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Tag Archives: young adult

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

Tin StarPremise: Tula Bane is on her way to colonize the planet Beta Granade with the rest of the Children of Earth when she is beaten and left for dead by the group’s leader, Brother Blue, on the Yertina Feray space station. Here she is the only Human, considered a Minor Species in the galaxy. It is on this remote station where Tula makes her life scrounging and trading favors since word of her ship, the Prairie Rose, did not make it to its destination. She must learn the ways of other beings in order to survive.

When news comes that Brother Blue is still alive, she uses all the favors available to her to plot and plan for finding him and exacting her revenge. The station’s security chief, Captain Tournour, is there every step of the way keeping the peace and making sure nothing illegal goes unpunished. It is the unlikeliest of alien friendships that keeps her going daily.

But then a ship carrying three more Humans crashes on the station causing her to rethink her alliances. Through her relationships with these aliens and Humans, Tula learns all about love and friendship, and she has to decide what is really important for love and survival.

Themes: Friendship comes to the forefront, especially in Tula’s dealings with the alien Heckleck. They become best friends as the only person she trusts is the alien with no emotions. Tula’s connection with other Humans makes her question if they should be friends because of their close affinity or because she actually trusts them.

Tula’s experiences with death and loss, with her family continuing to the settlement without her, leave her open to failure. When she learns that the ship didn’t make it to its destination, her hope is crushed by her family’s death. And when she loses more people in her life Tula could very easily fall into despair, but there are others there to support her and lift her up.

When more Humans step into her life, Tula has ample opportunities for love to grow. She even toys with the thoughts of romantic relationships and tests them, with mixed results. But the biggest surprise comes at the most important crossroads of her life when everything is at stake.

Pros: Cecil Castellucci does some things very well in Tin Star, like making you care about the friendship between a sixteen-year-old girl and a bug-like alien. The characters have an interesting interplay in the setting on the space station, leaving me feeling the claustrophobia of being stuck together in a place and not being able to go anywhere. There are some great emotional moments in the book, one right at the beginning, one in the middle, and another at the end. It’s almost like Castellucci spaced them out evenly on purpose.

Cons: Even with the good character development, I felt like from the moment they step onto the page each Human is not to be trusted, which made it difficult to care about any of them. My biggest gripe is the abrupt ending to a book that seemed to rocket by me, and now I have to wait for the second half of the story.

Recommendations: Tin Star has its ups and downs, but there’s a lot packed into this fast-paced book. I would have preferred a 400 page full combined version with the second book so I didn’t have to wait for the rest of the story, but also because of the chopped off feeling at the end. I still think it’s a good commentary on love and loss, especially for people who live a solitary life. Tin Star will make you think about the people around you in a different light, but maybe only because some people are stranger than the aliens in the book.

Cecil Castellucci’s website
Tin Star on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the author to write this honest review.

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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Science Fiction, Young Adult

 

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Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Not a Drop to Drink Premise: Society has crumbled and the government has become a fragmented array of city-states, but the reason for this is a lack of resources. More specifically: there is a lack of water. For Lynn, it’s not as much of an issue, since she and her mother live on a rural farm with a pond. The biggest problems are outbreaks of cholera that require them to treat their water before they drink it, hunting for food that takes them away from their guard duties on the roof of their house, and now the signs of smoke that say that there are others nearby that are a threat to their supply. Shooting people who encroach on their land hasn’t been much of a question for Lynn and Mother; it’s a matter of life and death.

But when things go terribly wrong and with winter approaching, the neighbor that has never been a threat to them is now their closest ally. With strangers roaming close to their property, Lynn must make decisions that go against everything Mother taught her: giving away supplies to others will only lead you closer to death. But what if those people can’t fend for themselves?

Not a Drop to Drink examines the ability to survive with limited resources and the lengths to which people are willing to protect them. When someone is in dire need of help, who can you trust when there are thieves and killers about? A drink of water may be all someone is asking for, and it might just be the one thing that can keep them alive.

Themes: Survival is incredibly difficult when resources are limited. Even with their stockpile of water in the form of their pond, gathering, treating, and storing make everyday tasks become a burden. Imagine trying to survive without a store of water, food, weapons or shelter. Learning basic skills becomes essential, like making shelter, fire, hunting, treating wounds.

Mother has taught Lynn not to trust anybody, which has led Lynn to shoot people in defense of their water, even as a child. Lynn is so used to considering every single person a threat, overcoming what is ingrained in her to help others makes compassion an underdeveloped emotion for her. Even Stebbs, who has lived near them as far back as Lynn can remember, is really a stranger to her. When people enter her life that have no survival skills and are in dire need of help, the decision to help is incredibly difficult for Lynn.

When society has crumbled, what shreds of decency are left when those around us are in need? How much of our humanity are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival? Or does helping someone in need benefit us when we do so?

Pros: Not a Drop to Drink really highlights the difficulty and drudgery of survival without modern amenities. It brings out how the most common of minor injuries can be debilitating or even deadly without medical treatments available to us every day. Even with the grim subject matter in a free-for-all frontier full of scavenging, injury, sickness, and death, it is refreshing to be such a fairly clean young adult novel mostly free of sex and profanity. McGinnis manages to effectively describe terrible things with sparse language, merely hinting at humanity’s ugliness through the reality of survival. The characters are pretty realistic, even the one-dimensional “bad guys” we see later in the story. We get to watch some real change in heart for Lynn through different stages of the story.

Cons: It is interesting how quickly Lynn goes from never speaking to another human to cuddling in bed with a guy, especially with the limited amount of time she knows him. I thought the plot twist reveal toward the end was an attempt to up the stakes for Lynn, but it felt unnecessary for this story. I understand the philosophical implications of fighting your past and becoming a new person, but these things were already happening with how Lynn treated people compared to what Mother had ingrained in her. With limited action, some readers might find Not a Drop to Drink to be boring.

Recommendations: Not a Drop to Drink is a chilling, gut-wrenching vision of an all too realistic future with limited resources. It is a sad yet beautiful debut novel that makes the reader think about what they would willing to do when placed in a survival situation, while simultaneously examining how much they would be willing to help someone else in need. Be ready for some intense scenes that contain deeply real emotions. While not overly flashy and action-packed, Not a Drop to Drink pushes toward redemption for a broken world through small deeds by normal folks.

Mindy McGinnis’ website
Not a Drop to Drink on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2013 in Science Fiction, Young Adult

 

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Article 5 by Kristen Simmons

Article 5 (Article 5, #1)Premise: The Unites States has been ravaged by war and major cities have been abandoned. The Constitution is no longer in effect. Instead, there are now the Moral Statutes, put in place by the Federal Bureau of Reformation. Moral behavior has now been legislated by these statutes and those who break them are rounded up and punished severely.

Ember Miller’s very existence is in jeopardy since she is the child of a single mother who reads unapproved books and secretly thumbs her nose at the system. After the government finally tracks down her mother, Ember does whatever it takes to find and rescue her. The only problem is the boy she loves, Chase Jennings, is the person who arrested her mother, and now Ember will have to be sent off to be rehabilitated into compliance.

Ember must go under the radar, deal with curfews, escape from imprisonment, and face death to find her mother. She will have to decide whether or not she trusts Chase and find out if there is any hope of throwing off the oppression of the FBR. Will compliance with the statutes be enough to keep the people complacent or will they eventually rise up?

Themes: The importance of separation of church and state came to mind as a theme when I first read the cover blurb. I’m not sure it was intentional, but the first half of the book puts that forward, while the rest of the book reinforces it. Can we legislate morality?

Survival comes to the forefront as Ember and her mother, along with other rehab girls and everyone else living under the oppression of the FBR, attempt to make ends meet by accepting the meager supplies doled out to them by the government. All of this is done while attempting to secretly hang onto the former freedoms they used to enjoy.

The changes that happen to people in the throes of war become relevant as Ember learns of the transformation that Chase has undergone after enlisting as a soldier and joining with the “Moral Militia” to hunt down the non-compliant. The horrible things that people see while in battle can be too much to handle for some.

Pros: At first glance, I thought I would hate this book, but I actually started to get into it around the halfway point. I was surprised I finished the book and was glad I did. Article 5 gave me some things to think about as far as my own biases. Though rife with plot holes and gaping omissions of important details, the story is still fairly well-constructed as a whole.

Cons: The reason I thought I would hate this is because it sounded preachy. I hate to say I was right. It sets up the government as a “Christian” ruling body that enacts moral statutes, and enforces them by rounding people up and executing them. While I understand this is fiction, I tend to implicate authors’ views at least in some part into what they write. I don’t know if I’m even right on this count, but that’s what I came away with. I didn’t really like Ember because she was so whiny and could have solved so many of her problems by simply breaking out of her self-deprecating angst and actually talking to Chase. Finally, the ending is a non-ending that is either intended to lead you into the next book (something I hate) or is a vague glimpse of hope to overcome the clutches of an extremely nebulous theocracy.

Recommendations: In spite of its numerous flaws, I found myself liking Article 5 more than I thought I would. Even with its annoying protagonist and unclear ending, I enjoyed the journey of reading through it. If you like post-apocalyptic young adult (though this is labeled as “teen”) then you can probably find other better-executed stories out there. I might give book two a chance if it is written, but more likely I will move on to characters I care more about and stories with a premise less preachy.

Kristen Simmons’ website
Article 5 on Goodreads
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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Science Fiction

 

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Sketchy Behavior by Erynn Mangum

Sketchy BehaviorPremise: Kate Carter is your average teenager with artistic talent. However, when her class assignment to sketch someone based on a description ends up capturing a serial killer, her whole life in her small town turns upside-down. When one of the killer’s friends shoots at Kate when she is riding in a parade, the police have to protect her wherever she goes, including living with her family.

Against her father’s wishes, Kate’s mom decides the family needs to go to church, where she finds the normally mute Justin from her art class to be quite talkative. She has become a local celebrity, so wherever she goes people recognize her, which is strange because she has few friends and now people at school know who she is.

Kate and her family and friends are in different places in their beliefs, and her questions also lead her to wonder who she can really trust. They may have caught the murderer, John X, but his accomplice is still out there.

Themes: As the genre implies, this Christian young adult book has characters searching for faith. They are each in different places in their belief, from Kate and her family being new to this Christianity thing to DJ and Justin having a more developed faith in God.

Sketchy Behavior is primarily a thriller/mystery, with a few twists and turns to leave the reader guessing what will happen next. We don’t know who is trying to kill Kate, and the truth is held back until the very end.

This is also a book about family. The Carters are a strong family unit. Though they have their differences of opinion and their normal arguments, such as what Kate should do with her future, they still obviously love each other and want the best for each other.

Pros: Kate Carter is funny. She is a well-developed character and I immediately liked her. I wanted her talent to shine and take her places. Being someone who goes to church regularly, I felt like most of the faith elements were familiar, from the gray-haired old ladies to the hipster worship band in girl pants. It didn’t feel too forced into the story, though for Christian YA I might have infused the story with even more.

Cons: There were way too many popular culture references. It felt like there was at least one every other page, and some of them are already dated. I have a feeling they might make this book dated in just a few years. Although this was about Kate, most of the secondary characters were underdeveloped. Also, I had a gripe with a main plot point of the book. Since I have experience working with a law enforcement agency, I know that the police would have never released the name of the sketch artist for a known serial killer, let alone if it was done by a sixteen year old girl. It just wouldn’t happen. I had another gripe having to do with background checks for law enforcement agencies, but I don’t want to give any spoilers. Besides, it might be different for a small town police force.

Recommendations: A clean, funny, and suspenseful story, Sketchy Behavior is the kind of book I would let my young teen read. It has the kinds of questions someone very young might have about God, not attempting to give any complex answers to those questions. For adults, the story may be too simplistic in some areas, but it has an intelligent and strong teenage female protagonist with heart that young readers will enjoy.

Erynn Mangum’s website
Sketchy Behavior on Goodreads
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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult

 

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