From What I Remember. . . by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas

Raise your hand if you’ve seen The Hangover. Okay. Keep it up if you liked it. All right. Now, hands up if you’ve seen The Hangover and liked the idea of it, but wish there was more character depth and maybe a little more self-discovery. You. You right there, with your hand up. This review (and this book) is for you (are for you? what’s the rule here? I’m pretty sure it’s “is.”).

We start off with Kylie Flores — valedictorian, super-smart, straight-laced Kylie Flores — waking up in a strange bed. In Mexico. Next to Max Langston — super hot, Alpha Male, disarm-an-army-with-his-charming-smile Max Langston. And they have matching wedding bands on. And in the doorway is Lily Wentworth — perfect, super-groomed, girlfriend of Max Langston Lily Wentworth. Say what?

We know where we’re going, but how did we get there? That’s what most of this book is about. Honestly, if you’re not hooked at this point, there’s not much I can say about the plot that will grab your attention. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but that’s pretty much it right there. It’s the characters that really drive this story.

Kylie and Max are an odd pair, but fate (and perhaps an accidental kidnapping) has stuck them together on the last day of school. But something strange happens along the way. It’s possible that Kylie isn’t the stuck-up loner that everyone thinks she is. And maybe Max isn’t the dumb jock everyone thinks he is. And maybe Will is actually more than just the one out gay kid at their uptight La Jolla school, flamboyant enough for all those still in the closet. In fact, maybe there’s more to everyone.

And, of course, there is.

Don’t read this book because it may be billed as “The Hangover for teenagers” (though that does sort of fit). Don’t read this book because you enjoy a good mystery (though it does have a bit of that going on). Read this book because people are more than what they seem, and sometimes we need a book to remind us of that. Read this book because if you weren’t mistyped in high school, nearly everyone else around you probably was. This is their story. This is the story of all of us. Read this book because we all need to be who we are, and let that shine.

My rating: 4 out of 5 fish 

Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

I’ve been excited to read this since hearing the wonderful teachers Mrs. Heise and Mrs. Andersen talk about it back in November (I think it was November). It helps that just about everything they recommend turns out to be gold. Well, Mrs. Andersen was nice enough to send me her ARC so I could check it out (the book drops July 10th — look for it!). Thank you, Sarah! Okay, to the review!

Side bar: when I say “to the review!” it would help your enjoyment level if you imagined it being said much like “to the blueberry!” said by Shawn on the possibly hit TV show Psych. Just trying to help you out, because I’m here for you.

The world of Insignia is World War Three. Well, sort of. The thing is, this war isn’t fought like the first two World Wars. Much like WWI brought us wide-spread use of machine guns and the introduction of tanks and submarines, and WWII brought us aircraft carriers and the atomic bomb, the WWIII of Insignia has introduced war machines fighting in outer space being controlled by teenagers on earth. Also, countries are less meaningful than large, multi-national corporations (gee, can’t see that happening in our world. . .oh, wait). And actually, in the world of the book, that’s not as far-fetched as it sounds, and completely works with the plot.

Virtual-reality gaming is incredibly prevalent in this world. Casinos have VR parlors. Schooling can be done through VR. (and is for our protagonist, Tom Raines). That’s not really the technological leap that makes this book sci-fi. No, what does that is the neural processor.

In order to control those aforementioned war machines in outer space, the teenagers are given a neural processor in their brain. This actually melds with their brains, so they are a sort of cyborg. Thus, learning the things most of us take years to master (calculus, for example) is downloaded and processed in a manner of hours. What needs to be developed are the abilities to use these processors to their fullest extent, and perhaps how to take advantage of others who both have and don’t have the processors. A large part of the book, behind all the action (which I’ll get to, I promise!) is dedicated to the teenagers having these processors and dealing with them. Insignia does a good job of making sure these thoughts and emotions are very real, and very teenager. Also, teenager is now an adjective.

All right, enough set-up (though that is important when discussing sci-fi). To the plot and characters! (Again: “to the blueberry!”) WWIII is going on, and we see mostly what’s happening with one Tom Raines, an American. I know I said countries aren’t as important as the corporations, but the countries have sort of aligned with corporations. India and America are one main player, with Russia and China comprising the other.

Tom is sort of your typical atypical main character. He isn’t bred to be a combatant like many of his friends at the Pentagonal Spire (the future Pentagon). He’s a really good gamer who roves the country with his vagabond father. He was hand-picked to be in the military, and now he’s just finding his way, making friends for the first time. And he makes them, and let me tell you: they’re AWESOME together.

Reading these characters is much like reading any pseudo coming-of-age tale (pseudo because that’s not really what it’s about), and the way they all learn to work with each other. Sort of Harry Potter-esque in a way. I’m trying to not go on too long here, but just trust me when I say the characters make the story.

One thing I need to say, though: TOM. IS. CLUELESS. I actually had a whole paragraph here talking about why, but I think it might ruin the experience for any readers. I just want to say: well done, Ms. Kincaid. Well done.

I highly recommend this book to those looking for a good YA sci-fi that hedges on dystopian. I would say an updated Ender’s Game, except I. . .never read Ender’s Game. ::hangs head in shame:: But if you like what’s going on in the world of YA dystopian stuff, check this out. It has the same publishing house (Katherine Tegen) and editor (Molly O’Neill) as the highly-celebrated Divergent series, so that’s something.

All-in-all, this was a good book, though not without some minor setbacks along the way. Not really worth getting into, just small stuff. Okay, I just can’t remember what it all is, and I finished the book almost 2 weeks ago. But anyway:

4 out of 5 fish.