Monday, May 18, 2015

If The Giver Had Been a Romance, It Would Look Like This

Source: Goodreads
Matched (Matched #1) by Ally Condie (Speak, 2010, 416pp.)
Seventeen-year-old Cassia Reyes lives in a world where the Society has pre-determined each choice she will ever have to make: where she works, who she marries, how many children she can have, and when she will die. On the night of her Matching Banquet, she is delighted to learn that she has been assigned to her life-long best friend, Xander, and will be granted permission to marry him at age 21 if she so desires. If not, she forfeits her rights to be married, and will automatically take on the irrevocable status of “Single.” At home, she activates the microcard containing her Match’s information—and is stunned to discover that the information on the card is not for Xander, but for Ky, a classmate and mutual friend of theirs. The Society, it appears, has made a mistake. Which boy is she meant to be with? Clever, witty Xander, or quiet, introspective Ky? Although the Matching Department contacts her shortly afterward to apologize for the mistake, Cassia can no longer see things as she once did. Now, she is stuck with the uncomfortable decision of continuing to accept the choices the Society makes for her, or—she can finally make choices of her own.

I have to admit that from reading the summary of this book, I didn’t really have very high hopes for Matched. Thankfully, though, I was quite pleasantly surprised. Far from focusing entirely on the love triangle formed by Cassia’s botched Matching assignment, it also takes time to trace Cassia’s slow journey from blind acceptance to disillusionment of the Society. (It may also be wishful thinking on my part, but perhaps Cassia’s questioning of her Match could also be a way of pushing back against the first-love-at-first-sight element so nauseatingly prevalent in YA romance.) One of the best things about the story, though, is that her two love interests are not just bland hunks of boy-meat that seem to populate YA romance now-days. No, even better: these two boys actually have interesting personalities.

As for any downsides to the novel, the only one I can think of is one that many other readers have pointed out in their reviews: Matched seems to borrow a fair amount from Lois Lowry’s classic novel The Giver (government-assigned jobs, ritualistic euthanasia at a pre-determined age, pre-arranged marital assignments, etc.) While this is unfortunate, I, for one, was not really bothered by it, and frankly can’t think of why teens would be bothered by it either. Recommended for teen girls ages 15-Up.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Entertaining, But Still Lacking

Source: Author Website
The Young Elites (The Young Elites #1) by Marie Lu (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2014, 368pp.)

In a fantasized version of Renaissance Italy, those who survive the dreaded blood fever find themselves gifted with magical powers. These young survivors call themselves the Young Elite; everyone else calls them malfettos, the cursed. For young Adelina Amouteru, her power is the ability to create illusions so powerful they can drive people to distraction, or even bring about death. When her untrained powers inadvertently bring about her abusive father’s unsavory (but well-deserved) demise, the malfetto-hating Inquisition Axis arrests her and sentences her to death.
Enter the Dagger Society, a group of Young Elites lead by the mysterious youth, Enzo Valenciano. On the day of her scheduled execution, Adelina suddenly finds herself rescued by Enzo, and relocated to the Daggers’ hideout. There, Enzo offers her a chance to join the gang and hone her abilities. She accepts his invitation, but is dismayed to find that many of the Daggers don’t trust her, and actually fear her for her power. As she struggles with her own insecurities and fears—fears that fuel her abilities, and could lead to more death—she finds that the ambitious lead Inquisitor, Teren Santoro, has discovered her whereabouts, and is now threatening to kill Violetta, the sister she left behind, if she does not agree to spy on the Daggers for him.

First, the good: there’s a lot of impressive stuff in here. There’s a splendid fantasy world, lots of adventure, and an ending that will tempt even the most jaded of teens into checking out the sequel. But personally? I think it could have been so much better. 

On her site, the author explains that The Young Elites is the beginning of an origin story for a villainess, which, I have to admit, is a pretty neat idea. However, I’m of the opinion that Adelina (the heroine/villainess in question) gets to her desired destination just a little too quickly. Does she really have to go bad by the end of the first book? Why not the second? Or even the third? As anyone who’s seen Star Wars can tell you, it took Anakin Skywalker three whole movies to go from bright-eyed innocent to menacing villain.

I’ll complete my laundry list of complaints by mentioning the criminally underdeveloped supporting cast, and the obligatory romantic pairing between Adelina and the hot guy, which felt rushed in its development.

So, my opinion? It’s okay. Entertaining, but certainly not spectacular. Recommend for Ages 15-Up, and for fans of Lu’s earlier Legend trilogy; fans of X-Men, and other areas of fantasy.