What I’m Reading: Allegiant (Divergent #3)

Standard

Allegiant
by Veronica Roth

This is going to be long and full of spoilers, so don’t read if you haven’t finished the book yet!

Finally, we find out what happened to wreck Chicago and split humanity into factions based on virtues! I’m ready for fireworks! Here it comes…

*fizzle*

I have two big problems with the book.

First, I do not like Four. I know, I know. Grab your torches and pitchforks. I also hate Edward Cullen, so hoist my head on a pike. This book made my dislike for Four even stronger. The chapters alternate between Tris’s perspective and his, and you can’t tell them apart. I constantly had to check the chapter heading to see who was talking. This is a problem with writing skills and character development, and it ruined my enjoyment of the book. On top of that, his brooding grumpiness just made me want to smack him and say, “Snap out of it!” Roth would have benefited from a heavy-handed editor and more time to hone Four’s unique voice.

Second, I couldn’t stop myself from nitpicking the book into oblivion and wishing she had taken things further. My background is in psychology, and I’m a science nerd. I feel like Roth was going for a discussion of nature vs. nurture with the plot points about genetic damage, and that happens to be one of my favorite topics. In my opinion she fell very short of the mark. The news today runs stories about scientists searching for genes that “control” X, Y, or Z. That’s simply not how it works, and no good scientist thinks that way. Multiple genes influence multiple systems in the body. Genes can switch on and off. Life stressors can activate hormones and genes and even change your brain chemistry. But humans are not animals acting on pure instinct. We are shaped by our environment, and we have this precious unique thing called “free will.” In truth, DNA gives people limitations and vulnerabilities, not predetermined life paths. As my amazing psychology professor said in psych 101, “I am 6′ 3″, so my genetics mean that I can jump higher than someone who is only 5 feet tall. Someone short is limited by their genetics. But my height doesn’t mean I’ll be amazing at basketball or that a short person will be bad at it. I’m actually terrible at basketball, and there are short guys who can beat me blindfolded.”

It’s not one or the other. It’s the tension between nature and nurture that makes us who we are. I know Roth hat-tipped this idea several times, but I wish she had done so much more. The whole debate about “damaged” DNA would have been far more powerful if Roth had taken a slightly different tack. What if the scientists created the faction system as a way to control nurture as well as nature by reactivating certain genes with the environment as well as breeding them back in? Each faction suppresses undesirable traits and encourages desirable ones.

But the system clearly doesn’t always work, and Tris would be forced to decide whether to save the system despite that it seems to be hurting those that need it the most: the Factionless. Without the protective effects of a faction, the Factionless are at the mercy of their DNA and degenerate into cruelty, cowardice, ignorance, selfishness, and deceit. Or at least that’s what the researchers tell her. But in truth wouldn’t they also be a product of their poverty and isolation? The Factionless are treated as irredeemable, but with a system to activate the right genes, no one should be irredeemable. In the end Tris would have been left to wonder, “Am I a product of my mom’s genetics or the way I was raised? Does my divergence even mean anything if the faction system is designed to produce it?”

Again, Roth touched on these concepts, but they deserved to be fleshed out and wrestled with. Outside Chicago is a mess. People are miserable, damaged, and dying. But inside Chicago the very experiment designed to improve humanity became a mirror of the rest of the world. Why? The truth is the human heart can’t be redeemed through rules and regulations imposed on it by society or the miracles of medicine and science. The brokenness is in our very souls, not just our DNA. We are fundamentally flawed. It’s called a sin nature, or, to use Calvinist lingo, total depravity. We need something outside our broken universe to reach in and fix us.

I gather that Roth is a Christian, so I don’t believe I’m expecting something unusual from her. Maybe she was trying to use Tris as a Christ figure by letting her sacrifice herself in place of her treacherous brother, but it rang false to me. I leave the Divergent universe unsatisfied and wishing she had pushed harder, and that is a shame.

Advertisements

What I’m Reading: Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson

Standard

Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World

by N.D. Wilson

This is not a review of Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.  Tilt-A-Whirl is not a book you review.  This is an interaction with the text. I feel pretentious using words I learned from literature class, but this is not a book you merely read. It is a tome that demands a response.

Shadows can seem so long when you are walking through them.

I remember an almost six-year-old me peering around a doorway at a large plastic box that held my little sister born at 24 1/2 weeks gestation. A micro-preemie brought into the world four months early to save my mother’s life, I could barely tell there was a sister under all the technology monitoring her. A nurse caught me moments later and sent me back out into the hospital hallway. Why was my sister in a box? And why did Mommy and Daddy have to wash their hands all the time? I was both fascinated and afraid.

I think of my wedding day. My lively talkative grandmother had been slowly fading under the curse of dementia for several years. I stood in her room at the nursing home and told her I was getting married in a few hours, even though I knew she would never remember the blond-haired young man who had visited her and would forget it was my wedding day moments after I left. I asked her to pray for me. For a moment her eyes cleared. She said, “Of course I’ll be praying for you, darlin’. I’ve been praying for this day your whole life.” Then she was gone again, her mind hijacked by the tangled proteins gathering in her neurons.

I remember the funeral of my college mentor, a brilliant sociologist with a razor wit and a love of Simon and Garfunkel. When I wrote a parody of the song “That’s Amore” using sociology vocab he laughed until he cried and told me he would submit it for publication in a journal. Only a few months later he described to me the night he spent in the ER watching fireworks crawling up the wall created by the tumor pressing on his occipital lobe and the doctor telling him he had three months left.  As I listened to bagpipes bid him farewell in my university’s chapel, I asked God how He could give the smartest man I’d ever met a deadly brain tumor at only 50 years old.

I feel again the knots in my chest as I broke down in the parking lot of a CVS on my lunch break. A nurse had just told me the results of blood tests over the phone and casually mentioned that I would probably never have children. My world seemed to shrink until it was just me in a car, air conditioner blasting away the Texas summer heat. I desperately dialed my husband’s phone number only to weep so hard he couldn’t understand a word I said. I didn’t go back to work that day. I went home and cried in my husband’s arms for what felt like days.

Our world is a bizarre mashup of light and dark. As Wilson points out, our God designed wind, so He knew it could turn into tornadoes and hurricanes. Does that bother you? Does the tangle of good and evil that surrounds us make you question His goodness? His sovereignty? His wisdom? Good. The struggle is evidence of His breath in your lungs. Sometimes it feels as though the shadows have overtaken the light. The Valley of the Shadow of Death seems endless as we walk through it. But what is on the other side?

My little sister is why I celebrate when I reach 25 weeks with each pregnancy. I know that my baby can survive because my sister is a healthy, intelligent, and beautiful 23-year-old. She still bears scars on her hands and feet from all the blood they took those weeks in the NICU. They are beautiful. They mark her as a miracle.

I despise The Notebook. Dementia is too diabolical to be captured on page or film. But I also remember my grandfather’s gentle kiss on Grandma’s forehead and her eyes lighting up even in the depths of her disease. I remember their whispered “I love yous.” When I think back to my vows on my wedding day, I will never forget what “in sickness and in health” looks like, and for that I am grateful.

Part of the reason I can’t give up on being a novelist is because of my college mentor. When I told him I was writing a novel, he nodded and said, “Finish it so I can read it.” He was completely confident that I would be published. Other professors were encouraging, but he was certain. Such certainty coming from a man who prided himself on being a hard-nose meant the world to me. I keep writing so he won’t haunt me from the grave like he promised.

My second little boy is barely two weeks old, but the pain of hearing I might never be a mother left a tender place in my heart. I weep with other women when they tell me of their struggles. I understand the ache of empty arms and the frustration of doctor visits, blood tests, x-rays, and no answers. A bond ties my heart to Hannah and her broken prayer in the temple. When I look at my two boys, I remember my tears in that car begging God for a miracle, and suddenly I’d rather spend my day scrubbing liquid eyeliner from my couch and changing messy diapers than never have a mess to clean.

There is light at the end of valley.

Right now my husband and I are in the midst of a tangle between good and bad. It feels like we are in the center of a hurricane, the birth  of our second son merely a pause before the winds whip our world into a frenzy again. In all the wildness, I am grateful that the Lion of Judah is not tame.

Thank you, Nate Wilson, for the reminder.

What I’m Reading: Reached by Ally Condie

Standard

Reached (#3 in the Matched Trilogy) by Ally Condie

I don’t like writing negative reviews since I know people will inevitably write them about my books if/when I publish them someday. I wish I could say I loved this book. I really enjoyed Matched, and Crossed was a lot of fun. Unfortunately Reached had several big problems that ruined the finale of this series for me.

First off, Crossed is unnecessarily long. Condie drags out the story over 500 pages. I read whole chapters where nothing happened. The book could have been cut in half without losing anything. It took me well over a month to read it because if I ever put it down, I’d forget I was reading it. I finally finished it trying to cure a bout of  insomnia. Not a good sign if I read a book to lull myself to sleep.

Second, I did not like Xander. He could have died ten pages in (or in Crossed for that matter), and I wouldn’t have minded. That may have more to do with my personality than Condie’s writing, but for me any semblance of a legitimate love triangle fell apart in book two.

Third, Crossed was confusing. I’m still trying to figure out what actually happened. I spent months anticipating a finale with a big exciting battle for control, but what I got was a tiny whimper and a bunch of people in comas. Usually I can give you a detailed outline of the plot of a novel complete with character arcs. My memories of Crossed consist of Xander trying to help people in a makeshift hospital, Ky flying around a lot with What’s-Her-Name, and Cassia murmuring poetry under her breath. Oh, and there was the Pilot. And Ky got sick toward the end. I still don’t know who won, who was actually fighting who, and why anyone cared!

Last, and closely related to the confusion issue, was a lack of resolution. The series is over, and the characters have made their relationship choices. That’s fine and dandy for them, but absolutely nothing else was resolved. I want to know who won! I want to know what happened to the Society and the Rising and the big election! But at the same I didn’t really care because this book was such a trek to get through.

I really hate writing a negative review. Matched was so good, and I am disappointed that the trilogy ended with Crossed. Condie hooked me with the original dystopian concept and the fun characters. I wish she could have sustained my excitement and interest through the finale.

What I’m Reading: Partials

Standard

I’m a Hunger Games freak. I love the series, and I saw the movie on opening weekend in IMAX. I’m a big fan of YA dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction in general, and I’m also a fan of Battlestar Galactica. Partials by Dan Wells sounds like a YA Battlestar Galactica in a lot of ways. It’s a sci-fi dystopia. There are organic robots. Humanity has been reduced to a small group of people trying to repopulate their world. It didn’t take much more than reading the description to know I’d like this book.

Partials

by Dan Wells

 

 

 

The main character Kira Walker is working as an apprentice in the hospital learning how to be a doctor. She mostly observes the deaths of newborns because a virus released years ago by the organic robots (known as Partials) kills the babies within 72 hours. This means the human race is slowly but surely dying out. Because there could be a chance that someone will have a child that is immune to the virus, the government has passed the Hope Act requiring all women over 18 to get pregnant as often as possible. Kira becomes convinced that curing the virus is tied to the Partials, but no one has seen one in years.

There are so many twists in this story, and even if I guessed many of them, I enjoyed the ride. Kara lives in a world where teenagers have all the responsibilities of adulthood but few of the advantages. One of the things that annoys me in much of YA is teenage angst, but Partials is one of the rare stories where the angst was justified. These teenagers work hard at full-time jobs, live independently, and contribute to society like adults, but they have no say in their government because the voting age remains 18. As every teenager has said at least once, “That is so unfair!” Kira is a strong and confident young woman who is determined to make a difference, and I followed her journey without blinking. I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.

Partials is a book you should buy, not borrow from the library. I highly recommend it.

New Years Post: What I Read

Standard

I’ve done a lot of reading over the last year. I read over my lunch breaks at work. I read in between contractions (yes, really. It kept my mind off of the pain.) before we left for the hospital. I read during maternity leave while my son napped. I read on my breaks at work for a few months until I got to stay home full time. Now that I’m home, reading happens during my son’s naps (if he naps) or after he’s in bed for the night.

I should also mention I’m one of those freaks of nature who reads really fast. That’s how I’ve been able to read so many books while caring for an infant. I might go back and review a few of these tomes, but for now I’ll just list and summarize my favorites.

My 5 Favorite Books I Read in 2011:

5. The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan- Book 3 of a dystopian fiction series. There are zombies. Trust me: you’ll like Carrie Ryan even if you don’t like zombies.

4. The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher- Dystopian fiction where the world has run out of water, and the main character meets a boy who seems to have plenty. Then the boy gets kidnapped. Imaginative, fun, and a good quick read.

3. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi- More dystopian fiction (considering how much is out there, are you really surprised?) where the world has flooded. A boy breaking down beached ships for scrap finds a young woman in the wreck of a luxury yacht. Then he discovers someone is trying to kill her. This is Bacigalupi’s first YA novel, and I want to read more.

2. Across the Universe by Beth Revis- A space opera set on a generation ship. A girl in cryogenic stasis is nearly killed after being woken 50 years too early, and together with the young captain-in-training, she must figure out who would want to murder her. This book recommendation comes with a warning: there is some sexual content in the book, specifically an attempted rape. It was an important plot point and not graphic enough for me to quit reading, but it definitely made me cringe.

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth- I love Veronica Roth. I love the way she writes, and I love Tris, the heroine she created in Divergent. Yet another dystopian offering, the world is divided into factions that value a specific virtue above all others. The story starts just before Tris must choose her own faction, and she is caught between her family and her own desires.

All this reading gave me a better sense of what was right and wrong with my own novel, and I hope to finally complete that darn first draft this spring. Hopefully my son will cooperate by actually sleeping through the night!

Happy New Year! Welcome, 2012!