Book review: Gifted, by H.A. Swain

Swain, H.A. Gifted. Feiwel and Friends, 2016. $17.99. ISBN 9781250028303. 327 pgs. Ages 14 and up. P7 Q7

In a world where genetic modification creates artistic prodigies among the rich and privileged, Orpheus Chanson, son of elite “Plute” Harold Hanson, who holds the copyright for Acquired Savant Abilities (ASA) surgery, has no interest in being modified, so he runs away. Orpheus finds himself outside the city, where the “plebes” scratch out a living working for the delivery factories that supply everything to the cities. Just order online and it arrives at your door. He meets Zimri, a plebe with an amazing voice. With his connections and her talents, they could just change the world!

Verdict:This sci-fi tale is the classic “star-crossed lovers from across the tracks” theme with a dystopian twist. Told in alternating first-person narrative, the stories of each character unfold smoothly. The pacing is good, and the depiction of an all-too-possible future will capture the interest of teen readers.

March 2019 review by Sudi Stodola.

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Book review: This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab

Schwab, Victoria.  This Savage Song.  Greenwillow Books, 2016.  ISBN 978-0-06-238085-2.  $17.99.  427 pages.  Ages 14 and up.  Q8P8

A modern day dystopian United States with monsters in control.  The main characters, a super scary soul sucking monster who has the compassion and understanding of an ideal human, and a super scary, selfish human who does a good job at being a “monster”.  A well written novel that has us questioning who the real “monsters” are.  I particularly like the uniqueness of the Sunai monsters.  They only kill evil people to regain their energy and kill by draining the soul with the use of what they found to be the most beautiful thing/sound in the world when they were created.  For the main character … a violin.  I additionally liked how the monsters are created from the energy from a violent act.

Verdict:  A thought provoking novel with unique creatures with unique skills.  Not so unique storyline, but the character development and story details make up for it.

March 2018 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Freefall, by Joshua David Bellin

Bellin, Joshua David.  Freefall. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9781481491655. 355 pages.  Ages 14-up. P7 Q6.

Cameron Newell is part of the Upperworld, the privileged 1%. Cam watches a video of protesters in the Lowerworld of the 99% underprivileged and he falls for Sofie, a girl he sees through the video feed.  He is on a quest to meet up with her.  As a reader, you need to pay attention to Chapter titles and dates as they jump 1,000 years, and the locations change from Otherworld which is where Cam and his shipmates have woken up in the future, Earth, and to Lowerworld. With political decisions and different views of loyalty, the book has high level concepts yet has a simple not as developed love story.  It has some made up futuristic words that take a while of reading to understand as well as different political aspects.

Verdict: For sci-fi readers, it provokes different perspectives on the class system of privileged and non-privileged persons.  It is appropriate at high school libraries.

November 2017 review by Deborah Gwynn.

Book review: Shattered Warrior, by Sharon Shinn, illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag

Shinn, Sharon. Shattered Warrior. Il. By Molly Knox Ostertag. First Second, 2017. $17.99. 246p. ISBN 978-1-62672-089-3. Ages 12-15. P8Q9

In her first graphic novel, Shinn writes about a formerly privileged 18-year-old, Colleen Cavenaugh, who lost almost everything ten years earlier when the alien Derichets took over her planet. She lives in her almost destroyed mansion on her former great estate and works at a mindless job in a factory, sorting minerals before she gets involved in a revolution with members of the mining underclass. The danger of her rebellion increases when she is reunited with her niece as her relationship with another guerilla develops into an affair. Shinn has built a magnificent world peopled with diverse ethnic groups who live under occupation and face violence and possible death from trying to take back their independence.

Verdict: Complex characterization is accompanied by a history of the planet and exciting suspense along with an in-depth perspective of class struggles and gender differences. The vividly colored artwork is equally strong, frequently carrying the plot and expressing the defiance of the multi-faceted characters.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: A Dusk of Demons, by John Christopher

Christopher, John.  A Dusk of Demons.  Aladdin.  2014.  $7.99.  ISBN 978-4814-2018-1.  176 Pages.  Ages 9-13.  Q7P7

A dystopian novel based on governmental control by religious fear (not a new concept, though the fear is of The Dark One and not a God figure).  Ben, 14 years old, is raised on an island with a foster family.  When the patriarch dies, Ben and his family are thrust into a world which forces him to question the life he knew before “Master’s” death, and the religious dogma all live by.  The book is easy to follow and even easier to determine what is going to happen next.  I assume there is another book after this one because the main character is built up to have a powerful knowledge or power or gift given to him through lineage, but we never see or are given a hint as to what that is.  I felt like this could have been a good first half of a book, not the first book in a series.  The book ends abruptly and doesn’t spend enough time developing the story around, well, anything. Originally published in 1993 by Simon Pulse.

Verdict:  An easy to read dystopian novel with not much imagination.  It passes the time.

June 2017 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Decelerate Blue, by Adam Rapp, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro

Rapp, Adam. Decelerate Blue. Illus. by Mike Cavallaro.  First Second/Roaring Brook, 2017. $17.99. 208p. ISBN 978-1-59643-109-6. Ages 14+. P7Q8

Protagonists in this dystopian graphic novel based on the “Romeo and Juliet” theme are lesbians who meet when they both try to escape a consumer-driven future when speed and efficiency are of the essence. The resistance movement focuses on slowing down as their form of rebellion, but they are forced to live underground to carry out their plans for a utopia. Angela, 15, begins to find her answers when one of her teachers secretly slips her a book and her dying grandfather accidentally gives her the path to the rebels. The girl’s love for Gladys is interrupted by a mission above ground that leads to disaster. Rapp’s world is reminiscent of 1984 where everyone is monitored for any seditious acts and severely punished when these are discovered. Black and white drawings are marked by color only twice in times of heightened emotion.

Verdict: The book could not be more timely as technology and consumerism seem to be the ultimate focus and privacy has become a thing of the past. With artwork appropriate to the subject, the book mixes a lesbian love story with warnings from 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. Highly recommended.

April 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Bound by Blood and Sand, by Becky Allen

Allen, Becky. Bound by Blood and Sand. Delacorte Press, 2016. 311 pages. $17.99. ISBN 9781101932148. Ages 16-up. P8 Q8

allen-bound-by-blood-and-sandIn a world facing severe ongoing water shortages and long-term drought, Jae, a slave descended from rebels cursed to exact obedience to any order from a member of the Avowed caste, discovers that she can do magic.  Threatened with repeated rape by one of the Avowed, Jae kills her attacker, beginning a journey to reclaim her heritage from myths passed on by the Avowed.  Told in alternating voices by Jae and Elam, the son of the Highest ranking Avowed, the crux of this dystopian tale is a quest to find the truth about magic in the world.  Though the story arc does come to a conclusion, it is obvious that there will be a sequel .

The things that impressed me—apart from the author’s writerly skills—were Allen’s inclusion of Jae’s simmering rage and hatred lurking behind the Cursed compulsion to obedience.  For the Closest, the Curse means that each must answer any question put to them by an Avowed truthfully and if a Closest defies an order, the Curse first causes severe pain and then takes over the slave’s body to accomplish the task.  The Closest have no personal choice.  It is only through the intercession of Jae’s twin brother Tal that Jae gives up her vengeance against the Avowed.  This exploration of the emotional price of imposing bondage on another human is not one that is often addressed in young adult fiction.  At the same time, some of the Avowed examine their own culture and make changes in their own lives, working toward living outside the magically imposed caste system and refusing to compel obedience from the Closest caste.   The human relationships are complicated, messy, and real.  There are no saviors in this book.

Verdict:  Lovely writing leaves me with the feel of grit in my teeth and a renewed appreciation for fresh water.  I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.   I recommend this title highly for high school and public libraries.

December 2016 review by Jane Cothron.