All Our Yesterdays- Cristin Terrill

Goodreads Summary:

What would you change?

Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.

Marina has loved her best friend, James, since they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it… at least, not as the girl she once was. Em and Marina are in a race against time that only one of them can win.

All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.


I have been trying a new thing lately.  I try to jot down a few sentences of my thoughts on a book on Goodreads since it has been taking me a while to get around to writing reviews.  My notes are pretty awful, but sometimes they jog my memory about things I want to elaborate on in a review.  Well, I went back and read my Goodreads review for All Our Yesterdays and well, it is much different that what I was going to sit down and write in this review!  Upon finishing All Our Yesterdays, I mostly liked the story and thought it had interesting themes, though it didn’t wow me.  A typical good, but not great sort of feeling/rating from me.  Looking back on it now, all I can think is that it wasn’t very special at all and that I remember next to nothing about it.  It’s kind of like I didn’t even read it.  So.  That’s a depressing sum up of my feelings, but yeah, I think this is worth checking out from the library if like the idea of a smash up of time travel, dystopia, and YA romance.  Otherwise, skip it.  Or read it and completely forget everything about it 3 weeks later.

This has been my short and somewhat scathing review of a book I supposedly liked.


The Handmaid’s Tale- Margaret Atwood

This book has been on my TBR list since before I started blogging and sitting on my shelf at home for over a year.  I finally, finally read it and am happy I did.

Offred lives in Gilead, the country (part of?) the US turns into when the religious right-wingers stage a military coup and take over the country, all in the face of declining fertility and birth rates.  Gilead is patriarchal in the extreme and women have be relegated to subservient roles: Wife/Mother, Handmaids or surrogate mothers, Marthas or housekeepers, Aunts or female enforcers of the system, and a few fringe women who survive as prostitutes in an exclusive club.  Male society is similarly regimented, though a little less oppressive, with those in power given the title Commander and the rest of the men untitled, some deserving an Econowife, some not even deserving of that.

Life for Offred is beyond miserable.  She can remember the time before she became a Handmaid, when she was married to Luke and had a young daughter and a job of her own.  But she is stuck in this new reality, where her only purpose and value is to provide a child for her Commander and his Wife.  To try to rebel or to even think of rebellion seems destined to land Offred hanged on The Wall or shipped off for hard manual labor in The Colonies.  Boxed in and fearful to trust anyone, she is completely without choice, without hope, without purpose, without activity, without identity, without humanity.

The Handmaid’s Tale is interesting social commentary about the extremes of life under a brutal, religious, patriarchal regime.  It is terrifying to imagine a world where women are stripped of every right and their humanity, as seems possible when a woman is defined only by her usefulness to men and her usefulness in the propagation of the species.  It is not particularly surprising to see a woman suffering in these restrictive circumstances, but what struck me was how so many of the men were suffering, too, because of the restrictions on women.  It seemed that the older men, who could remember the time before Gilead, missed the intellectual company and emotional intimacy with women (though this observation is based primarily on Offred’s Commander, whose motivations are mixed), as well as women’s sexuality.  This is a society in which there are very few winners.

I was probably most impressed by how well-written this story was.  The tone and mood were perfect.  I felt just as trapped, stifled, and hopeless as Offred when I read her story.  I was also pleasantly surprised that something this literary gripped me as much as, say, The Hunger Games or Divergent.  The ending is open-ended, but I was ok with that.  Sometimes I want this story to have a happy ending; sometimes I feel like there was no way for it to have a happy ending.  Leaving it open-ended gives it some flexibility and, of course, there is always something more horrific about not knowing what happens in such a dire situation.

My only trouble with this book, while reading, was the world-building.  The transition from the 1980s United States to Gilead happens, in Offred’s recollections, rapidly and almost without warning.  It seemed a little crazy to me that people would so willingly and easily cede power to such an extremist group.  I had no doubts about how Gilead kept its power, as violence against sinners and dissenters figures prominently as a means of social control and also as a means for the oppressed to vent their frustration, but I had a hard time grasping how things could have changed so drastically, so quickly.  After thinking about it for a while, I think that this is Atwood’s way of warning us about how accepting small concessions in terms of inequality can quickly and drastically snowball out of control, as well as a reminder that the personal is political.  Offred didn’t pay attention to politics and didn’t take seriously her mother’s second wave feminist beliefs and efforts.  She takes her rights for granted and does not recognize the threat to them until it is too late.

I can’t believe it took me so long to get to The Handmaid’s Tale, as it probably is one of the better dystopian novels I have read.  If you like dystopia or feminism and haven’t read this, I’d highly recommend you check it out.  It does not disappoint on either front.

When She Woke- Hillary Jordan

Hannah Payne wakes up in a jail cell with her skin dyed bright red– the punishment for murder.  Hannah’s crime?  Having an abortion and refusing to name the father of her child.  Hannah begins a journey of self-discovery and forgiveness as she learns to navigate in a world that stigmatizes her for her actions at the same time she loses her family, her faith, and her true love.

I was really excited to read this book as it sounded right up my alley.  A retelling of The Scarlet Letter?  A dystopian world where abortion is illegal and evangelical Christianity controls the government?  A book set in the town I live in?  Women’s issues?  Seriously, I thought this was a slam-dunk for me… however, I was mostly disappointed.  I think ultimately the book deals with important and interesting issues, but was not executed to my satisfaction.

First of all, the world that Hannah lives in is a not-so-distant future in which the United States has recently suffered and recovered from a plague of some sort of STD which rendered many sufferers sterile.  The fear of population and morality loss due to this plague allows evangelical Christians to assume political power and cultural hegemony, resulting in the outlawing of abortion.  The “chroming” (skin-dying) as punishment comes about because of the overcrowding and underfunding of prisons.  I guess this is an interesting explanation for Hannah’s crime and punishment, but I didn’t need a back story to believe that abortion had been outlawed in the United States or that criminals are stigmatized and relegated to the margins of society.  I guess it was nice that the author tried to create a bridge between how we got from where we are now to where the US is in her book, but a lot of the world-building made this future seem more distant and foreign to me.  I think it would have been harder-hitting if there wasn’t so much distance between Hannah’s world and our own.

That said, this book was mostly set in the Dallas area and that is where I live, so there was some personal resonance because of the setting.  In a way, it hit me harder to see that Hannah was in places I know, ordering pizza from a restaurant I frequent, and driving down the same freeways I do.  At the same time, though, I was a little confused about this future.  If so much had changed and presumably so much time has passed, why were the roads and restaurants and town names still the same?  I guess when I would hit details of places I recognized, it took me out of the story some.  On a side note, I vaguely remember discussing verisimilitude along with The Scarlet Letter in high school, so I am wondering if Jordan intentionally used these details to heighten the sense of reality of her narrative and to parallel Hawthorne’s work.

Setting and world-building aside, I had a hard time connecting with Jordan’s characters, too.  Hannah’s struggles were upsetting to see, especially in regards to the violence she is subjected to as a “fallen” woman.  But I didn’t understand a lot of her motivations… she is still desperately in love with Aidan, the father of her baby, even though he’s done nothing love-worthy and seems more like a cardboard cut-out than a human being.  Her crisis in faith seems very easily resolved, when I think it would be a much more dramatic and difficult issue for her.  I also had a really hard time understanding her attachments to a fellow chrome friend, Kayla, and to her revolutionary kidnappers.  Hannah’s character really needed to make more sense for this story to be pulled off.

What I did like in this book was its honest portrayal of both sides of the abortion war as flawed.  The establishment, religion, and government are clearly invading Hannah’s right to privacy and limiting her ability to choose what her life looks like.  At the same time, however, the underground pro-choice group, the Novemberists, is violent and doesn’t seem to have much respect for human life if it gets in the way of their mission.  Basically– both sides are ugly and don’t respect individual rights because they are too caught up in executing their vision of a perfect world.

Finally, I need to address a scene in this book that really bothered me.  Hannah has a lesbian experience with one of the Novemberists, Simone.  Hannah actively disliked Simone until her feelings suddenly change and she desires Simone.  Also, Simone refuses Hannah’s advances at first, repeatedly saying “no” and “stop” and “this is not a good idea,” but Hannah continues despite Simone’s protestations.  I think the author intends for the sex scene to be an empowering moment for Hannah, but I can’t think of anything further from empowering than sex that is coerced and not wanted by the other partner (even though Simone is seduced by Hannah and submits willingly in the end, it still seems coerced to me to have her say “no” to Hannah’s initial moves and not have her wishes respected).  This isn’t sexual liberation or the development of a healthy idea of sex… it is pretty much an endorsement of rape culture.

I am a bit conflicted about whether or not to recommend this book… it brings up a lot of important issues and offers many topics for discussion.  I was very interested in it, even while reading it.  However, there are some serious flaws in both the execution and in terms of the message sent about what healthy sex is.  I think I wish someone else had written this book with the same premise and had actually been successful at it.  All in all, I’m glad I didn’t buy this book when it first came out, like I almost did last year.  I think you might be better off looking for another book that deals with similar themes (maybe Unwind) than bothering with this one.

UnWholly- Neal Shusterman

I know I’ve mentioned a thousand times how much I liked Unwind  by Neal Shusterman and how it is such a good and awesome book and it will make you think and feel and why haven’t you read it yet?  Well, when I finished Unwind, I was content in thinking there would be no sequel.  However, in writing my review, I discovered that this would indeed be yet.another.trilogy.  Ok, fine, I thought.  I will read UnWholly when it comes out and I might be disappointed by another middle book in trilogy (Insurgent, I am looking at you).

So I approached UnWholly with some caution.  And I probably didn’t need to.  UnWholly is all kinds of good and thought-provoking.  Shusterman is an author who turned his book into a trilogy because he had more to say and more issues to explore (eugenics!  black market organs!), not because he (or a publisher) wanted to stretch his one story over three books to make more money.  This is something I can applaud and endorse wholeheartedly.

We are brought back to the crazy world in which ending a life is illegal from conception until 13 years of age, but between ages 13 and 16 (the age limit was lowered after the mess at Happy Jack Harvest Camp) unwinding unruly and unwanted teens is legitimate and necessary in order to sustain a medical system which is able to transplant any and all organs.  We get to see what Connor, Risa, and Lev are up to these days, but we are also introduced to some new characters– Camus Comprix, a human made entirely of other people’s harvested organs, Starkey, a storked baby who is enraged at the lesser treatment of storks, Miracolina, a tithe who has made peace with becoming a sacrifice to God, and a so-called parts-pirate, who abducts runaway unwinds or unfortunate teens for sale on the black market.

I don’t want to spoil this book for those of you who have yet to read Unwind, but I will say you learn a little more about why the Unwind Accords were struck up, why parents and the government were able to turn a blind eye towards their troubled young people.  You also get a glimpse of the future, of what could be possible if teens banded together to fight against the system instead of hide from it.  You also get to see more nefarious sides of organ harvesting… like the boy made up of other people’s body parts– what sort of humanity does he have?  Is he as much a victim of this system as the unwinds themselves are?  And you get a glimpse into the black market of organ harvesting, which is as much or if not more disturbing than government-sanctioned unwinding.

We also get the perspective of another deeply troubled unwind like we did with Roland in Unwind.  I almost can understand the justification for unwinding these youthful psychopaths.  Shusterman deals in the shades of gray, and his portrayal of the varying troubledness of unwinds just clouds the issue even further.  Can we justify killing off the most dangerous/sick members of our society?  If so, what happens when their organs are transplanted into others?  Does that evil live on in their body parts?

If you haven’t given this series a try, I’d highly recommend it.  Shusterman will challenge you to think, question your black-and-white positions on divisive issues like abortion and genetic research and at the same time give you characters you will root for and ones you will cringe at.  There is such complexity to the characters, world, and issues in this book that it has quickly become one of my favorite dystopian series out there.

Insurgent- Veronica Roth

Ok, so I’m going to start this review with a disclaimer.  It gets kind of ranty from here on out.  I was totally stressed out and exhausted when I read this book.  So maybe my general crankiness with life had something to do with my crankiness towards this book.  I also had pretty high expectations given the amount of hype Insurgent got and given how much I loved Divergent.  So maybe I was just asking to be disappointed.  I don’t know.  Whatever the case, this book just didn’t do it for me.  It was merely ok.

Insurgent starts right where Divergent left off.  And I mean exactly where it left off.  You get not transition easing you into the book (and call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think you should have to read an author’s blog as a refresher before a sequel) and no reminder of who the heck we’re dealing with.  All I needed was the addition of “my brother” in the first sentence about Caleb and a quick reminder of what just went down.  Seriously, not too much to ask, I don’t think.

Picking up right where Divergent left off is not only problematic for those of us with sieve-like memories, but it also left a wide gaping hole in explaining Tris’s sudden personality change.  We leave her as a kickass rebel and come back to her as a depressed zombie (think Katniss in Mockingjay).  I know she lost her parents, I know she killed her best friend’s boyfriend, I know that there’s a freaking war going on, but everything I loved about Tris in Divergent seemed to disappear in this book.  She became foolish, rash, and selfish and stopped being courageous, logical, and selfless.  She has a death wish.  She starts sabotaging her relationship with Tobias/Four with all her depressed/suicidal nonsense.  I kept wondering if I’d been completely duped by thinking Tris was a kickass female hero.  She’s not that way in this book.  She doesn’t take her pain and channel it in to positive action.  She spends the whole book making stupid decisions and putting herself in harm’s way out of some misplaced sense of grief/duty/nobility.  If male characters can suffer grief and remain kickass, why can’t the girls?

And Tobias sort of turns into Gale from Mockingjay in this one, too.  He gets caught up in the rebel factionless politics and starts playing into the war games, instead of being the character I’d like to see.  You know, the one who stands up for what is right, not what is popular, not what has the backing of his mom, not a plan that will surely end with a different tyrant, but tyranny all the same.  And I really couldn’t grasp why he and Tris kept making out at such weird times.  Like… if she’s as depressed as she’s acting, is she really all that interested in his muscular tattooed body?

The best part about the book was getting to take a peek into the other factions.  You get to travel to Amity and Candor and the factionless zones and get to see just how messed up all the other factions are.  The ideals these factions once embodied are gone, enforced by happy-pill bread and truth serum.  I get the feeling we’re moving towards the sort of society embodied by Four’s tattoos… one that embraces the strengths of all five factions.  However, there is quite a bit of foreshadowing about life beyond the walls of Chicago, so clearly that’s going to play a part in this whole thing, too.  I guess I am curious to see where this will end up, but I don’t know if in a year or two I will remember/care enough to be able to delve into the third book.

Ok, so I know most of you will read this and most of you will probably actually enjoy it.  In fact, I encourage you to read the series because the first book was great!  Just… don’t let the hype get your expectations too high and don’t take this series too seriously, I guess.

Unwind- Neal Shusterman

Unwind cover

After the Heartland War, the US’s second civil war fought over reproductive rights, an uneasy compromise is struck: no life may be intentionally ended from conception until the age of 13.  Between the ages of 13 and 18, though, a child may be “unwound” at the discretion of his/her parents/guardians.  Unwinds, as these children are called, are dissembled with all their organs being transplanted to different donors.  Unwind is the story of three runaway unwinds: Connor, your typical angry and out-of-control teen, Risa, a ward of the state who isn’t talented enough to support to adulthood, and Lev, whose religious parents tithe him.

I listened to Unwind on audiobook, read by Luke Daniels.  At first, I wasn’t too pleased with the reading of the book.  Daniels has a bit of a forceful voice and it was starkly in contrast to my last audiobook (Matched which was read by the soft-spoken Kate Simses).  However, as the book went on, I came to be more accepting.  It was an incredibly harsh reality that these kids lived in and the strength and harshness of Daniels’s voice was absolutely appropriate.  It just took a little getting used to.  My only major complaint with the voice acting was some of the minority characters’ voices were a bit stereotypical.  I’m not really sure that there is a good alternative to this when a character is described as speaking with a particular accent, but it irritated me a bit.

This may be one of my favorite dystopias.  I loved the characters, I loved the world, I loved the big issues.  All of the characters were really well-developed and were written in such a way that you knew/understood them.  Connor, especially, grows up so much over the course of the book and becomes a strangely loveable character.  He is the sort of kid who is always getting in fights, but is so noble and has such integrity, that you end up respecting him quite a bit.  It was great, too, to see Risa discovering that she had much more potential than she was ever pegged with while living as a ward of the state.  Lev makes many disastrous mistakes, yet always seems to make the right decision in the end.  I couldn’t hate him, even when he was being reckless and destructive.

The point of view changes multiple times and you get to see in the heads of everyone from Connor, Risa, and Lev to a mob of unwinds to a random doctor, etc.  That was actually a highlight of the story.  I got a very complete picture of how unwinding had affected society because of the variety of perspectives.

Perhaps what I loved most about this book, though, was how the big issues were discussed.  Unwinding is a response to a war over abortion and it turns out that there are NO WINNERS in this war.  Unwanted children know that they are unwanted and unloved and feel unworthy.  In one example in this story, an unwanted baby left on a doorstep (a practice called storking) is bounced from house to house to house until it finally dies from lack of care.  On the other hand, though, the ending of a life is just as tragic as an unwanted life.  Many of these unwinds are on the path to self-destruction anyways, but one lesson we learn in this story is that we don’t know the potential of a person and we will never know if that life is ended prematurely.  There is no winner– kids lose out, parents lose out, society loses out.  There is no good solution.  Abortion, unwinding, unwanted children– it is only a matter of the lesser of evils, not a matter of a right way.

Definitely add this to your to-be-read list if you are a fan of dystopia.  It is everything great about dystopias– great characters, an interesting world, and a frank discussion of a very divisive issue.

Thanks for the Recommendation:
The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh listed this as one of her favorite dystopians and that is why I picked it up.  Her review can be found here.

Matched- Ally Condie

cover of Matched by Ally Condie

Cassia lives in the dystopian Society where all decisions, including her romantic partner, are made for her based on statistical data gathered about her personality and genetics.  Cassia is matched with her BFF, Xander, but the microcard with his data also contains the face of another boy, Ky.  Circumstances throw Cassia and Ky together and they slowly fall in love– against the wishes of the Society.  Cassia must decide whether to trust the Society or whether she is willing to risk everything to choose for herself.

I listened this this on audiobook, read by Kate Simses and must start by saying this was an excellent audio-read.  Simses actually sounded like a 17 year old girl and her voice really matched Cassia’s changing attitudes.  In the beginning of the story, she sounds innocent, breathy, and dreamy– like a teenager who has yet to be disillusioned by the world around her and awaits falling in love and starting a career.  By the end, though, there is more of a sharpness or desperation to her voice, matching Cassia’s increasingly frustrating situation.

I enjoyed this book because the Society was an interesting dystopia and because Cassia was a pretty interesting character to follow.  Although there wasn’t a whole lot of action or fighting or war or anything in this book, Cassia is a strong, courageous character.  She fights in a much quieter way that I liked seeing after reading a lot of very violent dystopias.  She learns to write in a society that only uses computers.  She memorizes poems that are outside of the Society’s 100 poems list.  (The Society has only 100 approved poems, along with 100 approved songs, paintings, etc.)  She falls in love with someone she isn’t allowed to.  Her rebellions are small, but they mean something much more.  She is choosing for herself and that is the biggest no-no in the Society.  It seems far more real to me that Cassia would start with small rebellions like these before moving on to outright revolution and Society-toppling.

In general, I am not a huge fan of love triangles, but this one did not bother me really.  Cassia is not choosing between Xander and Ky.  She is choosing between what the Society says is good for her and what she wants for herself.  Cassia never would have chosen Xander, but for the Society telling her to.  She loves Xander as a friend and doesn’t seem all that eager to have to change this attitude to a more romantic one, once she discovers she has feelings for Ky.  So really, I didn’t think this was much of a love triangle.  Cassia worries about hurting Xander’s feelings, but she doesn’t really angst on about her feelings for him (or if she did I tuned it out).

While I enjoyed listening to this book, I’m in no hurry to get to the sequels.  I have heard that the second book, Crossed, was a bit of a disappointment and I am not left feeling like I must find out what happens next.  Whenever the final segment of the trilogy, Reached, comes out, I’ll decide whether or not I really want to finish out the trilogy.

Violence and Dystopia

Today I’m talking about violence in dystopia.  If you would like to read more of my thoughts (and some insightful comments) on the dystopian genre: check out my posts about the present popularity of dystopia and the role of the strong female hero in dystopia.

**As a warning, I have to use a couple spoilers in order to actually talk about this, so beware if you are concerned with spoilers about The Hunger Games, Divergent, Partials, or the Chaos Walking series.**

Dystopia is a fairly violent genre and that violence in dystopian lit seems to span a range of cultural notions about violence.  Since this post would be out of control if I talked about all of them, I want to focus on the relationship between violence and government in dystopias.

First, we see governments using violence as a means of social control.  In The Hunger Games, for example, the Capitol pits its citizens against one another in a fight to the death in order to retain its tenuous control over the districts.  Having the districts direct their violence towards one another serves to prevent the districts from turning their superior manpower and resources into violence against the Capitol.  In Divergent, the Erudite and Dauntless leaders conspire together to turn the Dauntless into a mind-controlled army who will kill off any resistance.  This allows the Erudite to rebel against the established order without getting their own hands dirty and also gives them access to the best, most obedient soldiers.  Can’t get much more social control than mind control.  In Partials (which I am about 3/4 of the way through), the Senate launches “rebel” attacks on their own town.  By doing so, the government tries to scare their populace into unity (and thus compliance with unpopular fertility measures) by creating a shared enemy.

These pictures of government-sanctioned violence shouldn’t come as much surprise, since we have seen plenty of violent governments in recent history.  What is interesting is that these examples do not (initially) involve the government directly inflicting violence on its own people, mainly because no one dares to rebel against the government’s order in these societies.  Rather, the government requires/forces/prods its citizens killing one another to distract from their actual discontent with the government.  This sort of violence seems to serve the purpose of reinforcing how corrupt, unjust, and dystopian these societies actually are and to justify the next government-related type of violence– war or revolution.

The Hunger Games trilogy and the Chaos Walking trilogy both feature all-out revolutions/wars (I am leaving off books in incomplete series because the wars haven’t started yet).  This is probably the closest that dystopian violence gets to being regenerative… in that it is used to regenerate society and set it on the path to a new, more peaceful and just order.  At the same time, however, the individual characters suffer tremendous loss and personal suffering as a result of war violence.  Katniss may gain the hope of a new future without famine and the games, but only at the cost of losing her sister, her spirit, and Peeta’s sanity.  Todd and Viola may save the New World from self-destruction, but Todd ends up in a coma, tons of innocent people and Spackle are killed, and perhaps worst of all, Todd is forced to lose his innocence through killing another person.  The price of violence is incredibly high in dystopian societies and often it is incredibly senseless.  I can’t think of a better incident of senseless violence than when Aaron kills Manchee in The Knife of Never Letting Go.  In the end, though, we are given the message that this violence is justified and worthwhile because it results in the ousting of a unjust (and often violent) regime.

The ultimate message, then, seems to be that violence is both contextual and costly.  Violence for no reason or for means of social control is bad, but violence in support of revolution is ok… though either way people will die, lives will be changed, and not necessarily for the better.

Feel free to share your thoughts on dystopian violence in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books On My Spring To-Be-Read list

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme brought to you by the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish (the pic also belongs to them).  This week’s theme is Top Ten Books On My Spring To-Be-Read list (new releases or otherwise).

My TBR list is out of control, but here are a few that I am hoping to get to sooner rather than later!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – I love John Green and have heard only good things about this book.  I’ve been on my library’s hold list for almost two months.  It is a testament to my ability to be easily distracted by other books that I haven’t gone out and purchased this yet.

On the Island by Tracy Garvis Graves – A survival/romance story that I have also heard nothing but good things about.  The blog review I read was so positive that I bought this the next day and that almost never happens… I am really eager to get through my library holds so I can start this one!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – I browsed this one at a book store and knew I had to read it after seeing some of the photographs.  I spent much time in grad school talking about and perusing old photographs, so this is up my alley in that respect.  I’ve been on the hold list at the library for at least 6 weeks and suspect this one won’t come my way for at least another month or two.  So it may end up being summer reading!

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – This is April’s BHA pick, so I will be reading along with some others online.  I read this book as a kid and remember loving it, but it has been so long I couldn’t tell you the first thing about it.  Very excited to revisit an old favorite!

Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien – I have been trying to read all the dystopia I can this year because I love it and because I like to think big thoughts about it.  This one has a midwife as a main character and that is cool.

World War Z by Max Brooks – After my disappointing first encounter with a zombie book, I am looking to find one that will actually be as awesome as I think a zombie book should be.  And this book’s subtitle says “oral history” which make me think this would be a fun audiobook.  Also, my reading twin recommended it.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins – This is another that I have only heard good things about.  I admittedly roll my eyes at a romance set in Paris, but I also want to know what all the fuss is about.  So I will read it.  And hopefully not roll my eyes too much.

Paper Towns by John Green – I am working my way through all of the John Green this spring.  This is the other (besides TFIOS) which I haven’t read yet.

1984 by George Orwell – A classic dystopia.  I really am trying to read all the dystopia I can.  I find it fascinating!

Unwind by Neal Shusterman – All the dystopia.  This one made a bunch of top ten dystopia lists from last week, so I am going to add this one to the pile, too!

What are you hoping to read this spring?

More thoughts on dystopia: The Strong Female Hero

My thoughts on the popularity of dystopia are here.

In grad school, I took a course where we tried to answer the question of why cowboys and the American West were so prominent in 20th century American culture.  One of the most convincing answers was that the cowboy gave boys a template of masculinity in an era where masculinity was put to the test by industrialization and women’s entry in the so-called public sphere.  In West of Everything, (check that out if the Western is of particular interest to you) Jane Tompkins claims that girls like herself identified with cowboys because pop culture of the 20th century (until probably the 80s or 90s, at least) didn’t offer an equivalent female hero.  The women in most Westerns are either virginal brides or prostitutes; they are there to either save or serve the men.

All that to say that I find it pretty remarkable that dystopias, as a new cultural phenomenon, often feature strong female heroes that both boys and girls can identify with.  Heroes like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games or Tris from Divergent seem to embody a more modern idea of femininity which encompasses success in both romantic and interpersonal relationships and in a career or other non-familial/romantic areas.  If being a woman in today’s culture means “doing it all,” then we certainly see a girl like Katniss living up to that ideal.  She is able to juggle the more traditional female roles of a romantic relationship and caretaking of her sister and mother with the more modern female (or perhaps even masculine) roles of breadwinning and fighting a war.  She best displays this “doing it all” femininity when she is in the first games– she takes care of a sick Peeta while in the midst of fighting the other tributes and struggling for survival.  She is caring and compassionate and strong and violent all at the same time.  I can’t even express how awesome I think it is that kickass, complex, do-it-all female hero is this popular in today’s culture.

At the same, however, it is really interesting that while the strong female hero is gaining popularity in dystopian novels and movies, some government officials are working to restrict access to reproductive control for women.  Some dystopian lit actually deals directly with the restriction of women’s rights (The Handmaid’s Tale and When She Woke are notable examples which come to mind), but I have yet to read any of those so I can’t comment on them.  Is the strong female hero we see a response to these threats to restrict women’s rights?  Probably in some cases, but I think it is also likely a representation of the plurality of feminine identities in modern society.  After all, Katniss is popular in the same time and space as Bella Swan, a female lead derided by some for her lack of strength, personal convictions, and individual identity, as well as her deference to the men in her life.

What are your thoughts?  Why do we see the rise of a strong female hero with dystopia?  How do you think the strong female hero relates to gender roles and issues in contemporary society?