Greetings fellow readers, time for another Bookish Jay and the Reading Mermaid mini-update. I have been in reading binge mode lately and felt the need to review a few so as not to unload them all upon you at once.
Young adult--dystopian --apocalyptic vision --challenging --Science fiction, death --Skynet just became self-aware
Scythe by Neal Shusterman | An adventurous read ★★★★☆
I’m energized when a book makes me ask questions I didn’t even know I had and offers answers I don’t expect-Scythe is that book:
“In a world where war and disease have been eliminated, [where old age is reset back to youth] the only way to die is to be randomly killed (‘gleaned’) by professional reapers (‘scythes’).” “Now scythes are the only ones who can end life-and are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control. Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice a scythe-a role neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own. They learn living in a perfect world comes with a heavy price.”– Provided by publisher.
The premise is startlingly simple, the details referential, yet with an original spin. Immediately one learns that without the fear of death, life loses it’s worth. But empathy isn’t going down without a fight. The protagonists are selected for withstanding an encounter with a Sycthe; they aren’t filled with teen angst, but perhaps show less apathy than the rest of the world exhibits. Not a “meet cute” situation, these two don’t wear their hearts on their cloak sleeves. A subtle romance begins, but a match made in heaven-less dystopia it isn’t. Although the central relationship plays out in an unexpected and intriguing way.
I’ve seen a few reviewers complain Scythe is tiring. I’ll counter-argue that it may not be a traditional action-packed fight for survival, but a literary dystopian novel. Which makes it a unique hybrid, as most literary reads focus upon characters’ thoughts, yet several characters hide their thoughts/motives in order to propel the plot and keep the reader guessing. Rowan and Citra struggle with the power-grabbing aspects of the Scythe world, the ‘right’ way to glean, not to mention the tricky navigation of their newly granted ability to kill innocents. This causes profound inner turmoil, especially for one character (and I thought my teen years were a challenge). Floundering psyches, steely resolve, and internal debates can feel flat or emotionless, but major world constructing with character driven storylines take time to unfold and Scythe slowly gains momentum. Permeated with moral paradoxes, cleverly interposed as journal entries–the most significant–once death is conquered, what is worth living for? The response to which resolves in a fascinating, exhilarating conclusion…that is, when you read for the why rather than the what. For a young adult, genre-crossing, thought-provoking novel, I was pretty blown away. I’m reading the follow-up, The Thunderhead, soon to find out what’s going on in that all-knowing/all-seeing info cloud.
Suspense Fiction--Detective and Mystery stories --Australia, homecoming --Homicide investigation --Secret secrets are no fun, secret secrets hurt someone.
The Dry by Jane Harper | a debut author ★★★☆☆
“Federal Agent Aaron Falk hasn’t been back to where he grew up in twenty years. Not since he and his father were run out of town. Even when Falk gets word that his childhood best friend, Luke, is dead, his entire family murdered, Falk still isn’t planning on going back. But then he gets a note: ‘Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral.’ And just like that, Falk is swept back into the secrets of the place and people he left so long ago. Amid the worst drought in a century, long-buried mysteries will resurface. And Falk will discover anew what he’s known all along — sometimes you have to go back in order to leave your past behind.” -Publisher, Flatiron Books
The Dry is a departure from my usual read, not in the same vein of Lincoln in the Bardo, a masterclass of experimental fiction, but in the way it’s a model of a popular genre-the detective story. I don’t read many straightforward mysteries, although I really should as my library patrons love them. Harper sets a stark opening scene and I found myself pulled into the world of the Australian bushland from the first moment, but I never felt comfortable there. Two interlaced mysteries haunt the pages, from Falk’s past-the death of a teenage friend he’s unable to escape, and the present day horrific murders of his friend’s family. Woven into a tapestry of desiccated rural landscape, the peeling back of layers and revealing of town secrets drives the plot as Falk and his young police ally shake clues out of the dust.
Harper exhibits an exacting writing style and portrays sharply drawn characters, a high mark of literary fiction lacking abundance in genre novels. A debut author with storytelling skill elevates The Dry; however, a few cliches irked me: Falk seems in the dark about his former home, it’s townspeople, and much of everything, relying upon the helpful local barkeep for insights. More disturbingly, I’m reaching my threshold for female abuse as a plot device, there has to be a transcendent way to avoid this trap and add intrigue and depth to mysteries. I recommend this book enough to want to read it’s follow-up, Force of Nature and hope that Harper’s sophomore effort dodges a formula.
Fiction-Fantasy --revenge --women's fiction --social/sex roles --Margaret Atwood approved --it's gettin kinda hectic
The Power by Naomi Alderman | a book that takes place on a journey ★★★★☆
“A rich Nigerian boy; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. When a vital new force takes root and flourishes, their lives converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls and women now have immense physical power– they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And everything changes.” Publisher-Little, Brown and Company
This novel sinks it’s teeth in from the first character meeting (not including the weak frame story setup attempting to portray the book as a historical pre-women’s era manuscript). From the department of epic opening lines, this statement, “The men lock Roxy in the cupboard when they do it.” alerts the reader that The Power will be pulling no punches. It jarred me into attentiveness, at times waxed and waned in it’s storytelling precision, but remained a constant background hum in my consciousness. Reading became a dynamic experience, in which, I shut the book in awe more than once.
Superbly edited, Alderman provides just enough from each character’s story to create heightened drama and leave you wanting more. As one of the character’s is described when realizing the breadth of her power and magnitude of the potential change in the world: “She stood a long time with that.” I stood a long time too, with what this novel means. It discharged a spectrum of emotions. Groundbreaking but also flawed; the archival documents are forced and unnecessary, there’s inconsistency in the power and use of electricity against it’s possessors, the shuffling between the chaotic world view with the up-close personal character perspective occasionally stumbles. As astonishing as it was, I realized it also felt closely familiar; I have read these stories in other forms from other books before, both fiction and non-fiction. Alderman takes current atrocities*, abuses of power and corruption, and overturns them, so that everything humanity accepts and becomes weary about hearing and fighting is illuminated in a stark light. It ultimately becomes, as everything does, about the powerful vs. the powerless, hunter vs. prey, culminating in a hold-one’s-breath-ending that is a cool relief to release after the last page. *Trigger warnings everywhere.
I’ve finished 2 other books since these and am engrossed in my current read, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, what are you reading?