Burn by Julianna Baggott


Burn is the last of the post-apocalyptic Pure trilogy, in which the Detonations split people into two groups: the pures, safe in the Dome, and those left outside to suffer the effects of radiation. Partridge is taking his father’s place as leader of the Dome, but he’s being manipulated by his father’s old lieutenants. Pressia, Bradwell, and El Capitan have obtained a weapon to take down the Dome for good. Each of the two couples, Partridge and Lyda, Pressia and Bradwell, have relationship crises they must weather.

One of the most interesting things about this series is the way it examines the concept of privilege. In this novel, Partridge gives a speech about how everyone in the Dome is complicit in the mass murder of the Detonations, sparking a suicide crisis. People can’t take the ‘survivor’s guilt.’ Despite looking healthier, the pures in the Dome are actually less hardy than the fused “wretches,” and if they are exposed to the environment outside, will die in large numbers.

As always, I admired Baggott’s prose, some of the best you can find in YA. I loved how she set up complicated moral questions and showed readers every angle of them using the various point of view characters. I’m still thinking about the ending, because it was kind of open and enigmatic. It seemed like a tragedy, really. I was kind of disappointed that the ending wasn’t happier, but I can see why it had to end the way it did.

The Twelve

The Twelve by Justin Cronin


This book is the second in a trilogy about a vampire apocalypse. Most of the story takes place 90-100 years after the rapid collapse of North American civilization. One of my favorite parts of the book was the beginning, which told about a group of people escaping Colorado in the first days of the outbreak. After that story ends, this book continues with many of the characters from the first book, as they take down an authoritarian government and the twelve original “virals” who started the outbreak and control all the other vampires.

The violence in this book got to be a bit too much for me at times. Violence in books usually only bothers me when it’s gratuitous, when it exceeds a certain level that’s necessary for telling a violent story. Like, when I’d already gotten the point that Guilder, the villain, was evil, after his regime hurt people in particularly nasty ways three or four times. After that, adding more violent incidents that served no purpose in the plot except proving that point yet again was gratuitous. In a book of this length, nothing should be gratuitous.

Another quibble I had with this novel is that it seemed to reinvent the “rules” that had been set in the previous book. In the first book, virals were barely human, and acted like bats, but in this one there was also another kind of viral who acted human but had red eyes and needed blood from the “source.” I felt myself getting impatient with the narrative at times. The language was often overblown and repetitive. I didn’t like this book as much as the first one, but I might pick up the conclusion anyway.

Through the Ever Night

Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi

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This sequel to Under the Never Sky follows Peregrine and Aria in their separate journeys until they finally reunite. Peregrine is the new leader of his tribe, responsible for taking his people through the greatest crisis they’ve ever faced. Both he and Aria are eager to rescue Perry’s nephew Talon, captive in the protected dome Reverie. Everyone faces the threat of the worsening Aether storms, so there is increasing urgency to find the Still Blue, a place of safety and peace. Aria realizes that Perry’s people will never accept her, so she leaves to search for the Still Blue. Treacherous leaders Sable and Hess conspire to save those loyal to them and shut out all others, in a repetition of the Unity that separated Aria’s people from Peregrine’s ages ago. Aria and Peregrine fell in love in the first book; here their love is tested through temptation, competing loyalties, and the inherent differences in their peoples. There is a second tragic love story between Perry’s sister Liv and his friend Roar.

I enjoyed the rich language and the interpersonal drama that’s reflected in the dangerously roiling atmosphere. In this world, there are mystery, discovery, betrayal, and great beauty. This book is the second in the trilogy, and it sets up the third to be full of excitement and romance.


Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither has one of the more depressing premises of all the YA postapocalyptic dystopias I’ve ever read, and that’s saying something. Everyone has been genetically modified, but they didn’t think through the possible consequences–when they had children, those children only lived to age 25 for boys and 20 for girls. The main character, 16-year-old Rhine, is abducted and taken away from her twin brother to spend the last 4 years of her life as a wife in a polygamous marriage. Her husband, Linden, is actually kind of sweet and innocent, if you ignore the fact that he knocks up his 12-year-old wife. Linden’s father Vaughn is the real bad guy, the one who bought wives for his son from kidnappers, who’s doing mysterious, unethical experiments to try to cure what’s killing everyone.

From the beginning, Rhine is plotting to escape. She becomes Linden’s favorite wife, and he seems to be in love with her, but that has no effect on her plans. She kisses a serving boy, and he becomes her partner in planning to leave. If there is a love story, though, it’s Rhine’s relationships with her “sister-wives.” The way these young women occasionally undermine each other, but mostly support each other feels both realistic and hopeful.

The way the world of Wither brings together elaborate material riches with spiritual poverty and the malaise of anticipating an early death is its most interesting aspect. The society is unable to build anything lasting because no one reaches a productive middle age. The house where they all live is suffocating and claustrophobic, though huge and ornate. There is a sense of mystery as the reader is led to wonder why everyone is dying before age 26 and what Vaughn could be up to. The tone is often mournful, but matter-of-fact, as Rhine totally accepts that she will not live to see adulthood; it is simply the way things are. DeStafano paid proper attention to her language in writing; her narrator Rhine is reflective and strategic, always observing.

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, Fever, which came out earlier this year.


Partials by Dan Wells

Partials is a postapocalyptic dystopian YA novel. In this world about 70 years in the future, genetically souped-up soldiers were created in a lab to fight in a war against China; they were considered only “partial” humans, hence their name. After that war was over, the partials turned against those who made them, and a virus was released that killed 99% of the population. 11 years after “the break,” the survivors are unable to keep that virus, called RM, from killing all newborns. There is a law mandating constant pregnancy for all women, in the hopes of eventually producing a child who survives.

The main character, Kira, is a young medic who wants to pursue a new research avenue to finally cure RM: investigating the physiology of the partials. This leads her and her friends to make forays into enemy territory, defy their government, ally with rebels, and make great sacrifices for the sake of the species’ future. The novel is very much a thriller, and I think teen boys would like it for the puzzle it creates and for all the action scenes. There is not an over-reliance on romance or love stories. Though Kira has a boyfriend, Marcus, and they appear to care deeply for each other, their relationship is not the focus of the novel. Their relationship is actually startlingly healthy for one between two 16-year-olds, which is great to see. When they fight, they communicate fairly. She stands up for herself with him. She is clear about the fact that she doesn’t feel ready for marriage and pregnancy at 16. They come to understand each other and change each others’ minds a little.

This is just the kind of story that young adults today, especially girls, need to read. It’s about being skeptical of the government and what they’re telling you; it’s about reproductive rights; it’s about taking a stand. Though it’s set in an extreme postapocalyptic future, it would be easy to take the lessons of this novel one step homeward into critiquing the policies of today’s politicians. There are humanitarian issues: How do we treat a captured enemy combatant? How do we define “human” and “humane”? There are reproductive issues: Even when the species’ survival is at stake, is it ever ok to mandate pregnancy? There are political issues: How much control does a government need over its people? At what point does that control become so unbearable that rebellion is preferable? There are even science issues: How does a virus work? How can scientific research methods be applied to solving a global health crisis? There are detailed descriptions of Kira’s reasoning and thought processes as she investigates the RM virus and its life cycle. This is the type of science fiction that could even turn a young reader on to real science.

I’m excited to read the sequel to Partials when it eventually comes out. The ending was kind of a cliffhanger: Kira has broken up with Marcus and is going back into partial territory, just after making a startling discovery about her own past.

The Hunger Games movie buzz

The Hunger Games comes out tonight at midnight! I’ll be going to see the show tomorrow evening.

The movie has had an amazing amount of buzz; people are comparing this opening to the Harry Potter and Twilight movies, which all made bazillions on their first weekends. I’m very optimistic the movie deserves the hype. Best of all, The Hunger Games is an action movie with a strong female lead. Maybe it will do for action films what Bridesmaids did for comedies.

Here are some of the articles and reviews I’ve read about the movie in the past few weeks. Many of them seem focused on central problems of adaptation and whether it’s even possible. Others focus on how this and other YA novels are engaged in potical and social justice issues.

Will The Hunger Games Be the First Real Female Franchise? This article highlights what I think is one of the most important aspects of this movie: its potential to change the entertainment industry and our cultural definition of a hero.

The Sexual Politics of The Hunger Games I don’t think this article tells the full story, but it makes some good points in comparing HG to Twilight and talking about how the male characters are the ones objectified in these series.

Part Thoreau, Part Princess I love the title of this article. It discusses the tension in The Hunger Games between telling a survival story and a Cinderella/makeover story. Katniss’s own ambivalence does much to keep her story from becoming She’s All That: Wilderness Edition. In the end, she learns to use her beauty as just another tool in her toolbelt, and clothes and makeup are weapons and skills she learns to use against her enemies. Sounds pretty Third Wave to me.

Can The Hunger Games Really Capture All of Katniss Everdeen? This speculative article wonders whether the medium of film will be able to communicate the interior life of the heroine, when everything that makes her a sympathetic character is inside her, and her actions often make her seem unfeeling and cold. I agree this is one of the main challenges of the filmmakers.

10 Things from The Hunger Games That the Movies Probably Can’t Pull Off Just what it sounds like, a top 10 list of moments and concepts from the book that might not translate well to film.

The Mockingjay Problem Examines why the third book in the Hunger Games series may be problematic to adapt, and compares it to several previous movie adaptations to see how translating it to screen could change the story.

What The Hunger Games Gave Me This one is about the writer’s personal response as an abuse survivor to Katniss’s focus on survival. It’s the character’s key trait; it’s what makes her strong and also sometimes unappealing.

‘Hunger Games’ pits book gore vs. movie gore This article is mostly written for parents trying to figure out whether to let their kids see the movie. It points out the difference between violence in books and movies, mainly that with books readers have the choice about how much detail they want to see in their imaginations, but in movies, the director decides that for you.

Why The Hunger Games Is Way Better Than Twilight. Agreed.

The Hunger Games: Why It Matters This essay discusses the themes relating to reality TV and how it has the potential to change peoples’ perspectives.

Counter insurgency and ‘The Hunger Games’ compares the situation of the books/movie to questions about war and when it is or isn’t worth the cost in lives.

Slate’s review tells the skeptic: Just go see it! The biggest argument is that this story will dominate popular imagination for the next couple years, so you might as well know what’s going on.

The Washington Post’s review is very thorough and descriptive. Best quote: “One of the trickier aspects of bringing “The Hunger Games” to the screen is to avoid indulging in the very voyeuristic spectacle the story is supposed to be condemning.”

Is The Hunger Games Publicity too Hunger Games-ish? I don’t always agree with Katie Roiphe, but she has a point here, one that echoes the Washington Post review above. The book criticizes spectacle-creating marketing schemes, but the movie’s promotion engine is committing some of the same sins that the Capital cronies do.

Acting Trumps Action in a ‘Games’ Without Horror This negative review says that because the way the violence had to be filmed to get a PG-13 rating, the film loses the emotional revulsion and moral criticism of violence found in the book.

From Young Adult Book Fans to Wizards of Change This article discusses how readers of popular YA books like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter have created “fan activist” groups to take action on real-world issues.

Climate Change in The Hunger Games. This essay is about how this and other YA series imagine a world in which global warming has had catastrophic consequences, and the books are galvanizing some teens into action.

The Hunger Games: The first reviews are in, and they’re overwhelmingly positive A round-up of reviews.

A novice’s guide to The Hunger Games in Q&A format

The Hunger Names Explanations of the names of several characters.

Reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. 90% rating at last check. Strong showing.

The Hunger Games: 16 (Im)posters A bunch of people took stills from the movie and made posters in the style of other movies and directors. Some are better than others.

The Capitol of Panem is Galt’s Gulch Professor Weston says HG is like a sequel to Atlas Shrugged.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games Is Either Terrific or Just OK–It All Depends on You Well, if that’s not the most wishy-washy movie review headline I’ve ever seen. Take a stand, people! The review profiles types of fans and predicts their reactions to the movie.

The Hunger Games: A lightweight Twi-pocalyse This negative review faults Collins for not explaining more fully how the society of Panem developed from our current society. I think he misses the point. The Hunger Games does criticize parts of our violent, celebrity-crazed, “reality”-hungry culture, but it’s not a critique of current politics like 1984, Brave New World, or The Handmaid’s Tale are. I don’t see a problem with Collins constructing a fantasy world. The reviewer also says that the movie focuses too much on the love triangle, which will probably be true. Mostly he just seems like a cynic who would hate any movie based on a YA novel.


Pure by Julianna Baggott

have been eagerly anticipating Pure. I’ve been reading Julianna Baggott’s blog since I met her at UC. It’s gotten a lot of well-deserved buzz comparing it to teen sensation books like The Hunger Games. By the end of the book, I felt it deserved the hype.

The world of Pure has endured a nuclear apocalypse, which ravaged the bodies of survivors, fusing them with each other and their surroundings. A privileged few lived through the attacks unscathed because they were safe inside a protective Dome. The two main characters are Pressia, who grew up outside the dome with a hand fused with a doll’s head, and Partridge, who grew up safe and secure inside the Dome. Third person limited narration alternates between Pressia, Partridge, El Capitan, a soldier who helps the group, and Lyda, Partridge’s love interest. Partridge leaves the Dome looking for his mother, who he suspects is still alive in the wasteland, meets Pressia, and is swept along with her on a devastating chain of events.

The beginning of the novel was a little hard to get into, as many books with a strange setting and complex background are. The language seemed spare and didn’t seem to penetrate very deeply into the characters’ interior lives at first. Of course, this stage-setting was necessary, and made possible everything else that followed.

By the time I was 100 pages in, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are a parade of weird and bizarre, the kind you just want to sit back and watch because there’s no telling what’s coming next. It just made me marvel at how messed up Baggott’s imagination is. Parts of the book really feel like a freak show. The most surreal to me were the mothers, fused to their children’s bodies, who talked about their leader, who they called “Our Good Mother,” in a quasi-religious way. Also, can I just say that now I’m really terrified about nuclear winter? It would kind of suck.

The last 200 pages are nonstop action, interspersed with heartbreaking revelations and moving death scenes. Seriously, this book has a body count worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy. The twists and discoveries were well-planned, with the right number of previous clues, plausible coincidences, conspiracy, and wonder. The way Partridge, Pressia and their group of rejects and misfits strategized, worked together, trusted each other instinctively, and undermined a much more powerful system was intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

The ending sets up the rest of the trilogy nicely: the main characters know who they are and have a sense of purpose now. The backstory of the lead-up to the Detonations is deep and has potential for many more startling disclosures. The opening moves have been made in a chess game that will continue for two more novels. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series and to the movie that has already been contracted!