Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

First line: "I will never forget the day my family got cut off from the Internet."

Plot: Teenager Trent is obsessed with making films - he cuts footage from published movies and edits them seamlessly together to create his own story. But when Trent is caught illegally downloading, his whole family loses its Internet access and with it their livelihood. Unable to face his family, Trent flees to London. On the streets, he discovers a new family, a new life, and a new cause to fight for.

Comments: Pirate Cinema was an intriguing story of citizens' rights, the bonds of family and friends, and politics from the perspective of a brand-new activist - all told from the point of view of a teenage boy.

Admittedly, I didn't read the parts where the politics became too complicated. There was a lot of detail in this book, but it was often too technical and dry for me to find any interest in it. Not just politics, but also a lot with the technology references. I think partly this technology was a different level than what we have now, so I had trouble getting used to the small changes, but there was also a lot of in-depth descriptions that more computer-knowledgeable people would understand. As a normal person merely competent with a computer, I didn't understand much.

Similarly, the characters in this book would often speak for paragraphs at a time in a way that seemed unrealistic to me. They all had so much to say! But I skimmed over these long chunks of dialogue because I found them to be boring, extensive speeches.

The characters felt much older than they were supposed to be. I couldn't believe Trent was only sixteen or seventeen. The rest of the characters were the same age, and they all seemed like twenty-somethings. This was another part of the book that felt unreal.

In fact, after about halfway through the book, it felt like everything was oriented towards the goal of warning readers of a possible future with an overbearing government. The plot and the characters felt forced to fit the message of protecting your rights as a citizen and standing together as a democracy. It's perhaps a good message, but the impact of the story was lessened dramatically. I finished the book but didn't really enjoy it anymore.

I liked Trent for the most part, and I liked some of the other characters, so it was fun to read about their bonds growing closer as they defeated challenges together. I just wish the story had focused more on them.

Rating: I rate Pirate Cinema a seven out of ten.

Zoe Letting Go by Nora Price

First Line: "My name is Zoe Propp." Not the most exciting lead I've ever read.

Plot: When junior Zoe Propp is dropped off by her mom at an institution for anorexic girls, she doesn't understand. The other girls are delicate twigs, while Zoe considers herself much more normal in body weight and sanity. Zoe spends her time writing letters to her best friend Elise, who doesn't ever write back. What's going on?

Comments: Zoe Letting Go was written in the form of diary entries and letters from Zoe to Elise - this style worked really well for the story, especially because the reader only knew what Zoe told them. I liked Zoe's voice throughout the book.

The stories of all the anorexic girls helped introduce the reader to the complications of the phrase "eating disorder": it showed just how dangerous these obsessions can be through the perspectives of otherwise normal girls. Meaning, an eating disorder isn't something that only happens to a crazy person - it's real and happens to real people. The girls in this book started out just trying to fit in and look skinny, like many girls, but for these teens it became something more. The hardest part to understand is the way in which these girls viewed their new eating habits as normal, or not a big deal. That's why I think this is such an important story to read - teenagers need to know that this happens to normal people, and they need to see both the consequences of eating disorders and the results of trying to recover from one.

As for Zoe specifically, I didn't actually like her very much. She whined a little more than I liked, and though she didn't want to participate, she spilled opinions and secrets constantly (and, I thought, unrealistically) during her sessions with the counselor. I'm not entirely sure why, but I just didn't like Zoe, which made it difficult for me to care about her problems.

The details about how the institution worked were pretty interesting, though, and seemed to be very well researched. I'd never known much before about the recovery of anorexics, so I found the detail helped make the story feel real. I also enjoyed the recipes sporadically placed throughout the book.

The ending was predictable, honestly. I'd guessed what was up with Elise before I was even halfway through the book. It lessened the whole impact of the big reveal at the end and left the story anticlimactic. The story also didn't go into a lot of detail and left plenty of questions unanswered. Zoe never actually seemed to get better, either - none of the girls did, though they all left the institution after the chosen block of time. Their eating disorders or other issues weren't resolved.

Rating: I rate Zoe Letting Go a seven out of ten.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay

Plot: "Marcie has been dragged away from home for the summer - from Idaho to a family summerhouse in New Hampshire. She's left behind her friends, a group of freaks and geeks called the Leftovers, including her emo-rocker boyfriend, and her father. By the time Labor Day rolls around, Marcie suspects this "summer vacation" has become permanent. She has to start at a new school, and there she leaves behind her Leftover status when a cute boy brings her breakfast and a new romance heats up. But understanding love, especially when you've watched your parents' affections end, is elusive. What does it feel like, really? Can you even know it until you've lost it? Love & Leftovers is a beautifully written story of one girl's journey navigating family, friends, and love, and a compelling and sexy read that teens will gobble up whole." - Inside book jacket.

Comments: I was skeptical about the way in which this book is written - as a series of poems by Marcie - but I did end up enjoying this different way of telling a story. I liked hearing the story from Marcie's point of view and through the creative medium of free verse poetry.

I didn't actually enjoy Marcie very much, though. All she really wanted was to fall in love (she actually says: "My wish is to fall cranium over Converse in dizzy daydream-worthy love."). This might be accurate for some teenage girls, but I didn't think she had much depth to her character. Romance was all she cared about, and that was annoying. There are other priorities in life, too, you know! I don't know if the author, Tregay, did this on purpose to create one specific character or if she just figured this is how teenage girls in general think and act.

Because Marcie was so desperate to be loved (and, for some reason, get somewhere physically), she cheated on her boyfriend. I didn't like that. I couldn't relate to her actions or her justification for what she did. 

The ending felt unrealistic, too. Everything turned out just fine in the end and it didn't feel right. Overall, the story was interesting - actually, I read the whole thing in one uninterrupted go of a few hours - but lacked empathetic characters and a sense of reality. Any characters who weren't the main focus weren't described well and felt like cardboard cutouts just filling in space for the needed role.

Rating: I rate Love and Leftovers a six out of ten.

BZRK by Michael Grant

First Line: "A girl sat just three chairs down from Noah talking to her hand."

Plot: In this gripping tale of nanotechnology, two sides are warring for control over the minds of the most powerful people in the world. Spunky teen billionaire heiress Sadie and solid, righteous average-teenager Noah are dragged into the chaos, recruited by the "good guys", a team of young adults who call themselves BZRK. They fight to prevent the "bad guys" from taking over the world, but in the process have to use tactics with questionable morality while trying to convince themselves there's a difference between what they do and what the "bad guys" do.

Comments: Firstly, BZRK was surprisingly graphic - not a good book for the squeamish reader. It vividly and bluntly describes grisly deaths as well as an unromantic view of the human body as seen from the microscopic level. The descriptions are intriguing and clear, but can also be viewed as gross.

Initially, the nanotechnology aspect of the story (which is a hugely important theme, as the plot only furthers through the use of nanotechnology) is not explained well. Actually, it isn't explained well anywhere in the story, but it's especially confusing in the beginning. The idea of nanotechnology is thrown at the reader without context, background, or really any help whatsoever. You really just have to skip over the mystifying parts because you won't find the answers to your questions. However, the idea of nanotechnology is used very well in this story - it was a new perspective and seemed vaguely realistic. It was interesting, if also a little terrifying.

The main characters, Sadie and Noah, don't seem very well fleshed out. They feel molded to fit the plot and too little like real people. Their immediate serious romance is ridiculous, in my eyes. True, they've been drowning in a totally strange, stressful situation and can find comfort in each other's shared experiences, but it just doesn't make sense to me how they so quickly trust each other completely and seemingly fall head over heels in love after a few days.

The other characters were pretty good, if all a little predictable. I liked the variety of people - like impassive, precise Vincent and competitive, obnoxious Bug Man - and their code names made me pay more attention to them. I wanted to know their real names, so their personalities stood out more vividly to me and made them seem more human.

The ending felt too easy and simplified. BZRK is the first in a series, so it was left sort of open for a sequel, but I think what used to seem like insurmountable odds were suddenly, unrealistically flipped in the "good guys'" favor just to tie up loose ends. For Sadie and Noah, at least. Their potentially deadly adventure ended way too easily, I thought.

I liked that the "good guys" worried about whether or not they actually were good guys, since they had to use tactics similar to those used by the "bad guys". They said it was for the sake of humanity, but they all still realized that they weren't totally innocent. I thought that was very realistic. Though the "good" vs. "bad" was very clearly separated, it wasn't completely black and white - this is good because real life is a mix of gray.

Rating: I rate BZRK a seven out of ten. The story was intriguing but the characters didn't work very well for me. I probably won't continue reading the series.

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Plot: Before Wendy came to Never Never Land and captivated the forever-young Peter Pan, he was in love with the stoic and beautiful Tiger Lily. She grew up as a wallflower in her village, not fitting in to traditional societal expectations. When Tiger Lily meets Peter Pan, he intrigues her, which keeps her coming back to visit. Peter Pan disrupts her world and Tiger Lily struggles with the unfamiliar feelings now surging through her.

Comments: I loved the new take on the Peter Pan and Tiger Lily story. It was very creative and had a different perspective on the classic tale. Tiger Lily was inspiring in how she refused to change herself for society - but she was also hard to relate to and understand because she was so impassive all the time. I never quite understood her feelings.

Peter Pan wasn't a very likable character either because he was honestly kind of a jerk. I didn't understand what Tiger Lily saw in him. I mean, seriously - she had a wonderful boy back at the village who loved her for who she was, and she treated him badly. It didn't make any sense. That part annoyed me.

The ending wasn't satisfying either. It didn't make sense with everything that had been happening. The whole story just didn't seem to really fit in with anything.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

First Line: "One summer night I fell asleep, hoping the world would be different when I woke."

Plot: Aristotle is an angry Hispanic teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all boy who looks at the world in an unusual way. Neither has any friends, so the two boys gravitate towards each other and create a friendship over a single summer that lasts a lifetime. Through their bond, they learn truths about themselves and the rest of the world.

Comments: I skimmed through the entirety of this book. I really did enjoy the story and wanted to know what would happen next, but often there would be long tangents or abstract internal monologues that wouldn't be interesting at all. The dialogue often didn't seem natural - it felt forced and strange.

I also didn't connect very well with the main characters. Aristotle was a very quiet, unreadable person even though the story was from his perspective. Now, that was part of who he was, but that made it difficult to relate to him because I never knew what he felt. He was a blank wall. On the other hand, Dante was sporadic and unpredictable, and so I also didn't relate to him very well because I never knew what he was feeling either.

The whole story unfolded quietly, without much drama, which was both relaxing and slightly boring at the same time. I enjoyed the ending and the resolution, but all the steps to get there didn't always seem to make much sense.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten.

EREBOS by Ursula Poznanski

Plot: "The lines between reality and fantasy blur in this stunning thriller ... a prescient page-turner and a provocative, believable portrayal of the seductive world of virtual gaming. ... the scary climax, a romantic subplot and plenty of thoroughly credible gaming add proper spark to a pageturner with amps aplenty. From its opening notes of eerie virtual landscapes, to its mesmerizing conclusions, EREBOS is a nuanced thriller that weaves effortlessly between reality and virtual space, bringing its protagonists closer to the brink of destruction-or salvation-with every turn of the page." - summary from Amazon

Comments: I didn't even read one chapter into this book. From the very first few pages, I discovered an immediate disinterest in EREBOS. I didn't like the main character and the story already seemed very forced and unrealistic. The dialogue didn't sound normal and the other characters felt forced into specific roles in order to further the pre-planned plot. I felt no interest in the story and struggled to accept what the author wrote as normal.

Rating: I really shouldn't rate this book since I didn't read it, but based on my disinterest, I'll rate EREBOS a five out of ten since it wasn't interesting at all.