Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Adaptation“She remembered the bird in the headlights, and she remembered waking up twenty-seven days later.  But the more she tried to focus in on that thing that had happened between those events, the more it slid away from her, slippery as an eel.”

Birds all over North America are mysteriously throwing themselves in the paths of planes, causing crashes and widespread mayhem.   No one knows why: some kind of bird plague?  Terrorism? Weather abnormalities?  No matter the cause, the results are scary: flights are grounded, people are hoarding supplies, and conspiracy theories flood the internet.

Does the government know more about the crashes than they will admit? When they crash in the Nevada desert in the middle of the night and wake up in a government facility nearly a month later, Reese and David realize there may be some truth to the conspiracy theories.  Both received medical attention, but even the doctor won’t tell what kind of treatment, and they are forbidden from telling even their parents.

Back home in San Francisco, the mysteries continue: Reese is plagued by recurrent dreams, and David is having strange symptoms.  The pair are also quite sure they are being followed, but by whom?  Who could possibly be interested in the boring lives of two SF teenagers?   In the midst of the confusion and anxiety, Reese must also sort out her feelings for a new friend, Amber.  Sure, they like each other, but does Amber know more about the bird crisis than she will admit?  Can she be trusted?

Meet Malinda Lo’s third book! Her first two, Ash and Huntress were companion fantasy novels, and were fantastic in themselves, but made even more so by Lo’s treatment of GLBT characters.  In Adaptation, she does what she does best: placing a realistic cast of characters with diverse ethnic backgrounds and sexualities in the midst of a great story. Here’s a cheer for having a super-rare bisexual character in a YA story! (And here’s what Lo herself has to say about bisexuality and young adult literature.) Lo subtly educates her readers about queerness: coming out, what terms could be hurtful, how to support a questioning friend-absolutely fantastic information that is hard to come by in the real world.  She gives us a rainbow of characters and then shows us how to treat them all with respect, all while avoiding preachiness.  Bisexual teens, gay and lesbian teens, questioning teens, all plopped in a world where it is safe to be queer.  I read her stories and am awash with gratitude.  I am so grateful for her writing stories that make queerness a non-issue, and books that help questioning teens find their way.  Seriously-it’s a desperately-needed public service, friends.   *Dusts hands, climbs off soapbox*

Aside from the diversity-awesomeness, this is a captivating thriller, full of plot twists and secrets and speculation.  She’s already working on the sequel, due this fall.  I can’t wait!

Happy Reading!

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

Lo, Malinda. Adaptation. Little, Brown: New York, 2012. 386 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

This is the part when I tell you what books you might like to read if you liked this one!  But friends, I’ve got to tell you-I’ve been hunting for at least an hour and you know what?  There aren’t too many!  Here are some that feature GLBTQ characters and fall into the speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy) category.

Cycler-A fantasy about a character who switches gender, featuring a bisexual boyfriend!

Vintage-a gay ghost story

The Beckoners-I have it on good report that this is a good non-coming out queer novel.

Sister Mischief-an all-girl hip hop band featuring a bisexual character! You’ll love this one!

The Water Wars-no queer content,, but plenty of excitement and conspiracy.

 

 

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

hunger“Lisabeth Lewis didn’t mean to become Famine. She had a love affair with food, and she’d never liked horses (never mind the time she asked for a pony when she was eight; that was just a girl thing).  If she’d been asked which Horseman of the Apocalypse she would most likely be, she would have probably replied, “War.”  And if you’d heard her and her boyfriend, James, fighting, you would have agreed.  Lisa wasn’t a Famine person, despite the eating disorder.”

This is the story of how an anorexic seventeen-year-old became one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, along with Death (bearing a strong resemblance to Kurt Cobain) and their companions Pestilence and War.  One day-actually, the same day of her attempted suicide- the delivery man shows up, bearing a set of scales.  She accepts the scales, and finds herself newly employed as Famine, complete with menacing horse waiting for her in the garden.  (Ok, well, he’s not so menacing-he prefers eating pralines to shedding blood, but Lisa’s not your typical Famine, either).

Lisa’s new job takes her far away from her troubles at home: a concerned boyfriend, a self-destructive friend, her constant struggle with food.  As Famine, she sees firsthand the devastation of hunger, and learns about her terrifying new powers.  Famine, it seems, not only has the power to kill and destroy, but also heal and nourish.  Is it possible that Lisa’s job as Famine will give her the strength to recover from her eating disorder?

Friends, I’ve read a lot of books about eating disorders.  Most of them follow the same girl gets sick-girl denies sickness-girl forced into treatment-girl gets better arc; it’s not necessarily a bad plot, but the focus on disordered eating behaviors and calorie counts and weights can be triggering and counterproductive.  This is absolutely not one of those books, though-it is definitely shortlisted for Shanna’s “Great Books about Eating Disorders that Won’t Make You Nuts with Incessant Calorie Counts” Prize.  Kessler infuses the novel with gallows humor, witty dialogue, and great twists.  What I loved most was the underlying message, delivered in the least preachy way possible: Lisa finds that she must care for herself so that she can care for others.  This short, clever novel is one that will appeal to reluctant readers, fans of fantasy, and anyone who’s struggled with similar issues.

Happy reading!

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

Kessler, Jackie Morse.  Hunger. Houghton Mifflin: New York, 2010. 177 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, she’s got two more in the Riders of the Apocalypse series:

Rage

Loss

and another one coming soon!

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!