Insurgent by Veronica Roth

“One choice can destroy you.” Well, Ms. Roth, I chose to read your latest, Insurgent, in more or less one sitting this past Saturday. That which did not [destroy] me has only made me stronger.

I was extremely fortunate to receive an ARC of this wonderful book courtesy of my sister classroom teacher Mrs. Heise, who blogs over at http://heisereads.blogspot.com/ (go check it out — you will not be disappointed. I’ll wait here for your return). Thank you again!

So, the book. My initial response was, simply, “wow.” There is so much to love about this book. Before you read on, be aware that this review is entirely spoiler-free for Insurgent. I’m trying to also remain spoiler-free for Divergent, but there may be some links you don’t want to click. Such as the two in the next paragraph.

We pick up right where we left off at the end of Divergent. Seriously, right where we left off. Ms. Roth posted a wonderful help for that today right here, so go check that out before you read Insurgent. Since that didn’t exist for me, I relied on the Divergent Wiki, which did prove pretty helpful as well.

Tris and her gang are heading around, trying to find answers for what happened at the end of Divergent, as well as come up with a plan of action going forward. This involves them going places they’ve never been, and meeting new and old friends along the way. I really don’t want to go into more detail than this, but just know that it is full of the same breathless action as the first book.

Personally, I love this book. It takes my breath away (present tense, even though I read it four days ago). I had too many crazy predictions along the way to share here, some of which came true and some of which didn’t. I was angry (with the events of the book; the characters; and, at times, the author), I was happy, I was scared, I was rejoicing, I was even a little turned on (there are some fairly hot, but fully appropriate, moments). TMI? Maybe. But the thing is, this book really ran the gamut of emotions.

But the whole time, it’s a freight train barreling ahead. These emotions are fully present and fully experienced, but the book never stops moving forward. It’s a wonderful mix of action and emotion.

The writing style is great in this book, too. I wasn’t expecting that. It started sort of. . .I dunno, okay, I guess. But by about 10 chapters in, it really began to. . .I guess I’d say it began to mature, in a way. By the end of the book, it was as if I was reading a master’s work. And I truly believe I was.

There’s a lot more I’d like to talk about here, but I don’t want to spoil anything. I do want to go on the record saying that I absolutely loved the ending. A lot of people, I think, might not. Whatever. They can go read something else. I thought it was absolutely fantastic. Thank you, Ms. Roth, for this. I can’t wait to buy it and share it with my students.

I recommend this for everyone ages 12+, especially those who like dystopian novels and themes. Well-written, engaging, and exciting. It also makes for great e-mail chats 🙂

My rating: 5 out of 5 fish. 

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The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Remember when I challenged myself to read all the Printz Award winners this year? Well, I’ve been getting off to. . .let’s just call it a less-than-running start. I am yet to read any winners, but I now have read a Printz Honor book! So let’s dive in and see what’s going on here.

The Scorpio Races is a blend of far-away fantasy and next-door neighbor familiarity. It could just as easily be read from a haves versus have-nots perspective as a beauty of the simple life perspective (which, one might argue, are sort of the same — but that’s for another place and time), or a gender roles perspective. It’s a unique book, and one I had heard a lot of good things about. When the Printz committee said good things as well, I knew I’d have to take a look.

The story is told from a dual-narrator perspective. Honestly, this is a writing style that’s picking up speed that I kind of wish would go back where it came from sometimes (notable exception: As I Lay Dying). In the world of YA lit, I think this puts too much impetus up front on the relationship between these characters. Our girl, Puck, is more of the protagonist than is our boy, Sean, but we know something important is going to happen with them, as they both narrate the story. Is it too much to ask for Puck to tell the story and for Sean to be there, in his place, until their stories properly intersect?

I’m getting way ahead of myself. Perhaps some plot would help.

Puck is a poor girl whose parents were killed by a capaill uisce. What are these? These are the water horses that come out of the sea, and once a year, on the first of November, are raced. These are no ordinary horses. They are from the sea and long to return to the sea. They are massive beasts, and can and will kill anything in their path. These races, the Scorpio Races, are deadly. They are also, in many ways, the lifeblood of the island on which our story takes place.

Puck is going to enter the races. Puck does not have a capaill uisce. She’s also a girl in a tradition-steeped male-dominated race.

Sean is the winner of the past several Races. His father was killed by a capaill uisce. He works for the only rich man on the island, taking care of his horses — both the water horses and normal horses.

It’s tough to talk too much more about the plot without going on for far too long or giving too much away. But suffice it to say, things are not easy for Puck, nor are they easy for Sean. And they learn to help each other out because of this.

I wonder if the fact that I’d need to go on for a while to explain the whole plot portrays part of my difficulty getting into this book at first. There’s so much we need to know about the characters, the world in which they live, and their motivations, that I felt I had to be about 150 pages in before I could really immerse myself in the story. Looking back on my status updates from Goodreads, it was page 220 that I felt I was really into it. That’s a long time. Not every reader is going to hang on that long. For me, it was worth it, but I wonder if I could have been hooked earlier.

I really did enjoy the story. Some people don’t like the ending; I thought it was really good. You’ll just have to read it and let me know what you think 😉

I recommend this book to people who like their fantasies tame or their realistic fiction a little far-fetched. I think girls would probably enjoy this more than boys, and I’d put it at ages 12 and up. Horse lovers may enjoy this more than others, so I would say they should give this a shot. I think they’d understand some of the relationship between human and animal a lot more than most would.

Rating: 4 out of 5 fish. 

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

I hope you’re ready for this one when you pick it up. It hits the ground running (well, actually, it hits the ground sleeping), but there’s no time to regain your footing if you’re not paying attention. We all know the ending of Delirium (and if you don’t, stop reading this right now! Not because I’m going to give away spoilers [I’ll try not to], but because you need to get off the Internet and go read Delirium!), and Pandemonium picks up. . .well, actually not right where we were left off. We start some unknown amount of time in the future, and Lena is. . .Lena is in school? In a city? What? What happened? Where’s my copy of Delirium? Did I miss something? What’s going on?

These are the deliciously bothersome questions I was asking 3 pages in.

The story is told in an irksome back-and-forth between Then and Now. It’s irksome because we start with Now, which is actually the future from where we left off. The Then is what we would associate with the present. But it’s that good kind of irksome, like when someone teases you by keeping a sealed envelope just out of your reach. You wish they would just show you what’s inside, but you’re enjoying the chase and will enjoy the discovery that much more. I often felt that way as I was trying to connect the dots between Then and Now.

We find our heroine, Lena, alternating between finding her way in the Wilds and just trying to survive, and part of an underground resistance group who seems to be quite interested in the happenings of Julian Fineman (a 17-year old scheduled to be cured soon; he’s also the youth leader of a group trying to allow the cure to be given even younger). Soon, it seems as though Lena is playing the part of Alex to Julian, but not by conscious choice, and certainly not with the same intensity.

I don’t want to get too much more into the plot. If you liked Delirium, you’ll read and probably like Pandemonium, so I don’t really need to sell anyone on this.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I thought there were some things that didn’t quite work (the relationship between Lena and Julian [I don’t mean dating relationship, so don’t worry about spoilers or misleading comments here; I just mean the way they work with each other] didn’t seem genuine, the way Lena is treated by Tuck and Raven seems a bit contrived), but there were far more things that did work (the aforementioned Now and Then, the real emotion from everyone in the Wilds, the way Julian is just so ignorant). I didn’t like it as much as I did Delirium, but I think that’s largely because there’s no new ground to break here. Oliver already introduced the world, so now it’s just a matter of continuing to explore it. And exploring it with her masterful hand as our guide is pretty fun 🙂

I recommend this book to anyone who, like me, is loving all the YA dystopian that has been coming out lately. This is one that’s near the top of the pile as far as quality is concerned. There are a few curses (ranging the entire gamut), but I think this is still fine for middle schoolers and up.

My rating: 4 out of 5 fish. Okay, it’d really be 4 1/2, but I don’t do halves. So it’s 4 out of 5. If you don’t like it, write your own review (and then share it with me, because I’d love to read it!).