Monday, May 26, 2014

The One, Kiera Cass

Ok, so very, VERY rarely do trilogies keep getting BETTER as they go. But As you may or may not recall, the first book, The Selection I gave a 3.5 star rating. The second book, The Elite I rated closer to a 4. THIS one? The One...I'm giving in 4.5.

Why? Because I believe the message this book was sending was not about a romance. It wasn't about which boy she was going to choose to love, it became an overwhelming message of "choosing to do the right thing no matter what the consequences of that choice may be." There are SO many times when doing the right thing SHOULD have gotten America kicked out of the palace whether or not the Prince wanted her there. Doing the right thing made her an enemy to the King basically. Finding ways around doing what she was supposed to and still following orders, but by doing the right thing, not by following verbatim.

Another message that I liked was that there are two sides to every story. And behind ever bully is a person who is probably very insecure about something and until you can see them for that vulnerability, and they by chance let you in can you begin to see them as a person rather than mean actions. One character in particular has been horrible the entire time, but when caught in a moment of insecurity releases everything about how she's felt and how she really doesn't LIKE being the mean girl, she just doesn't really know how to react or how else to manipulate circumstances to her advantage. She has such a change of heart from letting this out that she eventually apologizes to EVERYONE she's wronged.

And the final message I was much appreciative us is that America doesn't end up "choosing" one guy over another. She realizes what love really is-and that it's not just physical passion (although there is plenty of wanting going on), and it's not just getting along. It's about finding someone who makes you feel like your authentic self. It's also about letting go of someone you loved once and how it's OK that they will ALWAYS be a part of who you are. A part of your heart will ALWAYS belong to the people you gave it to in the past. I mean, I bet all of us can think back to the first time we thought we were "in love" and even if we don't feel that way about that specific person anymore, there's still a place in your heart for them. And that's ok. It's not betraying your current love. It's just a part of you. And it's about how no relationship is "happily ever after" as the last line of the book says "It's so much more." That you WILL fight. You WILL have disagreements. You WILL have misunderstandings. But you absolutely cannot make rash decisions in the heat of the moment when you are angry. You don't just jump to break up/divorce when you have a spat in the heat of the moment and move on to someone else because of it. You work it out. At the end of the day, the person you absolutely cannot live without, the one you'd take a bullet for, the one you want to be happy more than you want your own happiness is worth a few arguments, disagreements and misunderstandings. They are worth finding out THEIR side to the story. And I liked that message. Especially since you know how I feel about love triangles and how they give that false sense to be a beautiful leading lady, you need to have 2 men vying for you being completely unrealistic. I'm glad that it was spun in such a way that you can realize that people you grew to love romantically can be put in different positions and you CAN grow apart. I also enjoyed the happy ending for everyone. No one was left out or settled. Well, at least as far as main, main characters go.

The other happy ending (although it comes about in a sad way) is that the society is going to change and attitudes are going to shift. The caste system is going to come down, although they're not sure how. Since it's become such a huge part of people's identities, they know it's going to take a lot of time (in my opinion, it's going to take a generational shift over at least 1-2 generations to full eradicate former perceptions), but they're dedicated to do so. And with that, people will inherently gain more freedoms.

But all in all, the thing I was most satisfied with was that first message of doing what is right no matter what the outcome. America Singer puts doing what is right ahead of her own desires, ahead of what would make HER life easier or what would make HER life happier. I think that's a message the YA audience needs to hear. If America was willing to give up EVERYTHING in order to do what she felt in her heart was right, then we too can stand up for what we feel is right. And you don't have to be mean or circumventive or shady in how you do it either. Even when you feel like you are backed into a corner, there is a way out that will keep your integrity intact.

So all in all, along with the fairly non-controversial ending that is 98% happy, I am very satisfied with this trilogy. Fast reading, entertaining and proves great points in this final installation. I also enjoyed the author's style and ability to weave the story get stronger and improve as it went along. I kinda wish the first book had been stronger, but c'est la vive, right? She made up for it in the end.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

This was a very touching novel. I used to read books by Lurlene McDaniels. All protagonists grappling with a terminal or potentially terminal illness, usually dying at the end. This was NOTHING like those books. This book was real, it was sarcastic, it was metaphorical, philosophical, and fresh. I actually listened to this book on audio since I could get it faster that way. I'm not always a fan of audio books simply because if you get a bad narrator, you're stuck. And I am a fast reader, so it takes longer to listen. But the narrator for this audio book was absolutely fantastic.

Warnings for future readers (I had these warnings going into it, which did help me and I would want this information as a parent when deciding when my child is mature enough for this book).
There is a sex scene-though not explicit by any stretch of the imagination. There is some swearing-albeit not nearly as much as A Casual Vacancy (which as you may know I could not continue searching for literature doused in explicatives beyond 20 some odd pages).

That said, the characters don't have any strong religious beliefs about post-death existence, so they grapple with the subject philosophically and metaphorically as two very intelligent teens who have had to grow up too fast faced with cancer.

It's always hard to know how to treat people with terminal illness, because everyone doesn't appreciate being treated the same way. However, there was an interview with the author tacked onto the end of the audio book and his sentiment is to treat them as a regular person. This sentiment is shared by Hazel, the protagonist, at a funeral when she hears that the deceased (a peer who was an amputee below the knee due to cancer) was now in heaven and was made whole again and she as a thought something like "As if he wasn't whole before" and how just because he didn't have part of one of his legs did not make him less whole or less of a person. Another scene I remember candidly was that of Hazel being at a mall, I think, and she had lung cancer, so she wears a cannula and drags around an oxygen tank everywhere. In this scene, she is sitting down taking a break and a young girl comes up to her and asks what she's wearing on her face. She tells her it's her cannula that helps her to breathe. The little girl asks to try it, her mother scolds, Hazel says "No, it's ok" and slips it off to fit the little nubbins in the girl who says something like "That tickles!" and then Hazel politely asks for it back because she needs it to breathe. It doesn't help that people will react differently when approached in different ways (how you never know if offering to help someone physically handicapped will be welcomed with a smile or a scathing "I don't NEED help, I am self sufficient!") it does give me courage to at least try to be more candid and "normal" with anyone I come across. That curiosity is not always a bad thing. For me, anyways, asking what something is or what syndrome someone has does not mean I am searching for a box to shove them in a label to apply to their forehead, but a way to relate to their everyday vernacular (or lack thereof) or for me to go home and personally research what goes into the care of such an individual so I can further sympathize or maybe even be able to offer educated help-NOT in the form of advice, but as in, "I know how to do such and such a procedure now, if you want I could give you a break", or I've researched how to monitor someone with Dandy Walker syndrome so that the parents can feel more at ease when going out on a date. Those types of help. One thing I disagreed with was the being 'whole' thing. I don't feel like the sentiment that we'll be made whole after death implies that only certain people were less whole. I believe that we are ALL fractionated. I believe we are ALL broken. That NONE of us are completely "whole". And I don't feel it implies what Hazel feels it implies. But that is based on my belief system and I can respect her reasoning based on her belief system.

One thing is that Hazel is obsessed with finding out what happens to characters in a book she relates to after the main character dies from cancer. I don't think, though, that it's so much that she needs to know about her characters, but her need to know about her OWN life. The characters in HER life story after her life is over. Because she knows she has a finite number of days. She knows she's living on borrowed time and she knows more than we do that her death is inevitable, even though everyone's death is inevitable. She is an only child. She is extremely concerned with her parents welfare after she dies. She doesn't want them to be lost or to divorce because of her death (which, as a adolescent she believes that even though cancer is NOT her fault can't help but feel responsible for sadness caused by her death).

Another thing that is explored is social media and friendship. When a friend dies, Hazel looks on his wall, and she has been a part of this person's daily life for MONTHS and all these people memorialize this person on his wall. People she never met, never heard about, people who never bothered to actually be a part of his actual life but are now suddenly available in death. All these friends who show up when you don't actually need friends anymore. When people we actually care about have their daily life disrupted by illness that take them out of our daily circle of friends, we need to go out of our way to stay in contact. We need to be friends in LIFE. Hazel has exactly one friend in the story who is a "before diagnosis" friend. She is quite superficial, but to her credit, she ALWAYS checks in on a semi-regular basis. In a global community we have no excuse NOT to stay in semi-regular contact with people who matter. Thinking about someone? Wondering how they are doing? Send a quick text. Post to their wall. Send a message. An email. DO something. It's a little "Tuesday's with Morrie" but important nonetheless.

Hazel is fairly convinced that most other cancer survivors are going to out live her. She has friends obsessed with heroism and what it means. They want to DO something, BE something, be REMEMBERED for something. But in fact, sometimes NOT being remembered is being a greater hero because it might mean you've done less harm to the world in general than would happen in pursuit of fame. It was a nice ending thought to ponder upon.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Elite, Kiera Cass

3.5 stars out of 5

The love triangle is still there, but the political plot is starting to come out more. The king has a dark streak to him, secrets prevail. Does Maxon know about the true history of Illea and the founding king? Or has he been kept in the dark too? Capital punishment-as a public display-still exists. America is NOT ok with this. She has a strong moral compass and does not want to be a part of a country that can't change. An Italian princess admits that the reason they do not want to be allies with Illea is because the country does not allow much personal freedom, but admits they like what they've seen in America and want her to have the crown-because a country can change. But America doubts her ability to make that change.

More attacks take place at the palace while she's there. Things seem increasingly upsetting and out of control with the rebels.

By the end of the book, the Elite, the top 6 is narrowed down to the top 4. Once it gets to 3 of them, the Prince is supposed to choose. He is facing greater pressure to make the decision more quickly and end the Selection process faster. Time is what America has needed, and she's running out of it. She goes back and forth quickly based on what's going on. Typical teenager, so it's only slightly annoying, but realistic to the age. For instance, when Maxon seems to distance himself from her, she's absolutely sure it means that he's changed his mind about her, when it seemed obvious to me that since he knew that he was keeping her, he needed to decide who to eliminate and therefore didn't need to invest as much time in someone he knew was secure. But thinking about how I felt as a teen myself in my memories, I could definitely see how insecure I was and how I could go down the same road of thought as America did.

One of the more mature themes (that gave it a higher rating than the first book) is that of history and who makes history and who decides what is truth-and the importance of the written word. The history of Illea is passed down orally. How easy it is to change something when there is no proof one way or another? A modern example of people questioning history is the Columbus story. Born in 1981, I learned about Columbus as this great explorer with an adventurous spirit. Now, there is a group demanding that kids be taught about what a tyrant he was, the fact that he was a criminal and the monarchy granted him permission to go on his quest largely because they thought there was no way in heck he'd actually succeed. History is one subject that has cold hard facts based on evidence on one side and human perspective on the other. Each World War looks different from each different country's perspective and position. And some deny the cold hard facts entirely. Sometimes I wonder if there is such a thing as complete truth when it comes to history, but one thing is for sure, it is easily manipulated. And part of what will help us to know a majority of truth is to have things written-even if we're not sure we can trust the authors to be authentic. So I guess history also relies on the trait of honesty in the people telling the story. So many different holocaust survivors independent of one another telling a similar story give more authenticity and more credibility. Add to that photographs before Photoshop came into being and things become fact. Unfortunately, the use of photoshop makes me less reliant on photographs, because it's easy to falsify images these days. But I did appreciate the complexity of the dilemma of finding true history and exposing tyrants this second book has.

It appears that one rebel group is looking for specific literature-perhaps Diaries of Gregory Illea where many horrific truths are learned by America as she gets to read one of the diaries. I am anxious to see what information is found and if it can be expounded to the public (or covered up). The other interesting thing is that Illea does not have newspapers or anything in print. They have a once a week broadcast "The Report" where the public is given the information the King feels they need to know. So right now, having a Free Press is also brought to light of its importance. However, if the Free Press is ever controlled (or biased completely) to things, we are in no better situation than not having one at all.....Benghazi anyone? Does anyone really know what happened? Has everything been published concerning it? And what we've heard sounds disturbing at best, but WHY isn't there an uproar or a cry for more and for justice? It's not being reported very this due to bias, unseen control, or something completely different?

The third and final installment comes out on May 6 and I'm hoping to get it from the library fairly quickly so I can figure out where this is going. Sometimes I wonder if America will choose Maxon and the crown because it would give her the opportunity to change the country for better. I felt like at the beginning that she never truly loved Aspen, but was only lustfull of him, but I can admit that perhaps there was more than lust between them by the end of book 2, but that with Maxon she definitely feels chemistry and friendship, but she doesn't know yet if he's being honest with her or if he can be trusted. And with all his required secrets to keep, it's hard to know who he really is and who he is coerced into being at any given time.