Young Adult/Teen

“Divergent” by Veronica Roth

 

Book Cover - Divergent

Dystopia: “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives” (Merriam-Webster) OR “a community or society that is in some important way undesirable or frightening.” (Wikipedia)

 

It used to be that everywhere I turned in the YA section of the bookstore, vampires were front and center. Now that the Hunger Games Trilogy has proven to be wildly successful, vampires seem to have been edged out – at least in product placement – by books with a Dystopian theme. Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is the latest of the genre to be a hit with teens and have a movie tie-in.

 

Beatrice Prior and her brother are 16 and they will soon take a test to see which faction in their society is a suitable match for their particular strengths. Each of them is in some way unhappy about the idea of staying with the family’s faction, Abnegation (a selfless group) and they seek out other factions (Dauntless=brave, Erudite=intelligent, Candor=honest, Amity=peaceful) after their test results come in.

 

The choice Beatrice makes in Divergent changes her in ways she doesn’t always understand or embrace, and may destroy her as she uncovers the truths behind the exciting hype of the Dauntless. And, when secrets are revealed about her test, she faces danger from the very faction she chose.

 

Beatrice renames herself Tris and is like many real-life teens – she doesn’t appreciate the support system that surrounds her until she needs it, she takes her parents for granted, she’s insecure in her physical appearance, she searches for something beyond the life she has in hand, she feels unworthy when in fact she’s better than her peers – in other words, she’s growing up painfully as most teens do.

 

Roth writes Tris as having a conflicted moral compass, and angst about doing the wrong thing. During training, her hands shake when faced with something new, but when protecting a friend, she performs unflinchingly. She is small for her age, so outdoes her competition by using her brain. She has an excellent trainer, a mysterious ‘Four’ who seems intimidating in his coldness and yet perfect in so many ways. Roth reveals the layers of the young man’s background as the relationship develops.

 

Divergent features an interesting mix of sixteen year olds with varied flaws and positive attributes, and their range of personalities and skills keep the plot moving and the action believable within the Dystopian world. There are loyal friends and nasty instructors, psycho initiates, desperate people who live outside the faction compounds, evil adults who plot and scheme for control, and, of course, a way for the teens to outsmart the evil adults. A few of the action scenes that involve incredibly difficult physical tasks, would lend themselves to great FX in the movie version if there is a big enough budget.

 

Young Adult fiction is a playground for vampires, martial arts experts, archers, unexpected heroes, magicians, and werewolves in the sci-fi/paranormal/fantasy realm. Partly because parents are curious about what their offspring are reading and partly because of all the media hype, full-fledged adults are now big fans of YA as well. I read the Twilight series, the Hunger Games trilogy, and now the Divergent series, and am happy to be numbered among the followers.

 

Please visit www.veronicarothbooks.blogspot.com to find out the latest about Roth and her projects.

 

 

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“The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins

 

Book Cover - Catching Fire

 

What would happen if your father died and the only source of income for the family disappeared?

 

Have you ever skipped meals so that your sister could eat? Would you break the law to keep your family from starving? Would you place your life in danger rather than let your sister go to certain death?

 

Do you have it in you to kill people in order to stay alive? What are you made of? Do you have the power to change the world by your actions?

 

If you’re breathing and have access to multi media, you have probably heard of the “Hunger Games” trilogy (or the movies based on the books) and might even be numbered as one of the legions of fans.

 

What is it about this worldwide phenomenon that has captured the interest of so many people, both young and old? Some say that the trilogy is violent, is depressing, and there are very few nice characters in the tale. (A teenager shared with me recently that the perceived violence label is odd, given the violence level in TV shows and PG-13 movies) This series is so popular among the Young Adult/Teen crowd that it’s being studied in High School English classes in the U.S.

 

At the “Hunger Games” core is a teenagers’ love story, a triangle of Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, and Gale Hawthorne. Jealousy, unrequited feelings, and complete cluelessness on the part of our heroine keeps the two guys alternately at arm’s length and/or willing to die for her. Katniss has been emotionally closed off for so long while trying to survive in a Dystopian world, that tenderness and caring from others is a surprise and she rarely sees it as genuine. The only person in her life that she is sure she loves, whose love in return she knows is real, is her sister, Prim. And, for her sister, she would risk all.

 

But, the themes in the “Hunger Games” are broader than a love story, even as good as this one is. Katniss, Peeta, and Gale live in the coal-mining District 12 of the country Penam. Two children (ages 12 to 18) from each of twelve Districts of Penam are chosen by lottery to compete in the annual Hunger Games, a punishment delivered by the government for a rebellion that occurred decades in the past. Over a period of several weeks, the champions from each District are challenged with brutal survivalist type tasks: fending off vicious wild animals, using the meager supplies granted to them by the game masters, foraging for the rest, while killing off their opponents with whatever means possible. The competition is to the death, because only one can remain standing at the end. The reward? Better food for a year for their families back home.

 

But, even in victory, there is fear. Missteps can cause the downfall of others, the death of innocents. The government is always watching, wary of people who show any signs of leadership or rebellious tendencies, and willing to impose medieval justice to anyone violating the law.

 

The supporting characters are interesting people that give depth to a sometimes terrifying story set in the desperation of a world gone horribly wrong. The villains are multi-layered, some forced to do the government’s bidding, some genuinely nasty. The hairdressers, the groomers, and the trainers are complex, flawed and all working to make the best of a corrupt world that gives no quarter to the weak and rewards the strong only with survival.

 

"Hunger Games" is an excellent, chilling YA novel, recommended to me by several teenagers as well as some adults. I thoroughly enjoyed the pacing and the realistic characterization. I couldn’t put any of the books in the series down until the last gripping pages, even in the second read-through to do the review.

 

Not surprisingly, archery became popular again to teenagers in the United States after Katniss first used her bow. A bow was even used as the murder weapon of choice by a teenager in an episode of the TV show, “Longmire.” The TV show, “Revolution,” had a bow wielding teenager as one of the central characters. And, the copycats abound. But none quite so successful as the original, Katniss.

 

The three books in the series: “Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire,” and last but not least, “Mocking Jay.”

 

The movies: “Hunger Games ” played in 2012 and was wildly successful. The second, “Catching Fire,” debuted in November, 2013, with "Mocking Jay, Part 1" following in 2014. "Mocking Jay, Part 2" opens in November, 2015.

 

‘May the odds be ever in your favor’ that you have a chance to read all of the "Hunger Games" books. 

 

For more information about Suzanne Collins and her books, please visit www.suzannecollinsbooks.com

 

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“Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer

Book Cover - Twilight

 

First off, let me admit that before “Twilight” hit the stores, I was not a big vampire fan – not in any format. Movies, books, television shows, nada. Maybe it’s the blood and gore, or the way the crazed Bela Lugosi-like ghouls were often depicted with blood dripping off their jaws. I like beach reads, thrillers, sci-fi and whodunits, and never found that vampires fit into those areas of escapism.

 

When Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt starred in that vampire movie, I said, “I’ll go see it, just ‘cause the cute guys are in it.” I walked out after fifteen minutes. Vampires just weren’t my thang.

 

So, when some friends told me that the “Twilight” saga was really good and that I should read the books on the long flights I took, I smiled and said, “Nooo…, I’m really not a vampire fan.” Other friends had also read the series, salivated in anticipation of the publication of the next book and even waited in line for tickets to the first movie. Grown women? What could possibly be the attraction? I mean, bloodsuckers? Ewwwww!!!!!

 

A few weeks later, we were all having lunch and I mentioned that a well-known bestselling author had denounced the writing. They responded, “No, it’s very well written. He’s wrong.” When I reiterated my aversion to the whole bloodsucking, chin dripping vampire persona, they said, “It’s really not so much about the vampires as it is a love story.” Love story? Now that, I could get my mind around.

 

And, that’s how I got hooked. One of the gals gave me the first two books (“Twilight” and “New Moon”) and I quickly realized the appeal. Meyer had struck a chord with every teenaged girl and every woman who remembered being one. She had tapped into that feeling of being out-of-place and clumsy in a new high school. She had combined the teenaged misfit concept with being attracted to the tall, dark and handsome bad boy that momma always told you was no good, along with sneaking around clueless parents when the bad boy expressed interest. Yup, Meyer got it all in the first book. Plus, she kept me hooked and asking, “When is Bella going to get bitten?”

 

I read the first two in a week, then the third (“Eclipse”) in two days. I was away from home and couldn’t wait five days to read the fourth (“Breaking Dawn”), so I drove 45 miles to the nearest Barnes & Noble and bought it. I like to read, but when a writer does her job so well that I can’t wait to find out what happens next? Kudos! It was fun, Ms. Meyer, and I hope you listen to your legions of fans and continue the saga.

 

Please Note: A bit mature for pre-teens, so I would suggest that mothers preview them first before handing them over. There are lots of topics that require a certain level of knowledge about coming of age as well as a few topics considered inappropriate for any young readers. Written for the 13-16 crowd, but fun for women of all ages.

 

For information about Ms. Meyers and her latest book, “The Host” as well as the movie with the same name, please visit www.stepheniemeyer.com

 

 

 

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