Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pure by Julianna Baggott

Book one of the Pure Trilogy.

First Line: "Pressia is lying in the cabinet."

Plot: Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the lucky escaped the disaster within their high-technology, protective Dome while the unlucky survived but remain on the outside in the desolation of the aftermath. Outsider Pressia knows how to make it in the world where you can't trust anyone, the world where everyone has some disability marking their status as an unlucky survivor. She lives with the sinister silence of the Dome mocking her. Insider Partridge, on the other hand, knows nothing about the outside world but wants to. Their choices lead them to uncover truths about their pasts and what the world has come to.

Comments: The story in Pure by Julianna Baggott is about fairness and discovering who you are. The characters fight to survive in a world where everyone is their enemy, surrounded by inequality and unfair circumstances. The story relates to my life because throughout the story the characters are learning about themselves – what they’re willing to do for the greater good or the ones they love and what they aren’t willing to do – something everyone goes through. People are sometimes surprised by their own actions. I can see this in the story.

Pure shows a sharp contrast between the lives of the people outside the Dome and lives of the people inside. Outside is desolation and ruin, warped and twisted bodies, and an atmosphere of constant fear and kill-or-be-killed. Inside is organization and cleanliness, impossibly perfect and healthy bodies, and ignorance – and where there is not ignorance, there is a sense of superiority. This clear divide between social levels is inaccurate in depicting the real world. It’s true that there are different groups within the two classes: militia members and citizens outside, students and super-soldiers inside. But even so, I disagree with the simplified idea of good and bad, black and white, and right and wrong. Characters Lyda and Partridge are examples of the gray that is so present in real society because they come from the privileged and sinister Dome but care about what’d going on outside. It’s possible that the sharp contrasts in this story were exaggerated purposefully for simplicity, but it doesn’t make sense to me that anything can be so decisively divided when it comes to humans.

The story was heavy on the ideas of family, the bonds between family members, and finding out where you come from and how that affects who you are. But I think there was too much emphasize on this. The idea of family was romanticized in this story in a way that made it feel unrealistic. Main character Pressia and Partridge shared some kind of bond because they shared the same mother, while in reality being related to someone means absolutely nothing beyond genetics and legalities. Neither really knew their mother but both were obsessed with the idea of finding her. This is more easily understandable, but the strength of their bond with her seemed incongruent with how much they actually knew about her. The story didn’t match up with my views on family.

I did like that the story casually included characters of different races. By this I mean that some characters were not white (Pressia was Japanese) but their non-Caucasian backgrounds were not stressed dramatically. Race wasn’t a big deal in the story but different races were present. That’s important in today’s society because characters should represent all different nationalities but shouldn’t necessarily make a big deal of the fact that they’re different.

Pressia felt like a recycled character in this story. I do appreciate the strong female lead, but she felt like a mix of Katniss Everdeen and a handful of other fantasy female teenagers. Strong, yes – brazenly so, always ready to prove her merit and toughness. Stubborn, willful, and not willing to open up initially. But as the story goes on, she softens and starts becoming protective of other people and the readers can see that she’s just a really cool person over all. Pressia seemed modeled after what’s becoming a generic “strong” female lead and I didn’t care for her because she didn’t feel like her own person.

The story left many questions unanswered. For one, the big picture of the dystopian world was never explained. The plot only covered a small area, so what about the rest of the world? It’s true that in the post apocalyptic world, communication between cities would be nearly nonexistent. However, the characters don’t seem to think much beyond their own little worlds. Nothing much was said about the organization in the Dome either – I got the sense that it was supposed to be much bigger than what we actually saw from Partridge’s perspective.

Overall, the story was confusing. I felt many details were unclear, like the situation with the militia being different from whomever the Dome sends out. I was never sure who was affiliated with whom or what was really going on. Maybe this was meant to show the uncertainty of the characters’ world, but regardless it made the story hard to follow. In addition, the ending felt predictable and forced. I am not at all interested in reading the sequels to this book because I didn't enjoy any of the characters and the ending was disappointingly predictable.

Rating: I rate Pure a six out of ten. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

First Line: "So in order to understand everything that happened, you have to start from the premise that high school sucks."

Plot: Greg Gaines is a chubby, awkward teenager who has perfected the delicate art of being friends with everyone and no one at the same time. He spends his time making mediocre films with the cussing, perpetually angry teen Earl. Things are okay. But then Greg's mom forces him to become friends with a girl who has cancer and his life begins to fall apart.

Comments: I skimmed over a lot of the text. There seemed to be descriptions and sections that lasted too long and I would skip to the next part. What I did read was vaguely entertaining but not dramatically so. The book definitely felt like it was written by a teenager who doesn't know how to write.

I didn't ever connect much with any of the characters. They were all so very flawed that liking them was difficult. Their situations were easier to relate to, perhaps. But the people in the story felt like characters as opposed to real people.

The idea of the book is great. It's not some inspiring, heroic tale of cancer-fighting teenagers who support each other and fix everything. It's about an overweight, awkward, antisocial guy who finds himself stuck with trying to be a good friend to a girl dying of cancer. The story is different and feels real because of the flawed characters and the awkward dialogue.

However, it's a little boring. Because it's a pretty realistic story, nothing exciting really happens and the characters don't do things that make you feel happy inside. This is partly why I kept skimming. I was waiting for something exciting to happen but it never really did.

Nothing was resolved in the end, but in this case it seemed fitting. It made sense because experiences like this in real life don't resolve smoothly and happily and with a clear lesson learned. So while the book ends without a satisfying conclusion, it ends realistically, which is satisfying by itself since so many books have ridiculous fairytale endings.

Rating: I rate Me and Earl and the Dying Girl a six out of ten.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

First Line: "The man billed as Prospero the Enchanter receives a fair amount of correspondence via the theater office, but this is the first envelope addressed to him that contains a suicide note, and it is also the first to arrive carefully pinned to the coat of a five-year-old girl."

Plot: Two young enchanters are trained from their childhoods to compete against one another in a seemingly endless game of magics. Meanwhile, from the minds of strange but brilliant people, the night circus is born - an unbelievably fantastical marvel that appears suddenly at locations around the world, open only at night. The circus becomes the enchanters' battleground as they try to discover the way to win and as they grow closer together.

Comments: The Night Circus is a spectacular novel filled with innocent wonder and harsh but realistic circumstances. Throughout the mystery, the characters play along in a way that makes you think perhaps they know what's really going on. Many questions are never answered, but in this case it makes sense for the atmosphere of the story.

I loved the stories of Celia and Marco, the competing enchanters. In the beginning I was very confused because I mistook Isobel for Celia, but it straightened out soon enough. Isobel and Marco's relationship was never quite clear to me. However, Celia's relationship with Marco was delightful. The way everyone spoke felt so grand and old-fashioned. Celia in particular was my favorite. A curious part of the story is that though there were main characters, you could not often see into their minds very easily.

The idea of the circus and the mysterious awe surrounding it were amazing. Though some descriptions fell flat for me, I did enjoy much of the detailed and bold prose painting pictures of the scenes. I wish I could visit such a circus someday.

I read this book as fast as I could because it was so intriguing and suspenseful. Time passed jerkily for me, because the dates written at the beginning of the chapters would not easily organize in my mind after the first dozen. Despite this, the story progressed smoothly and beautifully.

The ending seemed too easy. I certainly enjoy a happy ending myself, but it was perhaps a bit unbelievably convenient. But I wish the circus members luck regardless.

Rating: I rate The Night Circus a nine out of ten.