Posts Tagged With: dual narrative

Chaos Walking: Monsters of Men

by Patrick Ness

In the final book of the Chaos Walking trilogy, a third narrator adds to the story. 1017 has compelled a Spackle army to attack New Prentisstown, and we get to see some of the events unfold from his perspective. Todd has released the Mayor in the hope that he will save humanity from the Spackle attack. He believes he can keep the Mayor in line with his newfound Noise talents. In return, the Mayor helps him make a few improvements on himself. Viola and Mistress Coyle both set up camp with the newly landed scout ship, but the people from the ship are unsure whether or not they should become involved in either of the wars they’ve stepped into. 1017 waits impatiently for the Spackle (or, the Land, as they call themselves) to help him enact vengeance on the Clearing (humans). He himself wants to kill the Knife (Todd), whom he despises not for his evil acts but for his wishy-washy attitude about committing atrocities he knows are wrong. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as Viola’s home ship prepares to land on New World in a matter of months. Every faction on New World has their own hopes about what kind of situation will greet the new settlers upon their arrival.

Again, a great depiction of egomaniacal politicians, this time with the complicated process of war and peace with an external enemy thrown in the mix. It was very frustrating to see Todd and the rest of New Prentisstown start to buy into the Mayor’s rhetoric yet again, but it wasn’t unrealistic. It felt like watching a politician known for his horrible past still win over the popular vote. I loved this series for capturing the short term memory of the general public. I was disappointed with some of the reveals at the end, which made the Mayor out to be more of a lone crazy evil guy, absolving everyone who was complicit with his crimes. It diminished what I thought was the whole meaning of the series, so it’s a pretty sizeable disappointment. Still, not everything was over-explained at the end, leaving readers to make their own conclusions about some of the events in New World’s history.

I think this book gives readers a lot to talk about in terms of politics, morality, etc. Questions about freedom fighting vs terrorism are still huge in this volume, although I felt like the main characters respond unfairly to Mistress Coyle throughout. I’m not sure if it was Ness’s intention to discredit her with some of her actions, but I still think she is the most reasonable character and I wish she had been given more attention or a better storyline. I would definitely read a prequel starring her. Overall, it was not everything I wanted it to be on the morals front–for a series that deals so much with people trying to do what’s right and feeling regret over their mistakes, the main character never takes any steps to make reparations for his actions.

On the action front, however, it was rockin’. So much happens! Characters are killed off or maimed, and not for meaningful literary or emotional purposes. The stupid love triangle set up in the second book comes to what I can only hope is a temporary conclusion. Not overly romantic for us romance-averse readers, and in my mind a ship full of new settlers will increase everyone’s options because nobody ends up with the person they liked when they were 14.

Despite the shortcomings of this volume, I would still recommend the whole series to teens and adults who are interested in dystopian settings, planetary colonization, gender wars, and books with complex conflicts. Must read the first and second books before this one.

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The Amulet of Samarkand: A Bartimaeus Graphic Novel

adapted by Jonathan Stroud & Andrew Donkin, ill. Lee Sullivan & Nicolas Chapuis

A young magician’s apprentice summons more than he bargained for when he invokes an ancient demon named Bartimaeus to do his bidding. All Nicholas wants is a bit of revenge after the upstart magician Simon Lovelace humiliates him in front of a crowd of accomplished magicians. He orders Bartimaeus to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from Lovelace, despite the demon’s warnings that Nicholas is dealing with magic beyond his capabilities. His plot to humiliate Lovelace spins out of control as he uncovers too much about the magician and becomes a target of his wrath.

The illustrations are fantastic. They are consistent, with enough detail to recognize all the characters and interpret their expressions, but not so much detail that the frames become cluttered. On the illustration front, this graphic novel gets top marks. On the story front, it gets props for concept but this adaptation seems to leave out too much for it to be a satisfying fantasy/mystery. There is a group of anti-magicians whose story I would like to see more of, and I would like to have had more of an explanation of the motives and backgrounds of Lovelace and his accomplices. This comic is a good advertisement for the book, but on its own it lacks the necessary substance to be a great story.

Recommended for anyone who thinks they might want to read the Bartimaeus trilogy but doesn’t want to put the time in to try reading the novel. It may be enjoyable for those who read the novel before and would like to revisit the story without having to re-read the book. Vocabulary and some dark concepts more suitable for older kids and teens.

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Chaos Walking: The Ask and the Answer

by Patrick Ness

Book two in the Chaos Walking series continues where The Knife of Never Letting Go left off. Todd and Viola have made it to Haven only to find it completely empty save for Mayor Prentiss, who has taken over the town and become president. Viola and Todd are separated and both need to play by the Mayor’s rules in order to see each other again. Instead of being narrated completely by Todd as in the first book, this volume is narrated in turns by Viola and Todd. They are separated for most of the book, only able to contact each other a handful of times. As their time apart lengthens, they begin to wonder if they are on the same side anymore. Todd spends so much energy just getting by under the Mayor’s orders that he becomes complicit in his crimes. Viola finds herself working with a group of mostly female dissidents within Haven called the Answer, run by a morally questionable leader. How far will they both stray from their moral core to be together, and what will happen to New World when the war comes to a head?

Usually sequels lose momentum in the second book, but Patrick Ness keeps the story going at an even faster pace than the first book. The setting, the challenges, and even the characters we got to know in the first book have all changed. More questions about morality come up in this book, and I think it’s a really accurate depiction of how dictatorships start out. People just want to get by, and they compromise their morals to do it. Those who challenge malevolent rulers lose sympathy from regular citizens by making it harder to just get by. While I thought a lot of the tactics the Mayor and the Answer used were true to life, I had a hard time believing Todd’s character development in this book. I liked it as a plot point, but I think it would have taken a bit more to make him go as far as he did. I also thought that some of the crimes he ends up committing would drive more of a wedge between him and Viola, but maybe there will be more consequences in the next book. I do like that they are loyal to each other, and I really hope that they do not end up getting romantic in the next chapter of the story. Despite the somewhat unbelievable jumps in moral boundaries, I loved this book hard. I think it’s really important to show how human rights can be chipped away so easily in a fear-based culture, especially considering the current political war against women’s rights in the western world. That being said, this book isn’t didactic at all and leaves it up to the reader to draw comparisons between their own society and New World.

This book should be read after The Knife of Never Letting Go. See my review here.

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The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang

by Amy Ignatow

Done in the diary style of Wimpy Kid, The Popularity Papers reports the story of two fifth graders, Lydia and Julie, trying to figure out how to become popular. They start by observing the popular kids, then they try to dye their hair, dress like a grown-up, and do popular activities. They both find ways to infiltrate the popular group, but what will it mean for their friendship? The story is told by both Lydia and Julie, alternating between neat printing with great drawings and cursive writing with stick drawings.

I enjoyed this book well enough, but it seemed odd to me that they were supposed to be in 5th grade. 7th would have made a lot more sense. Even though it follows a pretty familiar story arc and includes an afterschool special-esque “diverse” cast of characters, it doesn’t get didactic. I personally don’t understand characters whose goal is to become popular because it isn’t a goal I have ever heard a kid or teen express, and it certainly was never the goal of anyone I knew growing up. I’m not exactly sure any kids actually outwardly express a desire to be popular in real life, but it is a trope we are all used to seeing in stuff made for this age group, so this book is relatable via popular culture tropes, if not via anyone’s own experiences. Lydia and Julie are both likeable and funny, the subject matter is enjoyably light, and the story is palatable enough. Surprisingly good for something I thought would just be another Wimpy Kid knock-off.

I’d recommend it to fans of Wimpy Kid, but I’m not sure if it would appeal as much to boys. Maybe if they’re desperate for a funny book with lots of illustrations for a book report, but it’s pretty intentionally girly. The characters are supposed to be 10, but I’d give it to kids aged 8-12.

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Will Grayson, Will Grayson

by John Green & David Levithan

Will Grayson is a silent, stoic Chicagoan teen with two rules: 1) Don’t care. 2) Shut up. His current state of near friendlessness is due in part to his having broken those rules. He never should have signed the letter he sent to the paper defending his gay friend Tiny’s right to play on the school football team. Now his only friends are Tiny and the people Tiny hangs out with at the GSA. Tiny, who is obsessed with love, keeps trying to hook him up with Jane, whom Will doesn’t even like… he thinks.

will grayson is a clinically depressed closeted gay teen living in the suburbs outside of chicago. he has one thing in this world that keeps him from killing himself and everyone around him: his internet boyfriend, isaac. too bad maura, the goth chick he hangs out with at school, doesn’t get that he would never choose to be her friend if they weren’t both outcasts stuck together like prisoners in the same school. will doesn’t tell her about isaac, or his plans to finally meet up with isaac in chicago, but she keeps trying to insert herself into his personal life.

When the two Wills cross paths in Chicago, their lives become intertwined and start to move in a new direction.

This book was so compelling that I read it in one day. The chapters with the first Will Grayson were properly capitalized, while the other will grayson’s chapters were all lower case. The lower case chapters were my favourite, and I found the netspeak used between will and isaac to be super genuine (except when things were italicized). A lot of books with queer characters only use gay guys as a foil for straight characters, and show homophobia in a didactic way that shows the presumably straight reader how they should act towards others. This book was refreshingly real and didn’t prioritize one Will’s development over the other, like so many books that focus on one straight character and one gay character do. It isn’t a typical straight book or gay book in that respect.

This could be an enjoyable read for teens who like realistic fiction, regardless of gender or sexuality; however, since it does focus on friendships and relationships between the characters, it will appeal to those who like character-driven books more than action- or comedy-fueled ones.

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Leviathan

by Scott Westerfeld

Alek is the prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His parents have been murdered, his country is in turmoil, and his life is in danger. He has had a few lessons on how to operate a Stormwalker, a biology-inspired war machine, but he has to learn most of it while he is on the run from rebel forces who do not want him to ascend to the throne.

Meanwhile, in England, a tomboy named Deryn disguises herself as a boy in order to be allowed to serve in the air forces. She earns a spot aboard the Leviathan, a whale-like airship woven from strands of animal DNA. As Deryn and the Leviathan make their way toward the Ottoman Empire to deliver a top-secret package, Alek and his Stormtrooper head toward neutral Switzerland for safety. Their meeting complicates everything.

This book is fantastic, even if it ends without resolving much (paving the way for a sequel). The narration switches perspectives depending on whether the focus of the chapter is on Alek or Deryn, which gets pretty neat when they meet and Alek believes Deryn to be a boy named Dylan and refers to her with male pronouns. Even though the characters were unoriginal (rebellious rich boy who has to learn about real life the hard way, daring common girl whose unexpected romantic feelings undermine her ‘masculine’ ambitions), it was overall an original read, and the characters develop a lot more in the sequels. Definitely one of the most imaginative steampunk stories I’ve read so far, and with beautiful illustrations.

A good read for anyone who is interested in steampunk, alternate history, books with a World War I setting, or plucky cross-dressers. Very similar story elements to Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn series, with a more complicated setting.

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Flipped

by Wendelin Van Draanen

Juli has liked Bryce since she first laid eyes on him when they were 7 and he moved in across the street from her. Bryce thinks she’s super annoying and weird, and tries for years to get away from her, until he takes a second look at her and realizes she’s amazing. By this time, Juli has come to the conclusion that Bryce is a coward and a jerk.

The story is narrated in turns by Bryce and Juli. You get to see how differently both of them see the same situation, and you can start to see when they both start seeing each other differently too.

The only problem I had with this book was the weird way in which Juli’s family acted toward her father’s brother, who suffered brain damage when he was a baby. Juli’s dad tells her to keep him a secret because kids will make fun of her for having someone mentally challenged in her family. She is 13 and has never even met her uncle, even though her father visits him regularly. This is all presented as normal, and Juli’s family is supposed to be seen as hard-done-by because they have a soft spot for this dirty little secret of a relative. Not a great representation, especially for a book published this century.

Still, it’s one of the only books you can give to a parent who wants their teen to read something “clean”. It’s a nice enough read and a lot of teens genuinely enjoy it.

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