Tag Archives: dystopia

The Power, by Naomi Alderman

The PowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Five stars for creative premise and provocative themes, two stars for character development and plot, plus trigger warnings for rape and graphic violence. I really wanted to love this. Everyone loved it — my copy even has a sticker that says it was one of Barack Obama’s favorite reads of 2017! I was excited to read a book that was praised so universally, and I was naturally drawn to a world in which the power dynamic between genders is reversed by the development of electrical power in teenaged girls (i.e. ability to cast jolts of lightening from their hands). The girls then have the ability to awaken the power in older women such that before long all women can take down male opponents with a flash of electric current strategically thrown to stun, maim or kill as the situation warrants, or, as dictated by whim. My problem with this book is its devotion to pointing out every possible example of sexism in service to the theme, to the exclusion of genuine character and plot development (e.g., everything from men telling women they should smile more, claiming credit for their work, or dismissing them as too “emotional,” to using them as sex slaves and victims for gang rape — this all gets played out in the reverse). What makes it hard to read is that instead of a fairer, kinder, gentler world, the new matriarchy in this dystopia is every bit as sexist, brutal and violent as the current patriarchy. Provocative for sure, but not enjoyable to read. With most dystopian novels there is a character with whom to empathize, someone to root for. The mostly female characters in this novel all tilt towards deception and corruption. The only somewhat sympathetic character is a male journalist who doesn’t get a lot of play in the story and whose fate remains unresolved. The alternating POVs distract from a unified story. I genuinely admire the author’s creativity in constructing this utterly upended gender universe, I just wish there was something besides that to like or feel good about. I guess that’s more my problem than the author’s, but be forewarned that this is dystopian through and through. ~ Ms Dimmick

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Student Review: Specials, by Scott Westerfeld (reviewed by Jennifer U.)

Specials (Uglies, #3)Specials by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read the Specials by Scott Westerfeld. It was the third book in the Ugly series. The book is about a dystopian society. There are two groups of people, the ugly’s, who are the average people in our world, and the pretty’s. Once you turn 16 you can choose to have the surgery performed on you and your whole body gets changed to look perfect. It sounds like a great choice, but what the citizens don’t know is the government plants lesions in their brains which causes them to not care about anything and not challenge the government. However Tally and her friend Shay run away before the time comes to get changed. They meet a whole new group of people, the Smokies. The Smokies tell them all about the lesions and how they have invented a cure but sadly, the government finds Tally and Shay and turns them into not only pretties, but specials. Now Shay and Tally have lost all the information they learned and know nothing. They have to figure out how to get their brains back before the whole town is ruined. It was a good book and I really enjoyed it. I would recommend it to readers who likes fantasy, romance and books about dystopian worlds~ Student: Jennifer U.

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Student Review: Divergent, by Veronica Roth (reviewed by Framelcy C.)

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Divergent by Veroinca Roth, Tris, the main character, has to choose between staying with her family or branching off alone. Tris lives in a futuristic society that is broken into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Candor (the honest), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent). On a special day all 16-year-olds must select the faction to which they devote themselves for their rest of their lives. Tris makes a decision that surprises everyone, and along the struggle she finds a romance. Divergent is an amazing book, because It is suspenseful, adventurous, and romantic. Since it has so much going on, it is hard to keep up with what’s going on in the book, but since I was so into the book it wasn’t much of a problem. You need to put the pieces together to understand. It’s not your typical “I know what’s going to happen next” books, it’s one of those books where it is hard to predict the next scene, because anything can happen. When Tris is getting tested something goes wrong and her instructor starts to freak out and states:

“’No.’” Tori kneels next to the chair now and places her arms on the armrest. Our faces our inches apart.
”This is different. I don’t mean you shouldn’t share them now; I mean you should never share them with anyone, ever, no matter what happens. Divergence is extremely dangerous. You understand”(22).

When you read this sentence you want to know what shes talking about. What’s going on? Why is it dangerous? So many questions pop up in your head and you can’t find the answer right away, because anything can happen. I recommand this book to anyone who likes suspense, adventure and romance all in one. Tris makes the biggest choice that determines how she’s going to live for the rest of her life, and you wouldn’t imagine what she chooses. Read it and you’ll find out. ~ Student: Framelcy C.

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Sweet, by Emmy Laybourne

SweetSweet by Emmy Laybourne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. That was…not what I expected. How to describe it? Frothy teen romance meets The Walking Dead?

Former child star Tom Forelli has booked a gig hosting a celebrity cruise to launch a new sweetener, Solu. Fort Lauderdale teenager Laurel has snagged a ticket on the cruise to accompany her friend Viv. The two have a meet cute (he falls on her while showing off break dance moves) and between that and reality TV stars, discussions of teenaage angst and weight issues, the book seems to be shaping up as your standard light-hearted YA romance. Then things take a *very* different turn.

(Warning – some spoilers!)

Solu, it turns out, isn’t just a sugar substitute. It can also help you lose weight. Lots of weight. Turn obese people into famine victims amounts of weight. And that’s not the only effect it has on your body. The end of the book is a (literal) bloodbath, but mixed right in with doses of teen dreams (seriously – on the run from drug-crazed zombies, the two leads take time to snuggle). But while the plot doesn’t hold up to any serious scrutiny, and most of the characters are just stock figures, it’s an enjoyable, breezy read.

Ms Schoen

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Student Review: Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (reviewed by Katherine C.)

Brave New WorldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them” (159). Until I read Aldous Huxley’s fascinating novel, Brave New World, I never truly questioned the way our society is run today. Sure, there are faults and things that need to be changed, but I could never really imagine what a purely happy “utopia” would be like. This book made me think. Huxley takes the reader on a remarkable journey through a reimagined future world where happiness is ever present, yet creativity is absent. Though the book was written in the 1930s, Huxley uses biotechnological and other scientific terms and ideas that are scarily modern for his time. The plot at times can be confusing, as the reader must follow the intertwining paths of multiple characters navigating this land. Huxley also uses unconventional sentence structure and large vocabulary, making certain scenes sometimes difficult to comprehend. Though the book has a sort of fanatical vibe, while reading I felt completely immersed in the world and it seemed believable. The ending was clear, yet some concepts previously mentioned in the novel did not reach sound conclusions, allowing the reader to interpret it to his or her liking. Overall, I was a big fan of the ideas mentioned and the general plot as a whole, but some of the ways in which Aldous Huxley executed his thoughts seemed muddled. I would recommend this book to any advanced reader who enjoys science or is interested in a book that will leave them contemplating the world around them. ~ Student: Katherine C.

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Student Review: Son, by Lois Lowry (reviewed by Roy A.)

Son (The Giver #4)Son by Lois Lowry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lois Lowry’s book Son is an amazing book that truly gives a wonderful conclusion to The Giver. While not a brilliant work of writing, like her first book in the series, it answers many questions unanswered in The Giver. The book has interesting themes, one example being the love of a mother for her child, and the characters are very believable and sound like real people such as Claire, the main character. She feels strong emotions, unlike others who take pills to quell such emotions, and sounds like a truly desperate mother trying to find her son. He is taken from her after birth by a cruel society that has taken away free will. When he is taken from the society by an escaping boy, she follows in a boat, but unfortunately crashes. She gets amnesia, but slowly remembers who she is and finally climbs a treacherous cliff to find her son and to defeat an evil Trademaster. The setting is set in the future or past (opinions differ), but in a society that has taken away color, emotions, and free will. Marriage is chosen by a council and babies are made by birthmothers who never see their children. In other parts of the world, people either live in crude villages or sophisticated towns. I would recommend this book to people who loved The Giver, because it’s needed to understand the book. You should definitely read it, but make sure you read The Giver first. Lois Lowry has made an amazing series and a great conclusion. ~ Student Roy A.

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Student Review: Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut (reviewed by Michael P.)

Welcome to the Monkey HouseWelcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Along with a unique and trademark writing style, a collection of short stories is what Kurt Vonnegut offers readers with his very enjoyable Welcome to the Monkey House. As I previously stated, Welcome to the Monkey House is an assortment of short stories that thematically range from wartime shorts to futuristic, utopian, science-fiction stories like my personal favorite of the book, “Harrison Bergeron.” All citizens in this short story are created equal in this society, where Harrison is considered to be a boy genius as well as extremely handsome. Due to this, he is taken from his family who does not understand because they have modified intelligences to make all equal. When Harrison refuses to conform to this dystopian lifestyle, he is executed on television with his parents watching, yet not being able to comprehend what had happened. What stands out most from the book and all his other writings is Vonnegut’s trademark writing style. Vonnegut’s writing offers a look at how he views certain topics through his characters. Vonnegut’s voice reveals some cynical views and often bouncing thoughts. Vonnegut is probably the first writer I have ever read who truly reveals some of his true feelings in his writing. I found his writing to be highly enjoyable since it makes it easier to connect and compare your opinions and views to his. Vonnegut’s writing also contains a dry, and often ironic humor which can often come at random. Overall, I would recommend this book to all readers, especially those who enjoy the themes that Vonnegut is known for writing about. ~ Student: Michael P.

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The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of MiraclesThe Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure where the title for this book comes from, as it contains no miracles that I could find, only disasters. The story is about age though–the coming of age of a Southern California tween, and the premature aging of our planet. Actually, aging isn’t the right metaphor for what happens to the Earth in this book, but it’s the best I could do and since the author seems to enjoy using sloppy metaphors and clichéd similes, it feels fitting. The more I think about writing this review, the more I think that perhaps the book doesn’t deserve a full three stars. More like two or two and a half. The stars are for the premise that sucked me in. Imagine that our Earth slowly, almost imperceptibly starts to slow its rotation on the axis so that seconds are added incrementally each day. Over the course of the novel, the Earth’s slowing expands our predictable 24-hour day to over 100 hours, which means that there are 50 hours of daylight followed by 50 hours of night. This slowing messes with the Earth’s gravity, which in turn wreaks havoc with everything from the arc of a soccer ball to birds’ ability to fly and the magnitude of tides. Humanity becomes divided between the majority who commit to living on “clock time” (e.g., sticking to the routine 24-hour clock, regardless of light or darkness) and the minority “real timers” who try to allow their natural circadian rhythms adapt to ever-changing patterns of sunrise and set. Throughout all of this, our middle-school protagonist is navigating the typical trials of being an insecure teen. You might think that coming of age during an apocalypse would result in a totally unique experience, but this is apparently not the case. The fact that the planet is dying and that humanity’s days are numbered seem incidental to Julia as she struggles with getting a training bra, falling for the cute boy on the bus and losing her best friend to a real timer’s commune. I found that I cared a lot more about the fate of the planet than of Julia, but the author kept forcing me away from the really cool science (which I’m not convinced was thoroughly researched), and back to the shallow story of Julia and her bland family. It was, however, a quick read, and the premise of a slowing planet is indeed a provocative one that I will not forget quickly. ~ Ms. Dimmick

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Student Review: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie (reviewed by Liam S.)

Balzac and the Little Chinese SeamstressBalzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, written by Dai Sigie, is a novel about love, oppression, and Orwellian ideas of oppressing free thought. It will bring you inside the world of Mao’s cultural revolution, where all western thought is denounced.

The main characters are Luo, the unnamed narrator, and of course the little Chinese seamstress. Luo and the narrator are sent to a relearning camp called Phoenix of the sky. In this camp all outside influences are not allowed. No western music or media, only opinions that reinforce the communist ideals. They meet one man who has many western books hidden, and through much coercing they convince him to lend them a book. It is through these books they see the light, to say. They are encouraged to live and love. This is what sparks the relationship between Luo and the Seamstress. I really enjoyed reading this book, it did a great job painting the view of Mao’s cultural revolution, and showing the power of free thought. The story is told in a simple and direct narrative, which is refreshing considering the weight of the subject, and how other novels may deal with such a difficult subject. Instead of over emphasizing the pain the boys went through, it highlights the life they made for themselves. Interestingly, the author, Dai Sigie, lived through the reeducation. This gives the book an added authenticity, and help to build a believable atmosphere for the characters.

Overall the book was very enjoyable to read. It delivers a fresh way of depicting a dystopian society that is not often seen. ~ Student: Liam S.

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Son, by Lois Lowry

Son (The Giver, #4)Son by Lois Lowry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you read The Giver and loved it, then you might be a little disappointed by its conclusion, Son, by Lois Lowry. If you haven’t read The Giver, then you should read that instead, for although it was written for “middle grade readers,” it is a powerful little novel that will stay with you forever. Son was written as both a conclusion to the quartet of novels and as a standalone. This means that many of the details from the first book are repeated, which is actually helpful for those of us who read the first book many years ago. Claire lives in “the community” first introduced in The Giver, in which the inhabitants are drugged to feel no emotion, and are assigned at young ages to different roles in life. Claire was assigned to be a “vessel” at the age of 13, and by 14 she gives birth to a son, “product” number 36. As with all products, number 36 goes to the nursery to be cared for until he is assigned to a family during the annual “ceremony.” Because the birth goes poorly, Claire is hastily reassigned to the fish hatchery where as an oversight she is not administered the daily pills that would staunch her emotions. Claire feels a powerful pull toward her son, and concocts a means of spending time with him at the nursery, where he is proving to be a difficult charge. On the eve of the next ceremony, Claire and her son both escape the community, but not together. Claire washes up in a remote seaside village where she is nursed back to health by a relatively backward but loving healer. Here she regains her memory and sets out on a quest to find her son. She finds that to reunite with her son she must make an appalling sacrifice. The story then turns from the quest to a battle between good and evil, and the vanquishing power of love. Perhaps because I also read A Handmaid’s Tale this year, with similar tropes of a totalitarian future in which women are treated as “vessels,” this story felt too squeaky clean to me, and its themes of good vs. evil too forced. If you love Lois Lowry, then read it, but if you haven’t read any of her other books, pick up The Giver instead, as that book will really make you think instead of spoon-feeding you all the answers. ~Ms Dimmick

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