Kate Little Reviews Divergent

Welcome our newest member of the team, Kate Little!

I have to admit, I had a difficult time trying not to compare this book to The Hunger Games (and while I read the Hunger Games I had a difficult time with not comparing it to Battle Royale but anyway…). I wanted to give this book a fair chance so I tried to block that judgmental part of my brain out and just focus on this book as an independent being, which it is. My overall impression of Divergent was that it is an interesting take on a dystopian society with a somewhat interesting lead character. It was refreshing to read an action sci-fi book with a strong female lead. Those seem to be few and far between but I have hope that this is changing.

I found the setting of the book to be rather fascinating. Although there were some familiar aspects, the organization of the society and the structure of government were unique and interesting. I enjoyed not knowing how each faction would interrelate into the story and I felt that Divergent did a decent job with representing three of those factions. I think discovering what differentiates Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite from each other was one of the most interesting parts for me. However, I didn’t feel Divergent fully explained the two remaining factions. My guess is that this is covered in the next two books so I’m not jumping to any conclusions about that yet…

I really enjoyed the overall theme of the book. I’m a sucker for dystopian stories that feature throwing young adults into situations radically different from their norms, and following them as they adapt to their new environments and are forced to handle situations that should be well above their heads. The whole loss of innocence thing and developing a sense of self, yada yada, I’ll stop now. I felt Divergent was heading in this direction with a solid story and for the most part succeeded but I feel as if the end was rushed. It felt like the majority of the story focused on the lead character and slowly moved towards something bigger. However, before I knew it, all chaos seemed to break loose and I didn’t feel as if I had time to prepare for this or take it all in. It was like the reader was just rushed forward without warning into warp speed. Now, I’m not saying I don’t think there should ever be surprising plot twists, I’m just saying I felt like there could have been a bit more transition and plot development before this happened.

In terms of the characters, I mostly liked how Veronica Roth created the lead character and was not afraid to have her get hurt or bruised. That said, I felt as if there was still a bit too much hand holding from a strong male character. It seemed like on the one hand, she was this strong and tough character however, in the next scene, she could only make it through with the help of a big strong guy. It felt inconsistent and reinforced the idea that female characters always need a knight in shining armor no matter how tough they are.

Overall, I felt Divergent was a fun read. I don’t think it’s the best book ever written, but if you’re looking for a fast sci-fi action book with a female lead character this would be a decent choice. I’m interested in seeing how they capture this on the big screen.

Anyone else have thoughts on the book?

Cheers,

Kate

You can download a sample or purchase Divergent by clicking here.

Secret Lies by Amy Dunne

*Note: This was an advance review copy provided through NetGalley – scheduled for release on December 1, 2013 from BSB or, according to Amazon, December 17th.

Secret Lies by Amy Dunne is a book that I read over two days, but stayed with me for quite a bit longer. Categorized as a Young Adult book, it deals with some rather difficult subject matter and is something that deserves a bit of reflection both during and after reading. This isn’t to say that the book is nothing but doom and gloom – but it also isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. I’m impressed at how well Dunne balances the darker story lines against the burgeoning romance between the two main characters to produce a remarkably good first novel.

Although they are both in the same school and grade, Jenny O’Connor and Nicola Jackson are virtual strangers when they literally run into one another and end up skipping classes. Both girls are hiding their own secrets – Nic is the victim of abuse at the hands of her stepfather, hiding the scars and bruises and isolating herself from everyone. Jenny seems to be a young woman who has it all – pretty and popular, she’s the natural leader of her friends; but, underneath she is emotionally paralyzed by the pressure of everyone’s expectations, as well as her own guilt and doubts, leading her to cut herself as a means to feel anything. As their friendship develops and solidifies over shared secrets, they each provide the support the other needs. Sounds like it is bound to be a complete angst-ridden train wreck, but Dunne handles the back stories without hand-wringing angst – giving a realistic and sensitive portrayal of abuse and cutting. At the same time Dunne captures the intensity of first love, weaving in all the overwhelming wonder and joy as well as the doubts and fears of coming out. Obviously, there’s a lot going on in this book.

Dunne has created characters that feel real and easy for the reader to connect with. I liked both characters and found myself easily caught up in their story. At times I thought Nic was a bit too grounded and maintained a level of maturity and strength and would have expected her to have more baggage to deal with as a result of her rather brutal home life. In counterpoint, Jenny’s development is much more apparent as the story progresses and she grows and matures, learning to deal with the issues and guilt that led to her cutting.

It was refreshing that neither one of the characters were waiting for someone else to save them. Jenny had already been seeking help from a therapist to deal with her cutting and Nic had her own plans to make enough money and get good enough grades to escape her home life. In meeting one another, they didn’t find a saviour; rather, they found someone to share their secrets and draw the strength they needed. The immediate seriousness of Nic’s situation was a bit more dire, and Jenny does have a few white knight moments – but I was so desperate for Nic to get out of that house that I was more than willing to accept Jenny’s invitation for Nic to stay with her family.

There are a few elements in the story that are a bit contrived and the romance develops pretty fast; but, Dunne’s writing invests the reader into the characters so much that I was willing to accept them and plunge ahead in the story. My biggest qualm was Nic’s plan to confront her stepfather in order to get proof of his abuse – the scars alone should have been more than enough, but I’m willing to go with it because there’s something canonical about teens making bad decisions in YA books. In most books actually since without characters making bad decisions, the book would end after the first chapter and everyone would live happily ever after.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author. Recommended.

Note: If you have any triggers around abuse, this may not be the best book for you to read. There are a couple of brutal scenes of physical abuse – complemented by even more brutal doses of ongoing psychological abuse from her stepfather. They are not gratuitous and are essential for the plot and character motivations.

Define ‘Normal’ by Julie Anne Peters

This story is about “two girls–a “punk” and a “priss”–who find themselves facing each other in a peer-counseling program and discover that they have some surprising things in common” (from the blurb).

Antonia is a straight-A student, who spends all her spare time taking care of her younger siblings, as her mother is fighting a losing battle with depression since her husband left. Although she is only 14 years old, Antonia’s responsibilities have made her grow up far too fast. She keeps to herself, has no real friends at school, and really has no one to talk to about her daily troubles. Because of her lack of spare time, she has been forced to drop the after-school clubs she so enjoys in deference to her family’s needs. At one point, she is approached by the school counselor to do ‘peer counseling’ for another student who is experiencing troubles at home as well. Much to Antonia’s dismay, her ‘client’ is Jasmine “Jazz” Luther, a punk with an inflammatory attitude.

The girls get off to a tremendously horrible start, and Antonia almost gives up several times before they can even find anything in common. Eventually they both begin opening up and becoming unlikely friends. This happens at the perfect time, as Antonia’s problems at home begin to escalate, culminating in her mother’s hospitalization. Antonia comes to depend on Jazz’s friendship, and they grow to become each other’s trusted confidant.

This was a quick read, and aside from some painfully jarring attempts at ‘young kids slang,’ I feel that the author did a good job describing the very different worlds that formed these characters. Antonia has many obstacles that I can’t imagine dealing with at the age of 14, but I know there are many out there that are painfully familiar with the theme. For their sake, I am glad this book exists to give them hope. Although the writing and subject matter isn’t as good as some of her other books (See Rage: A Love Story, those looking for a serious angst-ridden abusive emotion-fest), I did enjoy this book and will continue to recommend this author to young and old adults.

Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters

me@you.com by KE Payne

Even when I was a young adult, I don’t think I read much too many YA books. I do think that YA is a bit of a misnomer – Young Adult usually means teens but, as I remember way back when, I probably didn’t appreciate the label of teenager either. Somehow I managed to skip from Nancy Drew to Stephen King with a few Judy Blume’s and SE Hinton’s in between. I’m not even sure that there really was a genre for YA, not with the variety of selection that is available today. Over the last year or two, I’ve picked up a few books that have been classified as YA and been very pleasantly surprised at how good they are – better than quite a few “adult” books I’ve read in the same period. With the rise of YA books in just about every genre there’s been an increase in LBGT novels which is nice to see. I remember the first few lesbian fiction books I read when I was in my 20’s and how much of an impact they made on me to read about characters who were lesbians – to have access to that sort of book as a YA would have been a wonderful thing and maybe made some of my own uncertainty and confusion at that time a bit easier to understand.

me@you.com is a short and rather sweet book about 18 year old Imogen Summers. She lives at home with her parents, is loaded down with college assignments and is dating the most popular guy at school; but  there’s something missing. Drawn to a message board for a popular TV show that features two lesbian characters, she meets a number of other fans. As she develops these online friendships, they move from the public message board to IM, emails, and texts. She connects immediately with one girl, Fickle, and as their conversations deepen, Immy starts to question whether Fickle is flirting with her and the realization that the rapidly growing attraction seems to be mutual. And then comes the dilemma of what does it mean and what is she going to do about it.

Everything on the internet moves at the speed of light – including friendships. But at the same time, the people you are talking with and feel so connected with are also complete strangers and you really have no idea who they really are. Payne captures that instant connection that can happen when you meet someone online that has similar interests and the almost obsessive need to check email or the message board for fear of missing something. I had to laugh when she seemed a miffed that she wouldn’t have time to check the message board because her boyfriend wanted to go straight to the club (where he’s the lead singer in an Emo band) from college. Immy’s growing addiction to the site and the friends she makes there is almost like a way of avoiding the things she doesn’t want to deal with in real life, especially her ambivalent feelings around her boyfriend. As she discovers that some of the women she is talking with online are lesbians, it starts to bring her own confusion and uncertainty to the forefront. In the comfort zone of these friendships, Immy starts question why she doesn’t feel the way that her real life friends assume she does about her boyfriend and why Fickle’s attention is so flattering.

Immy’s struggles with the realization that she’s attracted to a woman are resolved relatively quickly and I think she handles it rather well. The support of her friends online and the knowledge that she’s not the only one out there is probably what makes the difference. There are still a few setbacks, one of her online friends surprises her with her reaction to Immy’s confession that she is falling for Fickle and I think that gives the situation a nice dose of realism. Twiggy comes around but I’m not sure if she really does understand or is completely comfortable with the idea. There’s also a bit of a predictable twist, where all is not as it appears – but it worked well and gave Immy a bit more of an impetus to grow a bit more into herself and start a more active part figuring out not only what she wants but what she needs.

Immy falls pretty fast and very hard for Fickle – and with the constant barrage of attention and declarations from Fickle, it’s not hard to see why. This is Immy’s first real romance and she’s obviously head over heels – that it develops over the internet accelerates everything and the reader gets to ride the rollercoaster with Immy through the highs and lows of it all. What is it about first love that is so damned all-consuming?

Through the first person POV narration, Payne creates a likable and engaging character with an interesting voice. Between Immy’s inner dialogue and the MSN/texts, it’s a pretty fast paced read and I found it hard to put down because I wanted to see what would happen next.

One of my quibbles with the book is the almost complete focus on Immy and her life and friends online. We get glimpses of her family and friends but they are very minor characters that we don’t see her have very much interaction with and have very little understanding of her relationship with them. I think we would have had a better, fuller picture of Immy if there had been more around her family and friends. My other quibble is Immy herself seems to be a rather young 18 – she lives a rather sheltered life and that may be part of the reason, but some of her internal dialogue, actions and reactions felt a bit younger than 18.

Overall reaction: A good book that captures the highs and lows of coming out to oneself and falling head over heels for the first time.

me@you.com by KE Payne

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

I didn’t know how I was going to react about an incestuous love story, but I certainly didn’t expect myself to be pulling for the characters to get together in a nearly impossible situation. Suzuma takes a taboo subject and humanizes it, forcing you to see the fear and mental anguish that the characters feel while still being pulled together by their circumstances.

The plot centers around Lochan and his sister Maya, who is 13 months his junior. They have always felt more like best friends than brother and sister, and have been forced to become full-time caretakers to their 3 younger siblings after their father’s abandonment to his new family across the world, and their mother’s abandonment to alcohol and boyfriends. Lochan is troubled by severe panic attacks and crippling social anxiety, while being required to act as a father to his young (often quite rebellious) charges. The only person he feels he can be himself with is his sister, with whom he shares parental responsibility while constantly dodging the threat of their family being torn apart by Child Services. Feelings grow, and things get complicated.

The story is written in turns from both Maya and Lochan’s perspective, which really helped me to connect with both characters. Their lives are complicated at best, and heartbreaking at worst, and I found myself crying several times from the emotional roller coaster. Suzuma somehow captures an unbelievably complicated range of emotions for her main characters, and I honestly have no idea how she did it. Highly recommended.

Click the link to view more information about the book or to purchase: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma