The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag

Having been utterly charmed by Flavia de Luce in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, I was somewhat surprised when I came across others who hadn't been as delighted as I. This questioning led me to delay my purchase of The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag... or perhaps it was that I felt offended when the publisher made the poor decision to change the binding for the hardcover publication. (I had adored that small hardcover without a jacket of the first book and was quite put out when the switch to a more traditional hardcover with jacket was made to the second. Amusingly enough, they seem to have realized the error and the third book, A Red Herring Without Mustard was published in the original style.) That said, when I noticed the paperback was available, I decided I had gone too long without a dose of Flavia... and The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag brings back all the delight of Flavia and her fantastic intelligence as she assists on another murder in her small hamlet of Bishop's Lacey.

While Flavia does not immediately stumble upon a body in the garden this time, there is certainly murder in the air... though this time, it comes on the heels of a puppet show. The van of a famous puppeteer has broken down and there's certainly a tangled story within these displays. The puppeteer ends up dead and Flavia is the first to figure out that he's not such a stranger to this community after all. The story touches upon the perspective of a German-in-England prisoner of war, the presence of cannabis in post-war England, the art of puppetry and stagecraft, and the usual mix of strange and unusual concoctions in Flavia's laboratory -- including the many ways one can not-quite-lethally poison a terrible older sister.

I still think this is a fabulous series that can be read by teen girls (or boys, for that matter) who are scientifically/chemically inclined. Perhaps it's best if they don't have siblings, though, as Daffy and Feely reach new lows as they torment Flavia... and we all know that Flavia is never one to drop the subject without retaliation. Flavia's at her best when dealing with her sisters -- her tone as she deduces critical plot points can certainly get a bit too mature at times, but I accept this as a more than adequate trade for the delight of her other moments as she tries to unravel the secrets in her own home and lovingly sets to work amidst her flasks and beakers. In this book, a dreaded aunt appears to provide some interesting perspective on their family, though Flavia might simply wind up with more questions than ever on that front.

So to heck with everyone who disliked the first Flavia. I'm still as much a fan of the second mystery as I was the first -- and I thought settling back in to Flavia's world was a delight. There's a very recognizable narratorial voice here and from page one, I had a smile on my face as I was immediately brought back to the world of Bishop's Lacy and its environs. So if you liked The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, I think you'll find The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag to be jolly good fun -- and for those who have yet to experience Flavia, I think you're in for a real treat. And not like the kind Flavia has doctored up for Feely.


The Iron Queen

Huzzah! Finally, I feel like The Iron Queen is the fabulousness that I had been told to expect from Julie Kagawa. I'll admit, I had serious doubts about this series after the lovesick teenage focus of The Iron Daughter and I'm not entirely sure if Meghan got better or I simply broke through the wall to get zen about it and really ignore all that had bothered me... it might be a combination of the two. Whatever it was, it worked, and I thought The Iron Queen was a book worthy of the promise that Kagawa had shown in the simple creation of this interesting meld of faery lore and new twists.

The Iron Daughter ended with Meghan and Ash together -- granted, they were nearly killed in their ordeal to stop the war between Summer and Winter, and as recompense for their troubles, they were exiled from the Nevernever -- but still, they're together. Perhaps this helped get us pass the "squee! Ash and Meghan!" response that Iron Daughter seemed to want from me but I just couldn't muster. Not only was Ash always so silent, but Meghan was so very girly, I just didn't care. By the end, though, they made a sacrifice for each other and I felt like we could finally get them to have a real conversation or something so we could base their relationship on more than his cold hotness. They grew up. Or at least Meghan did and Ash learned to string more than a few words together. They hadn't necessarily achieved that by the end of the second installment, but by the beginning of this one, you could tell they were on their way.

So it's Meghan and Ash trying to find a way to bring down the fake Iron King... and, thank goodness once again, Puck is along for the ride -- not delighted with Meghan's decision but he's taking it rather well. Kagawa really owns this storyline and does some fabulous twists along the way. Even if you can see the ending coming, one doesn't necessarily mind it. It's the exact right ending for the book, as the series will continue on. Fans of the series will be delighted with everything. Those like me who needed a little more convincing will finally plant their flag in the pro-Iron Fey camp. But let's keep our fingers crossed that things continue on this excellent path as the Nevernever is taken in directions it has never ever gone before.


The Iron Daughter

Well, The Iron Daughter reminded me of something I can lose sight of when reading young adult literature -- it's written for young adults and features young adults. This means hormones are raging and very little logic is to be found, particularly when the object of one's affection no longer appears to love the heroine, even when there's a darn good reason for him acting that way. That said, OH COME ON. There's accurately depicting a teenager and then there's alienating your reader. It's an interesting experience to continue reading a book in spite of the protagonist. If I could have throttled Meghan, I would have. At several moments in the story. Gee honey, let's stop wailing for about three minutes to remember that Ash indicated the Winter court was dangerous and if either of you showed weakness, you'd both be in trouble. Maybe this has something to do with him appearing to avoid you? Or acting cold and callous when others are around to witness it?

Ahem. Let me start over. The Iron Daughter is the second book in the Iron Fey series written by Julie Kagawa. There's a short little novella that leads in to this one, available only online, called Winter's Passage which gives the reader a bit more info on the trip that Ash and Meghan make from her home to the Winter court as they fulfill Meghan's end of the bargain made in exchange for Ash helping her save her brother in the last book. Basically, there's some kissing and some sighing over their tragic situation, as Winter and Summer fey aren't supposed to fall in love and it's far worse when he's a Winter prince and she's the half-breed daughter of Oberon, the Summer king. (That said, the little story isn't necessary and most of it is repeated at the beginning of The Iron Daughter.)

Ash warns Meghan that the Winter court is ruthless and cruel... and that she should trust no one, including him. He also emphasizes that if anyone knew that they cared for each other, they'd use it against them. This flits out of Meghan's head upon arrival, as she's shocked when Ash once again assumes his cold exterior and treats her like a near-stranger. Meanwhile, she might as well tattoo his name on her forehead, as everyone knows she appears to love him from day one. Oh, and Queen Mab has cut off Meghan's faery powers, leaving her feel even more helpless. Meghan endures the rather wretched people of the Winter court, including Ash's brothers who are not exactly well-behaved, and when she's not trying simply to survive, she's moping. She winds up the sole survivor in a sneak attack on the Winter Court by the NEW Iron King (didn't think we were done with that just because Meghan killed to steal some scepter that signals the passing of seasons... and surprise surprise, Ash has to come in and save her.

So Ash and Meghan are on the lamb again and their romantic issues are far from over as they try to find a way to stop the new Iron King before the Winter and Summer courts go to war against each other (as, naturally, they believe the other responsible for the drama over the scepter). Puck shows up (thank goodness), unlikely allies are made, and the storyline marches forward to take some fun and interesting twists and turns. Ultimately, my three star rating exists because of the larger storyline at work around Meghan. Once you ignore her and her wailing over Ash (seriously, girl, we get it), the other elements that Kagawa has crafted are really quite excellent. The standard war between Winter and Summer with the insidious threat of the Iron kingdom... hats off. For me, though, there were way too many moments in The Iron Daughter that I was enduring instead of enjoying. I will say, however, that while I was annoyed with this installment in the series, Kagawa made up for it in spades with The Iron Queen. So read this one quickly (or at least skim over the teenage Meghan bits) and get ready for number three.


Winter's Passage

Winter's Passage by Julie Kagawa is book 1.5 in the Iron Fey series -- a quick little story/novella that fills in some space between books 1 and 2. Available only as an ebook, it could very well be an interesting look at the series for those contemplating whether or not they want to commit, but I rather saw it as something only fans would appreciate.

At the very end of The Iron King, Ash came to take Meghan to the Winter court and his queen, which was part of the bargain he made with her to secure his assistance in defeating Machina, the Iron King. Of course, that was before they fell for each other, but a faery never goes back on a promise, and he had sworn to bring her to Queen Mab. So now they must navigate the Wyldwood (and the dangerous fey within) in order to read the Unseelie/Winter court, Tir Na Nog.

This little 52-page story a very quick bite, nothing so serious that it would actually feel satisfying without being accompanied by the other books. Ash and Meghan make the trip and there's all kinds of angst, of course, with regards to the Summer fey/Winter fey romance being totally forbidden. Meghan has one small detour request before they go straight to Tir Na Nog... she wants to visit Puck, her friend who took a bullet towards the end of The Iron King and is now in a kind of limbo, suspended in a tree in New Orleans (this makes more sense in the book than it does in summary). There's no telling when/if he'll wake up, and so really this just gives Meghan time to reflect/more time with Ash.

Still, I don't feel like they have a valid relationship. These just seem to be more pages spent wallowing in the "oh what do we do?" of their forbidden romance. And even if there was a bit where they get a little more comfortable with each other prior to arrival, there's a quick dissolve into the prince's steely exterior once they reach the Winter court. Meghan, meanwhile, proves that she's not very smart when she doesn't understand why Ash isn't all lovey-dovey. Sigh. Much of the content (though not all of it) is repeated in The Iron Daughter, so I wouldn't necessarily pay for this offering unless you're enjoying the series -- and if that's the case, then you definitely should get it, as otherwise the whole immediate arrival at the Winter court seems a bit odd as we kick off The Iron Daughter.


The Iron King

Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series cropped up all of a sudden on my radar, with a few different sources noting that this was a great new author/world/series. So I yielded to temptation and started the first book, The Iron King -- and while it's definitely intriguing and a quick read, it wasn't quite as fabulous as the praise had led me to believe. That said, I do think this series could move in *very* interesting directions, so I will totally keep on reading with the hope that Kagawa takes Meghan Chase in fascinating new plotlines that twist throughout Nevernever.

Almost-sixteen-year-old Meghan Chase lives in the middle of nowhere and believes that she is not very interesting in the slightest. Her version of "dressing up" involves clean cargo pants (mostly because that's all her wardrobe could hope to yield), her mother is always busy, and her step-father always seems a little surprised when she's around, as if he's forgotten she's there. Meghan's real father disappeared when she was younger -- didn't leave, didn't die, just disappeared one day after giving his daughter money for the ice cream truck at the park. The one person who seems to really focus on Meghan is her younger half brother named Ethan; in fact he (well, his stuffed rabbit Flopsy, according to Ethan) appears to be the only one who even remembers it's her birthday. What makes it the worst birthday ever, though, is that she suffers total and complete humiliation at the hands of the hottest guy in school after she was about to tutor him in computer science and instead some insults about him suddenly appeared on the screen, making hot jock furious at Meghan. The thing is, she did nothing to create those comments -- they just appeared, mocking him, and weirdly she thought she had seen some kind of... creature in the computer lab. Readers will see the clues of impending paranormal awareness -- particularly when Ethan, previously sweet if a little scared of things like monsters under the bed or in his closet, suddenly turns vicious and attacks her.

So what's the cause of the trouble? Faeries. And not the Tinkerbell kind, thank goodness. Robbie turns up and saves Meghan from her little brother... only to hint that perhaps she'd be better off forgetting things rather than understanding the truth. Stubbornly, she insists on knowing what's really going on. To start, Robbie isn't exactly Robbie... well, he is, but he also goes by the name Robin Goodfellow... which anyone who's ever been to high school should recognize as an alternate name for Puck, servant of Oberon, the faery king in A Midsummer Night's Dream and, apparently, in the alternate Faeryland realm known as Nevernever. Little brother Ethan? It appears as though he's been kidnapped by faeries and swapped out for a changeling. So Meghan resolves to get her little brother back and, with Puck as her semi-reluctant but always mischievous guide, they set forth.

What follows is an interesting introduction to Nevernever, from the untamed Wyldwood where the rogue fey are basically out to kill you to the Seelie/Summer court, headed up by Titania and Oberon... where more cultured and therefore slyer fey are out to kill you, or at least manipulate you. Once they reach the Summer court, let's just say that no one should be all that surprised when Meghan's better-than-the-average-mortal grasp on dealing with the fey has a rather paternal explanation. Meghan spends a good amount of time wrestling with her disbelief after Oberon declares she's his daughter, and therefore a "half-breed" with fey blood in her, but one glance in a faery mirror reveals her true fey nature. For those unfamiliar with all fey stories, the whole Seelie/Unseelie divide might seem arbitrary, but it is grounded in more traditional lore. It should also be unsurprising that beyond Puck (who the reader can tell is in love with Meghan even if she remains oblivious), there's another dark and brooding young man ready to provide a poor example to teenagers about what actual love and relationships should be.

Before I elaborate on that particular thorny issue, let me say that I did, indeed, enjoy The Iron King, though I didn't think it realized its own potential. The writing seemed somewhat rough in places (mostly when dealing with the passage of time and situations where multiple characters were involved in action), but the ideas behind everything were great. Kagawa could be up to some really fun things with this series and I'm eager to see where things go.

That said, we come to my major issue with the book: the romantic lead, Ash. The youngest son of Queen Mab, ruler of the Unseelie/Winter court, the young Winter prince appears in Twilight fashion as yet another male love interest who does nothing but look disinterested and push Meghan away... which, of course, only means that he's totally in to her and really just wants to love her, despite his insistence that he'll kill her if asked to. Seriously? We can't have one teenage relationship that doesn't have some creepy abusive relationship undertones and isn't totally founded on misunderstanding? On the insistence that the girl in question is somehow not enough to handle him or not acceptable? On catching a glimpse of a soft look that is immediately replaced by a steely resolve? On ice-cold, pale skin and the obsessive need to rake back his dark hair with his fingers? Sigh. I guess what irritates me is that I had hoped for better from this storyline, as Meghan will clearly become powerful in her own right and deserves something that feels a bit more equal. Puck is so bouncy and funny that it's hard to see him as a serious love interest, and so as soon as Ash catches Meghan's eye, we know she's doomed. Ash is clearly the enemy in the beginning, but it doesn't take long before Meghan's made a deal with him and so he's then on her side for just long enough that something could happen. There's also no real reason for them to like each other, beyond the fact that Meghan finds him utterly beautiful. They don't have real conversations, so one is forced to believe that their romance springs from angst and the simple fact that it is a bad idea -- relationships between Summer and Winter fey always end badly and this is only exacerbated by the fact that Ash is the son of the Winter Queen and Meghan is the daughter of the Summer king. The whole "forbidden" thing is the reason their "love" seems to exist, which isn't exactly teaching teenage girls about a good relationship's foundation, nor is it particularly investing the reader in cheering on this baseless passion. I'm not even going to go into the fact that suggesting this is "love" is ridiculous. So will Summer and Winter ever come together or is this love doomed from the start? (I think you know the answer to this one.)

Meghan's immediate love for and obsession with Ash isn't my only issue with the novel, but it's the biggest. I really do appreciate that this novel jumps into faerie lore, as I know there are a few novels about the fey out there, but not as many as other paranormal creatures. Kagawa also weaves in modern ideas here (hence the whole Iron King bit), suggesting that new technological imaginings are spawning different kinds of fey which are deadly to Winter and Summer. Ultimately, though, it's the larger ideas that make me appreciate this novel rather than the bits of execution. I like the overall story and themes (the potential that technological dreams are poisoning the magic of the Nevernever and encroaching on the boundaries of the other kingdoms), but I'm not particularly fond of the characters themselves. Meghan herself can be a little shrill -- I'm not convinced of her intelligence or ability to handle herself. (Sure, the point is always that the girl is supposedly normal and then turns out to save the day, but Meghan just seems lucky... and stubborn.) Puck is odd, but he's supposed to be that. The big reveal of his true nature is pretty awkward and he has a tendency to spout things that feel out of sync with the rest of the book. Granted, they're often quite funny, but it makes him come off as leaps and bounds ahead of all these other jokers that populate the novel. Time moves in odd ways during this book, so you can never really be sure how much time has passed -- granted, this is stated as a trait of Nevernever, but it makes for a rather annoying book when you don't really know exactly how much time Ash and Meghan have been denying their secret longing for the other. All I know is it can't possibly be enough time to justify the term "love" in any sense.

This all might be a bit harsh, but I'm only really harsh on the books that I expect great things from. I went in expecting a really good YA novel and I found several excellent elements, but I also found several disappointing flaws. My hope is that Kagawa grows as a writer and storyteller while she's getting through these novels (and that Meghan doesn't totally devolve into annoying teenage girl with her Ash obsession and this annoying Summer/Winter fey doomed relationship), and as Kagawa ratchets up the complexity, we get better interactions between the characters. I'll definitely keep reading with the secret hope that this series gets better and reaches my initial hopes, but I'll also try to scale back my expectations.


Before I Fall

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is a rather fitting read around Groundhog Day or even February 12th, as that's the date the book focuses on. Before I briefly summarize the premise (in very short detail), I want to note I knew only vague things about Before I Fall prior to reading it; I'd simply been encouraged by multiple people to get going already and jump on the bandwagon. Quite honestly, I think that's the way to go. If you enjoy thoughtful YA lit with a well-developed female narrator where you're destined for a study of relationships with family, friends, and boys and the only "paranormal" element is an odd twist in time, then you will enjoy Lauren Oliver's debut novel. Don't spoil it, just start reading.

For those who need more, here we go. Samantha Kingston dies on February 12th after a fairly average day that includes school, hanging out with her popular friends, and attending a party given at the house of an odd boy that Sam knows has had a crush on her for years. On the way home from the party, she and her friends are in a car accident... but then, she wakes up in her own bed to find that it is once again February 12th. As she repeats the day again and again, each time a bit differently from the time before, she learns more about people around her, takes the time to reach different conclusions, and discovers that even a day is time enough to make important decisions.

Obviously, the reader can couch this in terms like "the YA lit version of the film, Groundhog Day," and the book doesn't deny it -- Sam herself even references the movie early on. As a result, while reading this, I worried for the sustainability of the idea... just what would make this day worth repeating? How would we avoid the potential boredom? Sam and her friends are initially presented as simple, self-involved popular girls (perhaps the "self-involved" bit rather goes without saying in high school)... and the end of the book, they're still self-involved popular girls, but they're far from simple. The book does an excellent job of showing that everyone has their issues and insecurities without totally absolving their poor behavior when it comes to how they treat other students (and even how they treat one another). These girls become fascinating, not necessarily for the justifications given for their actions, but for the fact that even without the small personal traumas that have shaped them, they are genuinely appealing -- the reader understands their pull and how others would want to be part of such a select group. They populate a charmed role in the high school hierarchy and even if you might not really want to be friends with them in real life, one comes to understand that they have friendships just like everyone else.

The book is geared towards an older teen audience, for very limited judgment is given out to things like sex, underage drinking, smoking, suicide, and driving under the influence. Having been rather sheltered and apparently very naive, I'm always a bit surprised at some of the things that I was totally oblivious to during high school (and I went to a Catholic all-girls school, so you know that stuff happened all around). It is, however, given the feel of something that could be a very real high school experience and as such, you credit Oliver with creating (or re-counting, perhaps) such a believable scene. Crazy, yes, but not out of the realm of possibility. Sam learns her lessons awfully quickly (with far greater speed than Bill Murray), but the reader accepts there is a lot of good in her, buried in allegiances to friends rather than a simple clawing desire to be popular. The blossoming love between Sam and a boy is charming and tragic as days start anew and progress is dashed. It's easy to cheer her on and feel deeply conflicted about the ultimate decisions that must be made, not in the sense that one doubts Oliver's direction, but because one quickly realizes that not everything can end well for every single person in the story. The ending is a brave one -- and perhaps made me like Oliver even more than I already did, for going ahead and sticking with something that isn't all that common in popular young adult literature, but I think readers will be pleased in a bittersweet way. One thing is for sure -- Lauren Oliver is a heck of a new writer to watch and I'm sure we'll be getting many fascinating and well-written tales from her for a long time.



I knew that Wither was going to be good before I started reading it because publishing friends of mine passed around a single ARC, each reader turning it over to the next in line within a day or two. While certain flaws were discussed, the general consensus was positive and that it was a very different dystopian world from what we'd all been reading... and we read a lot of them. So when my turn came up, I quickly finished what I was already reading and eagerly anticipated the moment of my morning commute when I could start. You should know that I've never really been one to draw things out and savor them; I read Wither in one day. I read through my commute, I read through my lunch break, and I was pleased when the express trains weren't running as it meant I would have more time to sit and read on the trip home... and then I simply kept reading once I arrived. There are a few minor faults that I can find with this novel, but by far the biggest I have with the whole experience is that since this copy of Wither is an ARC, it just means I have to wait that much longer until the sequel comes out and I'm already itching for more.

Many people accurately mention The Handmaid's Tale in their description of this dystopian YA novel. Wither is the first book in the "Chemical Garden Trilogy" by Lauren DeStefano, which is a terrible title for the series, so let's hope it just goes by the Wither Trilogy. It's set in a world around one hundred years in the future from our world now, after the third world war supposedly destroyed all continents save North America. The first generation of genetically "enhanced" people and their descendants have come to understand their terrible and irreversible fate: after the "first generation" (disease-free and healthy with nice long life-spans), every subsequent generation results in girls that die at twenty and boys that die at twenty-five from "the virus." Even at the time of the book, as the first generation is significantly aged, multiple generations have gone by and yet the world has managed to pack a great amount of danger and suffering into a very short timeline.

Sixteen-year-old Rhine lives with her twin brother Rowan in a dilapidated but still bustling New York, where they work whatever jobs they can to survive and barricade themselves into the basement of their home each night to protect themselves against thieves, scrounging orphaned children, and Gatherers. The gray-coated Gatherers snatch girls off the streets to fuel a lucrative kind of "slave" trade -- it feeds girls into brothels, sells them off as wives/breeders for the wealthy, or leaves them dead in ditches if they are unwanted by either market. Rhine and Rowan's parents were first generation scientists, working on finding a vaccine cure for the virus; they were killed when a bomb destroyed their lab and since then, the twins have had only each other.

The novel opens abruptly, dropping the reader right into the thick of the story and filling in the background details as we go. Rhine has been kidnapped by the Gatherers and is selected by a wealthy man as one of three brides -- the rest of the truck of girls brought for his inspection are shot as she's ushered into a limosine... where gas through the vents knock her unconscious. When she comes to, she finds herself in a mansion and the three girls are about to marry a man (Linden) whose current wife/love of his life bears a striking resemblance to Rhine and is slowly dying of the virus. Essentially the whole of the novel takes place within the walls of this mansion, describing the relationships between Rhine, Linden, her sister wives Jenna and Cecily, and the dark, looming figure of Linden's father, Housemaster Vaughn. As a first-generation, Housemaster Vaughn is a scientist, supposedly working night and day on a cure for the virus before it claims his beloved son, but immediately Rhine suspects Vaughn is doing something much darker than what his son believes. Vaughn runs the house and servants scurry around, in fear of him. Rhine has a single attendant (a young girl who seems to work magic in painting on Rhine's make-up), but starts to become friends with a servant named Gabriel. Rhine's sister-wives are each very different, but the three form a kind of family, as they have little choice but to band together. Jenna is eighteen, with a few tragedies in her past, and was captured into this life, but seems to think there are worse places to die, as she knows she will soon. Cecily is only thirteen and is eager to be a bride and please Linden -- and Cecily becomes pregnant almost immediately. The creep factor of Linden knocking up a thirteen-year-old is intense and the sexual politics here are kind of fascinating, as Jenna more-or-less appears to float through everything but Cecily seems jealous whenever Rhine receives attention from their husband. And it's not surprising that, given Rhine's resemblance to Linden's dying (and eventually dead) love, their relationship is complicated and twisted, too. When Linden comes to Rhine's bed, it's usually to sob over his lost first wife; when she quietly sidesteps sexual relations, he accepts it fairly readily and instead just sleeps beside her often. Rhine has difficulties in keeping her emotions about this young man straight -- she despises being trapped, but isn't sure how much Linden knows about the terrible circumstances that brought her there. It also doesn't help that her feelings are developing past friendship for Gabriel -- and keeping the door closed on their conversations could lead to talk among other servants and even Rhine's sister-wives. As she dreams of escape, she confides in Gabriel, who is reluctant to believe that such a plan could succeed. For Rhine, though, who has known freedom, Rhine constantly plans for the day when she can escape the grasp of housemaster Vaughn and return home to her brother. Almost a year passes in the confines of the estate during the course of this novel, a year where Rhine tests the limits and desperately plans to flee this gilded cage, preferably with Gabriel, but more and more the subtler themes make the reader aware that the ties she develops within the mansion to the people there mean she will likely not be happy with simple escape... Rhine will somehow play a role in overthrowing the larger system, or at least find someone who is truly working on a cure for the virus.

There are a whole lot of dystopian novels out there these days, but Wither manages to differentiate itself quite easily from the rest of the bunch. It deals with much darker and complicated topics: polygamy, teenage pregnancy, female sexual slavery, death, scientific experimentation on babies... Yeah, it's intense for young adult literature, and certainly shouldn't be given to too-young-teens. That said, those were the things that made it really fascinating -- maybe that's twisted, but every other dystopian novel out there seems to feature an all-powerful government that makes decisions for its people. In this world, there seems to be little centralized power that affects people, and instead it's a bit of a free-for-all where the wealthy (particularly the still-living first generations) can do whatever they'd like and everyone else has a very hard-scrabble life that is painfully short. Rhine is a strong and interesting character whose relationships are (mostly) never simplified. Everything is allowed to be complicated here, which gives great depth and layers to every interaction.

My only real complaint has to do with Rhine's relationship with Gabriel -- the author falls victim to the impulse to cut through their conversations by indicating they had deep talks that lasted for hours... but the reader doesn't get to see much of those conversations. As a result, we have to accept on faith this growing relationship between them, as opposed to seeing it progress. It also limits our sympathy towards Gabriel -- who we know must be a good guy, but we aren't given much to go on. On the other hand, we get *lots* of complicated conversations with Linden, and as a result, I felt more attached to her twisted-situation husband than I did to Gabriel. The complexities of that relationship clearly drew the attention of the author more than the somewhat boring idea of her growing attached to the nice servant boy. Since the relationship with Gabriel is supposed to be a big deal, I felt frustrated that such a fumble had occurred with him, but otherwise, that was my only real issue with things.

I wasn't thrilled with where the ending put us -- very Hunger Games in the sense that it's not a cliffhanger, but there's still a lot to do for the characters, so future books are clearly indicated by the forward-reaching vision. At least there's that, as I'm definitely excited about the next books in this series and can hardly wait to see what the next installment brings for Rhine, Gabriel, Linden, and the rest. Lauren DeStefano has certainly created an interesting world here, quite different from all the other dystopian worlds on the shelves right now, and if you enjoy YA lit, you should definitely make sure to read Wither.



The backstory of this novel is something out of a young bookworm's dream.  Thirteen-year-old Ross Workman sent a fan email to his favorite author, Walter Dean Myers, and then Myers wrote back suggesting they collaborate on a book.  Kick is the result of that collaboration and it's worth reading if only for the knowledge of how it came to be.

The basic story centers on teenage Kevin Johnson who tried to do something to help a friend and wound up in deep trouble.  The son of a cop killed in the line of duty, Kevin is one of the star players on his high school soccer team, but any chance at glory is jeopardized one night when he's found at the wheel of a crashed car, a crying female classmate in the passenger seat, and no story that he's willing to share that can explain any of it.  The car belongs to the girl's father and while he decides whether or not to press charges, Sergeant Jerry Brown takes an interest in the case based on the fact that Kevin has no record and his dad used to be on the force.  As the real story unfolds, Kevin and Sergeant Brown learn to trust each other and just maybe this means Kevin can salvage his bright future while not betraying the trust of his friend.

Clearly geared towards boys who might not otherwise read unless there's sports or a whiff of trouble, Kick is told from two perspectives passed back and forth -- Kevin's (written by Workman) and Seargeant Brown's (written by Myers).  Knowing the background of the novel, it's really quite an interesting experience to see the back-and-forth perspectives, knowing how the two authors collaborated.  With years of writing for teens, it was a pretty wonderful move on the part of Myers to reach out to a teen for a fresh voice to spark the young man's career, or at least give him material for a pretty fabulous college application essay.  Kick is a good choice from the 12+ boy who might require some sports in his books to make them appealing.  The ending is tidy, but it's better to give hope to kids who make a mistake.  Another fabulous book from Walter Dean Myers.

Note: I can't claim total subjectivity on this one, so take what you will from this review.