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Is Panem modeled after ruthless dictatorships of the past?
Is the harsh world of the Grimm's more than a reflection of the past?
Does children's literature, in books and movies, bring the past into the present?
Can childhood stories open the doors of the mind to the present -- and the future?
High Stakes of YA Dystopia.
In earlier eras, there were adult works of literature set in dystopian milieus... they includeThe Trial, Brave New World, Animal Farm, 1984, Childhood's End, The Quiet Ameriican, The Naked and the Dead, A Rumor of War, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Farenheit 451, All Quiet On the Western Front, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and many more.
To one degree or another, these books are classics. And like children's and young adult (YA) books of our current era, many were reinvented as theatre and movies.
Today, we seem to have a run of dystopian-centered books and films for young adults (YA). Many are in the form of a series and are followed by films -- also in series. The books, although some may be well written, do not pretend to be literature. Rather, the books, like the films, seem primarily designed to be popular and succeed in the marketplace.
Controversy has followed...most of the films are characterized by great violence; and they all seem to have teen age protagonists who are themselves commiting violence (usually for survival).
Crossover. I don't know if the term YA, and the definition (12-18 year olds) came from marketeers or librarians, or both. I do know that the lines have been blurred, with children and adults both crossing over into the realm of YA.
I doubt that there will be clear lines in the future. The finacial stakes are too high. YA books and movies are a multi -billion dollar business.
Personally, I don't care if adults read YA books. Hopefully, they do so with discernment.
I do care about the amount of over-the-top violence that children are subjected to in YA movies.
For any child, there is a huge difference in the impact found in the brief mention of Gretel pushing the murderous witch into the oven, when compared to the long, unrelenting, realistic, hardcore violence (supported by thunderous sound and music) of the Ring movies.
Hopefully, Alice In Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh, Snow White, HisDark Materials, Tales from the Brothers Grimm, and other classics -- themselves often fraught with danger, fear, and violent events -- will continue as the main source for bringing the past -- or the future -- into Children's minds.
Dystopia and the Grimms
The world of the Grimm's fairy tales is filled with fearful events, dark forests, curses by evil witches, and cruelty -- dystopia, but always relieved by magic, marvels, courage, beauty and happy endings...
"The unsparing savegry of stories like the Robber Bridegroom is a sharp reminder that fairy tales belong to the childhood of culture as much as the culture of childhood...they capture anxieties and fantasies that have deep roots in childhood experience"- Maria Tatar,The Grimm Reader: Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm.
"It is worth noting that the lives of all people in the land of the Grimm's was in was in constant turmoil and change during the time that the Grimm's collected, wrote, and published their books." - Seth Lerer, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter.
The illustration from The Robber Bridegroom is by John B. Gruelle
"'Well, dear little children. How in the world did you get here? Just come right in, and you can stay with me. You will come to no harm in my house.' She took them by the hand and led them into her house...The old woman had only pretended to be kind." - Hansel and Gretel meet the Wicked Witch
"For children in their most impressionable years, there is in fantasy, the highest of stimulating and educational powers." -Arthur Rackham
Kaitlin Jenkin's has two blogs, She Speaks Bark and Pet Parent.Kaitlin has a background of working in many dog related jobs, including foster care and 7 years as a shelter worker. She has two adopted dogs (seen on the left), Bear and Scooter. She recently wrote an excellent and informative review of C.A. Wulff and A.A. Weddle's book for dog owners, Finding Fido. Here are excerpts...
"The thought of Bear or Scooter going missing, or being stolen is one that I don’t let my mind entertain. To say I’d be devastated doesn’t even begin to cover it, and I know you all feel the same about your pets! Would you know what to do if your pet suddenly went missing? Where to begin? What to do first?
Finding Fido is essentially a Pet Parent’s guide to preventing the loss of a pet, as well as a guide on exactly what steps to take should that awful moment ever happen to you. Authors C.A Wulffand A.A.Weddle are the administrators of the Lost & Found Ohio Pets service and they collaborated on this helpful guide in order to address the sad reality of so many lost pets in America....
If our pets were to become lost, it would be absolutely devastating. We may not even be able to think logically in order to act effectively to work towards their return. That’s why this book is great- it’s literally a step by step guide to finding your lost pet. Full of resources for Pet Parents to utilize, and all at the turn of a page.
... I think that Finding Fido is a great read for all Pet Parents and pet lovers. If you’re a first time Pet Parent or a long time, seasoned Pet Parent, there are tips and tricks in here that will be helpful to you! Everyone should read the sections entitled ‘Before You Lose A Pet‘" ...
Adults Continue to Cross the Borders of Imagination Into Y.A.
As part of a post that I wrote in our September blog about the trend of adults reading Y.A. books, I quoted journalist (Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe) Ruth Graham'sarticle in Slate with this headline: "Read whatever you want. But you should be embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."
Graham's article provoked substantial controversy including a very thoughtful rebuttal, in Hairpin, by journalist and author(Save The Date ) Jen Doll: The Trouble With Reader-Shaming: A Y.A.Book List Here are excerpts from Jen Doll's rebuttal:
"The great debate over whether grownups should read young adult literature—and further, what the nature of reading should be—has come up again, thanks to a piece in Slate telling adults they should feel ashamed about reading books for kids...
"What the piece itself rails against—that Y.A. offers pat, easy or at the very least "satisfying" solutions aimed at kids and doesn’t make adults think—could be said for the very type of internet writing it embodies. Here, precisely, is how you should feel, it says. Here are the answers, tied up in a bow: You be embarrassed for wasting your time reading Y.A., because Y.A. is not for adults, and you should be reading something appropriate to your age. It is easy and not challenging. You should not be "substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature." This is an argument that speaks from a place of truth and rightness, or at least, intends to; there is little room for nuance.
Yet, nuance persists. There are many, many factors that go into what makes something complex, great, or "appropriate to one's age," and most of all this depends on who is reading it—not based in age, because age categorizations do not always match prescribed reading levels; just ask any kid sneaking illicit tomes off her parents' bookshelf because all "her" books have already been devoured—but based in who that person is, what they want, and what they bring to the table..."
Update: Jen Dollis now writing a column of YA book reviews for the venerable New York Times: "Y.A. Crossover". The Times they are a changing. Congratulations, Jen Doll.
The Photo is of Ms Doll. The two books pictured are from Ms Doll's Y.A. Book List.
KidLitosphere is the best source that I have found for locating children's literature blogs. KidLitosphere has helped many readers find their way to these pages. Here is an excerpt form their home page..."Some of the best books being published today are children’s and young adult titles, well-written and engaging books that capture the imagination. Many of us can enjoy them as adults, but more importantly, can pass along our appreciation for books to the next generation by helping parents, teachers, librarians and others to find wonderful books, promote lifelong reading, and present literacy ideas."
Geno is retiring. An 8 year old German Shepherd, Geno is highly regarded by the Kane County Sheriff's Office for his loyalty, courage and intelligence. Here are excerpts from his bio as posted by the Sheriff's Office:
"Geno has served with the KCSO since 2009. Deputy Bill Gatske, Geno’s handler, has served with the KCSO for 15 years and Geno will continue to live with Gatske and his family in retirement. Over his career, Geno has... performed numerous dignitary and presidential protective sweeps and participated in sweeps before games at Soldier Field in Chicago along with conducting countless explosivedetection searches, suspect apprehensions and missing person searches. Geno may be most remembered, though, for his appearances with local area children where he taught the value of policing and reinforced the fact that law enforcement officers exists to serve their community"...
The cost of replacing Gino with his special skills in explosives detection, tracking, missing person searches, and more is very expensive. Once again, Planet Dog Foundation is providing support for a service dog. They have come together with theSpirit of Blue Foundation to award the Kane County Sherrif’s Office a $12,500 grant to acquire and train a new explosives detection K9 to replace the very special Geno.
The Planet Dog Foundation has awarded over a million dollars in funding to support dogs helping people in need.
“We dogs are happy and help each other because love is the most important part of our lives. When you give love,” she said, “You bring out love in others. If we come to Planet Earth, and people spend time with us, there will be fewer lonely people and more happy people.” - Miss Merrie, Queen of the Dogs
“But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.” -- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows Illustration by E.H. Shepherd
Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale at the Independent Publishers of New England Exhibits (IPNE)
If you are a New England librarian and headed to Boxborough, MA, for the NELAConvention (October19-21), we invite you to visit the Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE) exhibit where you will find Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale.
If you are a New England book lover and are headed to the Boston Book Festival (BFF) 0n October 25, we invite you to the Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE) exhibit where you will also find Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale.
Children's Literary Salon...New York Public Library
Saturday, November 1, 2014, 2PM, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, South Court Auditorium...Speaker: Howard Scherry...Hosted by Elizabeth Bird
Margaret Wise Brown & Antoine de Saint-Exupery: Parallels in Their Life, Comparison in Their Literature...free admission
The Past is Always Present
UPDATE: Y.A. Distopian Movies Keep Coming -- And Making Money...Variations and Reinterpretations of Books of the Past by Movies are Omnipresent ...
No one is safe...not family, nor friends, nor any of the good folks in Katniss' "hometown" -- District 12. Empire. Oppression, and teen warriors again prevail as the Hunger Games story of resistance and survival continues. Dystopia will mean box office dollars when this third episode (there will be one more) of the Hunger Games, Mockingjay-Part1, opens in theaters worldwide, starting on November 19 -- November 21 in the USA.
For some perspective on the Hunger Games series, take a look at this review from Salon by Andrew O'Hehir "Whose Revolution Is It It?"
"Much of the genius of the “Hunger Games” franchise lies in its portrayal of a dystopian future society that lacks any specific ideological character. Panem, the deep-future dictatorship that has apparently replaced present-day America after an unspecified combination of civil war, social meltdown and ecological catastrophe, has the semiotic appearance of fascism – white-helmeted storm troopers and barbed-wire walls – but is really more like an old-fashioned feudal society, concerned entirely with maintaining its internal order. In reviewing the first “Hunger Games” movie, I observed that the relentless media onslaught of the Information Age has been rolled back, in author Suzanne Collins’ fictional universe, to one TV network and one reality show. Politics has been stripped down too: There is nothing except Empire and Resistance."
The Hunger Games Films have thus far grossed over 1.5 billion dollars
The critics were generally hard on Divergent, but the Box office has been excellent - over 288 million dollars thus far - and two sequels will follow. Based on a very popular Y.A. series by Veronica Roth. Here is an excerpt from a review by Brad Keefe in ColumbusAlive.
... “Divergent” is an adaptation of a popular young adult fiction trilogy featuring a smart, underdog heroine who fights against a corrupt power system in a dystopian future.
If you haven’t read the books, you’ll see “Divergent” as a convoluted “Hunger Games” knock-off. If you have, you’ll find the production values and performances are solid. But the movie is still convoluted.
In the crumbling ruins of a near-future Chicago, a post-war society has established peace by creating five “factions” of the population based on character traits (brains, brawn, compassion, etc.). Teens are tested for their aptitude in these fields, but they can choose their own faction (as long as they don’t mind leaving their family).
It’s like society based on a high-school clique system, so it resonates with teens (along with themes of non-conformity). And our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) embodies that moment of 'what do I do with my life' confusion." ....................................
Earlier this Fall, we had The Maze Runner, another YA movie set in a YA Dystopia. In less than a month, the Maze Runner has grossed over 83 Million dollars.
Also based on a successful book series (by James Dasher), it was described by Ben Kienigsberg in the International New York Times as a "perfectly serviceable entry in the young-adult dystopian sweepstakes. It combines elements of “Lord of the Flies” with the Minotaur and Orpheus myths, but it plays as something closer to “The Hunger Games” experienced through a dissociative fog. Much suspense comes from wondering which favored Hollywood twist the movie will employ...." .............................
Even if one adjustedthe figures for inflation etc, I doubt if the combined monies made by the books of Anderson, Dodson, St. Exuprey, the Brothers Grimm et al could compare with the box office receipts of these Y.A. movies.
More violence arrives in time for Christmas. The Hobbit, Battle of the 5 Armies opens on December 17. Here is a link to the trailer: Battle
If you've had enough of YA Dystopian Violence there is good news for children's films...
Boxtrolls is doing well and the Tale of Princess Kaguya, from Ghibli Studios is coming. Advance reports on Princess Kaguya suggest another outstanding film from the studio that gave us Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away.
Building Blocks in the past...Minecraft today and tomorrow
In case you were unaware of the scope of Minecraft, here is the opening of the excellent and comprehensive article by Stuart Dredge in the Guardian. The article is entitled: Minecraft movie will be 'large-budget' but unlikely to arrive before 2017. The article also contains videos that will take you into the digital world of Minecraft.
"What is Minecraft? It’s a game, obviously: one that its developer Mojang has sold nearly 54m copies of across computers, consoles and mobile devices so far.
But Minecraft is also an educational tool in schools through the MinecraftEduinitiative, and the driver for Block by Block, a partnership with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme to get young people involved in planning public urban spaces, starting with a pilot in Kenya.
Minecraft is also one of YouTube’s most popular video categories – right up there with music – fuelling hugely popular channels..."
Amazon-Hachette Battle Continues with Authors United
Power, money, books, writers and control are all involved as this battlle continues...Here are excerpts from a New York Times article by David Streitfeld.
"Amazon is at war with Hachette, and it sometimes seems as if it has always been that way.
As a negotiating tool in the battle, which is over the price of e-books, Amazon is discouraging its customers from buying the publisher’s printed books. After six months of being largely cut off from what is by far the largest bookstore in the country, many Hachette writers are fearful and angry. So...they are trying a new tactic to get the ir work unshackled.
Authors United, a group of Hachette writers and their allies, is appealing directly to Amazon’s board. It is warning the board that the reputation of the retailer, and of the directors themselves, is at risk.
UPDATE...This battle has expanded to include many prominent writers who are not published by Hachette. David Streifeld continues his coverage in what has become a series in the New York Times. Here is an updated excerpt...
"Now, hundreds of other writers, including some of the world’s most distinguished, are joining the coalition. Few if any are published by Hachette. And they have goals far broader than freeing up the Hachette titles. They want the Justice Department to investigate Amazon for illegal monopoly tactics..."
The Hero of Color City
This film opened in early October to mediocre reviews,but very young kids seem to like it.You be the judge. Here is the trailer: Hero of Color City
Complimentary Holiday Dog Books for Therapy Reading Dogs…
Christmas is coming and Barking Planet Productions is sending complimentary reader copies of ourholiday book,Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, Volume 3 in the Planet of the Dogs series, to libraries and teachers participating in therapy reading dog programs and to therapy reading dogs owners and organizations.
To receive your copy, email us at email@example.com
Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, is an illustrated first chapter fantasy-adventure book for children 6-12 and dog lovers of all ages.
Long, long ago, there were no dogs on planet Earth. It was during that time that two of Santa’s reindeer went missing and there could be no Christmas.
Far out in space is the Planet of the Dogs. Dogs have always lived there in peace and happiness.
When the dogs learned that there would be no more Christmas, they came down to planet earth to challenge the King of the North, free the reindeer from the Ice Castle, and save Christmas for children everywhere.
To read sample chapters, visit: www.planetofthedogs.net.
Insights on Visual Storytelling
Lizzy Burns is a proilfic, outspoken, caring and engaging blogger (A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy )
She usually reviews YA booksand strongly supports those she likes. I'm interested in younger readers, however, I find her YA reviews to be insightful and very lively reading.
I have excerpted comments on her emotional response to the Y.A. book and movie, If I Stay, and her insights into visual storytelling...
"Here is the thing. I cried at the trailers for this film. I cried when I read the book. I knew all the plot points. There were no surprises. And yet...I cries through the whole film.
Because sometimes, it's not what happens. It's the emotional journey. And no matter how many times you go on that journey, it remains heart wrenching...
One thing I like about visual storytelling is it can show me things, reveal things, that I may not have picked up in the book. And yes, sometimes this is because of changes in the adaptation, but i t's often about staying true to the spirit of the book if not the text. So, for me, the movie made me understand more how Mia viewed her father leaving his band to pursue a job that was more stable as something he did because of her younger brother, Teddy -- never realizing it was also for her.
The movie is true to the book, but something happened at one point where I both feared and hoped that a change had been made and I said to myself, please please please even though there was no way, no way, and it was just like in the book BUT STILL MY FOOLISH HEART, IT HOPED...."
Here the link to her review/article of If I Stay. When she isn't blogging, Elizabeth Burns is the Youth Services Librarian for the New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center. Here is a link to her blog.
Nancy Houser has another excellent article that solves questions about feeding dogs and taking into account breed, age, health condition -- and she's not selling dog food, not pushing a brand. Here is an excerpt and a link:
"Dog diet is one of the most confusing aspects of taking care of your dog, a vital part of its care. Deciding on the correct dog diet and how to feed your dog is considered a highly complicated task.
The Maze Runner (Book 1)
Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Series: The Maze Runner Series (Book 1)
Paperback: 375 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press; Reprint edition (August 24, 2010)
If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.
Nice to meet ya,
Last fall, Tu Books released Killer of Enemies, a post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure by Joseph Bruchac. Readers were introduced to seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen, a kick-butt warrior who kills monsters to ensure the safety of her family.
Set to be released next month, Joseph Bruchac has written an e-novella that’s a prequel to Killer of Enemies, titled Rose Eagle.
Rose Eagle is set in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where readers are introduced to seventeen-year-old Rose Eagle of the Lakota tribe who is trying to find her place in a post-apocalyptic world.
Before the Silver Cloud, the Lakota were forced to work in the Deeps, mining for ore so that the Ones, the overlords, could continue their wars. But when the Cloud came and enveloped Earth, all electronics were shut off. Some miners were trapped in the deepest Deeps and suffocated, but the Lakota were warned to escape, and the upper Deeps became a place of refuge for them in a post-Cloud world.
In the midst of this chaos, Rose Eagle’s aunt has a dream: Rose will become a medicine woman, a healer. She sends Rose into the Black Hills on a quest to find healing for their people.
Gangly and soft-spoken, Rose is no warrior. She seeks medicine, not danger. Nevertheless, danger finds her, but love and healing soon follow. When Rose Eagle completes her quest, she may return with more than she ever thought she was looking for.
Thanks to the following blogs for participating in the Rose Eagle cover reveal:
Dystopias are trending in contemporary popular culture. Novels and movies abound that deal with fictional societies within which humans, individually and collectively, have to cope with repressive, technologically powerful states that do not usually care for the well-being or safety of their citizens, but instead focus on their control and extortion. The latest resounding dystopian success is The Hunger Games—a box-office hit located in a nation known as Panem, which consists of 12 poor districts, starved for resources, under the absolute control of a wealthy centre called the Capitol. In the story, competitive struggle is carried to its brutal extreme, as poor young adults in a reality TV show must fight to death in an outdoor arena controlled by an authoritarian Gamemaker, until only one individual remains. The poverty and starvation, combined with terror, create an atmosphere of fear and helplessness that pre-empts any resistance based on hope for a better world.
We fear that part of the popularity of this science fiction action-drama, in Europe at least, lies in the fact that it has a real-life analogue: the Spectacle—in Debord’s (1967) meaning of the term—of the current ‘competitiveness game’ in which the Eurozone economies are fighting for their survival. Its Gamemaker is the European Central Bank (ECB), which—completely stuck to Berlin’s hard line that fiscal profligacy in combination with rigid, over-regulated labour markets has created a deep crisis of labour cost competitiveness—has been keeping the pressure on Eurozone countries so as to let them pay for their alleged fiscal sins. The ECB insists that there will be ‘no gain without pain’ and that the more one is prepared to suffer, the more one is expected to prosper later on.
The contestants in the game are the Eurozone members—each one trying to bootstrap its economy out of the throes of the most severe crisis in living memory. The audience judging each country’s performance is not made up of reality TV watchers but of financial (bond) markets and credit rating agencies, whose supposedly rational views can make or break any economy. The name of the game is boosting cost-competitiveness and exports—and its rules are carved into stone in March 2011 in a Euro Plus ‘Competitiveness Pact’ (Gros, 2011).
Raising competitiveness here means reducing costs, and more specifically cutting labour costs, which means lowering the wage share by means of reducing employment protection, lowering minimum wages, raising retirement ages, lowering pensions and, last but not least, cutting real wages. Economic inequality, poverty and social exclusion will all initially increase, but don’t worry: structural reforms hurt in the beginning, but their negative effects will be offset over time by changes in ‘confidence,’ boosting spending and exports. But it will not work, and the damage done by austerity and structural reforms is enormous; sadly, most of it was and is avoidable. The wrong policies follow from ‘design faults’ built into the Euro project right from the start—the creation of an ‘independent’ European Central Bank being the biggest ‘fault’, as it precluded the necessary co-ordination of fiscal and monetary policy and disabled the central banking system from providing support to national governments (Arestis and Sawyer, 2011). But as Palma (2009) reminds us, it is wrong to think about these ‘faults’ as being caused by perpetual incompetence—the monetarist Euro project should instead be read as a purposeful ‘technology of power’ to transform capitalism into a rentiers’ paradise. This way, one can understand why policy makers persist in abandoning the unemployed.
The One. Kiera Cass. 2014. HarperCollins. 323 pages. [Source: Library]
One thing I can definitely say about all three books in this series is that they are all super-quick reads. Once I start reading, I don't want to stop. That being said, I can't say that I actually think about the books or the characters or the story after I'm done. I don't forget the story or the characters mind you. I've always liked that I can pick up the next book without any worries or confusion. That could be because the books aren't all that complex though.
In the third book, readers spend time with Prince Maxon and America Singer. She's one of four young ladies still in the running to be the next princess. The others are Celeste, Kriss, and Elise. Prince Maxon and America have always, always argued with one another. He brings out the fight in her. And he can't get enough of her honestly. Perhaps because she is so very different than his mother?
America (finally) admits to herself that she is really, truly not-kidding-around in LOVE with Maxon. Does she tell him? Are you kidding? She wouldn't dream of actually communicating with him. She'd rather nag, nag, nag him for keeping the other girls around. His excuse? You never, ever show me how you feel about me, you just yell at me. He has a point. But I suppose she does as well.
Communication is something that America fails at, I have to say. Even though America knows that she doesn't love Aspen anymore in that way, she is not telling him that. And she's not telling Maxon that she loves him. And then she realizes that sooner or later, Maxon may need to be told that at one point in her past, Aspen was a love interest.
The trilogy is definitely predictable and a bit silly. But it's almost an irresistible silly.
But both Children of Men and Snowpiercer come crashing down to almost identical final moments. When the smoke clears and the countless bodies are carted off, what we’re left with is the same take-away: Bearded white dude saves humanity, in both cases represented by a woman and a child of color, both helpless and in need of saving, at the cost of his own life.
Basically, Older says, Snowpiercer and Children of Men are white savior movies. He proposes an alternative: "Imagine if the desperate rebels paused and elevated Tanya to leadership instead of Curtis. Snowpiercer would’ve become something truly subversive, a story some of us have been trying to tell for a very long time."
I think Snowpiercer is already pretty darn subversive, so I would replace the "truly" there with "even more", and I wouldn't call Yona in Snowpiercer helpless, really (she's smart and even seems to have some super powers). But yes, Snowpiercer could have offered an alternative to white supremacy (both the structural white supremacy of the train and the apparently internalized and patriarchal white supremacy of the rebels) instead of something closer to a satire of white supremacy ending in its own destruction — a futile destruction if you consider the likelihood of Yona and Tim's survival or the likelihood that some disease would kill off their ancestors. (For more along this line, and for thoughts on the implications of the film's take on revolutionary politics, and much else, see Aaron Bady's "Snowpiercer Thinkpiece".) It could have been a more deeply subversive, even utopian movie. It is not.
But as a savior, Curtis is pretty crappy. He's wrong about the revolution, most of the tailenders he's trying to liberate end up dead, and though he may have sacrificed his life for a woman and boy, the woman and boy are in all likelihood only going to outlive him by a day or two at most. And it's not like he set out to sacrifice his life for them. Nam and Yona caused the explosion. He just chose, along with Wilford, to see if his body might shield Yona and Tim's bodies from the blast. If you're going to die, you might as well make your death a potentially useful one, and that's what he does.
I've already proposed one way of thinking about the racial politics of the ending, and this is at least somewhat at odds with Older's reading, but I like texts that can be interpreted richly, and it's entirely likely that soon I'll think my first take was wrong. I like thinking about the lineage of white savior movies, because when I do, they give me a little bit more hope for progress than the ending of Snowpiercer does, because if we can see such stories as white supremacy talking about itself, then it's having a crisis of confidence and thinks it's going to die pretty soon.
(Obviously, it is the nature of white supremacy to make itself the center of conversation, and I am perpetuating that here. White supremacy's representations interest me. But I entirely agree with Older that we need additional storylines. Please please please somebody give Danny Glover the money to make his Toussaint L'Ouverture movie, for instance!)
There are some noticeable differences between the ending of Snowpiercer and the ending of Children of Men, but before getting to those, I want to bring up one other white savior movie, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, which I once called "a white savior movie that questions the whole idea of a white savior movie, or, at least, that wants to put an end to itself."
One of the things that I think is important to consider when viewing a white savior movie is its desired emotional effect. Where does it want the audience's sympathies to fall? What does the film seem to want us to feel, and how? In a classic white savior movie — think Dances with Wolves or The Blind Side or [insert your own title here] — the white savior becomes ennobled through their encounter with the non-white supporting character(s). They learn to be more caring, less bigoted, etc. (Yay, white people can be better! Hooray for White Guy 2.0!) The journey is fundamentally that of the white protagonist, and the audience's greatest interest should be in the white character. (This is one of the things I thought was so excellent about 12 Years a Slave, which is in the end, yes, literally a white savior movie — without Bass [Brad Pitt], Solomon Northup might never have been freed — but not at all about the redemption of white people. But that's tangential to this discussion...)
Though Gran Torino is at least partly about the end of the old white savior, it nonetheless sticks with the redemption narrative. The future is given to nonwhite characters, and those characters are shown to be the closest to a traditional (conservative) sense of American values, but grumpy old racist Walt ends up not just learning to care deeply for people he'd previously spurned, but sacrificing himself for them. And not just any sacrifice. He lands on the ground with his arms outstretched like Jesus on the cross. Like Snowpiercer, Gran Torino proposes that the future will not be white, but in Gran Torino the white savior is still pretty awesome, even if he's a relic.
In Children of Men, Theo is much less heroic than Walt. He's pointedly unheroic in his presentation. But his character arc is toward heroism — through helping Kee, he discovers something to live for, something to fight for, and he becomes somebody worth shedding a tear for when he dies. For me, it's not as big a tear as Gran Torino seems to want us to shed for Walt, but that's partly because it's not hard to imagine Theo going back to being a cynical or apathetic drunk even if he lived. Walt's death feels momentous, like a tremendous (if necessary) loss; Theo's death is sad for a moment, poignant more than devastating.
With Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón did make interesting changes to counter the whiteness of the source material (a P.D. James novel), but the character we follow from beginning to end is, indeed, a white guy who saves a pregnant black woman and her child. Here, though, Kee is, like Thao and Sue in Gran Torino, a kind of representative of the future — if humanity is to survive, it's surviving because of a black woman, and the white savior is gone from the picture. (Although everyone we see on the Tomorrow ship that picks her up looks white, so who knows what will happen later...)
Snowpiercer also kills off the white savior(s) and proposes that the future of humanity does not lie with white people, but here the journey of the white savior is even less heroic than that of Walt or Theo. At least Walt and Theo are successful saviors.
Curtis's journey is in many ways the opposite of Walt's and Theo's. Walt and Theo begin cynical (or worse) and come to see the value in being a savior. We end up feeling good about them, and proud of them for their sacrifices. Curtis starts out at 2nd in command of the revolution (though Gilliam repeatedly suggests that Curtis is really in charge, even if Curtis doesn't want to face that fact) and ends up finding out that the revolution was a sham and that his actions all served to help Wilford's overall goals. Curtis has helped lead everyone he most cares into death for an illusion. Oops.
Do we shed a tear for Curtis?
I don't know about you, but I certainly didn't. Sure, there was the monologue toward the end where he talks about how he became a savage and then couldn't cut his arm off, etc., but it's important to remember what comes next: Nam's deflating reaction — Curtis clearly thought he was sharing his deepest, darkest secret, and Nam's response was little more than, "Uh huh." He's not bowing down to this white savior, not giving in to his emotional tug.
Curtis was interesting as a protagonist, as a figure to carry the force of the action, but my own emotional commitment was far more toward Nam, Tanya, Yona, and then Tim. (Tanya's death was, for me, the most affecting.) Curtis just isn't a very interesting character; he's a foil for the other characters and a device to get the story out. The relatively bland main character is an old tradition in narrative, and it serves a similar function to a straight man in comedy. So Curtis's death is not a moment that is, for me at least, more powerful than the deaths of so many other people on the train. It's easy for my plot interest to shift to Yona and Tim because that's where my affectual interest has been all along.
Gran Torino gives us the white savior who wants to end all white saviors, but it wants to us to pause and feel real sorrow for his death. Children of Men gives us an unheroic white savior who finds some shreds of heroism and dies to save the (at-least-partially) nonwhite future; we end up sort of sad for him, but the stronger emotion is likely happiness that Kee and her child lived. Snowpiercer gives us a white savior seeking the wrong revolution, ending up a savior as much by accident as intent, and the movie drains much of the emotional power from the savior figure, while proposing that if humanity has any future (unlikely), its future isn't one with white people in it.
Other info: Claire has also written Ferryman, which I reviewed here and won the Scottish Booktrust Award.
Summary : The English government have closed the borders with their Celtic neighbours. Any Celt found in England is branded with a tattoo, found twice they are executed. Scottish Lizzie is the 'property' of psychopathic London gang boss Alexander. Can Lizzie escape Alexander's deadly grip and at what price her betrayal?
Review: Following bad economic times, England closes the borders with Scotland and Wales and brings in a new policy: Celts found in England are branded. Branded Celts in England are killed. Lizzie is one such branded Celt, who is the "property" of Alexander, a gang boss in London, who keeps her around for her bombmaking skills. as time goes on, Lizzie realises she might like a life outside the gang. Which is something that Alexander does not like at all.
I read McFall's Ferryman last year and really enjoyed it. I was looking forwards to this, especially with everything going on about the Scottish Independence referendum. Extreme nationalist governments make good reading (not real life), and so do gangs. Add in promises of a clever awesome female character and I'm sold.
You very quickly get pulled into Lizzie's world, both the political climate and the gang life that she’s part of. It’s a world that is believable, if you imagine that a yes vote leads to extreme xenophobia on the English peoples’ part (ie just a huge ramp up of how it is now).
I love the fact that all the characters are well fleshed out really well. You really get close to them, even if that closeness is not something that you really want to be. Alexander’s creepiness seems to know no bounds. Lizzie, I liked a lot; she’s resourceful, and you want things to go right for her, even though they tend not to. I loved reading about them and how they got where they are and where they want to go.
It’s very very different to Ferryman. McFall writes well in both softer afterlife stories and gritty thrillers. I’m looking forwards to see what she does next.
Overall: Strength 4 tea to a fast paced relevant dystopia.
"Review My Books" Review by Emily
by Nichola Reilly
Series: A Drowned Novel (Book 1)
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Harlequin Teen (June 24, 2014)
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Coe is one of the few remaining teenagers on the island of Tides. Deformed and weak, she is constantly reminded that in a world where dry land dwindles at every high tide, she is not welcome. The only bright
Dualed. Elsie Chapman. 2013. Random House. 304 pages. [Source: Library]
My second attempt at reading Dualed went much better than my first. The second time I picked it up, it was an easy read. Easy meaning that I read almost all of it in one sitting. The content itself, well, easy doesn't really describe the world Chapman created in her novel.
West, the heroine, has known her whole life that she'll have to kill or be killed in order to take a place in the community. That's just how things are now. Every person has an alt--a genetic clone of sorts. Every alt poses a threat. When an assignment goes active, both know it's kill or be killed. And both also know that timing is key. They have exactly one month to complete their assignment or both will be killed. West is the only one left in her family. It's a dangerous world, a violent world. Many people are PK's peripheral kills--being killed "accidentally" during the fight between two alts. No street or neighborhood is really safe because of it. There will always be teens who have gone active and are in survival mode. Though West does not have any family in her life--readers do briefly meet Luc, her brother--she is not truly alone. Her brother's friend, Chord, cares about her a great deal. The book opens with Chord receiving his assignment; readers get a brief glimpse of what the book will be like. His assignment is completed very quickly and dramatically. Though some of the drama is lost since readers barely know the characters and haven't come to care yet. Effective for letting readers know that death, violent death, is what this book is all about perhaps.
West. I didn't like or dislike her really. I had a hard time understanding her, why, she would be completely fine being an assassin and murdering others on almost a daily or at least weekly basis. Yet be so anxious about facing her own alt. After all, the risks to her own life are the same. The fact that she was an assassin meant that she was capable of killing. It also meant that she was not afraid to put her own life in danger. Every job she took, there was risk that she could die if it went bad. Yet West does the opposite of what you'd expect: she hides and waits and hides and waits and hides and waits and mopes a bit.
Chord was a good guy, well, as good a guy as you're going to get in this crazy society where all adults have committed murder at least once. I did get the sense that he cared about West and wanted a relationship with her that was based more on them and less on Luc.
Book: In the After Author: Demitria Lunetta
Age Range: 13 and up
In the After is the first of a two-book series by Demitria Lunetta (the second book was just released, though I haven't read it yet). In the After is set in the wake of a world-wide apocalypse caused by an invasion of predatory, man-eating creatures. 17-year-old Amy has lived for three years in hiding, alone except for the company of Baby, a young girl she rescued from a grocery store. Amy and Baby live in silence, for fear of drawing Them. They use sign language to speak, and have never even heard one another's voices.
They actually have things pretty good, all things considered. Amy's mother held an important government position, and their house is surrounded by an electric fence that keeps the monsters out. Her dad was an environmentalist who kept their home as off the grid as possible. Amy and Baby have electricity and water. But they do have to venture out among the creatures to scavenge for food. An encounter with other survivors on one of their trips starts a process that changes Amy and Baby's lives forever.
In the After is a compelling read, one that will keep the reader guessing. The first part of the book takes place in and around Amy and Baby's home in Chicago. Without giving too much away, I'll say that the second part of the book takes place elsewhere, among other people. This is where Lunetta's storytelling really starts making the reader think. In brief, italicized scenes, Amy is in a mental ward. The rest of the story is told in intermittent flashbacks, as a mentally foggy Amy tries to pieces together how she got there. Because of Amy's fragile state, the reader isn't always sure how to interpret the flashbacks, which makes the story even more thought-provoking.
The characters apart from Amy are distinct, though not always highly nuanced. Basically, we get to know Amy very well, and the other characters not so well. But Amy is great. Here are a few snippets, to give you a feel for her voice:
"I only go out at night.
I walk along the empty street and pause, my muscles tense and ready. The breeze rustles the overgrown grass and I tilt my head slightly. I'm listening for them." (Page 1)
"So much of who I used to be was about being good in school and having friends who were also good in school. We were, to put it simply, arrogant little know-it-alls. But I miss that." (Page 78)
"The arts were probably pointless now that everyone was focused on survival. I thought back to all my time alone, reading, as the world crumbled around me. It was the only thing that gave me solace and hope." (Page 191)
In addition to keeping the reader wondering about plot points, Lunetta is good at creating atmosphere. She makes the reader feel the creepiness of walking down a dark street where silent monsters might be a only few feet, and the helplessness of being trapped in a mental ward.
In the After grabs the reader from the first page, and doesn't let go. Recommend for fans of YA dystopias, particularly of the alien invasion variety. Particularly recommended for those who enjoyed Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave. Readers who have read many dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories will notice certain universal themes, but I don't think this takes away enjoyment of the story. I think that In the After is a book that will especially appeal to adult readers, actually, though I would expect teens to enjoy it, too. Highly recommended.
Publisher: HarperTeen (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle
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You'll Like It Here (Everybody Does). Ruth White. 2011/2012. Random House. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]
You'll Like It Here (Everybody Does) makes a great, quick, entertaining read. If you enjoy classic twilight zone episodes, you'll likely enjoy this middle grade science fiction novel. Meggie Blue, and her brother, David, narrate this one. Though readers spend time with the characters before the move to FASHION CITY, most of this one takes place in Fashion City. (To be clear from the start, Fashion City is located in an alternate/parallel universe.) I think the details surrounding Fashion City and the Fathers is best left to the reader to discover. Some of the details about WHO is living in this parallel world is intriguing. For example, Elvis is contemporary with L. Frank Baum who is contemporary with Abraham Lincoln who is contemporary with Grandma Moses who is contemporary with Martin Luther King Jr. I imagine it was very fun for the author to fit these people into her alternate universe and play around with the facts of history. (In this parallel world, Walt Disney was killed as a teenager in war, as was Laura Ingalls.) The character of Gramps is very, very fun! The book is odd and quirky. But. I found it entertaining.
Enders is the sequel to Lissa Price's Starters. I enjoy reading dystopia, and I like that Starters and Enders offers a unique story to readers. I also appreciate that there isn't a love triangle. Callie, our heroine, and her brother, Tyler, have been "saved." They now have a home. They now have a legal guardian. But life isn't really much easier for Callie because she is still hearing voices in her head. She is still hearing via the neurochip from THE OLD MAN. He is still a threat to be reckoned with, and Callie, while not helpless, doesn't know how to take him down for once and for all.
I felt there was a LOT of action in Enders. The battle, if battle is the right word, has begun. Callie is not alone in facing The Old Man. She is not alone in her battle for justice for starters, for young people. New characters are introduced in Enders. Callie teams up with the good guys, and she places her trust in her new friends. And a BIG SHOWDOWN does happen in a way. But the twists and turns in this one reveal just how strange this war may prove to be.
I loved Lauren Miller's Free to Fall. I enjoyed the mystery and conspiracy. I enjoyed the romance. I enjoyed the premise most of all. Is the book absolutely perfect? I wouldn't go that far. I'm not sure enough characters are fully developed to be near perfect. But in my opinion, the premise worked from start to finish. (I'd definitely say this is a plot-driven read.) I also enjoyed the themes and symbols of this one. (Hint: Paradise Lost)
Free to Fall is set circa 2030. Rory Vaughn, our heroine, is super excited to learn that she has been accepted to the oh-so-exclusive Theden Academy. It is only after she's been accepted that her father tells her that her mother also attended Theden Academy. (Theden Academy is a highschool, not a college). Before her mom died, she left something for her daughter. A note and a necklace. (It was conditional upon her going to Theden Academy.) Another girl from Rory's former school has been accepted as well. They will room together for better or worse. Her name is Hershey Clements.
Perhaps the less you know, the better. Since this one is plot-and-premise driven. Since this one is so focused on uncovering a BIG, BIG mystery. But. There is romance. And not the kind of "romance" that involves a love triangle! The hero's name is North, and, I definitely liked him!
This week I've done a lot of reading (for me), but with exception of ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER, they've all been books that either (1) I didn't finish, (2) ended a series, or (3) weren't Young Adult. So I thought I'd catch you up on some things I liked, and one that I didn't.
* * *
IN THE END is the second book in the IN THE AFTER duology. I really, really liked IN THE AFTER, so I
"Review My Books" review by Sara
by H.A. Swain
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (June 3, 2014)
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In Thalia’s world, there is no more food and no need for food, as everyone takes medication to ward off hunger. Her parents both work for the company that developed the drugs society consumes to quell any food cravings, and they live a
It was a typical day at high school for Adam Daley. Driving is old 70s Omega to school, his thoughts were on trying to get his best friend to pass a class and mindlessly crushing Lori, who barely knows him. But something that happens today will change his life altogether...
When the electricity goes out, no one really thinks much about it. It's a little weird their cell phones don't work but everyone excuses it away as a fluke. When everyone is dismissed for the day, the only person driving out of the parking lot is Adam. As the day goes on, Adam and his friends notice the little things making it even more complex and not quite right, leaving them with that doubt of fear in their minds.
After getting home with his little brother and sister, his thoughts automatically go to his parents. His father is in Chicago and Adam isn't sure whether he's alive or dead. His mother, the chief of police in town, hasn't returned from work yet. But after getting back to the safety of home, he feels safer. Everything seems normal with people cooking out and everyone hanging out in their front yards. Adam still feels off-kilter though, especially when his neighbor Herb asks him to take him to the pool supply shop to buy chlorine tabs when he doesn't even own a pool...it is also the day when Adam realizes the danger in this whole situation with panic slowly building....
Day Two brings on more chaos with people storming the grocery store and mild chaos beginning to read its ugly head. Day three becomes even more dangerous...
Now Adam, his family, Herb and others need to protect their neighborhood in order to survive. No one knows when the end to this will happen, but they not only need to prepare for the inevitable, but need to keep others from taking it away from them. It becomes a strategic battle, and Adam becomes not only a player, but a pawn this game of survival. Keeping chaos and bullies out using walls and patrols is easy...it's the ones on the inside that may be their downfall...
I'll admit, I picked up this book because the cover and caption drew my eye to it. After reading the first part of the book, I was hooked. This isn't Walters first book by any means. He's a prolific YA author, but this is by far my most favorite. His characters are the strongpoint. The reader gets to know them, but also knows there are things that aren't being shown. The main characters, Herb and Adam, are ones that Walters deliberately builds slowly, opening layers to create curiosity and keep the pages turning.
There are several things about this dystopia book that sets it apart from others. Firstly, the main character is a teen guy who doesn't have a female counterpart to effectively brave the storm, so to speak. Adam is independent and his focus is on keeping everyone safe, not just his immediate family. Secondly, the relationships between adults and teens in this novel is what makes the plot fluid, but also thickens it as well. It shows the strength of teens in a world gone wrong, but also their weaknesses. Adam's evolution into a more mature person is only one of the many we get to know. Lastly, the reader is invited to the beginning of the end. While most dystopia take place during or trying to living in a stronghold of a dystopia society, Walters puts his right smack in the front of the entire chaotic world that is slowly falling apart. I also got confirmation after tweeting with the author...he's working on a sequel! Perfect for readers of both genders, I highly recommend this for JH/HS. Add a Comment
Book: Expiration Day Author: William Campbell Powell
Age Range: 12 and up
Expiration Day is set in a dystopian near-future England a generation after fertility levels have dropped precipitously world-wide. Hardly any babies are born anymore, though most people don't realize how bad the situation is, because they parents are able to purchase uncannily lifelike robotic children. These children don't even know (unless some incident occurs) whether they are human or not.
Expiration Day is related primarily as the diary of a girl named Tania, who lives with her parents just outside of London. Tania's diary has somehow been discovered, "encrypted and forgotten, but surviving through uncounted millennia" by someone from a future alien race. His comments and responses to Tania's story are included as brief "intervals" throughout the story. The title refers to the fact that the robot children must be returned to their manufacturer on their 18th birthday - the parents have them only lease.
The world in Expiration Day is reminiscent in tone to that of P.D. James' Children of Men. In Willam Campbell Powell's world, however, the artificial children serve to keep society under control, filling an innate need that people have to form families and pass things along to a future generation (even if that generation expires at age 18).
I found the philosophical underpinnings of Expiration Day thought-provoking. And I quite liked Tania as a character. Parts of the book, which begins when Tania is only 11, drag a little bit, plot-wise. But my concern for Tania's fate kept me reading. The end includes a couple of twists (one of which I'm still trying to wrap my head around), which will keep readers guessing.
One thing that I really liked about Expiration Day was the importance of Tania's father as a character. Not a placeholder, or someone to be rescued, as is a common convention in books, but an intelligent, caring man who puts everything on the line in support of his daughter.
Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Tania's voice:
"There's a word for legs like mine. Gangly. I count my knees, sometimes, and I know I have just two, one on each leg. But dressed like that, I felt like it was more--a lot more, with different numbers on each leg." (Page 18)
"I love words, though, and I wish I could control them better. Like Humpty Dumpty, to have them line up and do my bidding. So I read, as I said, from Chaucer and Shakespeare, via Dylan Thomas and Rupert Brooke, to Ray Bradbury and Roger Zelazny, and try to see how they get their words to behave." (Page 182)
"Nobody truly dies who shapes another person. Does that make sense, Mister Zog?" (page 227)
Fans of speculative and dystopian fiction, particularly that which questions what makes someone human in the presence of advanced technology (like The Adoration of Jenna Fox), won't want to miss Expiration Day. Tania's participation in a band, and her issues with dating and growing up, are also addressed, and make the book accessible to those who prefer more realistic coming-of-age fiction. For those who need to know, there are discussions about having sex (including a boy who wants to), but no real action to speak of in Expiration Day. This is a book that will stay with me, and made me think. I learned about it from this review at Ms. Yingling Reads.
Publisher: Tor Teen (@TorTeen)
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).
Sarah Hannah Gómez has an MA in children’s literature and an MS in library and information science from Simmons College. Currently she works as a school librarian in Northern California. An aspiring novelist and screenwriter, she is passionate about social issues in literature and social media engagement with books. She spends the rest of her free time singing, reading, and learning to run. Visit her blog at http://mclicious.org.
I was going to start this post with something pithy like, “How to survive the apocalypse: Be white. Or Morgan Freeman. Or, 2012 onwards, be a Kravitz!” I was going to tell you how dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction and film allow creators to act out a future and explore countless possibilities that could ruin or save the world. And that is kind of what’s happening, though it’s a lot more complicated than that…
Have you noticed that every movie trailer that talks about Earth after some catastrophic event displays a civilization of white people (and Morgan Freeman) speaking American English? Sure, some of that is unavoidable and practical–you can’t make a movie about everyone and in every language at the same time–but it’s also ethnocentric and exceptionalist of us. Not to mention problematic in myriad ways, because the lack of diversity goes utterly unacknowledged.
Generally in dystopia, the reader understands everything about the society in the story as a copy of their own, except when the author specifically points out the rules that make it different. So to have a future with no diversity, when there is so much right here on the ground today, is disingenuous, odd, and patently false.*
As it’s the United States that is driving the current success of dystopian genre, let’s look specifically at o
ur diversity. White people will no longer be the majority within thirty years, says the Brookings Institution. And in the meantime, people of color are rising to positions of power (hey, Obama!) all over, and while we have a long way to go, old bastions of whiteness and power are being dismantled. While I can’t say this from experience, since I’m a woman of color, I can imagine that this is terrifying to people who are in a position to lose their power. If I were someone with lots of privilege and power, I would want to hold onto it, and it would be very nice to create a world in which I could.
If you look at it that way, you can see why it’s so popular to whitewash the future. A dystopian world is the ultimate controlled environment, so why not control the things you fear, like losing your power or sharing it with people different from you?
The Hunger Games goes the route of having a nearly white world with the usual Noble Savage (Thresh) and Magical Negro (Rue) to guide and humanize the protagonist and ultimately sacrifice themselves for her. For all that it’s a classic that works very well, The Giver talks about how Jonas only begins to see color when he sees Fiona’s hair, but there is never any mention or questioning of skin tones and what they might mean, though all sorts of interesting “post-racial” ideas could come out of such a discovery. Countless other dystopias, like the Eve series, Crewel, and so many that have combined in my head, star pretty white girls who have the problems that come with having long, flowing hair and yet being physically strong and adorably unaware that everyone is in love with them.
Not only is this a tired trope overall, but often these pretty girls are living the dystopian problems of actual teens today–just not white teens—
Christina from Divergent
so it seems a missed opportunity to do what dystopia does best: safely explore and criticize a contemporary problem in a made-up place. Adelice in Crewel is snatched from her family in order to be trained to be a useful member of society and told she can’t associate with her relatives anymore, which sounds like the experience many Native American children had in the twentieth century when they were sent to schools tasked with making them less “savage.” And before she’s whisked away, her parents encourage her to fail the test that ultimately makes her become a Spinster. I can see a lot of parallels with the way members of minority groups must carefully balance their membership in their ethnic group with their membership in their class group, especially if their socioeconomic class does not match the one traditionally associated with their ethnic group.
Otherwise harmless and fun books like The Neptune Project attempt to have a diverse supporting cast, but fail when examined beyond a superficial level. Sentences like “I realize that he looks Asian” are awkward and technically meaningless. Pointing out a specific characteristic first and foremost, while never starting off that way when meeting a new person who is white, perpetuates the assumption that white is the default, the “normal” from which all other humans deviate.
Image from The 100
Visual representation in films set in the future is also important, and in some ways improving. In Veronica Roth’s book Divergent, Tris’s best friend Christina is black, and she remained so in the film, where Zoë Kravitz played Christina alongside two other actors of color in significant speaking roles. The CW’s new TV show The 100, based on Kass Morgan’s book, has two black characters and other actors of color.**
However, in both worlds, everyone is essentially raceless. This could be considered progressive in some ways–they just live normal human lives, as people of color are sometimes observed to do in nature. But it is problematic in others. Does race really not impact these characters’ lives in any way? How can a society be at once so peaceful and advanced as to be post-racial and yet be so broken that it needs teenagers to dismantle its entire structure (Divergent) or rebuild its world (The 100)?
The 100 misses a huge opportunity to do more with race and ethnicity–its premise, that juvenile delinquents are sent to re-colonize Earth the way convicts were sent to Australia, could allow for an exploration of how incarcerated youth in our world today are disproportionately black and brown. Instead, nearly every member of the 100 is white.
I’m not saying there’s nothing good out there. The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson, is set in futuristic Brazil, stars teens and adults of various shades of brown, is a veritable queer utopia, and allows both its characters and its readers to grapple with complex questions about technology and ethics without coming to one conclusion. But even after making the National Book Award longlist, it was ignored by ALA in all of its awards, and it’s not getting nearly the amount of recognition it should be getting, neither for its literary quality nor for its progressive strides.
Still, we seem to be on the cusp of something different when it comes to diversity in science fiction. Then again, The Cusp tends to be when people about to lose power get more aggressive about what they’re about to lose, so we could be on our way to much better or much worse. It will be interesting to watch. And read.
*However, were an author to acknowledge the blinding whiteness with a backstory about white supremacy where only the white people were allowed on the spaceship or inoculated against the great plague, that could be a fascinating read, actually.
**Though we’ll see if Henry Ian Cusick’s character ever gets to allude to the actor’s Latino heritage.
Looking for diversity in your dystopias? Try these:
Independent Study was an interesting read. I had just reread The Testing, and it was nice to be able to jump right into this story without feeling lost. Cia herself still feels lost at times because her memory of the actual testing is gone. True, she was wise enough to hide clues for her future clueless self, but, having clues--even good, strong clues--aren't quite the same as vivid memories of the horrific past. Essentially, six months have passed, I believe, and the students are getting ready to be tested again, they'll be placed into special training preparing them for future careers. They do not get to pick their "majors." They will take the classes and internships chosen for them by authorities, all for the common good of the future, of course. Most of the characters from the first novel are absent from most of Independent Study. Cia and Tomas are separated by different career paths now. Will and Cia are on the same career path--government--but even Will only has a handful of scenes in the novel. A character that some might consider minor in The Testing, plays a bigger role in the second novel: Michal. He clues Cia in on her past and gives her hope for the present and the future. What if there was a way to abolish "The Testing."
Independent Study is all about Cia seeking to discover the inner-leader inside that is strong and brave and wise and true. Is Cia a great character? Are any of the characters "great"? I'm not sure. I'm not sure that 'liking' most of the characters in a novel is a requirement for it being an entertaining read. I wanted to know what happened next.
Fire & Flood. Victoria Scott. 2014. Scholastic. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Did I love Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott? Not exactly. I neither loved it or hated it. I was completely indifferent to it. I would say it is more plot-driven than character-driven. I would say that it is a quick read, but, perhaps more forgettable than memorable when all is said and done. I'll also say that I never once thought of stopping while I was reading it. I wanted to stick with it and find out what happened.
Tella, our heroine, LOVES her brother, Cody. Unfortunately, Cody is dying and there is nothing to be done for him. Or so readers (who avoid blurbs) are led to believe in the opening chapters. It seems Tella, and Tella alone, can TRY to save her brother by participating in the oh-so-mysterious survival game called Brimstone Bleed. The ultimate winner of the games will receive THE CURE which will provide one person with a cure for any disease. In Tella's case, it will be for her brother, Cody. But not all participants are doing this for siblings.
The games are NOT public knowledge though they've apparently been going on every six years for several decades now. Those who survive the game are NOT allowed to speak of what occurred during the games. It also seems the game has a curse-aspect to it. Those that have been invited to participate are related to others who have endured the games. Apparently, Tella's mother has a secret!
So Tella's invitation to participate arrives suddenly. She's barely heard the message when her parents intervene oh-so-dramatically. They try to destroy the device that delivered the mysterious invitation. They fail. (It would be a short book if they'd succeeded!) Tella decides to defy her parents (not a surprise) and follow the instructions and become a contender. Tella realizes that she is one of hundreds participating in this game. There will be only one winner. She's not sure what--if anything--happens to those who fail. There is not a sense of doom like in Hunger Games. And the games do not in any way appear to be publicized.
This is the first in a series. In this book, Tella endures two challenges: the jungle and the desert. The winner of the first challenge receives 2 million dollars. The winner of the second challenge receives a portion of "The Cure" which supposedly means five additional years of life for their sick relative.
Each participant chooses an egg--a pandora. The pandoras, when hatched, reveal themselves to be various mutant animals with magical powers, of course. Without pandoras, NO contestant could hope to survive all the challenges.
Tella's pandora is probably the most interesting pandora. A shape-shifting fox that can read her mind.
What would a survivor-based game be without romance?! So of course, Tella has several guys interested in joining her during the challenges...
Some characters I liked. Some characters I didn't like. I can't say that I truly loved, loved, loved any of them.
I quite enjoyed The Mark of the Dragonfly a brand-new middle grade/middle school fantasy novel by Jaleigh Johnson. The Mark of the Dragonfly is set on another world, one that bears a resemblance to ours, but also includes non-human races and humans with unusual gifts. Piper lives on her own in the bleak Scrap Town 16, eking out a living as a scrapper and a machinist. Scrappers salvage items from other worlds that arrive in certain areas via meteor storms (an example is a book: "Embossed on the front cover was a picture of a girl and small dog. Next to her stood a grinning scarecrow, a lion, and man who looked like he was made entirely of metal.")
Piper has a gift for machinery, and is good at refurbishing some of the recovered items. But she longs for more. Her life changes forever when she finds a mysterious, fragile girl in the scrap fields. Piper ends up on a quest to help Anna find her home, though the two girls are pursued by a powerful and dangerous man.
The adult quibbler in me questions how Piper's world can be similar to ours in many ways, despite being on an apparently separate planet. But this wasn't enough to dampen my appreciation for the book. I liked Johnson's inclusion of other intelligent races, coexisting with humans in the world.
But the real reason that I enjoyed the book is that the characters in The Mark of the Dragonfly are quite strong. Piper is angry about her father's death, and determined to make a better life for herself. She struggles plausibly with doing the right thing. Anna is a bit more of an enigma, by design, but she is fascinating, too. She has only fragmented memories of her life, but she is drawn to books, and can spout various arcane bits of knowledge. There are some nice supporting characters, too, including a potential love interest for Piper (all quite PG, still suitable for upper elementary and middle school kids).
The plotting in The Mark of the Dragonfly moves along quickly, with several dangerous encounters that will keep readers turning the pages. The ongoing puzzle regarding who Anna is, and why she is being pursued, lends a more over-arcing suspense.
The Mark of the Dragonfly wraps the initial story up nicely. No cliffhangers here. But given the depth of the world that Johnson has created, I do hope that there are future installments. Recommended for fans of middle grade fantasy with strong characters and unusual worlds. This one is going to stick in my memory, I'm sure.
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher
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by Alexandra Duncan
Hardcover: 528 pages
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (April 1, 2014)
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Salvage is a thrilling, surprising, and thought-provoking debut novel that will appeal to fans of Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, and The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. This is literary science fiction with a feminist twist, and it
I enjoyed this dystopian novel. Callie is our heroine. Early in the novel, Callie has to make a tough choice: should she rent out her body for profit and secure a life for herself and her younger brother, Tyler? Or should she continue the day-to-day struggle to survive when every single day brings danger and risk. Callie is older and stronger than her brother. If she goes to Prime Destination, it will be FOR him, not for greed. As you might have guessed, Callie DOES go to Prime Destination, she does sign the contract which allows Prime Destination to rent out her body to others (via neurochip). IN this society, "Enders" find enjoyment and thrills by renting the bodies of teenagers. The two are linked via the neurochip, but it is the Ender, the renter, who is in control of the young (newly made beautiful) body. Callie has signed on for three rentals, it will be the third that will change her life forever...
I enjoyed this one. I did. I enjoyed getting to know Callie AND the "voice in her head," Helena. I am looking forward to reading the second book!
Reviewed by Elisa
Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Series: Unwind Dystology (Book 2)
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (August 28, 2012)
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Thanks to Connor, Lev, and Risa—and their high-profile revolt at Happy Jack Harvest Camp—people can no longer turn a blind eye to unwinding. Ridding society of
AFTER THE END
After the End #1
by Amy Plum
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen (May 6, 2014)
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Michael Grant's Gone series meets M. Night Shyamalan's The Village in this riveting story of one girl's journey to save the very people who have lied to her for her entire life. Amy Plum, internationally bestselling author of the Die