Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review: Ruby Red

I'm guessing time travel is the new vampire or zombie, because there is a whole spat of new time-defying stories sitting on my bedside table. Case in point: Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier.

Originally published in German, Gier's story (the first in a trilogy)follows teen Gwen, who lives in the attic of her grandmother's posh London home. Her cousin Charlotte, just one day younger, has been trained all her life for time travel, having been born on the prophesied day. While the whole family waits eagerly for Charlotte to make her "initiation journey," Gwen finds herself slipping out of time - clearly the prophesy got something wrong. The Guardians, the secret society build around this time traveling gene, look down upon Gwen even as they take her under their care, and she follows fellow traveler Gideon as he tried to orient her to the business of time travel (and search for the missing chronograph along the way).

The story is compelling and enjoyable, but I'm not scratching at the walls as I wait for the next one to come out. Some of the characters are much more vivid than others, and unfortunately the narrator Gwen is not one of them. That didn't keep me from wanting to know more about the story, though. The whole deal with the prophesy (there are twelve travelers, each with an assigned precious stone and musical note) makes things more complicated than they need to be, but hopefully more of that will be explained in the following books. I do, however, really like the concept of a gene for time travel that gets passed along through the family lines.

I've read a few translated books lately, and one thing I can say about Ruby Red is that it didn't sound translated. Translator Anthea Bell did a wonderful job keeping the language flowing, very important for a book aimed at teens.

3/5 stars

Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: Page by Paige

I love graphic novels, but it's extremely rare for one to grab me in the same ways that novels often do. I don't know why - maybe because there is less left to the imagination, or maybe because there is often little to no narration or verbal mood setting - but I'm hard pressed to think of a graphic novel that has really stuck with me or hit me in the gut.

But only a few pages into Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge, I was in love... and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

On the outside, it's a fairly simply YA tale of a girl who moves to the big city and has a hard time finding herself. Of course, along the way, she makes friends and, more or less, discovers her place in the world. Doesn't sound all that exciting. But Gulledge's art allows the reader into Paige's head, filled with all the fears and insecurities of being a teen. The story starts with Paige buying a sketchbook, and the book is at its strongest when dealing less with the plot and more with Paige's emotional sketches.

As someone who makes a fair deal of art, I loved the aesthetics of the book and truly appreciated the call to teens to be creative. I wish I had had such an encouraging book when I was a teen.

Note: You can see more of Gulledge's beautiful art on her blog.

5/5 stars

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review: Divergent

Hmm, where to start with Divergent . I got my hands on an advanced copy of this book about a month before it was released, and even then, the hype was pretty huge. Everything I read was insanely positive, and I had high hopes that this was going to be something more than a weak Hunger Games copy.

At the start of the book, though, I had a hard time caring all that much. Beatrice lives in a society where everyone is split into one of five factions based on personality traits: Abnegation (selflessness), Candor (honesty), Erudite (intelligence), Amity (peacefulness), or Dauntless (bravery). As a teenager, everyone chooses their faction, but it is rare that anyone leaves the faction in which they've been raised (presumably because those traits would be so hardwired into them by then). Beatrice quickly learns that she is a Divergent (although she doesn't really learn what that means), and she must decide whether to stay in Abnegation or choose another path.

Wouldn't be much of a book if she stayed in Abnegation, now would it?

I really wanted to like this book from the very beginning, but the strictness of the faction traits kept getting in the way. I kept wondering (probably aloud) to myself how this society could reach a place where everyone was so one-dimensional and how it could continue to stay like that. It wasn't until about halfway through the book when anyone within the book seemed to ask these same questions (coincidentally, this is about when I started to enjoy the book).

Also, a majority of the book was something of a training montage, as Beatrice (Tris, now) learns the ways of another faction. If (should I say when?) this gets made into a movie, they would be well-served to make this a total of five minutes. Thank God for cut scenes. I didn't need to read about every instance of her learning to be less selfless.

But like I said, about halfway through the book, the story really starts to pick up, and I found myself as captivated as I had hoped I would be. Tris' burgeoning romance picks up (don't worry, moms, it's very clean and tasteful), and she also starts to learn that maybe the factions aren't as clear-cut as she thought. I finally found myself in her shoes, and I couldn't wait to see where the story was going.

The climax of the story comes along quickly - almost too quickly, considering how much time was wasted on the aforementioned training - and I was left with an ending that did nothing but set up the next book. The story arc's conclusion felt too brief for a book that is almost 500 pages. Of course, I'm still interested in what happens next and will be waiting for the next book, but there could have been a better sense of closure.

Final thoughts? It's an interesting concept for a dystopia, and Roth's writing is strong and compelling. If it were a little shorter, though, it might have made for a stronger story.

4/5 stars