Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Program [Review]

Title: The Program by Suzanne Young
Series: The Program #1
Genre: Science-Fiction
What They Say:
Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone—but so are their memories.

Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them.

What I Say:
This book was my first plunge back into YA in a long while, so I was itching to get back into that crazy world where anything can happen. Knowing me, of course a dystopia novel would be my first choice! This book had creepy procedures, seriously moody kids, and a unique chance to look at fate and human nature and if a person really is only made up of their memories. That said:

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Plot: ooh
At some point in the not-too-distant future, American teens start killing themselves. Like a lot of them, a third of the population. For no discernable reason, they sink into this sudden all-consuming depression that spreads among others like a contagion. In a desperate attempt to cure what has now been classified as an epidemic, the government starts the Program in one school district in Oregon. Now, if you exhibit any signs of depression, you can get flagged by your peers or your parents and taken away to the Program, which is like a sinister version of rehab, where I imagine phrases like "for your own good" are thrown around all the time. Because people blame antidepressants for infecting the next generation, the Program has resorted to a different kind of treatment: erasing the patient's "infected" memories (i.e. all of them) and returning them to society a clean slate. Sure, they resemble zombies in polos, but at least they're not depressed anymore! It's for their own good! (see?) Sloane is sad, but not depressed. Her brother killed himself, and her best friend was taken to the Program, so she tries her best to mask her emotions in public, trying to get by until she's eighteen and free from the Program's clutches. As things start getting worse, however, she begins to spiral downwards and the Program closes in. But Sloane is so endlessly stubborn and full of righteous anger, she'll never let them erase her!

I didn't like this book at first. The first big chunk of this book was like a moody lecture, where Sloane reminds you over and over how much life in her world sucks. The exposition seemed endless and never really stopped, as the story took on an almost cyclical structure - dealing in flashbacks and memories and characters/story elements that are essentially re-introduced halfway through the novel. These gimmicks all added to the eerie feel of the book, but I groaned at some of the repetition throughout. It's hard to explain without revealing key plot details, so trust me on this one. Perhaps an unintentional advantage of Suzanne Young's long-winded introductions, as characters began to forget people and events, I had by that point forgotten them too! To be fair, I did read the book over multiple sittings, so I'll attribute some of that to my own distraction. Regardless of my opinion of the book's opening, by the halfway mark I was absolutely hooked. It had everything: evil government, secret resistance forces, a kind-of love triangle (if you're into that). The last few pages left you with the clean break of a book that could stand alone, but also a gnawing curiosity about what'll happen in the sequel.

Characters: wow
Because of the premise of this book, Sloane is a good old unreliable narrator. It's not her fault, she spends so much time reminiscing on better days and worrying at length about herself that of course she's going to get a few details wrong, more and more often as the story progresses. At her core, she's brave and curious, but throughout the story she's also broody and snarky and too optimistic in equal turns. More than once, her personal opinion or assessment of a situation seems completely off, and in a weird way, that was cool to see in a book - the main character's mind and the reader's mind diverging at points.

James is that bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold. He cares deeply about the people he loves, but also by consequence hates everyone else and behaves accordingly. He's the rock that keeps their little friend group together when things seem bleak, but you have to wonder, who keep James together? Also, James's protective nature bends under pressure at times, and I wonder if - in the sequel - we will see this interesting dynamic again.

Michael Realm would be the comic relief if this book had any proper comic relief. He's charming, charismatic, and a bit wise beyond his years. He eases Sloane into a new and scary world by giving her someone to trust and befriend. But, well that's a bit weird, isn't it? That's not how people work.  You have to wonder about this kid's hidden motives, is all I'm saying. Is doing the best thing for Sloane really doing what's best for her?

Relationships: ooh
Sloane and James - Here's a relationship born out of equal parts affection and tragic neediness. It works because they're a bit of a team, living that kind of you-and-me-against-the-world life. I was impressed with the natural and non-ridiculous aspects of this relationship. They don't just suddenly fall in love, they don't agonize over having or not-having sex (although they have so many external forces to agonize about, I guess they can't find the time).

Sloane and Realm - Honestly it's pretty clear how this relationship is going to work from the very start. He's the Second Guy who also finds himself in best friend territory. He never stood a chance. Add on a hazy layer of uncertainty about his self-proclaimed personal hero status and I just don't know if this will last into the sequel. (Who am I kidding, it's a novel with deliberately set up loose ends. Of course it will.)

Special Features: wow
Let's be honest, the dystopia in which Sloane lives could honestly be much worse. See, usually with a dystopia, some small problem occurs in society and the government uses that as an opportunity to take over everything and enslave all the people in a world of misery and suffering and stuff. In this book, you kind of get where the government's coming from. For one, the Program only operates in Sloane's school district; two, once you're 18, you're completely free of them; three, sure your friends don't remember you after treatment, but at least they're alive! On the other hand, the way they implement the Program is completely counterproductive! In order to prevent suicide - rather than, I don't know, trying to make the kids happier - you present this rehab program, not one your parents drive you to, but one where you're violently dragged out of class while your classmates watch?! Which then makes the kids too scared to express their emotions, which makes them depressed. Who sat down one day, dreamed this up, and thought This is a great idea! I want to hit that person.

Parting Quote:
"It's fun to sneak around, isn't it?" [Realm] asks.
"It is. And I thought nothing could beat being constantly medicated." 
It's like they try to be a little snarky? But never quite get there. Alas.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

City of Bones [Review]

Title: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Series: The Mortal Instruments, #1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
What They Say:
When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder - much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing - not even a smear of blood - to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

What I Say:
(sidenote: when I returned to this blog, I found this incomplete gem waiting in the Drafts folder, like a sign that I should start here. Plus, with the Mortal Instruments film coming to theatres this August, it's perfect timing! So some of the information in these first two sections is dated because it's from 2011 haha) Okay, so maybe I've read this book a hundred times over the last two years. Aaand maybe I'm at this point entirely biased when it comes to rating this particular series. But. With exams coming up and all, I won't be able to read a new book for at least a week or so. Solution? This. City of Bones peels back the glamour of the human world, revealing a dark underworld of demons, warlocks, vampires, all that just under our noses. This book is a fast-paced, snark-filled adventure that will shock and amaze and bend your mind just a little. That said...

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Plot: wow
Clary Fray is fifteen and totally normal. Her best friend Simon is also fifteen and totally normal, though more nerdy than not. That is, until the day she sees three teens murder a boy at a nightclub. At least, she thinks that's what they were doing. Except they had odd marks on their bodies, and the killed boy could change his shape and they called him a demon. But that's silly - demons don't exist, right? Clary tries to forget it, but keeps running into one of the killers, Jace. Jace is snarky and arrogant and beautiful and calls himself a Shadowhunter - a trained demon killer. Curious as to why Clary, an average "mundane", can see Downworlders, he keeps tabs on her while becoming an endlessly frustrating pain in Clary's side (though she's a pretty big thorn, too). Then, without warning, Clary's mother begins acting strangely, insisting that she and Clary leave the city immediately. And then her mother disappears. Jace’s vigilance saves her life when she returns home only to be attacked by a demon lurking in her ransacked apartment. And when Jace draws a healing rune on Clary’s arm – runes are deadly to the average person, but I guess Jace just isn’t thinking? – it works on her. Clary, Jace decides, isn’t a mundane at all. She’s a Shadowhunter. And that’s only the half of it.

So I remember way back in 2008 when I first picked up this book at the library. From the summary and thickness of the thing, I wasn't impressed. Buzzwords like Shadowhunter and Nephilim were big turn-offs, because it sounded like try-hard fantasy nonsense. But it wasn't that! Cassandra weaves intrigue through the story like individual threads in gorgeous hipster hoodie. Masterful storyteller that she is, each chapter feeds into the next, presenting new mysteries but considerately solving old ones along the way - so the reader never feels hopelessly lost. The book's equal parts action/mystery and Like Story, easing non-fantasy-fans into the world gently, padding the random new words and monsters with a classic albeit predictable love triangle that - in turn - isn't presented as the Most Important Thing In Clary's World, which I appreciated.

Characters: WHOA
I like Clary well enough. She's artsy and likes to read and fights with her mom and probably mirrors most of the girls reading the book - so she's very relatable, especially as the first-person audience-insert character - but most of the big events in the book seem to happen to her, rather than because of her. Granted, it's the first book in a series, so character development is sure to be a long and dangerous journey (hah).

Jace Wayland is one of the few YA characters I've ever gone really daffy over. At first, his over-inflated ego brought on a few fond eye rolls, but over time you start to realize he thinks he's so great really just is that great. And everyone else begrudgingly knows it, too. Jace's main point of intrigue stems from his attempts to appear flippant and cool in this state of Jerkass Perma-snark, a fact he actually lampshades at one point when he jokes "I use my rapier wit to hide my inner pain." And whoa, does he have some inner pain! And serious Daddy Issues! Lastly, I truly appreciate how True Like doesn't dilute his personality into love-soup, as often happens in books where a Good Girl Fixes a Bad Boy. This shows that while some of his snark is just bravado, it's also deeply embedded into his very soul. Jace Wayland is the true Snark King, is what I'm saying.

The things I would do for a best friend like Simon! Brooklyn-born, huge personality, clever and nerdy, and kind of a massive hipster if I'm honest, Simon has got it all going on. He's thrust into this amazing world of magic and intrigue that turns its massive nose down at him because he's a "mundane" human, but does he let that get him down? If his best friend Clary's going to be fighting monsters and getting into trouble, he's going to be right there with her, no matter how little anyone wants him around. He's especially interesting to me because he's the only one who, when things get too weird or dangerous, can walk out and go back to his normal life. Only he chooses not to. Yeah, Simon's the best.

Relationships: wow
Clary and Jace - I like the Darcy Phase in this book, because at no point do these two necessarily dislike each other. It's more of a drawn out Snark-Off between two people so clever and proud and just waiting for the other to blink. And by blink I mean tumble headfirst into Like, of course. However, because of Rule #3 of YA: Happiness Doesn't Last and OH MAN does it not last in this story. Star-crossed lovers to the max.

Clary and Simon - They should make sad Sarah McLachlan commercials for lovesick best friends like Simon Lewis. Except instead of the SPCA phone number, the screen would flash Rule #2 of YA (Under no circumstances can best friends end up together) and Rule 2 Subsection B (The Girl must be completely oblivious to said best friend's love until the most devastating possible moment). Subsection B is here attributed to Clary's teenage self-absorption and Simon's general selflessness and thing for red-heads. Never had a chance, poor kid.

Special Features: WHOA
This series focuses around the Shadowhunters. Said to be descended from angels, the Shadowhunters were created to protect the human world from demons, who slip between dimensions and do nasty things on earth. Aside from the obviously exciting action aspect of the Shadowhunter world, fighting monsters, completely unknown to humans and being general hardasses, you get hints here and there that the society of Shadowhunters is inherently flawed as they move into the modern age, full of prejudice and a constant attitude of supremacy over humans and Downworlders. It's cool to see the "new generation" (Jace, Alec, and Isabelle) start to challenge some of those old-timey social norms that mirror our own more closely than you 'd think!

Parting Quote:
"Don't touch any of my weapons without my permission."
"Well, there goes my plan for selling them all on eBay," Clary muttered.
"Selling them on what?"
Clary smiled blandly at him. "A mythical place of great magical power."
Ooh a book with an even distribution of snark between male and female characters yes!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Guess who's back?

Didja miss me?
(I'll pretend you've said yes and trudge on)

After two years of college, I've found my way back to this blog and the soft, glow-y place it holds in my heart. I read through about four old reviews this morning and just laughed and laughed. Can't pinpoint why, but at the point in my life that I was writing those (senior year of high school, during what I like to refer to as the Nuclear Meltdown of All Things Good) this made me extremely happy.

And that's what YA has always been about for me, in the end. That whole, instant-gratification-escape-from-reality-to-worlds-where-people-have-magic-powers-and-lots-of-money-and-boyfriends thing. Even when I was rolling my eyes through an obnoxious angst-filled sob story or turning up my nose at a story I felt I could have written better, I was having a damn good time. At nearly 20 years old, I can finally admit that - yeah, I'm an adult - and, yeah, YA is still totally my thing.

So, I'm back!

Not even sure what book I'm gonna tackle first, seeing as I've been out of practice for over two years and have got a lot of catching up to do, but expect the first new review sometime this week!

Ooh I'm getting all excited. Gonna make a cup of tea and start browsing the book lists.

Wish me luck!