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Insurgent by Veronica Roth Book #2 of the Divergent Trilogy

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I love the premise to this series. People are put into different factions based on their interests and skills. While they are told which faction they are best suited for, ultimately they choose their own. If they choose one that they are not suited for and fail initiation, they are exiled from the community and live with the factionless. This is all explained in book 1, Divergent.

This story is very difficult to explain in a few words. There are many characters, it’s a complex world they live in, and things are definitely not what you think they are. Basically, it’s about people trying to take control, the people fighting against them, and those caught in between. If you haven’t read Divergent recently I suggest you going back and re-read it before opening Insurgent. The characters are often referring to situations that happened in the first story. If you haven’t read Divergent, you shouldn’t read Insurgent, or even this review

At the end of Divergent and throughout this book, Tris and Four and their allies have to worry about the simulation, a machine that can control people from a remote location.  The idea of mind control is frightening. Tris is trying to figure out how to fight against people who are innocent–and sometimes her friends–when they are trying to kill her.  She knows they have no control over their actions but she has to protect herself and those around her. She also has to come to terms with killing her friend Will while he was under the simulation. And other characters from have to live with knowing they killed a lot of innocent people while they themselves where under the simulation.

I did not love Insurgent as much as I loved Divergent, but I was still a good book. I found at times I had to re read sections of the book because I felt I missed something.  Then when I went back through, I realized details were left out. I was getting annoyed with Tris and her constant mood swings. I understand she just went through a traumatic experience, but one moment she’s all bad ass and the next she’s huddling in a corner. She’s so distressed she can’t hold a gun, but she can stab a guy in the neck with a knife. Maybe it’s just me, but she was getting a little irritating. I don’t know, maybe that makes her more realistic. I still loved the book. I don’t have to love all the characters all the time. The ending was a cliffhanger, left me frustrated and yelling “ARG” just the way a cliffhanger should. The next book, which Roth is jokingly (I hope) referring to as Detergent, is scheduled to come out August 2013.

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The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I do not know how I am going to do this book justice.

This book is much deeper than books that I have read recently. There is no love triangle. The book is not salacious or full of teenage angst. This is not a book to devour; it is a book to savor. It is just a beautiful story written about a horrible time in world history. It focuses on the experiences of a young girl and Death.

The story of Liesel Meminger is told from the eyes of Death as he* goes through World War II collecting souls. Death does not enjoy his job and tries to focus on the beauty in the world while coming for the dead. He first meets the young heroine when he comes for her six year old brother, Werner, who dies on the train. They are on their way to their new foster home. This is also when Liesel steals her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook. She sees it while leaving her brother’s funeral. At this point Liesel is twelve and cannot read, but books call to her and she is fascinated by the words.

*Death is not given a gender in this book. “He” is not a person. He just exists as a conscious. I am calling it a he for the sake of grammar.

Next Liesel is taken to her new foster home and we meet Rosa and Hans Huberman. Hans Huberman has been added to my list of the best literary fathers along with Atticus Finch and Mr. Bennett.

This man is the moral compass for the book. He does what he can for his family and others. He is gentle and loving in a quiet, standoffish way. He does not push Liesel to love him, he simply is there for her when she wakes up from nightmares in the middle of the night and stays by her bed.

“*** A definition not found in the dictionary*** Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children.”

He discovers her obsession with books and her inability to read. He begins teaching her to read and write in the middle of the night, their secret 2 am classes.

Liesel and the Hubermans live in a poor area. Hans refuses to join the Nazi party at first and his ability to get work suffers because of this. However when his neighbors need his help, he paints their windows even when all they can offer him as payment is half a cigarette.

As the book comes to a close, there is a sense of impending doom. You know it’s coming, but you continue to read on. In a small way, it parallels the feelings of the characters; you march along with them towards tragedy.

While this book is not like the other books I have been reading, it does still have that dystopian feel. It’s about a small village in Germany during World War II. These people have to be careful what they say, who they talk to, what they read. They can’t speak ill of the Fuehrer. It’s about people who take small but important punches at the totalitarian government they live in. They do what they can to stay alive, but they don’t let the evils of their leader take away their humanity and empathy. And this book is about the importance of the written word. It provides comfort and support it dire times.

There is so much sadness in this book I am reluctant to tell people they should read it. The book made me cry and for a little while I was a little angry at the author and the woman who told me to read it. However, if you liked A Thousand Splendid Suns or Kite Runner, you would probably like this book. It doesn’t have a happy ending, but there is a sense of hope for the future. This is not a book that I will read again and again, but it will stay with me. I hope this book becomes part of the canon; I would love to teach it.

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Unwind by Neal Shusterman

“One thing you learn when you’ve lived as long as I have —

people aren’t all good, and people aren’t all bad.

We move in and out of darkness and light all of our lives.

Right now, I’m pleased to be in the light”

Unwind has one of the most upsetting premises of any book that I have recently read: post birth abortions called unwinding. That’s not to say that kids fighting to the death, the government secretly poisoning its citizens, or surgically removing humans’ ability to love is not scary, it’s more that I have heard about this idea in our current society.  It’s easier to accomplish.

In this world created by Neil Shushterman, if a parents or guardians decides that they no longer want to care for their child before the child turns eighteen, they can have him/her unwound. The child’s body is taken apart and used as donor parts for people who need organs, limbs, anything. The families are told that the child doesn’t really die because he lives on as part of all the people he has helped live. Abortion as we know it is not allowed; however, the parent may choose to unwind the child between thirteen and eighteen.

“…a parent may choose to retroactively ‘abort’ a child…on the condition that the child’s life doesn’t ‘technically’ end. The process by which a child is both terminated and yet kept alive is called ‘unwinding.'”

The book follows three major characters. Connor is a sixteen year old rebellious child, always causing trouble.  He just discovered his parents are having him unwound, then taking his younger on a trip to the Bahamas the next day. So he decides to run away.  If he can make it to his eighteenth birthday, he is considered safe. Risa is an orphan, a ward of the state. She has spent her time focused on becoming a concert pianist, but she’s not the best. Because prebirth abortions are no longer permitted, there are many unwanted children being born and the orphanages are busy. Risa is told that she doesn’t have anything worthwhile to contribute to society and will just be a burden on the state. She too, is going to be unwound.

Lastly we have Lev. While he is also scheduled to be unwound, his story is very different. He comes from a very religious family who follows the tradition of tithing, giving back ten percent of everything you have to God. Since Lev is the tenth child, it was determined from the time his mother was pregnant that he would be unwound. He is treated very well and even thrown a lavish party to celebrate his upcoming tithing. These children are treated like saints.  On his way to his unwinding, he crosses paths with the runaways Risa and Connor, who “rescue” him from his family.  Now the three of them are AWOL.  They meet other kids who are also AWOL and people who are willing to help them.

Shusterman does a great job alternating the third person limited point of view between Connor, Risa, and Lev mostly, but every once in awhile choosing to show the perspective of minor characters.  Shusterman’s prose is not flowery; it is straight forward and poignant.  It is beautiful in its brusqueness.   He shows the anger and fear of his characters in a way that sticks with you and makes your heart ache for them, even months after you are finished reading the book.

There are a few scenes that are extremely powerful.  In one chapter, Shusterman gives the reader an unwinding through the eyes of the kid being unwound.  The child is kept alive the entire time knowing what is coming next.  It was very difficult to read emotionally.  More than once I wanted to skip to the end of it, but it’s so powerful I couldn’t put it down.  This scene gives this character such depth.  And I think that’s Shusterman’s gift in this book, his characterization.   His characters are complicated people with many layers.  The pain these kids feel is so realistic it resonates deep within the reader.  And like the quote I began with says, they are not entirely good, but they are not entirely bad either.

This book is about many things, one being love.  These kids are scared, angry, and sad because their parents gave up on them and sent them away to be taken apart.  The people who are supposed to love and protect them are the ones sending them to their deaths.  The unwinding process is so cold and clinical.  Now, as well as trying to survive, they are trying to find someone who loves them.  They are looking for acceptance and for another human to think of them as worthy of life.  This book is also about making hard decisions and living with the consequences of those choices, the guilt that may never go away.  And for some, trying to make it right.

This is a book that I would read again and recommend for others to read.  Unwind is the first in a series, but it’s a great story by itself.  It sets you up for another story while giving the reader a sense of closure on the first part.  Unwholly is set to come out around August of 2012.   I am looking forward to reading it.

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