medicine.  I watched movies about post-disaster worlds, read books, and studied knife fights in movies and books.  It really ran the gamut!

 

 

JB: One of the astounding things about Orleans is how you build a singular world, unlike anything anybody’s written before, and you do it all in one novel where Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, and Ally Condie need three books to fully achieve that effect.  How did you invent this wildly imaginative world?

 

SLS: That’s a huge compliment, so thank you from the bottom of my writerly heart.  I imagine that Collins, Roth and Condie knew the width and breadth of their worlds before they finished the first book, though.  The great thing about world building is, once it’s built, you can keep going back!

 

As for how I approached it, brick by brick is the short answer.  The long answer is—have you ever read Dune by Frank Herbert?  There are appendices at the end of the novel that detail the ecology of the planet.  I remember reading that as a kid and thinking, “Wow, he really made the world!”  It seemed insane, but it worked.  I had a teacher once tell me you had to create the entire room, even if you only wrote about one corner of it.  I think that’s true for all writing, but especially for speculative fiction.  With that in mind, when I started writing I actually made a notebook with tabs for religion, weather, food, tribes, disease, etc.  It was my own Dune appendix.  However, unlike Frank Herbert, I got bored with cataloging and decided to get on with the writing.  So, I didn’t refer to the notebook as much as I thought I would, but any time I lost track of things, it was my touchstone and a good place to daydream new ideas.

 

The ideas themselves came from—extrapolation.  I thought of New Orleans as I knew it and imagined what would change.  There are incredible time lapse maps of the flooding in the city during Katrina, and forecast maps for the Gulf shoreline in years to come.  Those all went into the kitty.  I sat down with a couple of doctors, and grilled my biology teacher friend and her scientist sister for details when creating Delta Fever and the DF Virus.  I saw a hut on stilts outside of Seattle, and the Church of the Rising Son was born.

 

JB: In Orleans, “tribe is life.”  Classifying someone by race no longer exists in Orleans.  It’s now all about blood type, all because of a horrible disease.  How did you come up with Delta Fever?

 

SLS: I knew I wanted a disease that would force separation by blood type.  I called a doctor friend of mine and she introduced me to a pediatric oncologist, Dr. Noah Federman, who walked me through the possibilities.  I basically told him what I needed the Fever to do, and he told me what diseases existed that were similar and how they would manifest.  I then talked to a friend who teaches biology and her sister, who is a research scientist.  They taught me how to destroy viruses and how I might try to create a cure.  Any science that works is owed to the three of them.  The rest is my crazy imagination.

 

JB: Do you have a favorite character in Orleans?  If so, please share.

 

SLS: Fen.  Hands down.  I just think she’s so cool.

 

JB: Perfect lead-in for this question: your main female character is named Fen de la Guerre.  “Guerre” is similar to “guerilla” fighter.  What made you choose this name?  And what came first—the character or her name?

 

SLS: The character came first.  Her voice popped into my head.  The name followed shortly thereafter.  I wanted something that conjured the swamps and bayous in the Delta.  A fen is a type of wetland.  It also reminded me of Fern, the little girl in Charlotte’s Web, which was my favorite book growing up.   “De la Guerre” is French for “of war.”  Orleans is constantly at war, so that made sense.  Lastly, “Fen” also sounds like the French “fin” or “end.”  I liked the idea that she would be a game changer for Orleans.

 

 

JB: It was so refreshing how you do not have the two protagonists falling in love, like so many other YA novels do.  What stopped you from doing that in Orleans?

 

SLS: To quote Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, “No time for love, Dr. Jones!”  Orleans is an incredibly dangerous place and Fen is working on a timeline.  The idea of stopping in the middle of it to make googly eyes at someone was out of the question, especially for someone as no nonsense as Fen.  Thanks to Delta Fever, romance is also a liability in Orleans.  There is no room for a Romeo and Juliet situation—you fall in love with the wrong tribe, one of you dies.  You get pregnant, your blood volume goes up and your value as a blood slave does, too.  Not to mention it slows you down in a fight.  Fen actually loves quite fiercely in this novel.  It’s just not about romance.

 

 

JB: One scene in Orleans, for me, is one I’ll always think of when I see the book or hear about it.  It’s the scene where Fen and Daniel are in what remains of the Garden District and see a curious ritual from a window of a house in which they are resting.  It happens on November 1, All Saints’ Day and also the traditional end of hurricane season.  Can you tell us about this scene?  And what inspired it?

 

SLS: Ah.  This is the scene of the All Saint’s Krewe.  Mardi Gras, which takes place in the early part of the year, is famous for its parades led by organizations called “krewes.”  The first krewes were young men in 19th century New Orleans who rode around on horses while wearing masks and holding torches, or flambeaux, in the air.  I know this sounds disturbingly like a lynch mob, but it was meant to be a celebration.  Or, more likely, it was a group of wild partiers, the 19th century equivalent of a frat party, and they hid their faces so their families wouldn’t know about their hooliganism.  At any rate, the tradition stuck and transformed into the Mardi Gras mask and the krewe parade.

 

I liked the idea that this tradition would continue to evolve in Orleans, or rather devolve to its original state.  The opening image of the novel is a man playing a saxophone on the levee as a storm threatens the city.  That image came from news footage I saw at the time.  I decided the krewes would carry on that laissez faire attitude that New Orleans is so famous for by celebrating the end of hurricane season.  The parade is as an act of defiance against nature, where people of all tribes come together anonymously.

 

In the scene, Fen wakes Daniel to see the krewe ride in a hurricane-shaped spiral reciting the names of the storms that destroyed New Orleans, and then shouting—Nous sommes ici!  We are here!  We are still here!

More about that scene from my book review:

The participants “wheel around in a circle at the widest point of the road and thrust they torches toward the center of the ring, moving to a trot as the ring shift shape and turn into a spiral ‘stead of a sphere.”  They “be like a hurricane, swirling and swirling, the smallest rider in the center at the eye.”  Then, the chanting begins, over and over, louder and louder: “Katrina, Isaiah, Lorenzo.  Olga, Laura, Paloma…Jesus, Jesus, Hay-SEUS!”

As the riders go off in every direction, they move faster and faster.  As they disperse, one rider plays an old tune, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  The ceremony’s observers continue to celebrate November 1, because they still live in Orleans, and the ritual is to honor and remember what Orleans used to be.  This is just one of the many ways in which Smith makes Orleans intriguing and new.  No matter how many young adult books you have read, Orleans is nothing like them.

In Orleans, Smith creates a world like no other—bold, harrowing, and impossible to forget.   This young adult story is a nail-biter that will keep you up well past your bedtime, but the pay-off is well worth the loss of sleep.

 

JB: Did you ever think of turning Orleans into a trilogy?

 

SLS: Yes, certainly.  Once you’ve built the world, why not go back?  Although I think there’s a lot more to see in this universe than just the city of Orleans…

 

JB: Interesting!  Why do you think YA dystopian/apocalyptic fiction is so popular?

 

SLS: I think it has something to do with war.  We’ve been at war for over a decade and that takes its toll on a society.  From terrorist acts to man-made and natural disasters, it’s got people wondering how they will survive.  Speculative fiction has always been good at mulling over those questions and answers.  It can be a comfort to read a book and say, “Ah, there is life after this disaster.  This is how you do it.”

 

JB: In your book, the United States as we know it today no longer exists.  Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas have been quarantined and are no longer part of the Union.  The great city of New Orleans is surrounded by a wall.  Do you think a catastrophe of this magnitude could happen in our country?

 

SLS: In fact, the Wall runs from Florida to Texas, amputating a vital part of the country.  It seems crazy but, truly, in the first week after Katrina, it didn’t sound so farfetched.  There was talk of abandoning the city, moving inland.  In fact, I remember reading a report.  I think it was in the New Orleans Times-Picayune back in the late 1980s or early 1990s that postulated the need to abandon the city in the face of a major hurricane.  The report proposed building a wall around the French Quarter to protect it for posterity.  Apparently, the rest of the city was considered a reasonable loss.  I remember reading that in my grandparent’s kitchen and thinking, “But… that’s us!”

 

JB: I know that Hurricane Katrina affected your mother and you.  How did that experience provide the impetus to write Orleans?

 

SLS: My mom grew up in New Orleans and weathered the storm there.  It was a couple of days before we realized she was trapped down there and things were falling apart fast.  I hadn’t thought of it until recently, but, in a lot of ways, Fen’s journey to get Baby Girl out of Orleans mirrors my attempts to get my mom out of New Orleans.  It’s important to me to keep New Orleans in people’s thoughts through my writing.  We tend to think “the storm is over, everything is fine.”  But, as anyone who has ever had to rebuild after a disaster knows, it’s far from over and the effects last for years.  Orleans is about that aftermath.

 

 

JB: With each hurricane or even strong tropical storm that hits the New Orleans area, flooding seems worse.  With the marshes disappearing, how likely do you think it is that the city could be underwater in 40, 50, or 100 years?

 

SLS: I don’t even want to speculate about that.  Anything can happen, as Katrina proved.  As much as the fading wetlands were an issue with storm surge, it was manmade channels and levees that led to the bulk of the damage in the city.  Not to diminish the threat, but they’ve been talking about Venice, Italy, sinking for decades and it’s still standing.  A little low in the water, maybe, but it’s there.  Hopefully the storms we’ve had recently will be a wake-up call and steps will be taken to protect our land.

 

JB: As a writer, who has influenced you the most?

 

SLS: Too many people to mention.  I’ll say my mother because she always encouraged me to keep with it.  She never doubted I could publish if I tried.

 

JB: What are some of your favorite books and who are some of your favorite authors?

 

SLS: I think I already mentioned Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.  I love Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little, too, a though that last one was a bit weird because his parents were human and it kind of threw me. I’m a fan of Susan Cooper.  I love her Dark Is Rising series.  I’ve already mentioned Dune.  I’ve come to appreciate Ernest Hemingway.  I admire Marion Zimmer Bradley’s ability to make her stories sound like truth.  David Eddings, Laurie R. King, Lloyd Alexander, Kage Baker, Olivia Butler—I’m looking at my bookcase, but it’s only one of 11 in the house!

 

JB: You really are an avid reader!  What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

 

SLS: I like to read.  Is that obvious?  I also like travel, bake, eat, sleep, watch movies.  I like to dance and make stuff with my hands.  I watch a lot of cooking shows and make up songs that I sing to my cat, because she’s the only one who tolerates it on a regular basis.

 

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading Orleans?

 

SLS: That’s a good question.  I hope they recognize how precious the world we live in really is, and do what they can to protect it.  Whether that means putting together a “go bag” disaster kit, volunteering in an area that needs help, or taking steps to protect the environment, I’m happy.  Heck, if it means everyone goes to New Orleans and supports the city with their visit, that would be grand too.  Even if they just think about it and talk about the book with other people, it would mean I reached them somehow.  And that’s all any writer can ever hope.

 

JB: What’s next for you?  Are you working on anything new?

 

SLS: I am currently working on my first fantasy!  It’s an historical fantasy based on the Nutcracker.  I’m also genre-dabbling in mystery and noir.  I want to try everything, so that’s what I’m going to do!

 

JB: Thanks, Sherri, for a wonderful interview!  Good luck with the book.

 

SLS: Thank you, Jaime.  It was a lot of fun.

orleans1.jpg

 

Sherri L. Smith’s Author Website

Follow Sherri on Twitter

Like Sherri on Facebook

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under author interviews, book review, books, dystopian literature, fiction, literary fiction, young adult

Book Review: Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith (Putnam Juvenile; 336 pages; $17.99).

            Katrina, Isaiah, Lorenzo, Olga, Laura, Paloma, and Jesus are the names of a series of hurricanes that hit the New Orleans area from 2005 to 2019, killing thousands and thousands of people, flooding the city, and eventually giving rise to the Delta Fever.  No, this is not a prediction orleans1.jpgof the future but the terrifying plot of Sherri L. Smith’s young adult dystopian novel OrleansOrleans is speculative fiction that disturbs, fascinates, and leaves us with much to ponder.

Smith sets her story in 2056 Orleans, no longer New Orleans, but a virtually unrecognizable world characterized by devastation, lawlessness, disease, death, and obstructed by a high wall.  The remnants of the Big Easy are cut off from the rest of the United States, and they are not alone.

In 2020, FEMA quarantined any state affected by the Delta Fever.  In 2025, the United States formally withdrew its governance from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, permanently altering the nation’s landscape and sending the economy into a tailspin.  The United States is now called the Outer States.

You guessed it, Toto.  We aren’t in the New Orleans as we know it.  Nor are in the America as we know it today.

Smith stakes out new territory in this story.  Not only is Orleans an original tale it’s also a courageous one.  And, for Smith, it is personal: Her mother was among those affected by Katrina.  Chilling and wholly plausible, Smith immerses readers deep inside Orleans, and her characters matter deeply to us.

Using a dual narrative format, Smith narrates her tale from the perspective of her two protagonists: Fen de la Guerre and Daniel Weaver.

Fen, a teenage girl with a mysterious past, finds her world irrevocably altered when her mentor, Lydia, dies while giving birth.  Before Lydia dies, she entrusts her child to Fen’s care.

In Orleans, race no longer matters.  “Tribe is life,” and one’s blood type determines his or her tribe.  Fen is an O-Positive, or “OP.”  The baby is an O-Neg, which is problematic.

Delta Fever affects people in different ways according to blood type.  Those with AB blood type suffer the worst from the virus.  “O types don’t be needing transfusions like ABs do.  The Fever be in us, but it ain’t eating O blood up from the inside like it do other types.”

ABs hunt down people with O blood type, especially O negative.  A transfusion using O blood, the universal donor, allows a person with AB to temporarily replenish his supply of red blood cells.

The ABs’ need for blood is eerily similar to that of vampires.  Fen struggles to get the baby to a safe place, far away from Orleans, before the ABs hunt down them both.  As her name suggests, Fen de la Guerre is a fighter.

Daniel is a researcher and scientist from the Outer States whose brother, Charlie, contracted Delta Fever and died “before his eleventh birthday.”  His brother’s death compelled Daniel to work to find a potential cure for the fever.

He bioengineers “a new virus with one purpose—to attack Delta Fever in the bloodstream.”  Daniel creates an “even deadlier strain of the disease.”  Daniel’s virus is a weapon, “a time bomb” that only kills those with the Delta Fever, which includes “every inhabitant of the Delta Coast.”

Through Daniel, Smith shows us what life is like in the former United States, and the picture he paints is far from pretty.  The problems of the Outer States, though, pale in comparison to what happens in Orleans.  The Big Easy has some big problems, as you have probably already ascertained.

When Fen and Daniel meet, the real fun begins.  Fen and Daniel strike a bargain and navigate the bayous and menacing thoroughfares of Orleans together.  Smith takes readers on a wild ride as we accompany Fen and Daniel throughout the dangerous world of Orleans.

There is such authenticity within the pages of Orleans.  Fen speaks in dialect, using “be” in place of “am” and “are.”  For example, “We be near the Market,” Smith writes, “where the old levee used to be, across from St. Louis Cathedral.”  This may be jarring for some, at least initially, but one quickly becomes accustomed to Fen’s distinctive voice.  Many people in New Orleans and in the bayous (and elsewhere in the US) use this kind of discourse today.

If you’ve ever traveled to New Orleans, there are certain landmarks that are permanently fixed in your memory: the Superdome, the French Market, the Ursuline convent, and St. Louis Cathedral, just to name a few.  These all figure prominently in the story.  As does some old Mardi Gras and Catholic traditions.  The most fascinating of which is a ritual Orleanians adhere to on November 1, All Saints’ Day, and the last day of hurricane season, when all tribes come together on horseback wearing old Mardi Gras apparel to disguise their identities.

The participants “wheel around in a circle at the widest point of the road and thrust they torches toward the center of the ring, moving to a trot as the ring shift shape and turn into a spiral ‘stead of a sphere.”  They “be like a hurricane, swirling and swirling, the smallest rider in the center at the eye.”  Then, the chanting begins, over and over, louder and louder: “Katrina, Isaiah, Lorenzo.  Olga, Laura, Paloma…Jesus, Jesus, Hay-SEUS!”

As the riders go off in every direction, they move faster and faster.  As they disperse, one rider plays an old tune, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  The ceremony’s observers continue to celebrate November 1, because they still live in Orleans, and the ritual is to honor and remember what Orleans used to be.  This is just one of the many ways in which Smith makes Orleans intriguing and new.  No matter how many young adult books you have read, Orleans is nothing like them.

In Orleans, Smith creates a world like no other—bold, harrowing, and impossible to forget.   This young adult story is a nail-biter that will keep you up well past your bedtime, but the pay-off is well worth the loss of sleep.

5 Comments

Filed under book review, books, dystopian literature, fiction, young adult

Spotlight on Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

I love good dystopian YA literature.  Today is the publication day for Sherri L. Smith’s new young adult novel, Orleans.  I am on chapter five and am deeply immersed in Smith’s harrowing and utterly fascinating world.

orleans

 

I was hooked from the beginning, when a series of devastating hurricanes wreaks havoc on the Big Easy.

“After the storm deaths came other casualties: deaths by debris, cuts, tetanus, or loss of blood; suicide; heart attacks caused by stress of loss, or stress of rebuilding, or just as often from the lack of medicines used to treat common ailments.  The list of no-longer-treatable diseases grew: diabetes, asthma, cancer.  Domestic violence rose, along with murder.

Then came the Fever.

And the Quarantine.”

About the book

The following summary is from Goodreads:

After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct… but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.

Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.

Sherri L. Smith delivers an expertly crafted story about a fierce heroine whose powerful voice and firm determination will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

About the author

The following information comes from Smith’s website:

Sherri L. Smith’s life can best be summed up geographically. Born in Chicago, IL, she spent her childhood in Staten Island, NY, Washington D.C., and Upstate New York. Her parents divorced when she was twelve. A year later, she moved back to Chicago with her mother and big brother. After high school, it was off to New York City for college, San Francisco for graduate school, and then Los Angeles, to make movies.

Sherri has worked in film, animation, comic books and construction. Film highlights include Tim Burton’s MARS ATTACKS!, where she worked in stop-motion animation -a truly cool art form. Sherri also worked for three years at Disney TV Animation, helping to create stories for animated home video projects.

After leaving Disney, Sherri found an unlikely home with a construction company, working in a triple-wide trailer on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport. From there she spent nine hilarious years working at Bongo Comics, the company that brings you THE SIMPSONS in print. Currently, Sherri happily spends her days writing novels and visiting her readers in schools and libraries across the country.

She lives in Los Angeles with the love of her life, and is currently working on her next book.

Smith

 

Leave a comment

Filed under books, dystopian literature, fiction, young adult

Fuse (Book 2 of the Pure Trilogy) by Julianna Baggott

Fuse (Book 2 of the Pure Trilogy) by Julianna Baggott comes out 2/19.  Up for grabs is an ARC of the book.

fuse

 

About the Book

After the Detonations, those who dwelled within the Dome were safe, unscarred.  Those outside–the Wretches–struggled to survive amid the smoke and ash.

Believing his mother was living among the Wretches, Partridge escaped from the Dome to find her.  His father, Willux, the leader of the Pures, unleashes a violent attack on the Wretches in an attempt to regain control over Partridge.  It’s up to Pressia Belze, a young woman with her own mysterious past, to decode a set of cryptic clues to set the Wretches free.

An epic quest that sweeps readers into a world of stunning imagination, Fuse continues the story of two people fighting to save their futures–and change the fate of the world.

Bookmagnet Says

Smart, electrifying, and discomfiting, as all dystopian young adult literature should be, Fuse is unlike most of the other books in the genre.  The heroine, Pressia, carries scars inside and out; she’s gritty, achingly real, and more powerful than she knows.  If any YA character can make you forget Katniss Everdeen, it’s Pressia Belze.

About the Giveaway

Please complete the form below.  Up for grabs is an ARC of Fuse.  Giveaway ends Monday, 2/18, at 5 pm ET.   Winner will be chosen at random.

Leave a comment

Filed under book giveaway, books, dystopian literature, fiction, young adult

How about a new book for your Valentine?

They say February is for lovers; I say it’s for lots of new books.  There is sure to be something for everyone this month.

Available January 31 is Dina Nayeri’s A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea.

teaspoon

Growing up in a small rice-farming village in 1980s Iran, eleven-year-old Saba Hafezi and her twin sister, Mahtab, are captivated by America. They keep lists of English words and collect illegal Life magazines, television shows, and rock music. So when her mother and sister disappear, leaving Saba and her father alone in Iran, Saba is certain that they have moved to America without her. But her parents have taught her that “all fate is written in the blood,” and that twins will live the same life, even if separated by land and sea. As she grows up in the warmth and community of her local village, falls in and out of love, and struggles with the limited possibilities in post-revolutionary Iran, Saba envisions that there is another way for her story to unfold. Somewhere, it must be that her sister is living the Western version of this life. And where Saba’s world has all the grit and brutality of real life under the new Islamic regime, her sister’s experience gives her a freedom and control that Saba can only dream of.

Filled with a colorful cast of characters and presented in a bewitching voice that mingles the rhythms of Eastern storytelling with modern Western prose, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is a tale about memory and the importance of controlling one’s own fate.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day is All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani, which will be released February 5.

all this talk

It’s been fifty years since Antonio Grasso married Maddalena and brought her to America. That was the last time she would ever see her parents, her sisters and brothers—everything she knew and loved in the village of Santa Cecilia, Italy. She locked those memories away, as if Santa Cecilia stopped existing the very day she left. Now, with children and grandchildren of her own, a successful family-run restaurant, and enough daily drama at home, Maddalena sees no need to open the door to the past and let the emotional baggage and unmended rifts of another life spill out. 

But Prima, Antonio and Maddalena’s American-born daughter, was raised on the lore of the Old Country. And as she sees her parents aging, she hatches the idea to take the entire family back to Italy—hoping to reunite Maddalena with her estranged sister and let her parents see their homeland one last time. It is an idea that threatens to tear the Grasso family apart, until fate deals them some unwelcome surprises and their journey home becomes a necessary voyage.

Writing with warmth and grace, Chris Castellani delivers a seductive feast for readers. Beautiful Country is an incandescent novel about sacrifice and hope, loss and love, myth and memory.

Soho will publish a rather intriguing story on February 5.  It’s Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell.

man

Say you’re a time traveler and you’ve already toured the entirety of human history. After a while, the outside world might lose a little of its luster. That’s why this time traveler celebrates his birthday partying with himself. Every year, he travels to an abandoned hotel in New York City in 2071, the hundredth anniversary of his birth, and drinks twelve-year-old Scotch (lots of it) with all the other versions of who he has been and who he will be. Sure, the party is the same year after year, but at least it’s one party where he can really, well, be himself.

The year he turns 39, though, the party takes a stressful turn for the worse. Before he even makes it into the grand ballroom for a drink he encounters the body of his forty-year-old self, dead of a gunshot wound to the head. As the older versions of himself at the party point out, the onus is on him to figure out what went wrong–he has one year to stop himself from being murdered, or they’re all goners. As he follows clues that he may or may not have willingly left for himself, he discovers rampant paranoia and suspicion among his younger selves, and a frightening conspiracy among the Elders. Most complicated of all is a haunting woman possibly named Lily who turns up at the party this year, the first person besides himself he’s ever seen at the party. For the first time, he has something to lose. Here’s hoping he can save some version of his own life.

The author of one of my favorite books, Ron Currie Jr., has a new novel out on February 7.  It is called Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles and sounds as charmingly quirky as Everything Matters!

flimsy

In this tour de force of imagination, Ron Currie asks why literal veracity means more to us than deeper truths, creating yet again a genre-bending novel that will at once dazzle, move, and provoke.

The protagonist of Ron Currie, Jr.’s new novel has a problem­—or rather, several of them. He’s a writer whose latest book was destroyed in a fire. He’s mourning the death of his father, and has been in love with the same woman since grade school, a woman whose beauty and allure is matched only by her talent for eluding him. Worst of all, he’s not even his own man, but rather an amalgam of fact and fiction from Ron Currie’s own life. When Currie the character exiles himself to a small Caribbean island to write a new book about the woman he loves, he eventually decides to fake his death, which turns out to be the best career move he’s ever made. But fame and fortune come with a price, and Currie learns that in a time of twenty-four-hour news cycles, reality TV, and celebrity Twitter feeds, the one thing the world will not forgive is having been told a deeply satisfying lie.

What kind of distinction could, or should, be drawn between Currie the author and Currie the character?  Or between the book you hold in your hands and the novel embedded in it? Whatever the answers, Currie, an inventive writer always eager to test the boundaries of storytelling in provocative ways, has essential things to impart along the way about heartbreak, reality, grief, deceit, human frailty, and blinding love.

Did your book club ooh and ahh over Kathryn Stockett’s The Help?  Boy, do I have the newest book club darling for you then.  Tara Conklin’s The House Girl will be released February 12.  Conklin’s debut is going to be a major bestseller.  I have read the novel and absolutely loved it, so much that I sought out the author for an interview.  Look for my Q&A with Conklin on February 12.  Please see my spotlight post on the book and check back for the interview and my review.

the-house-girl.jpg

Julie Kibler’s amazing debut, Calling Me Home, the She Reads February Book Club Selection, also comes out February 12.  This was another story that stole my heart.  I was lucky enough to get to chat with Kibler, and the interview will be posted February 12.  Read more about the story in my spotlight post and check back for the interview and review.

calling-me-home.jpg

Also coming February 12 is the much-anticipated second short story collection of Karen Russell called Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Russell is the author of the incredible coming of age tale, Swamplandia!, and her first collection of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.  I found she shows such depth and maturity with her newest book.

vampires   A dejected teenager discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest.  A community of girls held captive in a silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms, spinning delicate threads from their own bellies, and escape by seizing the means of production for their own revolutionary ends. A massage therapist discovers she has the power to heal by manipulating the tattoos on a war veteran’s lower torso. When a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow bearing an uncanny resemblance to the missing classmate they used to torment, an ordinary tale of high school bullying becomes a sinister fantasy of guilt and atonement. In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear. And in the collection’s marvelous title story—an unforgettable parable of addiction and appetite, mortal terror and mortal love—two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try helplessly to slake their thirst for blood.

Karen Russell is one of today’s most celebrated and vital writers—honored in The New Yorker’s list of the twenty best writers under the age of forty, Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists, and the National Book Foundation’s five best writers under the age of thirty-five.  Her wondrous new work displays a young writer of superlative originality and invention coming into the full range and scale of her powers.

Julianna Baggott’s second novel in her Pure trilogy, Fuse, will be published by Grand Central on February 19 and is sure to set the YA world on fire.

fuse

When the world ended, those who dwelled within the Dome were safe. Inside their glass world the Pures live on unscarred, while those outside—the Wretches—struggle to survive amidst the smoke and ash.

Believing his mother was living among the Wretches, Partridge escaped from the Dome to find her. Determined to regain control over his son, Willux, the leader of the Pures, unleashes a violent new attack on the Wretches. It’s up to Pressia Belze, a young woman with her own mysterious past, to decode a set of cryptic clues from the past to set the Wretches free. 

An epic quest that sweeps readers into a world of beautiful brutality, Fuse continues the story of two people fighting to save their futures—and change the fate of the world.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski comes out February 26.  She Reads chose this for their March Book Club Selection and what a great choice it is!  Leganski may have been born in Wisconsin, but she’s Southern at heart.  Read her debut and you’ll see what I mean.

A lyrical debut novel set in historic New Orleans that follows a mute boy whose gift of magical hearing reveals family secrets and forgotten voodoo lore, and exposes a murder that threatens the souls of those who love him.

silence

February 26 also marks the publication date for Mimi by Lucy Ellmann.

mimi

It’s Christmas Eve in Manhattan. Harrison Hanafan, noted plastic surgeon, falls on his ass. ‘Ya can’t sit there all day, buddy, looking up people’s skirts!’ chides a weird gal in a coat like a duvet. She then kindly conjures the miracle of a taxi. While recuperating with Franz Schubert, Bette Davis, and a foundling cat, Harrison adds items to his life’s work, a List of Melancholy Things (puppetry, shrimp-eating contests, Walmart…) before going back to rhinoplasties, liposuction, and the peccadilloes of his obnoxious colleagues. Then Harrison collides once more with the strangely helpful woman, Mimi, who bursts into his life with all her curves and chaos. They soon fall emphatically in love. And, as their love-making reaches a whole new kind of climax, the sweet smell of revolution is in the air. By turns celebratory and scathing, romantic and dyspeptic, Mimi is a story of music, New York, sculpture, martinis, public speaking, quilt-stealing, eggnog and, most of all, love. A vibrant call-to-arms, this is Lucy Ellmann’s most extraordinary book to date.

Alex George’s brilliant debut A Good American will be available in paperback on February 5.  I highly recommend George’s story of immigration, love, and family.  You can read my review here.

a good american

Chocolate?  Who needs chocolate?  Open up a new book and have a taste you can truly savor.  The best part?  You don’t have to worry about the book ending up on your hips tomorrow.

I guess February really is for lovers–book lovers, that is.

7 Comments

Filed under books, fiction, literary fiction, mystery, She Reads, short story collection, Southern fiction, Southern writers, women's lit, young adult

New Year, New Books

Happy New Year!  It’s January, and you know what that means?  Lots of new books!

death of bees

Lisa O’Donnell’s The Death of Bees is out now.  To see more about this title, go to my blog post.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes was released December 31 and is already getting a lot of buzz.

me before you

“Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.”

January 8 is the publication date for by Marjorie Celona.  This story is sure to appeal to fans of Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

y

“Y. That perfect letter. The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wineglass. The question we ask over and over. Why? . . . My life begins at the Y.” So opens Marjorie Celona’s highly acclaimed and exquisitely rendered debut about a wise-beyond-her-years foster child abandoned as a newborn on the doorstep of the local YMCA. Swaddled in a dirty gray sweatshirt with nothing but a Swiss Army knife tucked between her feet, little Shannon is discovered by a man who catches only a glimpse of her troubled mother as she disappears from view. That morning, all three lives are forever changed. Bounced between foster homes, Shannon endures abuse and neglect until she finally finds stability with Miranda, a kind but no-nonsense single mother with a free-spirited daughter of her own. Yet Shannon defines life on her own terms, refusing to settle down, and never stops longing to uncover her roots—especially the stubborn question of why her mother would abandon her on the day she was born.

Brilliantly and hauntingly interwoven with Shannon’s story is the tale of her mother, Yula, a girl herself who is facing a desperate fate in the hours and days leading up to Shannon’s birth. As past and present converge, Ytells an unforgettable story of identity, inheritance, and, ultimately, forgiveness. Celona’s ravishingly beautiful novel offers a deeply affecting look at the choices we make and what it means to be a family, and it marks the debut of a magnificent new voice in contemporary fiction.”

Also coming out January 8 is John Boyne’s children’s book The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket.

barnaby

“Barnaby Brocket is an ordinary 8-year-old boy in most ways, but he was born different in one important way: he floats. Unlike everyone else, Barnaby does not obey the law of gravity. His parents, who have a horror of being noticed, want desperately for Barnaby to be normal, but he can’t help who he is. And when the unthinkable happens, Barnaby finds himself on a journey that takes him all over the world. From Brazil to New York, Canada to Ireland, and even to space, the floating boy meets all sorts of different people—and discovers who he really is along the way.

This whimsical novel will delight middle graders, and make readers of all ages question the meaning of normal.”

If you collect signed children’s books like I do, it would be a good idea to get yourself a copy of Boyne’s newest story.

An intriguing YA novel also comes out January 8.  It’s What We Saw at Night by bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard.

what we saw

“Allie Kim suffers from Xeroderma Pigmentosum: a fatal allergy to sunlight that confines her and her two best friends, Rob and Juliet, to the night. When freewheeling Juliet takes up Parkour—the stunt-sport of scaling and leaping off tall buildings—Allie and Rob have no choice but to join her, if only to protect her. Though potentially deadly, Parkour after dark makes Allie feel truly alive, and for the first time equal to the “daytimers.”

On a random summer night, the trio catches a glimpse of what appears to be murder. Allie alone takes it upon herself to investigate, and the truth comes at an unthinkable price. Navigating the shadowy world of specialized XP care, extreme sports, and forbidden love, Allie ultimately uncovers a secret that upends everything she believes about the people she trusts the most.”

Soho Press debuts Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman on January 8.

wolves

“Set on the Minnesota prairie in the late 1980s during a drought season that’s pushing family farms to the brink, Little Wolves features the intertwining stories of a father searching for answers after his son commits a heinous murder, and a pastor’s wife (and washed-out scholar of early Anglo-Saxon literature) who has returned to the town for mysterious reasons of her own. A penetrating look at small-town America from the award-winning author of The Night BirdsLittle Wolves weaves together elements of folklore and Norse mythology while being driven by a powerful murder mystery; a page-turning literary triumph.”

Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Painted Girls comes out January 10.  This is a fine example of historical fiction.

16138688.jpg

I spotlighted this book on my blog.  I urge you all to read this.

The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black will be released January 15.

drowning house

“Photographer Clare Porterfield’s once-happy marriage is coming apart, unraveling under the strain of a family tragedy. When she receives an invitation to direct an exhibition in her hometown of Galveston, Texas, she jumps at the chance to escape her grief and reconnect with the island she hasn’t seen for ten years. There Clare will have the time and space to search for answers about her troubled past and her family’s complicated relationship with the wealthy and influential Carraday family.

Soon she finds herself drawn into a century-old mystery involving Stella Carraday. Local legend has it that Stella drowned in her family’s house during the Great Hurricane of 1900, hanged by her long hair from the drawing room chandelier. Could Stella have been saved? What is the true nature of Clare’s family’s involvement? The questions grow like the wildflower vines that climb up the walls and fences of the island. And the closer Clare gets to the answers, the darker and more disturbing the truth becomes.

Steeped in the rich local history of Galveston, The Drowning Houseportrays two families, inextricably linked by tragedy and time.”

The Drowning House marks the emergence of an impressive new literary voice. Elizabeth Black’s suspenseful inquiry into dark family secrets is enriched by a remarkable succession of images, often minutely observed, that bring characters, setting, and story sharply into focus.” —John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

This is one book that is getting so much hype.  I’ve read it so look for my review soon.

A gripping story is now out in paperback.  It’s Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat.

lifeboatThis is not for the faint of heart.  You can read my review here.

So what are you reading?

4 Comments

Filed under books, children's books, fiction, history, literary fiction, mystery, women's lit, young adult

Give Thanks for These Titles

There are lots of titles to get excited about this month!  Typically, the publishing world winds down in November and December because of the holidays and then gears back up for a new year and new books.  Never mind that trend: I’ve got the perfect list of books to curl up with on a chilly November night.  All you have to do is make some hot cocoa!

Titles To Pick Up Now

The Secret Keeper, the new novel from bestselling author Kate Morton, is on shelves now.  Morton is best known for her 2006 novel The House at Riverton.

I predict another bestseller.  From the jacket copy: “1959 England. Laurel Nicolson is sixteen years old, dreaming alone in her childhood tree house during a family celebration at their home, Green Acres Farm. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and then observes her mother, Dorothy, speaking to him. And then she witnesses a crime.

Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to Green Acres for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by memories and questions she has not thought about for decades. She decides to find out the truth about the events of that summer day and lay to rest her own feelings of guilt. One photograph, of her mother and a woman Laurel has never met, called Vivian, is her first clue.

The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams, the lengths some people go to fulfill them, and the strange consequences they sometimes have. It is a story of lovers, friends, dreamers and schemers, play-acting and deception told against a backdrop of events that changed the world.”

Also available now is Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins.

 

Here’s what Goodreads has to say about Attenberg’s latest novel: “For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago. But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie’s enormous girth. She’s obsessed with food–thinking about it, eating it–and if she doesn’t stop, she won’t have much longer to live.

When Richard abandons his wife, it is up to the next generation to take control. Robin, their schoolteacher daughter, is determined that her father pay for leaving Edie. Benny, an easy-going, pot-smoking family man, just wants to smooth things over. And Rachelle– a whippet thin perfectionist– is intent on saving her mother-in-law’s life, but this task proves even bigger than planning her twin children’s spectacular b’nai mitzvah party. Through it all, they wonder: do Edie’s devastating choices rest on her shoulders alone, or are others at fault, too?

With pitch-perfect prose, huge compassion, and sly humor, Jami Attenberg has given us an epic story of marriage, family, and obsession. The Middlesteins explores the hopes and heartbreaks of new and old love, the yearnings of Midwestern America, and our devastating, fascinating preoccupation with food.”

Sounds like you’ll want to gobble this one up!

Another book not to miss is The Racketeer by one of the most prolific and popular authors around: John Grisham.

 

From the jacket copy: “Given the importance of what they do, and the controversies that often surround them, and the violent people they sometimes confront, it is remarkable that in the history of this country only four active federal judges have been murdered.

Judge Raymond Fawcett has just become number five.

Who is the Racketeer? And what does he have to do with the judge’s untimely demise? His name, for the moment, is Malcolm Bannister. Job status? Former attorney. Current residence? The Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland.

On paper, Malcolm’s situation isn’t looking too good these days, but he’s got an ace up his sleeve. He knows who killed Judge Fawcett, and he knows why. The judge’s body was found in his remote lakeside cabin. There was no forced entry, no struggle, just two dead bodies: Judge Fawcett and his young secretary. And one large, state-of-the-art, extremely secure safe, opened and emptied.

What was in the safe? The FBI would love to know. And Malcolm Bannister would love to tell them. But everything has a price—especially information as explosive as the sequence of events that led to Judge Fawcett’s death. And the Racketeer wasn’t born yesterday . . .

Nothing is as it seems and everything’s fair game in this wickedly clever new novel from John Grisham, the undisputed master of the legal thriller.”

November Releases

After the Fall, a picture book for adults, will be released November 12.  Roberts is a cartoonist for The New Yorker.  I have read this book and absolutely loved it.  It’s a smart and quirky story with gorgeous illustrations.

Here’s what Goodreads has to say: “This whimsical novel introduces us to a quirky Upper East Side family: Pops is a mad inventor; Mother a well-intentioned if flighty socialite; young Sis a tiny, madcap theater impresario; and the narrator, her earnest, sweet brother Alan. One day, Pops’s inventions falter and this lovably eccentric family loses every penny. They wake up to find that they and the entire contents of their penthouse have been transported to Central Park. Aided by their two loyal housekeepers and fed by the maitre d’ from their favorite restaurant, the family makes Central Park into a surprisingly comfortable home. But soon the strains of life–and weather–tear apart the parents’ relationship. As Christmas approaches, the children must find a way to reunite them. With kimono-clad squirrels and a visit by a Yeti, this delicious tale is a love letter to family, creativity, and New York.”

November 6 is the publication date for a new novel from one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver.  It’s Flight Behavior, a story in which she returns to her Appalachian roots.

 

From the ARC copy: “The New York Times bestselling author of The Lacuna and The Poisonwood Bible returns with her most accessible and commercial book to date: a suspenseful and brilliant novel about catastrophe and denial that takes place in contemporary Appalachia and explores the complexities that lead us to believe in our chosen truths.”

Also to be released November 6 is a book for those of you who prefer non-fiction: Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks.  See, I didn’t forget you!

From Goodreads: “Have you ever seen something that wasn’t really there? Heard someone call your name in an empty house? Sensed someone following you and turned around to find nothing?

Hallucinations don’t belong wholly to the insane. Much more commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, intoxication, illness, or injury. People with migraines may see shimmering arcs of light or tiny, Lilliputian figures of animals and people. People with failing eyesight, paradoxically, may become immersed in a hallucinatory visual world. Hallucinations can be brought on by a simple fever or even the act of waking or falling asleep, when people have visions ranging from luminous blobs of color to beautifully detailed faces or terrifying ogres. Those who are bereaved may receive comforting “visits” from the departed. In some conditions, hallucinations can lead to religious epiphanies or even the feeling of leaving one’s own body.

Humans have always sought such life-changing visions, and for thousands of years have used hallucinogenic compounds to achieve them. As a young doctor in California in the 1960s, Oliver Sacks had both a personal and a professional interest in psychedelics. These, along with his early migraine experiences, launched a lifelong investigation into the varieties of hallucinatory experience.

Here, with his usual elegance, curiosity, and compassion, Dr. Sacks weaves together stories of his patients and of his own mind-altering experiences to illuminate what hallucinations tell us about the organization and structure of our brains, how they have influenced every culture’s folklore and art, and why the potential for hallucination is present in us all, a vital part of the human condition. “

The final book in the Matched trilogy comes out November 13.  Ally Condie’s Reached will be a hit for teens and adults alike.  If you enjoy YA dystopian fiction and are a fan of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Divergent by Veronica Roth, this will be a must-read.  I’ve read it and believe it’s a very satisfying ending to Condie’s trilogy.

 

Last but definitely not least is my pick for best book of the month: Life among Giants by Bill Roorbach.  This title will be released November 13.

 

From the ARC copy: “At seventeen, David “Lizard” Hochmeyer is nearly seven feet tall, a star quarterback, and Princeton-bound. His future seems all but assured until his parents are mysteriously murdered, leaving Lizard and his older sister, Kate, adrift and alone. Sylphide, the world’s greatest ballerina, lives across the pond from their Connecticut home, in a mansion the size of a museum, and it turns out that her rock star husband’s own disasters have intersected with Lizard’s–and Kate’s–in the most intimate and surprising ways.Over the decades that follow, Lizard and Kate are obsessed with uncovering the motives behind the deaths, returning time and again to their father’s missing briefcase, his shady business dealings and shaky finances, and to Sylphide, who has threaded her way into Lizard’s and Kate’s lives much more deeply than either had ever realized. From the football fields of Princeton to a stint with the NFL, from elaborate dances at the mansion to the seductions lying in wait for Lizard, and ultimately to the upscale restaurant he opens in his hometown, it only takes Lizard a lifetime to piece it all together.  A wildly entertaining novel of murder, seduction, and revenge–rich in incident, in expansiveness of character, and in lavishness of setting–it’s a Gatsby-esque adventure, a larger-than-life quest for answers that reveals how sometimes the greatest mystery lies in knowing one’s own heart.”

 

Now Available in Paperback

 

Peter Orner’s Love and Shame and Love was a favorite of mine when I reviewed it for the Mobile Press last year.  Read my review here.  I very highly recommend it.

Thanks for reading!

 

2 Comments

Filed under books, fiction, literary fiction

Spotlight on Reached by Ally Condie

I am reading an ARC of Reached by Ally Condie.  Reached is the third and final book in Condie’s Matched trilogy.

 

 

 

I loved Matched and compared Condie to Lois Lowry.  Crossed, though, was not as good as the first book.  But Reached is just as good, maybe even better, than Matched.

If you love YA dystopian fiction, or if you are a fan of The Hunger Games, you will definitely want to try Condie’s trilogy.

Reached comes out November 13, 2012.  ALL WILL BE SORTED.

Leave a comment

Filed under books, dystopian literature, young adult

Not Quite the Girl on Fire

Insurgent by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books; 544 pages; $17.99).

I flew through Veronica Roth’s Divergent, marveling at how a college student could beautifully imagine and then, more difficult, skillfully render a unique dystopian world.  Roth, I was certain, would pick up Suzanne Collins’s torch and run with it.

Set in a future Chicago, Divergent introduced us to Beatrice “Tris” Prior, Roth’s heroine.  Factions mean more than family; in fact, your faction is your family.  Tris was born into Abnegation.  But at age sixteen, though, young adults may choose which their own faction.  Typically, one stays with the group she was born into.  So when Tris switches to Dauntless, some call her a traitor.

Tris is unique.  She has an aptitude for not one, not even two, but three factions.  For that reason, she is called “divergent,” hence the title of the first book in Roth’s Divergent trilogy.

Roth employs a technique that most YA authors of dystopian lit do not do: Tris alone tells the story.  There is no hero as her co-narrator.  Tris is it.

Sparks fly between Tris and a Dauntless leader named Four (No, that is not his real name.)  When the two get together near the end of Divergent, I pumped my fist in the air with a cry of “Yes!”  I think Divergent is so strong, so readable and compelling that Roth does not need any other narrator besides Tris.  Tris is the star and she carries the tale on her slim but capable shoulders.

The same cannot be said for the second book, Insurgent.

Roth begins Insurgent just where Divergent left off–on a train.  Her pace, from page one, is hurried, too hurried for my taste.  The characters have no time to reflect on anything that has happened.  Tris and others make decisions rashly.  Then again, perhaps that is Roth’s point.  Most of the characters in this story are young adults.

I strongly urge you to re-read Divergent before reading Insurgent.  There is no prologue to catch you up.

Insurgent is darker than the first book.  The situation is dire.  Roth creates many conflicts in her story: faction versus faction; fighting within a faction; Tris versus Four; Tris versus herself; fighting within a family; leader versus leader.  Those are all pluses.

The real problem is Tris herself.  Tris can no longer carry this story alone.  Dare I say it?  The story needs another perspective, preferably from the point of view of Four.

For most of the book, Tris is fearful, broken, and unsure of herself, quite unlike the Tris from Divergent.  That Tris was fierce, brave, self-confident, and mighty.  In Insurgent, Tris cannot even fire a gun.  She battles inner demons.  While this inner conflict should add to the story, I feel it does not.  I miss the old Tris.  I do understand what Roth is doing with Tris, though.

In this book, Tris is on the outskirts of her faction.  Her peripheral role allows her to see things in a different light.  This is how she becomes an insurgent.  Yet, for me, it is too little, too late, when Tris wakes from her stupor and emerges as a real threat to her enemies.

Roth does accomplish some things, and she does them well.  She introduces us to Four’s mother and puts her in a very intriguing position, making for an interesting family dynamic.  Roth reminds us that not everything is as it seems in this story.  Not everyone is who he seems either.  Her twists and turns are astoundingly clever.

The author drops a bombshell at the end of Insurgent, setting up the next book nicely.  Yet, I fear she has set up far more questions than she will be able to answer (Think of Lost).  It will be a tall order.

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, books, dystopian literature, fiction, young adult

It Starts with an Itch

It Starts with an Itch

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe (Disney Hyperion; 320 pages; $16.99).

            Life seems perfect for sixteen-year-old Kaelyn, until a virus ravages her island community.  The Way We Fall is book one of The Fallen World trilogy, a new YA dystopian series.

 

It starts with an itch you just can’t shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you’ll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they’re old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in.  And then you’re dead.

 

The premise sounds good; Crewe’s execution, though, is faulty.  It seems a good idea to set the story on an island, a place accessible only by ferry.  At first, the government promises to send medicines and supplies to the residents via the ferry.  This is just not enough for those watching their families die.  Riots break out, forcing those in control to cease ferry operations.  Islanders must scavenge, steal, and loot to survive.  Others depend on the kindness of neighbors.  I feel setting the story on an island boxes Crewe in.  There is just little she can do in such an isolated place.  I would have liked to have seen this set in the middle of a country, with some escaping and taking the virus with them.  I would have liked to see it spread more.

 

Crewe is vague on what kind of virus the islanders have.  It has no name.  Where it comes from is a mystery.  She offers an explanation as to why some survive the virus while others die.  I want more.  I am just not totally convinced.

 

The story is told through letters Kaelyn writes to a former friend who lives in New York named Leo.  At the very end of the novel, Crewe miraculously brings back the ferry with no explanation as to why it is returning at that particular time and not before.  Kaelyn sees the ferry approaching and believes she sees Leo on it.  Other than this, Leo is absent from the novel.  We know him only from Kaelyn’s recollections.  Will the next book be from Leo’s perspective?  Will he write letters to Kaelyn?  The letter format turns me off.  Instead, I would have liked to see the story told from multiple points of view.

 

The Way We Fall is plausible.  As I read, I shake my head or nod in agreement.  In a situation like this, society as we know it would break down.  Social niceties would cease to exist.  In that sense, Crewe presents a believable story.

 

I am sure YA readers will love The Way We Fall.  The book makes for good escapism.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, books, fiction, young adult