Review: Four – A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth

9780007584642The saddest thing in the world is when an excellent trilogy concludes. So HUZZAH for those brilliant authors who write extra stories for us hungry fans. Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy is mind-blowingly famous. And have you snabbled her short stories about Four, yet? Because you need to.

Four: A Divergent Collection was just perfection. I couldn’t be any more happy with this little skydive back into the Divergent world. There’s a collection of four (duh) short stories and the whole book comes to around 300-pages. It’s like a little snack. I’m nearly disappointed that some stories were so so short. But that’s just me in denial that the series is now officially over.

So let’s break it down and talk about EACH story, shall we?

** WARNING: May contain spoilers for the first book, Divergent, BUT NOT for Insurgent or Allegiant!**

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STORY #1: THE TRANSFER
I loved this one the most! It really showed Four when he was just little Tobias…basically a kicked puppy. OH HE WAS SO LITTLE AND SCARED. He longed for a better life but just was just absolutely resigned to being beaten by Marcus. This story was the most powerful. My only critique is…exactly HOW did Marcus make everyone basically forget he had a son? I mean, Four would’ve had to go to school…and it said people just ignored him. But seriously? No one took an interest in him??? Even Tris, curious little Tris, never knew much about him and definitely didn’t recognise his face when Divergent kicks off. So weird.

STORY #2: THE INITIATE
This is when Tobias turns into Four. It’s awesome. I love getting to know a younger Shauna and Zeke too. Back in the good ol’ days when the training made sense and wasn’t run by Eric. Okay, though, I have to admit, Eric wasn’t scary an intimidating enough. I thought he’d have more of a rivalry going with Four, but Eric is basically in the background.

STORY #3: THE SON
Four has an angry dark side. He’s getting all tall and strong now. Bashing people up. Being a big meanie. Training to be a leader. It definitely fleshes out his character and we see so much from his point-of-view. This one is fills in some backstory about Jeanine Matthews, the Erudite Leader.

STORY #4: THE TRAITOR
This one is actually WHEN Divergent’s happening. It includes a lot of scenes we already know from Tris’ POV. I have to admit this is my least favourite. I’ve already read it! I was just seeing it from Four’s moody persepctive. I love Four, don’t get me wrong, but his thoughts didn’t seem radically different to Tris’ in Divergent, so the double-up made me squint occasionally. I do feel like I understand Four’s feelings for Tris better. He was crushing on her soooo early and she never knew it. Adorable. And also we get a sneak peek into Four’s dating life, pre-Tris. His date with a Dauntless girl lasted 5 minutes and I laughed and laughed and laughed. POOR DEAR.

All in all? This is incredible and a must-read for any Veronica Roth fans. It’s best read AFTER Divergent, but you could read it before Insurgent and Allegiant if you wished it. I wanted to give it 4-stars because…well, HIS NAME IS FOUR. But it needs 5-stars, without a doubt. I hope Veronica Roth keeps writing!

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

9781784294007You know those books that make you sit back and go, “Um, woah” and then are super hard to talk about because they’ve messed with your brain so much? WELL. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill definitely fits in that category. It’s the kind of book that makes you think. It took me ages to formulate thoughts. WHAT DO I THINK ABOUT THIS BOOK? Is it a masterpiece or a terror? Or both?

Both. Both, for sure.

It’s set in a futuristic world were women are treated as…objects. They exist for men’s pleasure. They are nothing. An insult is, “Don’t be academic.” It’s the most sickening society I’ve ever read and I found it quite tough to read about. It’s narrated by a school of 16-year-old girls where their entire LIFE’s PURPOSE is to make a man happy at some point. To be chosen and married and used. They’ll only have sons because women are “made” in this society. And if there’s a glitch? They just terminate the girl. LET ME JUST SCREAM. I hated the society with a fiery passion — but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Contrary. It set up the world-building so thoroughly I was totally invested in the story and couldn’t put it down. But it’s pretty much not for the faint of heart. And if you, like me, are really passionate about feminism, then it’ll rile you badly.

It also prodded today’s society’s view of things. Like the definition of beauty and how people treat those with mental illnesses. It exaggerated them. But the nugget of realism drove the book home hard.
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These girls must be “perfect”. They can’t be fat. They constantly chant how evil and horrible “fat girls” are. It’s sickening. It basically just shredded me…the way they had bulimia and anorexia and how this impacted their psychological health too. The girls don’t even have capitals for their names. Because they’re not worth it. Omg.

The writing is utterly addictive. I think the entire book was a tad too long. Like it made a point — YES FOR SURE — but sometimes it felt like it was just repeating the same horror story again and again and again and…nunngh. I get twitchy when a book’s pacing is off.
It doesn’t have a conclusive ending. The moment I closed the book, I wanted to how, “BUT WHAT WAS THE POINT???” It does have a point — it’s a story with a point but no conclusion. I did struggle with that, but at the same time, I think it made the book stick in my head longer because I couldn’t stop mulling over it’s themes. This was a good but sickening book. I felt uncomfortable the entire time. It is 100% depressing. It is 1000% well-written and thought provoking and feels stabbing and….basically you need to read it.

If you are tired of the average YA “dystopian trends” — try this. It is unique and psychological and intense and woah.

“She’s beautiful, but it’s a faded beauty now, as if she’s been washed too many times.”

[PURCHASE HERE]

Reading Brave New World (Thanks To The Complaining Contingent In The USA)

Brave New WorldYou know the look people get and the sounds they make when they’re equivocating over the answer to what is a fairly straightforward question of whether they liked something? You know, the pause before answering, the tilt of the head, the slight furrowing of the brow, and the not-quite-fully-formed ums, ahs, and wells?

I’m doing all of those trying to work out and then articulate what I think of Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World. I finally got around to reading and have—and yes, I’m chuckling—a certain complaining contingent in the USA to thank. Their attempts to ban it gave me the impetus to shift it from my multiplying pile of books that I should get around to reading to the pile of books I’ve read.

I should preface the rest of this blog with the fact that I’m extremely glad I’ve read Brave New World and that I think it’s one we should all tackle at some stage in our lives. It is without a doubt a book that at both first glance and closer examination has much merit.

But I will follow that with the fact that I’m still grappling with what I think of it, whether I liked it, and whether ‘liking’ is an altogether silly thing to say—Huxley didn’t, after all, set out to write a book for us to enjoy. Instead he deliberately wrote one we wouldn’t in order to jolt us out of our catatonia and question what we’re doing and where we’re heading.

For those of you who haven’t yet read it, Brave New World features a future where human reproduction occurs via test tubes, monogamy is odd and ‘having’ many others is the norm, and there are castes of genetically engineered humans—from the top tier caste made up of the smartest to the lowest, least intelligent servant-style one—with subliminal messages embedding and reinforcing these ranks. The underlying essence of this is system is that everything is good and everyone is happy. Of course, that’s not even remotely the case.

I can’t shake the feeling that I should have read Brave New World at school because the teachers and coursework would have helped/made me unpack some of the complex, nuanced themes. Instead, I found the text a little boring and a lot less readable (or likeable, although see above regarding ‘likeability’) than the dystopian-themed books with which it’s traditionally grouped: 1984, Animal Farm, and Fahrenheit 451. Worse, I found myself skimming the text, knowing I should be paying closer attention but kind of just wanting to get to the I-can-tick-it-off-the-reading-list end.

Credit where credit’s due, Brave New World is a clever, cutting examination of the soul-less place we’re heading (if we aren’t already there). Even more so when you consider that Huxley penned it start to finish in a mere, workman-like four months. I must say that I’m glad I read Brave New World and that it’s one we should all wrestle with in our lifetimes. I just think that once might be enough.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’

No one told me this book would be so…well, awesome.

Ok, so I lie. Many bloggers and critics have written about this book since it was first published in 2005. It has its haters and its not-likers, of course. But for the main part it’s been well-received, and when I found out it was being made into a movie starring cute-as-a-button Carey Mulligan and the gorgeous Keira Knightley I just had to get on the wagon.

I guess “shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize” emblazoned across the cover was probably some indication that the book would be, if not enjoyable, then thought-provoking. I had previously categorised Kazuo Ishiguro as one of those Japanese authors that I really should be reading but I don’t read much of, like Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto. I think I already had in mind that Kazuo’s works would be a little bit “kuh-razy”, which I have to be in a certain mood for. But while Mr Ishiguro is crazy – it’s in all the best ways, I promise.

Never Let Me Go begins with ‘Kathy’ at 32 years old, reminiscing about her idyllic childhood at Hailsham, where the children are encased in their happy, painless bubble; provided with everything to keep them physically healthy and encouraged in artistic  and athletic pursuits. Hailsham seems like your ordinary Toffee-English boarding school for the privileged few, but there’s something a little ‘different’ about it that the reader can’t quite put their finger on, in the beginning. When we’re finally let in on Hailsham’s little ‘secret’, the book becomes a bit of a philosophical mind-bender.

What makes this story so interesting, so absolutely heartbreaking, is its refusal to wallow in sentimental bull dust. The subject matter is scarily relevant today – the idea of ‘playing God’ is something that civilisation questions with every technological and scientific advance. But it is often the human element that divides us on this issue. Where do we draw the line? Is one human life worth a half-dozen others? Ishiguro handles this issue in an originally subtle way. In fact, its subtlety might be lost on people expecting high, impassioned speeches and a rebellion against the cause. Although it has elements of alternative history, dystopia and science fiction, Never Let Me Go bypasses the expectations of the genres to become its own brand of quality contemporary literary fiction.

Was it the beautiful, exacting prose, or the haunting feeling it left me with? Like origami, this book deserves to be admired: a modest creature on the bookshelf, but its fascinating secrets, and thoughts of its construction, lie within the perfect folds. Clearly, I loved it: it’s right up there with The Book Thief for me.

Do read it, and let me know how it affected YOU.