Saturday, February 22, 2014


Divergent – Veronica Roth

Tris lives in a world with clear boundaries and expectations. Five factions share the city, each characterized by a specific trait. Amity seek peace and harmony, Abnegation put all others first, Dauntless have bravery and courage, Candor embrace honesty, and Erudite seek knowledge. Children grow up learning the lifestyle of their faction, but they all take an aptitude test to help them decide which faction they will spend the rest of their life in. Tris’ test results are ambiguous, making her Divergent. Though no one will clarify what this means, she knows it is a threat and must be kept secret, so Tris chooses to be Dauntless, and excels at the initiation training for her new faction. However, her awareness of difference heightens her ability to detect subtle behaviors that don’t quite match up with expectations. Unfortunately, Tris realizes the threat too late, and by the time she figures out that someone has been making secret plans, factions have already collided to throw the city into panic and chaos. With no certainty as to who is an ally and how to stop the rebellion, Tris throws herself into battle fighting for the only thing she believes in – protecting the people she loves.

“Divergent,” by Veronica Roth, is an incredibly fast-paced book. Chapters are short and easily digestible, making it almost impossible to read one at a time. Although most of the book focuses on Tris’ training as an initiate into the Dauntless faction, it never seems dull or tedious. Roth adds enough variety to move the plot along quickly while also developing characters and storylines that I assume will have much more significance in future books. She also leaves enough questions unanswered to encourage continued reading based on sheer curiosity. Although “Divergent” has overtones of series like The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and even whispers of Harry Potter, and some of the plotlines, especially the love interest, are entirely expected, Roth has contributed an innovative novel to young adult dystopian reading. Some plot twists were heavily foreshadowed and were thus more or less predictable, but Roth also throws in enough blind curves to keep the storyline surprising and engaging throughout the book.

I was pleasantly surprised by “Divergent.” I thought I had read enough young adult fiction to be able to accurately predict the ending of a book based on the first few chapters. In a way, I still managed to do that with “Divergent,” but there were enough unexpected and surprising events that I was hooked throughout the entire book. However, I had a hard time with the level of violence. Let’s face it – I would undoubtedly by in Amity, which is the polar opposite of Dauntless. Occasionally, I felt the level of detail describing fights and injuries was a little unnecessary. In general, I remain pleasantly surprised – both because Roth was able to do something new with young adult dystopian fiction and also because I was sucked in by the pace of the books. Fun reading for sure.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Book Thief

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Death spends a lot of time in Germany during WWII, helping souls leave their bodies when the time comes. However, Death does not just watch and wait for souls, he also observes life. One of the lives that happens to catch his attention is that of Liesel Meminger, the book thief. Death had taken her brother when they were on the train to their new foster family, and he watches Liesel as she settles in to her new life. Slowly, she learns to participate in life on Himmel Street by loving her parents, making new friends, and stealing when necessary. Suddenly, Max, a Jew who has been in hiding for years, shows up at the door to her house requesting help. Without a question, Max is given a home, albeit a small and cold one hidden in the basement, and as Liesel learns to live her life, she also learns to share it with Max. Her heart grows to encompass new people, a sense of right and wrong, and a determination to follow her own path. Death is watching all the while, for this is Germany during WWII, and when he comes, Liesel must learn again and again how to adapt and grow.

“The Book Thief” is a unique and original novel, and not only because it tells the story from the perspective of Death. The story focuses on a young girl as the main character, giving weight and value to her experiences, opinions, and impressions. By recreating such a devastating time in history from both the perspective of Death as well as the eyes of a child, Zusak creates a poignant, humanizing, and heart-wrenching narrative of coping and struggling to overcome obstacles in life while also facing daily tasks and challenges of adolescence. The story also takes on life of its own because Zusak paints with his words. Not only does Liesel use words to recreate outdoor realms for Max in the basement, but Max reconstructs her tales into stories and dreams while the whole existence of Germany suffers constant upheaval so that it becomes practically impossible to separate fiction from reality. This is a musical novel, an artistic novel, or the novel reimagined. It is anything, as long as it is not just a book because words have so much more value and life than just being letters on a page.

There are a couple reasons I really enjoyed reading “The Book Thief.” I loved the unique perspective, because I have not encountered previous stories that were simultaneously so relatable and humbling by having Death as the narrator. I loved it because Liesel was the main character and youth so rarely holds authority. I also loved it because of the wordplay, but this is not the same wordplay as Douglas Adams or Vladimir Nabokov. Zusak makes music from words, but this is a sentimental story and a painful topic, and beautiful wordplay is very different from the ridiculous wordplay more frequently encountered in novels. But that is a pretty small complaint for such a hugely compelling story. Definitely read this one.