Where do you go after The Hunger Games? Will the reading experience ever live up to expectation again? Will all dystopian YA fiction pale in comparison, forever leaving you just that little bit unsatisfied, like a carob bud or a fat-free yoghurt?
Never fear, the life of the speculative novel lives on and Veronica Roth can be happy knowing she firmly held the baton, even if – considering the mass of the genre lined up for this year - it’s ever so briefly. Rarely do I wake up and immediately move to the couch to finish a book – those first hours of the morning are premium productivity time and I chose to spend them inert?! Must be a good book.
In the world of Divergent, you’re born into a faction; that of the Dauntless, Candor, Abnegation, Amity or Erudite. You remain a member of that faction until you reach the age of sixteen, then you get to choose which faction you will spend the rest of your life with. Most people choose the faction they grew up in; the one of which their biological family is a part. The choice of faction is irreversible; once you’ve decided, you cannot go back. If you leave your faction – or are cast out – you become one of the factionless; poor and homeless. What led to this division of society is not greatly explained except that it was developed as the resounding solution to war.
Beatrice’s time has come; she’s sixteen and she must sit the test that determines which faction is her best fit (the test is an indication only, ultimately the decision is up to each person as to whether they chose the same faction as the test result). But Beatrice’s test does not go smoothly. Her results are alarming. She is a Divergent; one who does not fit into any one of the factions. How will she keep her secret hidden during the initiation into the faction she chooses?
It’s a full-on premise, heavy on archetypes and ripe for cliché and comparison to well-worn concepts. But Roth doesn’t fall into any traps, instead she supplies an enthralling package. The pace is spot-on (which is one of the elements that made The Hunger Games work so well), the lead characters are great but the supports are also well drawn, the plot and adventure is complex but not convoluted and the ending is complete but ready for a sequel.
My jaw dropped when I discovered that Roth is all of twenty-two years old. Unlike a lot of other pitches for new authors, it’s not on the proof as a selling point, which is a relief as (apologies publishers) I’ve always found it a bit of a deterrent.
Excellent stuff. Jess
Having read Wake, the first in a trilogy by Lisa McMann, I was excited by the prospect of her next novel after the trilogy, a stand-alone entitled Cryer’s Cross. Kendall Fletcher is the only girl in senior year at her school in a tiny farming community in Montana. When her best friend, Nico, is the second of two students in the town to disappear into thin air, Kendall’s world falls apart. She loses her one confidante; the person she grew up with and shared her ambitions with, her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder becomes harder to manage and her school soccer team simply doesn’t have enough members to play so she loses her greatest outlet for stress relief. The disappearances are timed with the arrival of Jacian and his sister Marlena and rumours abound as to how much of a coincidence the two events are. The repellent and moody Jacian’s volatility puts Kendall on edge, but his grandfather, a close family friend of the Fletcher’s, slowly brings the reluctant two together.
McMann’s mix of teen drama and supernatural is a surprisingly effective mix – she walks the right side of the fine line between intrigue and the ridiculous and, while I had an ‘oh no’ moment of dread halfway through the book that the ending might be a let down, the tale held its own. While it may not be quite creepy enough for some readers, Cryer’s Cross, essentially a ghost story, is sustained by its great characters through to a satisfying conclusion.
The book raises some interesting themes (without a heavy hand) about the ups and downs of living in a small community, coping with a psychological disorder and overcoming loss. Kendall is a fabulous girl – a balance of flaws and admirable qualities. McMann’s ability to build a story around a strong female character continues to be her strongest asset.
‘Not another vampire book!’ we all lamented. It is, but never fear, there are very few moody, brooding, tragedy-bound lovers. Instead, you get a dark and portentous introduction to the real life history of the vampire. Come close and let me fill you in on the saga. See, Bram Stoker’s Dracula wasn’t a novel. It was fact. And Van Helsing was real. Yes indeed. He was one of the founders of Department 19, the British arm of the top-secret agency that keeps us all safe from the sharp-fanged ones.
Our story begins in the modern day when Jamie Carpenter’s world is shaken by the sudden, startling death of his father in a mystifying incident. When his mother goes missing two years later, Jamie is faced with uncovering the secrets of his father’s true occupation and lineage. Jamie is joined by Frankenstein, yes, THAT Frankenstein, in the fight for his life, his mother’s life and the very future existence of all humanity!
In a series of flashbacks (my favourite parts of the book), we join Van Helsing, Bram Stoker and characters (like Jonathan Harker and John Seward) featured in his aforementioned ’novel’ as they form Department 19 in the late 1800s.
This is a fast-paced action thriller with multiple plots, solid descriptions of imagined technology and artillery and a wee little romance. The book has a satisfying ending, but also an enormous setup for a sequel – I won’t tell you too much, but it’s rather audacious. I do hope that Mr Hill follows up his debut with something equally as exciting and continues to cherry-pick characters from literary classics!
Parents and teachers would probably like to know that there’s a decent amount of violence and gore, but no more or less than most action novels aimed at thirteen year old boys (and girls – this is not just one for the blokes). The historical storyline is a great device to draw readers to classic gothic horrors and thrillers.
When we first meet Gil Goodson, he’s rushing for a ticket of entry into the annual Golly Toy & Game Company’s Gollywhopper Games. Gil wants to win the prize money so his family can move away from the corporate scandal in which his father was embroiled and then exonerated. Gil battles the clock, his team mates and his arch-nemesis, Rocky – can he win the glory and the fortune? Full of word puzzles, code-breakers and riddles, you’ll be a part of the race too! The Gollywhopper Games is fast, brain bending fun.
Things parents and teachers might want to know: The content is suitable for anyone able to read it. Black and white sketches illustrate the story sporadically. Problem-solving features, both superficial and personal; Gil’s Dad is found innocent of his white-collar crime, but that doesn’t stop his peers bullying him about it or tarring him with guilt. Gil gains resilience and courage by focusing on the contest, befriending his teammates and avoiding retaliation. With its televised contest setting, you’ll feel like you’re reading a G-rated version of The Hunger Games, complete with a soft landing.
The first books in this series are: Meet Grace by Sofie Laguna, Meet Letty by Alison Lloyd, Meet Poppy by Gabrielle Wang and Meet Rose by Sherryl Clark.
These four chapter books form the beginning of the Our Australian Girl series by introducing four girls growing up in colonial Australia. In 1808, Grace, homeless and hungry on the streets of London, steals a horse and finds herself on a prison ship bound for the colony. In 1841, under very different circumstances, Letty mistakenly joins her sister on migration to Australia. In 1864, we follow Poppy, a girl of Aboriginal and Chinese parentage who sets out after her brother when he escapes from their rural institutional home. And lastly, there’s Rose, a privileged Melbournian who upsets her mother by idolising her thoroughly modern, suffragette Aunt Alice.
Each slip of a book includes a bundle of extra information to colour the central plot, including a map, a teaser of the next book (there are 16 in all), an autobiographical blurb from the author on ‘How I became an Australian girl’, a website and a page of historical facts. While some of this extra content feels heavily ingratiating to the readership, the writing is of such quality, the plots fast-paced, the themes well handled and the girls so engaging that the package works. This is a great series with which to introduce eight- to twelve-year-olds who aren’t quite ready for the My Australian Story series (published by Scholastic) to Australian history.
I’m on a bit of an unintentional planet Mars kick right now. This time, we land on the planet to follow Durango, a Regulator (which is kind of like a samurai or warrior) who has sworn to finish a job his fellow colleagues thought he was crazy to take in the first place – teach a group of the planet’s miners to defeat the dreaded Dreau, a fearsome-looking tribe who believe the miners are hiding treasure within the subterranean tunnels of Outpost Fisher Four – the south pole of Mars. Quite an entourage joins Durango in his fight; including his beautiful, fearless charge Vienne (yes, eye-roll here, sparks fly, but it’s a cool romance) and his former chief, Mimi, who has been implanted into Durango’s brain as artificial intelligence.
Read it if: you like a rollicking, almost swashbuckling-style adventure with really well crafted action sequences.
What separates it from the masses: is Mimi and her dialogue with Durango. For a character who is incorporated into the body of another person, she sure does have an enormous presence – bright, bubbly, sassy, and wicked to her host.
If it were a movie: it would go gagbusters. The dialogue! The action! And from the get go, in my head, Mimi was voiced by Kristin Chenoweth – that dry, quick southern US accent and rapier wit suits her perfectly. (Hmm, seems I’ve been watching too much West Wing…)
Details for parents: it’s violent, there’s blood, mainly inhuman things die, but it’s not overly descriptive. Expletives are delightfully ye olde worlde like – what a great word is carking!
Rosie Black lands in hot water when she sets off a tracking device attached to a mysterious box she finds whilst scavenging on the waterfront in her hometown of Newperth. Now a wanted woman by several parties (all of varying degrees of sinister shadiness), Rosie sets off on a quest that takes her to Mars, where she discovers the truth about the deadly MalX virus that killed her mother and threatens the lives of the less fortunate inhabitants of Earth. Rosie is joined by cool Aunt Essie, Pip – who has a lot to hide behind his dishy slacker exterior, and Riley, Pip’s ‘boss’, who’s seriousness drives the plot along and let’s you know that this is not all space jokes and flirting.
Read it if: you like action driven speculative futures.
What separates it from the masses: is the believability of the class structure (the haves are “Centrals” – they live in the better parts of the center of town and the “Bankers”, of which Rosie is one, are the have-nots) and the concept of a genetically mutated version of malaria bringing serious risk to the Australian population.
Satisfaction factor: who doesn’t want to see an Aussie chick fulfilling her dream of landing a spacecraft on Mars (albeit in a rather risky, crash-landing situation)?
If it were a movie: Rosie would be played by Chloe Grace Moretz, who’s awesome Hit-Girl made the movie Kick-Ass jump from standard fare to classic tongue-in-cheek super hero flick.
Watch out Venice, our favourite piglet Olivia is on her way! Take a most exhausting trip around the great city of moats, see the pigeons in the Piazza San Marco, splish splash in a gondola and stop for a gelato. Ok, two gelatos. Or three. Oh Olivia, surely that’s plenty of gelato!