Saturday, April 16, 2016

Review Revision: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

OK. I was wrong. Red Queen isn’t as terribly awful as my first review claims. My dear readers, I have a confession to make: sometimes I make the mistake of reading and judging a book as an adult writer, instead of considering the literary needs of teenagers. Sometimes, after dashing off a hasty adult-biased review, I’ll find myself thinking about the offending story-world long after I’ve finished the book, and I’ll think, “Maybe I’ll give it another shot.” (This happens more times than I care to admit.)

Red Queen was one of those books. I think the reason why I initially didn’t like it the first time around was due to the novel’s audiobook version. The reader had a perfectly fine voice, but for some reason, every time she took on the condescending tone of one of Mare’s enemies (mainly to say something like, “Watch yourself, little lightning girl”) it drove me up the wall. After suffering through several hours of this, I finally just had to turn off my car’s CD player three-quarters of the way through. Which brings me to my second encounter with the story: not as bad as the first. Instead of the listening to the audiobook again, I checked the book out from the library. Without the reader’s voice in my head, the “little lightning girl” insults didn’t bother me quite so much, and I actually found that I didn’t really mind the love triangle—considering that it doesn’t end like you think it will! By finishing the book, I was also able to learn that Aveyard allows Mare to see that not all Silvers are terrible people, in fact, some of them are kind and generous. She even allows one of the story’s major antagonists to die with a kind of redemptive grace.

However, that does not mean I don’t still stand by some of my original criticisms. The story has obviously been done before: misunderstood heroine, polarized dystopian society, political situation cobbled together from historical events, etc. But you know what? Teens aren’t going to care. The fact that the story reminds me of The Hunger Games isn’t going to bother them. In fact, they’re probably going to be thrilled to find a new favorite read. So, Ms. Aveyard: I’m sorry for giving your book a bad review the first time around. Let’s hope that the sequel doesn’t disappoint!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Well-Meaning But Ineffective Tragedy

Source: Author Website
This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp (Sourcebooks Fire, 2016, 288pp.)

During a welcome-back assembly at a rural American high school, Ty Browne, a former student, slips inside the auditorium and locks the doors, trapping everyone inside. When the staff and students realize that something is wrong, he pulls out a gun and starts shooting. The ensuing horror is seen through the eyes of four students, each of whom struggles valiantly to live through the next fifty-four minutes. Unfortunately, not all will survive.

Although this is unfortunately going to be a negative review, I have to start off by applauding the author’s effort to mine an incredibly painful topic. She was also very creative with the way she interspersed blog posts, Twitter feeds, and text messages throughout her prose. However, I’m afraid that’s where my praise is going to stop, because overall, I found Nijkamp’s debut novel to be pretty shallow. What else do you call a story where non-descript students and staff are dispatched shortly after being introduced? Where friends still manage to keep up their regular, witty banter while fleeing for their lives? In addition to this, there’s an annoying amount of speech-making that allows the shooter to indulge in a long-winded bad-guy monologue. At another point, one of the protagonists manages to claim the moral high ground by delivering a brief but impassioned speech:
    “You think you’re something, don’t you? […]” [Ty] says. “Are you afraid now? This time, I’m in control, and there is nothing you can do about it.”
    “You’ll kill me. That’s that. So no, I’m not afraid.” I shrug while sweat runs down my back and my arms. “Funny thing, though, that still means I am in control.”
    He pulls the trigger, and I flinch. The bullet buries itself in the wall beside me. Tyler’s gloating makes me want to charge him. But I refuse to give him that pleasure.
    “You’ll kill me on my terms,” I say... (239)
Essentially, This is Where it Ends is a well-meaning, but ineffective tragedy that tries to soften the blows of character loss by leaning on the laws of Hollywood fiction. Recommended for Ages 16-Up.