Title: Legend
Author: Marie Lu
Publisher: G.P Putnam's Sons (Penguin)
Genre: SciFi, Post Apocalypse, Dystopia
Release Date: November 2011

This book's gotten comparisons with Hunger Games, it seems (I don't know first hand; someone said so on Twitter), but I'd compare it more to Matched (Ally Condie) or Across the Universe (Beth Revis), really - similar subgenre, but not quite the same.

We start with the formula (this isn't criticism by any stretch - formula becomes so because it works) that any dystopia starts with, though it's more vague in this than in many.  One assumes that there was a war and the Republic split from the Colonies and everyone had the best of intentions for a brighter future in mind, but it's not made clear.  At any rate, some unnamed time in the future (from the revolution or what have you), something's caused havoc with weather (I've never heard of hurricanes in California, and not even a slight earthquake?  But I'm a midwestern girl, so what do I know) and a good deal of the southwest has cut itself off from the rest of the country, forming a sharp divide between this new Republic and the Colonies.  There is, of course, unhappiness and upheaval - the socioeconomics of the Republic are a mess.  The rich are, comparatively, obscenely so and the poor grovel in what sounds to me like not long post-Katrina New Orleans.

It gets better!  The Republic's government, which is a near Caesarean god-head sort of thing backed by the military but without that pesky council.  There are, of course, Things Afoot, but the people are, in general, too afraid to challenge this god-head president (Elector Primo, I think it was).  They're too poor in the poor sections where there's discontent, and in the rich sectors they're too complacent (and, in no few cases as we find out later, complicit).

Amongst all this, we have a boy and a girl.  One is the Republic's darling and one is an exile of sorts - a Romeo and Juliet, perhaps, or Tony and Maria.  We're led on a great tracking expedition for the Republic's darling, June, to find the criminal and suspected murder, Day.  Only Day is really just a Robin Hood, and of course he's being set up to take the fall almost from the beginning.

All in all, it's a great read - it's fast paced and interesting, and it promises to make a better movie than any of the other things that I think may well get picked up (rights were sold to CBS, so everyone go buy the books and make it happen, yeah?) by virtue of the way it's written.  The exposition is woven in so that it doesn't seem unwieldy or an interruption of the action, and the voices of the two main characters (who are in some ways a bit too perfect and in others delightfully flawed) are better done than any alternating POV stories I've read in awhile.  It seems like this will be a trilogy or more, and I can't wait to see where Ms. Lu is going with it.
Title: The New World (short story)/The Knife of Never Letting Go/The Ask and the Answer/Monsters of Men (all Nook)
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: .....someone
Genre: SciFi, Post Apocalypse, Dystopia
Release Date: 2010?

Oh, these books.  So. very. good.  Short synopsis is: Earth/home planet got screwed up.  People left at various times for various reasons, the better to settle this new planet that had a lot of the same things earth did, geographically speaking.  It was life bearing - there were indigenous plants, animals, and people.  Something happened that drove no small number of the first settlers to varying degrees of insanity, and there was a war that nearly wiped out both sides and quite a few of the human settlements.

We start our journey in Prentisstown, where there are only men and boys - or a boy, who is about to hit the magical age of thirteen, at which manhood is . . . well, enforced for lack of a better word, but we learn more about that later.  Our young protagonist, Todd, is unhappy.  He's lonely, and he knows something is wrong.  One day, not long before his birthday, he wanders out into the swamp near his village and runs into Viola - who is introduced better in The New World, the short story prequel, than she is here - and is terrified out of his wits, because he's never seen a woman (or girl, as Viola is roughly the same age as he is) before in the time he can remember.  Also because there's a trait that marks her out as starkly different than the men he knows, but to reveal that here would be telling, wouldn't it?

At any rate, Todd meets Viola and his world falls apart.  His village (with the exception of his foster fathers, who took over his upbringing when his mother died), intent on turning him into a man in the creepy, horrifying way they've agreed on for the majority of his thirteen years, go on the hunt for him and Viola both.  There's the dystopic dream team of politics and religion, and Todd and Viola escape death at the hands of a madman so often I lost count.  In the end - which, in this first book, isn't really an end; it reads almost like a serial - Todd and Viola are on completely uncertain and unfamiliar ground, and on opposite sides of what appears to be shaping into a civil war.  This is, all told, some truly amazing world building, and the character building isn't far behind.

In the second book, we pick up exactly where we left off; this is a device I wasn't particularly familiar with before The Hunger Games, though of course it must have been in use.  Todd and Viola are still on opposite sides and everything they think they know about this planet and their surroundings (both environmental and societal), their trust in each other and their endurance (physical, mental and emotional) continue to be tested.  This is, in fact, the darkest YA fiction I've read in . . . perhaps ever, really, and I love it all the more for that.  When I actually was what most people consider YA, there didn't seem to be a lot of light in the world, and that continues to be a theme.  Regardless, there are factions - made up of women which exist in far more abundance than Todd knew of (obviously) and men, in a large part.  Which isn't to say there aren't men in the Answer (one of the factions, clearly), but there truly aren't any women in the Ask.  (The settlers who were on New World, who Viola and her bunch of people didn't know about, are very Old West meets Puritan.  The grammar and writing in the parts Todd tells reflect this well, and often made me twitch.  Dialects in dialog are fine - entire books written in them require my poor little middle class American brain to translate.)  The character progression throughout is fantastic, and Mayor/President Prentiss may be one of the best written villains I've ever come across in any sort of literature, from children's up through adult, in any and all genres.  Aside from Prentiss, the characterization and progression both are phenomenal, though it's truly this man who shines through this and Monsters of Men.

Ah, the final book.  I read these three in a row with no break between them and by the time I hit this one I was ready to be done - not because I didn't like them, obviously, but because they were so very draining.  It's not every book that makes you feel like you're there in that Bastian-fighting-the-Nothing sense, but Ness was fantastic at that throughout, and I was exhausted.  Here, though, is where - if you'll pardon the vernacular - shit got real.  There was violence, there was mind control, there was genocide and all of those things that, in a war, make monsters of men.  Here, Todd and Viola are still uncertain of each other and who they can trust.  Here, Todd thinks he can 'save' Prentiss.  Here, we find out that the 'aliens' - that indigenous species mentioned earlier - aren't as rare as we thought, and they're pissed off.  This is a suitably dramatic and horrific end for an awesome - in all senses - trio (plus a bit) of books.

Five stars.  Superb.  What are you waiting for?  Go read it now.
Title: Life As We Knew It (hard copy)/The Dead and the Gone (hard copy)/ This World We Live In (Nook)
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Post-Apocalypse, SciFi
Release Date: 2008, 2010

So, I just found out there actually is a fourth book to this coming out - goes to show how much I pay attention.  So really, that subject line up there should read 'soon-to-be quartet' or something where it says trilogy.  But since I've only read the first three books, I think we're good.  First, I should say the first two of these were largely an impulse buy because my Borders was going out of business and because one of them had a John Green quote on the cover, and I adore everything that man's written, that I've read, so clearly he must have good taste in things to read, right?  And he really may, but . . .

The science in this is just solid enough to make it a little better than that movie where the earth's core stops spinning or The Day After Yesterday.  Which . . . is probably fine to the intended young adult audience, but when it's presented in a very nearly hard sci-fi format, it seems it should be a little better researched.  I'm not spoiling anything when I say that the moon is knocked closer to the earth by an asteroid/meteor and this causes all sorts of havoc - that's all spelled out in the cover copy.  Even the one liner on the front says 'The weather's finally broken . . . for good' or similar.  Anyway, I could probably get past this if the story itself were good (it's rather repetitive in the first two, and quite horrifying on a human scale) or if there was some redeeming quality in the main characters . . . but there really isn't much.  And given the decline in writing quality between the first and third books, I really only stuck through it for completeness' sake, which is the same reason I'll probably grab the fourth for my Nook when it comes out.

Life As We Knew It is written from the point of view of its teenaged 'protagonist', in journal format, and is a bit more interesting than the others simply for that, I should probably say.  This World We Live In follows that, but it doesn't save it.
Title: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Genre: Distopian-ish, Scifi, Mystery, YA
Release Date: 2011
Sort of maybe spoiler-y but not really. )

Clearly, this book has problems.  However, it's the first in a trilogy so I'm willing to give it a bit more leeway than I would many others.  It's also written quite well, despite the use of present tense which always throws me for at least a few pages; it's very immersive, and one of those things that makes you feel like maybe you could be in that world.  There are some things that are fairly difficult to believe given the problems mentioned behind the cut, the youth of various characters, the relative nearness to the singularity, etc, but I'm willing to set those aside (more so than I am what appear to be flaws in research that I hope are fixed in the subsequent books).  Many people have likened this to The Handmaid's Tale for young adults, and I can certainly see it, to an extent.  The comparison's flawed, but then most are.

It's harder to write a non-spoiler-y review of this than it has been with previous reads!  I'm not sure why.  But, I gave it a five star rating for readability and the likeability of the main secondary character more than anything else, and also the part where I'm really kind of dying to know more about the universe DeStefano's built.  I really hope it pulls together for the sequel(s).
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