The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

parablesowerpg“The child in each of us
Knows paradise.
Paradise is home.
Home as it was
Or home as it should have been.

Paradise is one’s own place,
One’s own people,
One’s own world,
Knowing and known,
Perhaps even
Loving and loved.

 

Yet every child
Is cast from paradise-
Into growth and new community,
Into vast, ongoing
Change.”

Here’s the story:  the world is falling to bits, wracked with economic and environmental crises. People are starving in the streets.  A new drug creates an underworld of fire-starting addicts; watching things burn is said to feel better than sex, on the drug.  Money is nearly worthless, and communities that cannot afford to erect a razor-wire-covered wall are helpless to protect themselves against theft and fire.  Eighteen-year-old Lauren is one of the lucky ones, even though she suffers from a rare condition called hyperempathy, where she physically feels the pain of others-a side effect of the drugs her mother took before she has born.  While her condition is disabling, dangerous, and painful, Lauren is safer than most.   She has a home, a wall, and an education. While she doesn’t share the faith of her minister father, she is far from faithless.  In fact, she has been developing her own religion, in response to the chaos and uncertainty of the world she lives in.  She calls it Earthseed.

When Lauren loses her home and family, she must set out on the treacherous journey north, in search of food and shelter.  The trip is immensely difficult: she and her companions must fight off fire-crazed addicts and potential thieves, carefully preserve what little food and water they have, and be constantly vigilant.  It’s not easy, but they don’t have a choice.

Now, this might sound like the plot of a lot of dystopias out there, right?  Disaster + Must Flee Home = Dystopic Adventure.  The special thing, though, is the way this is written.  It is a compelling, breathtaking adventure story, yes.  However, it’s also a treatise on race and economy, community and compassion.  Butler points an incriminating finger at exploitative corporations and indifferent governments; at the same time, she explores the intersections of gender, race, and social status. It’s a phenomenal story with a built-in social commentary, and it is definitely going on my favorites list.

Author’s website: http://octaviabutler.org/

If you liked this book, you might want to read on! Octavia Butler’s second Earthseed book is called Parable of the Talents.

Happy Reading!

 

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Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

birthmarked“The mother stared at her, shock and horror shifting across her face.  ‘You can’t,’ she whispered. ‘You can’t take my baby.  She’s mine.’

‘I have to,’ Gaia said, backing away.  ‘I’m sorry.’

‘But you can’t,’ the woman gasped.

‘Please,’ the mother begged. ‘Not this one. Not my only.  What have I done?’

‘I’m sorry,’ Gaia repeated…’Your baby will be well cared for,’ she said, using the phrases she’d learned. ‘You’ve provided a great service to the Enclave, and you will be compensated.'”

Gaia is a sixteen-year-old midwife, unlucky enough to live outside The Wall, apart from the privileged, comfortable citizens of The Enclave.  It is her duty to hand over the first three babies she delivers each month-babies who are destined to be adopted by waiting parents in The Enclave.  These children are destined to live a life of comfort and cleanliness, far from the polluted, crowded streets of those living outside the walled community.

When Gaia’s parents are arrested by the very government they worked so faithfully for, Gaia realizes all is not well.  Her parents were keeping secrets-a secret code listing the parents of all the babies who had been sent away to live in The Enclave.  When the government comes after her, Gaia is forced to choose: solve her parents’ code and turn the information over to a government she doesn’t trust, or attempt a risky escape.

Dystopias, everyone! Do we still love them?  I have to say that I do, personally, but I’ve gotten a lot pickier since there are so many great ones out there.  I’m bringing this one to you because it is one on the Great List!  Gaia is smart, strong, and real-feeling; she feels like someone you go to school with, or would like to.  Her job is interesting, and (without spoiling anything) the reason the government needs the delivered babies is double-interesting.  For those of you looking for romance, you’ll find a bit, but it’s not front and center, so if it’s not your thing, you’ll be able to ignore it.  Part mystery, part thriller, part end-of-the-world book, this one is one I didn’t want to put down.

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.caraghobrien.com

If you’re looking for Read-Alikes for Birthmarked, I think you’ll like Parable of the Sower, by superstar science fiction author Octavia Butler-it’s the story of a young women facing a collapsing society, much like Gaia’s.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker also grapples with the collapse of the world as we know, and is told from the perspective of a young woman with an unforgettable voice.  This book feels like poetry for the end of the world.

Life as We Knew It is another disaster story: massive climate change makes the earth nearly inhospitable, and teenager Miranda records it all in her diary.

 

 

After the Snow by S. D. Crockett

AFTERTHESNOW“I reckon the fire in the house probably gone out by now with no one to feed it cos everyone gone and I been sitting on the hill all day finding that out.  Everyone got taken away cos I seen tracks in the snow.  They all gone.

Dad gone.

Magda gone.

The others gone.

But I don’t know why.”

Willo’s never known a land without the snow.  Long before he was born, the new ice age descended.  It wasn’t easy for humans to adapt; now, most of them reside in poverty and compete for resources in crowded, filthy governmental cities-and they’re the lucky ones.  Willo wasn’t from the city, though-he and his family were stragglers, living illegally in the mountains, far from civilization.  There, they trapped animals, made their own candles, and lived off the land, trying to avoid being detected by officials determined to round them up and take them to the cities.

When Willo returns from a trip in the mountains to discover the rest of his family is missing, he knows that is what must have happened: they must have been trucked into the city.  Now, if there’s any hope of surviving, he’s got to go and find his family.  What he finds, though, is far more sinister.

You might have noticed by now: I love end of the world stories. They are equally terrifying and alluring, and I never get tired of playing How’s It All Gonna End.  Apparently, I’m not alone out there, because post-apocalyptic books just like this one are all over the Young Adult shelves.  This one is a particular favorite at my branch, especially this summer-possibly because the endless frozen landscapes are soothing when it’s 95 degrees for weeks on end.  I think part the appeal is Willo’s voice: his dialect is distinctive.  It feels like poetry of ain’ts and been dones and just gonnas, with incisive comments about human nature and survival.  Another reason why it’s awesome: no preaching here.  It’s easy for a dystopic novel to go into the whole sermon-the one titled: Hey Guys, You Messed Up the World and Now It’s Ruined and So You Best Start Recycling Now, Readers.  And there’s a place for that, of course, but in my experience, it’s not in a book like this. And this book avoids it, without downplaying the seriousness of the situation.  If you like survival stories, tense adventures, conspiracy theories, and stories about the end of things, this is one you’ll dig for sure. FURTHER BONUS: NO ROMANCE.  For those of you who wanna barf every time there’s kissing all mixed up in your adventure novel, you’re all clear here.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Crockett, S.D. After the Snow. Feiwel & Friends, New York: 2012. 288 pp.

Now, if you liked this one, try these:

The Knife of Never Letting Go Both are survival stories, and they have similar protagonists and distinctive speech patterns.

Feed The two books share distinctive speech patterns, settings in a dystopian universe, and a sinister governments.  Be warned, though-Feed is sort of set in outer space, so don’t come here looking for a mountain survival story.

Chime  A female protagonist this time, set in the fictional, troubled land of Swampsea.  The language of this book is beautiful and original-really special.

My Side of the Mountain Ok, it’s not set in the end of the world, and it was published a while ago, but it is THE. AWESOMEST. survival story ever, and I’ll never be tired of saying it.

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

this-world-we-live-in“I thought about the earth then, really thought about it, the tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes, all the horrors I haven’t witnessed but have changed my life, the lives of everyone I know, all the people I’ll never know.  I thought about life without the sun, the moon, stars, without flowers and warm days in May.  I thought about a year ago and all the good things I’d taken for granted and all the unbearable things that had replaced those simple blessings. And even though I hated the thought of crying in front of Syl, tears streamed down my face.”

It’s been a year since the asteroid hit the moon, and Miranda and her family are still struggling to survive in the ruins of their small Pennsylvania town.  When Miranda’s father, his wife, their baby, and Alex and Julie Morales (from The Dead and the Gone) show up at the door, the group must make plans for the future. They know the governmental food deliveries won’t continue forever, and with ten people, there’s no way their stored food will last long.  However, finding a safe place to go is a challenge.  There are rumors of safe cities, for governmental officials and other important people, but no one is sure how or where to find them.  As they search for a workable solution, the weather grows increasingly violent; they don’t have much time.  Will they make it to safety?

The final book in the Last Survivors trilogy connects the stories of Alex and Julie, from the second book, with Miranda and her family’s.  There are no good answers to the climate change and food shortages, but the book manages to strike a balance between bleak hopelessness and unrealistic solutions.  In short, Susan Beth Pfeffer continues the tone of the previous two books, giving us a chillingly accurate-feeling story about the end of the world.  If you don’t like the zombie apocalypse stories because you don’t think it would ever happen, this trilogy will give you the end-of-the-world creepiness that feels realer than real.  It’s scarier than some books for adults, even.  I couldn’t put it down, and I bet you won’t be able to, either.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website

Pfeffer, Susan Beth. This World We Live In. Harcourt: Boston, 2010. 239 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

Looking for more on the end of the world?  After you finish this trilogy, starting with Life as We Knew It and The Dead and the Goneyou might want to try these:

The Age of Miracles

Shipbreaker

How I Live Now

How I Live Now

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Dead and the Gone“Alex made three columns and labeled them: WHAT I KNOW; WHAT I THINK; WHAT I DON’T KNOW. Under WHAT I KNOW he wrote:

No subways

Floods

Moon closer to earth

Carlos all right

Bri and Julie all right

School on Monday

Under WHAT I DON’T KNOW he wrote:

How long it will take for things to get back to normal.”

 Alex was behind the counter at Joey’s Pizza when the asteroid struck the moon.  The impact knocked it out of orbit, and set into action a chain of catastrophic events.  Tsunamis, earthquakes, and floods, to start.  Then  the volcanic eruptions and climate change-the ash from the volcanoes obscures the sun and turns July into January. The natural disasters exacerbate food shortages, making people more likely to succumb to the flu epidemic, or other diseases making their way through the population at alarming rates.

Worse still, Alex doesn’t know where his parents are.  His father was attending a funeral in Puerto Rico when the asteroid hit, and his mother was working at the hospital in Queens, but no one has heard from them since.  This leaves 17-year-old Alex in charge of his two younger sisters, Bri and Julie.  Overnight, Alex must decide how to find food, protect his sisters from the brutal new reality they are facing, and make a plan for the future: there’s no telling if scientists will be able to fix the moon’s orbit.

This gripping novel is the second in a trilogy; Life as We Knew It told the story from Miranda’s perspective-a young woman living in a small Pennsylvania town.  The Dead and the Gone is set in New York City, but covers the same asteroid strike.  Instead of a first-person diary format like Miranda’s, Alex’s story is told in third-person, which I preferred to the journaling-style.  While I loved the first book in the series, I found The Dead and the Gone to be even more gripping and terrifying.  I’m no stranger to end-of-the-world books; you might even say I have a morbid fascination with How Things End.  However, I can honestly say that this is the single creepiest apocalypse story I’ve ever read-adult or young adult fiction-and it is because of its plausibility.  The entire time while I was reading, all I could think was: “Hey, this could really happen.”  That thought was enough to keep me hooked.  You’ll love it-if it doesn’t scare you to bits, first.

Oh! A mysterious side note-did you know that Susan Beth Pfeffer is a pseudonym?  The real author of this series is Micky Spillane-you can read all about it on the author’s website.

Happy Reading!

Pfeffer, Susan Beth. The Dead and the Gone. Harcourt: New York, 2008. 321 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this one (and it’s ok to read it first, before Life as We Knew It-they’re companion novels, not books that have to be read in order) you should check out the other two: 

Life as We Knew It

This World We Live In

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

“I tried to look on the bright side, to remind myself that, orphaned or not, I was still better off than most of the kids in Africa. And Asia. And North America, too.  I’d always had a roof over my head and more than enough food to eat.  And I had the OASIS.  My life wasn’t so bad.  At least that’s what I kept telling myself, in a vain attempt to stave off the epic loneliness I now felt.

Then the Hunt for Halliday’s Easter egg began.  That was what saved me, I think.  Suddenly, I’d found something worth doing.  A dream worth chasing.  For the last five years, the Hunt had given me a goal and a purpose. A quest to fulfill. A reason to get up in the morning.  Something to look forward to.

The moment I began searching for the egg, the future no longer seemed so bleak.”

It’s 2044, and the world is out of oil, food, space, and ideas.  Reality is bleak and the future is bleaker; the only place Wade can forget about his miserable existence (an overcrowded trailer park outside Oklahoma City) is OASIS, a virtual utopia where he spends most of his time.  However, his time in OASIS isn’t aimless; he’s on a mission.  OASIS’s creator, James Halliday, was a computer genius obsessed with 80’s pop culture.  Of course, the wild success of OASIS made Halliday a multibillionaire, and when he died, it was discovered he had no will.  No will, and no heir.

Instead of a will, Halliday left details about The Hunt.  Hidden deep inside OASIS was an Easter egg, and the gamer who finds it first wins Halliday’s entire massive fortune.  Of course, news of the contest inspires mass chaos and renewed interest in the trends of the 80’s.  Wade has dedicated himself to the hunt, pitting himself against a massive corporation in the race to find the egg.  There is a lot to lose: Wade has no other hope for his future.  Furthermore, should the egg fall into the hands of the professional, corporate hunters, OASIS would undoubtedly be further commercialized and exploited.  By collaborating with his friends and sharing resources, Wade sets in this pop-tastic, classic David vs. Goliath narrative.

I’ll admit, I resented any intrusion when I was wrapped up in this book.  The USA Today described it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix”, and I whole-heartedly agree.  Wade’s search takes him inside video games in a way that’s hard to imagine and completely fun to read about it.  Even if you miss some of the pop culture references, the book is still engaging; the pressure for Wade to get to the egg before the professional hunters do is believable and keeps you turning pages.  Fun?  Absolutely?

Ready Player One was well-received: a New York Times bestseller, and the recipient of my favorite award-the Alex Award.  My roommate read it and when I saw how much he liked it, I couldn’t wait for him to finish it.  However, when I was reading, I came across some issues of race and gender that I felt were somewhat problematic, and that affected my feelings about the book as a whole.  See, Wade’s closest friend is Aech, a person he thinks is another white male (In OASIS, one can choose an avatar of any race, gender or appearance).  Squeezed into a rushed-feeling chapter near the end of the novel, readers discover that Aech is, in fact, a queer African American woman who had been counseled by her mother to adopt the identity of a straight white man.  When she reveals this to Wade, rather than discuss the underlying sociocultural structures that led her to conceal her sexual orientation, race, and gender, Wade accepts it without much contemplation, and expresses relief that at least they’d been truthful when, in the past, they’d discussed attractive women.

I felt that Aech’s character was a clumsy attempt at creating a more diverse cast of characters in the novel, but the presentation left me feeling uncomfortable, and wishing the author could have 1. included authentically-presented minority characters, or 2. used Aech’s reluctance to self-identify in a world dominated by Caucasian males as an entry into a discussion of prejudice and inequality.  Furthermore, Wade’s reaction to Aech’s queerness, in that he immediately assumed they could bond over discussing beautiful women, felt exploitative.  At any rate, it was unsettling.

Ready Player One delighted the video-game-loving part of me, and I was further thrilled by the focus on collaboration over competition, but its treatment of race and sexual orientation left me with mixed feelings about the book.  Read it, love the adventure and the imaginative virtual reality interfaces, but I’d advise some thought on what messages the text is sending us about power and those who lack access to it.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.ernestcline.com

Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. Broadway: New York, 2011. 372 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, try another Alex award winner for this year: RobopocalypseLegend also looks really interesting!  However, if you’re looking for dystopias or speculative fiction featuring minority characters in other-than-token-status, it’s still more of a rarity.  Here’s hoping for some fantastic, diverse offerings soon!

Life as We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer

“I know all those astronomers I’d watched an hour earlier on CNN can explain just what happened and how and why and they’ll be explaining on CNN tonight and tomorrow and I guess until the next big story happens.  I know I can’t explain, because I don’t really know what happened and I sure don’t know why.

But the moon wasn’t a half moon anymore. It was tilted and wrong and a three-quarter moon and it got larger, way larger, large like a moon rising on the horizon, only it wasn’t rising.  It was smack in the middle of the sky, way too big, way too visible…It was still our moon and it was still just a big dead rock in the sky, but it wasn’t benign anymore.  It was terrifying, and you could feel the panic swell all around us.  Some people raced to their cars and started speeding away.  Others began praying or weeping. One household began singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

When a meteor crashes into the moon, it sets off a series of terrifying calamities: tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and climate changes.  Panicked citizens rush into stores and get in fights over canned goods.  Gas prices skyrocket. Electric power service becomes erratic and soon ceases altogether.  As for water, the lucky ones are those that have their own wells, but even they risk running dry; the climate changes mean unpredictable rain showers.  When it does rain, the storms are of frightening magnitude.

Sixteen-year-old Miranda records it all in her diary.  She lives in Pennsylvania with her mother and two brothers.  Together, they try to survive the end of the world as they knew it.  They watch their dwindling supplies of canned goods, chop firewood for their stove, and venture out only to the post office, to wait anxiously for news of loved ones.  The lists of the dead grow longer and longer; many people starve or freeze to death, and those that survive are susceptible, in their weakened states, to the flu or other diseases.  What’s a teenager to do when it looks like the end of the world?

I’ve read a lot of books about the future; I’ll admit, I have a weak spot for Worst Case Scenarios.  The earth runs out of oil? I totally want to read about it.  Zombie apocalypse?  The only way I’ll be prepared is by figuring out what the characters in the book did, right?  Anyway, I consider myself reasonably well-qualified to judge these kinds of books.  Life as We Knew it is one of the best I’ve read, for several reasons.  First, it’s one of the scariest because it seems to be the most likely Way The World Ends.  An asteroid hits and the dust from the impact and the ash from volcanic activity obscure the sun and cause dramatic climate changes.  Secondly, the diary format really captures Miranda’s anxiety, frustration, and cabin fever as her world is reduced to the size of a single room: the only room heated by their woodstove.  And thirdly, the ending isn’t controved, no deus ex machina solutions that enable scientists to push the moon back into place and restore order.  I can’t tell you, of course, but you can trust Susan Pfeffer: she won’t let you down with an unrealistic ending, but she won’t terrify you with nothing but destruction, either.

Miranda’s voice is realistic, and her observations of the world around her are sharp and fascinating. I was horrified and captivated while reading her entries about her brothers, after she realizes that her mother might have to choose which of the three children to continue feeding, should the resources get too low. This book will have you stocking up on canned goods and batteries, for sure.  If you’re looking for a chilling book to escape the miserable summer heat, this one is a great place to start.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com

Pfeffer, Susan. Life as We Knew It. Scholastic: New York, 2006. 337 pp. Ages 13 and up.

If this book sounds great, you’re in luck! There are two more in the series: The Dead and the Gone, and This World We Live In.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

“I was born into all that, all that mess, the over-crowded swamp and the over-crowded semetary and the not-crowded-enough town, so I don’t remember nothing, don’t remember a world without Noise.  My pa died of sickness before I was born and then my ma died, of course, no surprises there.  Ben and Cillian took me in, raised me.  Ben says my ma was the last of the women but everyone says that about everyone’s ma.  Ben may not be lying, he believes it’s true, but who knows?”

Todd is the youngest male in the settlement of Prentisstown, a town with no women left and ravaged by a disease called Noise.  Not only does Noise broadcast everyone’s thoughts out loud, it also caused all the women to sicken and die.  Todd was taught that Noise was caused by a germ carried by native inhabitants of the New World, a race called the Spackle.  However, right before his birthday, his adoptive parents hand him a notebook written years before by his mother-a notebook that tells an entirely different story about Noise and warns against the sinister preachings of Mayor Prentiss.

The problem with Noise, of course, is that no one has any secrets.  As soon as he sees the notebook, Todd must strike out through the swamps and across the countryside, in the hopes that he will be able to outrun the other men of the town.  He knows they will come after him as soon as they hear his Noise and know he is trying to escape.  During his flight, he meets a young woman named Viola, whose parents’ ship had crashed in the swamp.  Viola had been trying to survive on her own in the hostile environment.  Todd is fascinated (he has never seen a girl before!), but also terrified that he might infect her with the Noise germ.  Companionship wins, and the two proceed across the New World, trying to reach the town of Haven that Todd’s mother mentioned in her notebook.  They are in a desperate scramble to outrun the militia of Prentisstown men, who are convinced that Todd, as the last male in the village, is a vital part of their salvation plan.  When Todd learns the truth about Noise, what happened to the women, and what the men of Prentisstown expect him to do, he will face an ethical dilemma that nothing could have prepared him for.

This is a fast-paced, post-apocalyptic story that reads like a cross between Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and M. T. Anderson’s Feed.  The book explores colonization, racism, religious extremism, and the idea that just knowing about something ethically wrong, but not acting to right it, makes one complicit in the crime.  Does that sound too philosophical?  Don’t worry-I promise you won’t want to put this book down.  Not only is it a compelling story,  it is also a graphically interesting book.  The Noise of different villagers is depicted with distinct fonts, and the spelling of Todd’s words and thoughts is quite phonetic, rather than conventional.  Plus, if you really loved it, there are already two more out in the series, which is called Chaos Walking. The second installment is The Ask and the Answer and the final book is Monsters of Men.

This book was short-listed for the Carnegie award and was also recognized by Booklist, among others.  I found it a nice change from the technology-heavy dystopian novels out there, and loved the creative presentation of the Noise.  I hope you like it!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.patrickness.com

Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2008. 479 pp. Ages 14 and up.

If you liked the conspiracy theory part of this book, you would probably like M. T. Anderson’s Feed.  For a suspenseful futuristic escape story that also explores issues of racism and colonialism, try Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. It’s amazing!

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

“‘I want to tell the rebels that I am alive.  That I’m right here in District Eight, where the Capitol has just bombed a hospital full of unarmed men, women and children.  There will be no survivors.’ The shock I’ve been feeling begins to give way to fury. ‘I want to tell people that if you think for one second the Capitol will treat us fairly if there’s a cease-fire, you’re deluding yourself.  Because you know who they are and what they do.’  My hands go out automatically, as if to indicate the whole horror around me.  ‘This is what they do! And we must fight back!’

Panem is a chaotic and dangerous world.  After the Quell, District 12 has been razed; nothing but ash and rubble remains.  The few survivors (Gale and Prim included) have taken refuge in the bunkers of District 13.  Peeta, who had been captured by the Capitol and brainwashed into believing Katniss is a deadly enemy of his, is still shaky in his beliefs.  The tracker jacker poison used to implant false memories of Katniss in his mind is hard to reverse; there are times when he cannot discern reality from fiction, and he is overwhelmed with the urge to kill her.

After the Quarter Quell, Katniss discovers that she was part of an elaborate revolutionary plot, without her permission or knowledge.  Though uncertain who to trust, and infuriated by the deception, she agrees to aid the rebels in their attempts to overthrow the government and bring an end to all future Hunger Games.  As the Mockingjay, the figurehead of the rebels, Katniss undergoes combat training and prepares to undertake a mission to assassinate President Snow.  The mission itself is dangerous; if Katniss or her companions are spotted, they will be lucky to be killed instantly.  If they are not so lucky, they will be tortured to death.

In the final volume of the trilogy, Collins explores war, violence, and loyalty.  I think she does an excellent job portraying the overall devastating nature of war: starvation, bombs, and bullets are brutal and ugly ways to die.  Furthermore, it is not always possible to tell which side characters are on, and which is the “right” side, anyway.  I feel like that is an accurate depiction, and something that is not always taught.  The rhetoric of war and the lawmakers pushing for it often paints one side as clearly in the wrong, justifying the gross waste of human life, but Collins gives us a more complicated, realistic picture.  Katniss must wrestle with her desire for vengeance, versus the need to end the cycle of brutality.  It’s a challenging read, full of pain and difficult decisions, but a sensitive and engrossing end to a solid trilogy.  Oh, and something I loved?  The epilogue.  I won’t spoil it, but I’m glad she wrote it.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.suzannecollinsbooks.com

Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay. New York: Scholastic Press, 2010. 390 pp.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

“In that one slight motion, I see the end of hope, the beginning of the destruction of everything I hold dear in the world.  I can’t guess what form my punishment will take, how wide the net will be cast, but when it is finished, there will most likely be nothing left.  So you would think that at this moment, I would be in utter despair.  Here’s what’s strange.  The main thing I feel is a sense of relief.  That I can give up this game.  That the question of whether I can succeed in this venture has been answered, even if that answer is a resounding no.  That if desperate times call for desperate measures, then I am free to act as desperately as I wish.”

Katniss thought she and her Hunger Games partner, Peeta, would be safe from the arena forever, never having to return to the battlefield where they were forced to fight to the death for the chance of extra food rations for their district.  However, some of her actions during the last Hunger Games inspired uprisings in other districts.  In response, the Capitol announces a Quell.  The Quell is a special Hunger Games, designed to quash the nascent rebellions.  In this Quell, the new Reaping will only include former participants in the games.  That means that Peeta, Katniss, and Haymitch are the only potential candidates from District 12 for this year’s Hunger Games.  This could mean back to the arena for Katniss.

Friends, you have either read this book already, in which case I don’t need to tell you how riveting it is; or, you haven’t yet, and there isn’t much I can say without spoiling it for you.  I will say that Catching Fire, while it doesn’t necessarily function as a stand-alone story (you’ll want to read The Hunger Games first), it avoids the middle-child syndrome of trilogies.  By that, I mean that the book doesn’t feel like something you have to rush through to get to the ending; it’s compelling and complete in its own right.  However, if you don’t have a copy of Mockingjay at hand for when you finish this one, you will probably feel anxious, so I recommend blocking off some time, staying in your pajamas and not doing anything until you finish the whole trilogy.

Reasons this installment of the story is awesome:  an even more creative and awful arena than last Hunger Games, new developments in the mysterious purported settlement of rebels in District 13, and more reasons to love Peeta. I’ve actually had to hide the entire trilogy from my younger sister, who has to finish her master’s thesis before she can read them (her idea, not mine!).

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.suzannecollinsbooks.com

If you liked this book, you might like The Maze Runner by James Dashner or Uglies by Scott Westerfield.