Book Review: Reached

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 2 out of 5

BEWARE: Spoilers ahead!

Good lord, am I glad that I’m finally finished with this series. Ally Condie’s dystopian trilogy (Matched, Crossed, Reached) started off great, but I seriously have no idea why the finale is rating an average of four stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

The reason why it took me almost six weeks to complete this novel was that it was 512 pages of booorrrriiiinnnnnnggggg. I can summarize the entire saga like this: Protagonist Cassia Reyes, who lives in a totalitarian state where the Society decides everything for you–including who you marry and when you die, joins a rebellion called the Rising with her two love interests Ky and Xander. In the end, after a catastrophic plague, they realize that the Rising is just the Society with a different name and eventually learn how to rebuild their lives and make decisions for themselves.

Does this sound original at all to you?! Condie couldn’t even give her factions unique names! Unfortunately, The Hunger Games has unleashed the floodgates of mediocre young-adult dystopian fiction, and the Matched series is right up there with that of Divergent for being utterly disappointing. At least Mockingjay elicited anger out of me! Reached definitely went out with a whimper rather than a bang.

And don’t get me started on the so-called love triangle. I have never witnessed a duller character than Xander. The poor boy never had a chance, and anyone who thinks otherwise is probably one of those girls who can manufacture an entire pseudo-relationship with a crush with whom she’s had only one conversation.

In fact, all three of Condie’s main characters are total squares. They’re so bland that when I was reading each chapter, I often couldn’t tell whose point-of-view it was.That’s one of the top sins of writing: if a reader can’t even differentiate between your characters’ perspectives, then you need to go back to your sub-par MFA program and demand your money back.

I know that I’m harsh, but I’m just sick and tired of these dystopian books gaining a bunch of unwarranted hype. The problem is that it feels like a bait and switch: the debut novels start off just strong enough to get a bandwagon going, so even if the sequels are lackluster and the finales are absolute crap, well too bad because you’re already too invested in the stories and feel obligated to finish them.

I think that another reason why Condie particularly rubbed me the wrong way was that it was obvious that she was trying SO hard to be deep. In the beginning, I appreciated the allusions to poetry, especially since I love Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night.” But I honestly lost count of how many times I rolled my eyes trudging through this saccharine prose.

Instead of being subtle, the symbolism hits you so hard in the face it gives you whiplash. The navel-gazing over the “morals” of the story just came off simplistic and self-righteous: the way Condie tells you what to think rather than letting you interpret the message for yourself makes her almost a meta-Society official taking away your autonomy.

More importantly, it means that she still has a long way to go before becoming a renowned novelist. Given how she’d yammer on about the loss of culture and the destruction of the environment, I thought it was only a matter of time before she burst out of the pages screaming, “But what about the children?!”

So let’s do ourselves a favor and let this genre take a breather. Dystopian literature has reached full saturation, and now it’s all starting to suck. If you can’t get enough of big governments doing bad things, go read 1984 and Orwell will show you how’s it’s done!

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Masterpiece Monday: The Handmaid’s Tale

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 5 out of 5

Happy Victoria Day to all my Canadian readers! We here in the States don’t learn too much about Queen Victoria, unfortunately, and while I don’t really know how Canadians celebrate the queen’s birthday, I hear it’s full of fireworks, parades, and drinking–not unlike our own Memorial Day next week! So cheers to our neighbors up north!

I would have to say that the most famous Canadian author living today would be Margaret Atwood. I read her well-known novel The Handmaid’s Tale while attending UC Santa Cruz, and I immediately fell in love.

It seems only natural, since I’m never met a woman who disliked this feminist dystopian tale. Set in the near future, the Republic of Gilead (the former USA) is run by a racist, sexist, theocracy which completely reversed the progress made during the Feminist Movement of the 1970s.

In this society, women have no rights, forbidden from reading to possessing their own money. The protagonist Offred (name meaning “Of Fred,” referring to her master) serves as a handmaid, whose only job is to combat the declining birth rate and reproduce. If she fails, she’ll be declared an “unwoman” and discarded.

What’s interesting is that Offred is part of the first generation of handmaids, meaning that she remembers life pre-Gilead with her own husband and daughter. Now separated from them, the novel is written in the form of her diary as she flashes back and forth from her past and present.

Very few novels are able to create a dystopian universe that is this intricate and disturbing. Since Atwood is a devout feminist, much of the terminology in The Handmaid’s Tale is biblical, pointing to all the patriarchal notions that Christian theology encourages.  Because of these allusions, Atwood has created much controversy.

I would argue that this book should shake you up. The graphic scenes of the “Ceremonies” and the overall sense that women are nothing but wombs should make you angry, frustrated, and afraid. Because you just have to read the news of the right-wing fundamentalists trying to destroy Planned Parenthood and eliminate women’s reproductive rights to understand that this story is not as far-fetched as you might think.

Clearly, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the rest of Atwood’s work, is not for everybody. Many might find her writing too radical. However, if you’re an advocate for female empowerment and you enjoy literature that is mentally stimulating, then you’ll love this novel. I know I did!

Favorite Quote: “Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.” (Ch. 23)

A Dystopian Timeline

I ran across this awesome infographic on Goodreads and wanted to share it with you. It shows the various trends and popularity in dystopian literature from the Great Depression to today. While I personally feel that romance has weakened the power of the genre, I will support any book like The Hunger Games that can get people interested in classics like 1984 or Brave New World. In fact, if a student of mine is a fan of Katniss and Peeta, I immediately steer her in the direction of Bernard and Lenina.

Teachers should use young adult fiction as an opportunity to broaden teens’ reading habits. Love Twilight? Read Wuthering Heights. Obsessed with Percy Jackson? Try Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. I admit that I can be a literary elitist at times, and these teaching moments will not only encourage kids to keep reading, it will get them to read better books, in my opinion. You shouldn’t talk about Harry Potter on the SAT essay, but why not discuss witchcraft in Macbeth?

Anyway, what are your thoughts of this dystopian uprising? How do you think the genre will change in the decades to come? Let me know!

Image via Goodreads

Dystopian Movie News!

Yes, let's!!!

Odds are, you’ve heard that this little movie called “The Hunger Games” is coming out tomorrow. Advanced tickets have completely sold out and critics are estimating that it could make up to $150 million this weekend. I’ll be busy chaperoning for my mom’s third-grade class at the Fresno Food Fair tomorrow, but since I got my dad to read the book, we’ll be seeing it first thing Saturday morning.

Right now, I’m optimistically excited. I’m not a fan of the end of the trilogy, but I’ve been watching clips and reading interviews of the cast, and hopefully it will be worth all the hype. I’m not too thrilled with its PG-13 rating since I wanted as much authenticity to the book’s brutality, but I understand that the story’s main demographic are teenagers and an R rating would cost the producers too much money.

I’m also skeptical of massive bandwagons. I greatly enjoyed The Hunger Games, but as I’ve discussed before, my overall opinion of the series is pretty blah. Since it’s been over six months since I’ve read the series, I’m already on the hunt for the next big thing, and I’m sure I’ll be sick of all the fuss after a while, just like I am with the Twilight saga. But I’m determined to watch the film with qualified appreciation, so be sure to read my review when it comes out!

I'll be watching you watching me, Big Brother...

Another tidbit of news that was released yesterday is that Imagine Entertainment will be remaking 1984 by George Orwell! The company has teamed up with street artist Shepard Fairey, who has become famous for the Obama hope posters, so there might be some great Big Brother propaganda in the works! Of course, the internet is abuzz with talk about casting, and top favorites for Winston Smith include Gary Oldman and Michael Fassbender.

Personally, Oldman might be too old now to play Winston, but could pass for the sinister O’Brien. Fassbender has done some great work recently, and I think he could do a fantastic job in this film. I’ll have to watch the first film adaptation, actually released in 1984, which starred John Hurt and Richard Burton. But I’m super excited for a modern remake since technology today could definitely enhance the story. I read 1984 only just a few months ago, but it is already one of my favorite books of all time (Read my stellar review HERE!) Maybe this movie will get a new generation of readers to love the book as much as I do!

So will you be waiting in line at midnight tonight to root for Katniss and Peeta? Who would you cast in the new “1984” film? Or, are you sick of all these dystopian tales? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Crossed

Rating: 2 out of 5

Ok, well that was underwhelming. I just finished Crossed, the second book in Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy. Sometimes I think I’m just too nice to a book series. I think to myself, “Oh, it’ll get better…I’m sure it’s just building up to some action-packed scenes…Ok, then maybe it’s more of a character novel…” etc. etc.

This book fails like many sequels, because it follows the notion that the second novel is allowed to be the least exciting of trilogies. Just the bridge from beginning to end! But honestly, if you write like that, why have the bridge at all?

In this installment, the chapters flip-flop between teenage love interests Cassia and Ky’s perspectives. They’ve escaped the corrupt Society and are desperately looking for each other while discovering answers on how to join the rebellion called the Rising. During their travels, they meet a few other ostracized youth and bond together through their turmoil.

If it sounds interesting, sorry, it’s not. It takes half the book for Cassia and Ky to reunite, and all they do is spout off melodramatic drivel and kiss every now and then. This series will obviously be compared to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, because both authors are Mormon and cater to the high school girl demographic. However, at least Meyer understands sexual tension! Mormon or not, if you’re going to write about teenage love, throw in some raging hormones at least, sheesh!

This book is just straight-up dull. Much like Meyer’s sequel New Moon, it sucks when you present a love triangle and then don’t include the entire triangle in the book! Why should I care about characters like Xander, if they’re not going to stick around? However, whereas Meyer created a passionate rivalry between Teams Edward and Jacob, I don’t feel the chemistry between Condie’s characters. She suffers from too much telling and not enough showing–just because Cassia and Ky say they love each other, doesn’t mean I’ll believe them.

Basically, all these characters do is run around in the wilderness. I was greatly disappointed, but I feel I’ve invested enough in the series to finish it when the last book comes out at the end of this year. This series better not go from great to horrendous like The Hunger Games trilogy did–otherwise I might stop reading YA fiction for a while.

Next on my to-read list is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night…I need to take a break from fluff for a while. And be on the lookout for my audiobook review of Mindy Kaling’s autobiography!

2011 Book Review Catch-Up: Part 3

The time’s come to review my final two books of 2011, which I read this past summer. Both books are young-adult fiction, Abandon by Meg Cabot and Matched by Ally Condie.

Abandon by Meg Cabot (Rating: 4 out of 5)

One of the first books I reviewed on this blog was Cabot’s vampire sequel Overbite, which I would not recommend unless you absolutely cannot get enough of anything vampire-related. However, I have read almost every single one of Cabot’s novels, and for the most part I love them to bits. Her most famous series, The Princess Diaries, is excellent, and I also love her Runaway and Queen of Babble trilogies. So naturally, when I heard that she’d be releasing a novel during the spring based on the ancient Greek myth of Persephone and Hades, I was excited. I wrote my 20-page senior project on two poems about Persephone (Tennyson’s “Demeter and Persephone” and Swinburne’s “Hymn to Proserpine,” which I’ll probably discuss in a Masterpiece Monday sometime). As a Classics minor, I was ready to get my nerd on with this modern adaptation.

Persephone and Hades are reincarnated in this story as 17-year-old Pierce Oliviera and her love interest John Hayden. After a near-death experience a couple years earlier, John is determined to bring Pierce back to the Underworld. The novel suffers from weaknesses seen in other Cabot works, namely predictability and cheesy dialogue. However, she nicely infuses folk tales from Florida’s history and incorporates other mythical elements like the Furies. While many might find Pierce annoying and John more of a kidnapper than boyfriend material, I didn’t mind it because their relationship should be more like Phantom of the Opera at first, because what girl with any brains would willingly choose death over her loved ones? (*cough*Bella Swan*cough*). I could be wrong, but I trust that Cabot will have their relationship grow some more before Pierce makes her decision. Can’t wait for the sequel Underworld to come out in May 2012!

Matched by Ally Condie (Rating: 4 out of 5)

This dystopian novel which was published last year ponders the idea of having the government choose your significant other. At her Match Ceremony, 17-year-old Cassia Reyes is partnered with childhood friend Xander Carrow, which proves to be a rare match since they live in the same borough. All the teenagers receive a microchip with their match’s personal information, but when Cassia insert hers in her home port, another boy named Ky Markham pops up on the screen. Unfortunately, because Ky is known as an Aberration for a crime his father committed, he’s not supposed to be matched with anybody. So what explains this anomaly?

In this world, people survive on soma-esque pills to cure anxiety and erase memories, all their time is scheduled, and they are euthanized on their 80th birthdays. Only 100 poems and 100 songs have been approved to exist, but Cassia comes across a forbidden copy of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which sparks her need to rebel against the system. While some may call this yet another love triangle tale like Twilight, I enjoyed the mystery–and of course the literary references. I’m looking forward to its sequel Crossed, which I received for Christmas. Keep an eye out on this trilogy, because Disney bought the film rights before the book was even released! What’s up with Mormon authors like Ally Condie and Stephenie Meyer making major bank on their young-adult novels? Coincidence? Or should I seriously think of converting to board this success train? Well, either way, Matched was worth its hype, and I hope Crossed doesn’t disappoint!

Now that I’ve caught up, I’ll be posting my master list of 20 books, from best to worst, by Thursday. Hope you enjoy it!

Masterpiece Monday: Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

Image via Wikipedia

[Note: This weekly meme will feature a literary classic, most of which I enjoyed, but some which I found lacking]

Rating: 4 out of 5

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932, begins by describing the World State, an alternative universe set in London A.F. 632 (meaning 2540 C.E., 632 years “After Ford” created the first Model T).  Ford has replaced God as a holy figure in this dystopian society dominated by mass production and consumption.

Beware: this novel is quite disturbing at first.  The early chapters take you on a tour of the World State’s genetic engineering facilities, in which people are bred, not born, into one of five castes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. Each caste is trained for specific tasks, as well as brainwashed into believing that they are happy in life, so as not to envy the other groups.

What’s disturbing is how the World State achieves stability–by sleep hypnosis and electroshock therapy.  Also, because all women are on birth control (known as Malthusian belts), promiscuity is encouraged from a very young age. (Do NOT read if you cannot stomach the thought of 7-year-olds having sex).  Sleeping around ensures that no one becomes monogamous, and thus more concerned with the individual rather than the whole.

Later in the novel, we’re introduced to the main characters Bernard Marx, an abnormally short, ugly Alpha, and Lenina Crowne, an Alpha often described as  “pneumatic” for both her empty brain and bouncy body.  In order for Bernard to return to the good graces of the World State after his unorthodox behavior, he and Lenina travel to a Savage Reservation in New Mexico.  There they meet Linda, a civilized woman ostracized from society after becoming pregnant with her son John.  The rest of the novel follows the four characters’ return to London and how John reacts to what he calls the “Brave New World.”

The novel is extremely inventive: even the characters’ names are derived from historical figures (ex. Bernard Marx = George Bernard Shaw + Karl Marx).  Although published almost 80 years ago, the science fictional elements are timeless, since the World State never seems too out of the realm of possibility.  The themes are provocative, and Huxley makes the reader as disgusted with the World State as it is with our own society.  The juxtaposition between civilized and savage makes you both scorn and appreciate each perspective.

Other than the initial shock over the controversial subject matter, I loved how this novel forced me to re-evaluate societal norms and decide for myself whether ignorance or bliss was more important.  The ending is not a happy one, but it fits the overall message.  I would highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy thinking critically and can handle disconcerting and often offensive notions.

Favorite Quote: “Stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt.  Happiness is never grand.” (Ch. 16)