Today I read…Agent of Chaos

Image result for agent of chaos kami garciaToday I read X-Files Origins #1: Agent of Chaos by Kami Garcia.

Fox Mulder’s younger sister Samantha disappeared 5 years ago. He blames himself, and he doesn’t know how to get over it. It broke his family apart. Now he’s in a new city in a new school for his senior year of high school, and something weird is happening. Children are disappearing, and turning up dead. The disappearances remind Mulder of Samantha. Could they be linked? The cops won’t listen. It’s up to Mulder and his friends to track down the clues and find the killer before he strikes again.

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I tend to go to through phases where I get obsessed with a particular show, and through high school it was the X-Files. I loved it, even the bad episodes. I even watched the spinoff, The Lone Gunmen. Though if you want to talk real-life conspiracy theories, it premiered the spring of 2001, and the first episode was about a conspiracy by the government to hijack a plane and crash it in to the World Trade Center to start a war…

When I found out there were new X-Files books, I really wanted to read them, especially because season 11 premiered last week. I’ll save the rant about how it’s really season 10.5 and how they mistreated Scully. I enjoyed this one, and the look we got at Mulder as a teenager. We only got bits and pieces during the series. While now Mulder and Scully seem so young at the start of the show, they were both adults in the middle of their careers, had completed their educations, and had their basic personalities already established. In this book, Mulder is still in high school, still actively grieving his sister, and trying to figure out not only what happened to her, but how to forgive himself for not saving her. The fan of the show knows that he never really does, and that it becomes one of the defining moment of his life. But this book shows where he found his coping mechanism-psychology, and using his intelligence to profile serial killers and psychopaths and to stop them from hurting people, especially children like Samantha. In season 1 of the show, we see Mulder as the former golden child of the profiling department. He was considered to be one of the most gifted profilers they had, until he became obsessed with the X-Files and became damaged, as so many of his colleagues saw it. Here he learns about profiling, which was still in its infancy in 1979 where the book takes place. It is a little pat that Mulder is so naturally talented at it, but it fits with his characterization in the show.

Writing a media tie-in novel takes a particular skill, since you have to take established characters and put them in a situation you make up, and make the fans believe they would act this way and say these things. Garcia does a good job with this. This book feels like a young Fox Mulder. We also see the beginning of how his life interacts with the Syndicate, since we know they have been around for a long time, and they had something to do with Samantha’s disappearance as a way to control their father. Mulder’s friend Gimble and his paranoid father Major Winchester also introduce Mulder to conspiracy theories that may sound crazy, but may also be true. The worst character is his other friend, Phoebe Larsen, whose name recalls his dislikeable lover Phoebe Green from Oxford who we meet in season 1. They also share quite a few traits, to the point that I thought they were supposed to be the same character until I went hunting for the book character’s last name to confirm it. Phoebe is there to be the girl, and she never quite escapes that role. Then again, this is a book about Mulder, and his relationships with women can be… problematic. Again, that’s another rant.
All in all, the characters worked, the conspiracy worked, and the mystery worked. I’m not sure how many teenagers watch the X-Files these days, though it is on Netflix, and the new season is airing. This book would likely be more popular with people like me, who watched the show, as a non-fan would not get many of the references.

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Today I Read… Devil’s Advocate

Image result for devil's advocate jonathan maberryToday I read X-Files Origins #2: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry.

Dana Scully’s family had just moved to a new town, and she’s having enough trouble being the new girl again without the disturbing dreams she’s been having. Devils and angels and shadows and blood… Now she’s seeing visions even when she’s awake, of teenagers who recently died in car crashes. There have been quite a few teenage deaths lately in this small town. Must be kids doing drugs. Or is it? And why are they appearing to Dana?

There’s something going on, and it’s up to Dana, her sister Melissa, and her new friends in the science club to figure it out, since it looks like the cops some believe them.

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So, everything I just said about Mulder in Agent of Chaos? Does not apply in this book. Rather than showing us the start of Special Agent Doctor Dana Scully, Catholic, skeptic, and firm believer in science, Maberry makes her a pale shadow of her older sister Melissa, the believer. This Dana does yoga, has psychic dreams and visions, and hangs out in a New Age store. Her father is downright cold to the point of being vicious, instead of the stem but loving military father from the show, and her mother is so repressed you forget she’s there half the time, instead of being the one who helps her family together through her husband’s deployments. The only connection this Dana has to my Scully is the red hair.

Oddly enough, Maberry has actually edited at least 2 anthologies of X-Files short stories, which one would assume would give him at least a passing familiarity with the characters. The two anthologies are sitting on my to be read bookcase, so I can’t comment yet on their quality. Still, Agent of Chaos is by far the better book of the two. The Syndicate in this one is badly shoehorned in and the villain’s identity is obvious.

The two books aren’t really connected. They take place over the same few days, and they share a few locations, but they are careful never to let Mulder and Scully meet, or to have their separate stories connect. It would actually have been more interesting if they had connected in some way-why else put them both in the same small town? How many killers are there in small town Maryland are there anyway? Do the branches of the Syndicate never talk to each other?

If they publish more books, it might be interesting to keep doing them in pairs, and to show where they could have met, before they finally do meet in the basement of the FBI building. The best part of the X-Files had always been Mulder and Scully and their relationship, and it would suit their story to have their lives be a series of unknowing near-misses of meeting. Destiny or the Syndicate, you know they will meet, but what if they met before and didn’t remember-would they still grow to be the Mulder and Scully that we know and love?

Just please, learn who Scully is before writing her again. Please.

Today I Read… Vigilante

Image result for vigilante kady crossToday I read Vigilante by Kady Cross.

Magda is dead. She was my best friend. She was drugged and gang-raped by four of the most popular boys in school, and they filmed it, and they got away with it. She’s the one who was violated. She’s the one who was humiliated. She’s the one who got slut-shamed by everyone in town and everyone on the internet. And she’s the one who swallowed pills and died.

And me? I’m angry. I want justice. I want revenge.

Same thing, right?

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I only meant to read a couple of chapters before bed. Instead, I finished the book and started my review immediately. I picked this ARC up at the OLASC17 conference this year. As I recall, the author was supposed to be there but I think she was ill. Any way, it seemed interesting, and to be honest I’ll take just about any ARC I’m given and I’ll give it a read.

And then 2017 happened.

Pink Pussy Hat marches against the fact that a rapist was elected as the President of the United States started the year, and it ends with #metoo and the house cleaning that so many companies are finally starting to do. This book is aimed at teens, and I’m older, but I’ve heard the things that Hadley, the main character, hears. I’ve felt her rage, and her sorrow, and her sense of helplessness. Cross does a fantastic job of articulating the experience of so many- too many-#yesallwomen. It’s just that Hadley gets the satisfaction of doing something about the rapists that hurt her friend. Yes, I suppose I should be all Responsible Adult and say something about how violence is never justified, but hell you probably know that. The ending is a little bit pat- I won’t spoil it, but it is more satisfying than realistic- but all in all this is a fast, compelling read, that women from around ages 14 and up (and sadly probably under) will be able to relate to. I won’t say it’s enjoyable- did you read the summary above?!? But I will say that this is the perfect book to have come out this year.

SLJ SummerTeen 2015

SLJ SummerTeen 2015.

This is a free virtual conference on teen services and collections that School Library Journal is offering next week. I’ve never attended a virtual conference, but this looks really interesting, and a great way to see what some of the trends are. See you (virtually) there!

Today I Read…Rogue Touch

Rogue TouchToday I read Rogue Touch by Christine Woodward, a nom de plume for Nina de Gramont.

Anna Marie will never forget her first kiss. It put her best friend Cody in the hospital with a coma, and sent her running to somewhere else–anywhere else–where she could pretend not to be a freak. A dangerous freak. So she covers every inch of her skin that she can and tries to live her life avoiding other people as much as possible, to protect them as well as herself.

But then she meets this guy, and he’s different. No, really, he’s different. Touch is on the run for his own reasons, and they decide to run together for a while, but there are people after both of them. Together, Touch and the newly rechristened “Rogue” try to run somewhere they can be together, but can two such different people really find a place where they both belong?

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This came out at the same time as The She-Hulk Diaries, which I really enjoyed, so I had high hopes for this one as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. The She-Hulk Diaries was very much placed in the Marvel universe and we met other superheroes and supervillains and characters from the Marvel-verse. Rogue Touch is a prequel of sorts, set after Rogue has run away from home but before she has discovered anything about mutants or much about her abilities. It’s barely connected to Marvel mythology, and other than Rogue’s power she could have easily been replaced with an original character. The running away storyline is repetitive–they keep stealing more money and supplies and losing them, and then stealing more supplies and losing them, and again. Rogue and Touch’s relationship is definitely not a good one–she falls for the first older (kinda), married man she talks to even slightly, even though neither of them tell the truth about who they are and why they’re running. There’s no sense that Touch has feelings for Rogue–it’s more that he’s using her to complete his objective. Touch is a user, and Rogue is so naïve she’ almost a little stupid. She dreams more than making solid, practical plans. She may be only a teenager, but honestly I expect more from someone who grows up to be an X-Man.

It’s not necessarily a bad book, but there’s no reason for it to be a Marvel book. This is not a good representation of a superhero book, and will not encourage girls to read more Marvel. If you’re looking for a generic teen girl runaway story, it’s okay. If you want to read a fun, female-oriented superhero story, go read The She-Hulk Diaries. There should be another addition to the girl-friendly YA Marvel books with Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl, due out in October. I still hold hopes for that one (though I still want my Black Widow movie dammit!).

Today I Read…Revolution 19

Revolution 19Today I read Revolution 19 by Gregg Rosenblum.

Wars were growing more and more terrible, costing so many human lives, so an easier way was found–robots who could fight humanity’s wars for them. Then the robots reinterpreted their mandate to care for humans–they rebelled and took control, to protect humanity from itself. The humans who fought back or ran away were sub-optimal–they were not good citizens, and so they were eliminated.

Except for a few, like siblings Nick, Cass and Kevin, and the rest of Freepost. They live in the forest, living off the land and with the absolute minimum of technology for fear of being detected by the robots and having their home destroyed again. Until Kevin finds a mysterious piece of tech on the ground in the forest, and they come.

Now they have to cross countless miles to get to the City they were born in, to rescue their captured parents before they are lost to them forever.

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This was an uncorrected proof that I got at the OLA Super Conference. The back blurb claims that it comes from the minds of “award-winning writer-directors Howard Gordon and James Wong” and “debut novelist Gregg Rosenblum,” and you can definitely sense the influence of people who work in a visual medium. It reads like it should be a television mini-series, full of excitement and explosions and grown people playing teenagers. As a novel, it comes off as a little bland. It’s a good idea, especially since YA dystopia is so hot right now, but reading it I feel like I’ve seen it all before. There’s nothing new or original here, and it’s not so well written that I’ll forgive the tired ideas and characters. The ending isn’t very satisfactory, because it’s so clearly setting up for a second novel, or rather  second movie. This is Terminator-lite. It has a checklist of things include: orphan from the revolution, robot-caused injury that the robots heal, teenage romance, techie-kid, artist-kid, leader-kid, missing parents, a quest, a spunky ally with her own agenda, anti-social tech genius kid attracted to artist-girl, uncaring despotic robot overlords, casual human deaths, mind control, extreme contrast between the technological luxury of the City and the scavenging poverty of the Freeholds, illegal government and angry rebels…There are two more books in the series, and I bet I can predict exactly what happens in them without even reading the summaries. It’s not a bad book, but it’s not good either. It’s a script, not a novel.

Today I Read…Eye of the Crow

Eye of the CrowToday I read Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock, the first book in The Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Born of a Jewish father and a mother disinherited from the gentry, and with the gifts of intellect and observation, young Sherlock Holmes is not a boy who fits in anywhere. Tormented by his schoolfellows, he prefers to spend his days reading the exciting police newspapers in Trafalgar Square, until one day when he reads of the shocking murder of a lovely young actress, and the arrest of the wicked Arab what done ‘er in. Justice served…or is she?

The young Egyptian, poor and dark of skin though he be, professes his innocence, and only Sherlock, condemned by society for being a half-mongrel Jew, believes him. But when he goes snooping around the scene of the crime, the detectives of Scotland Yard think he’s in on it!

Chased by the police, and with the true murderer lurking around every corner, young Sherlock must make new friends, treat with his enemies,and stretch his mind to its very limits to solve the crime and save himself, the innocent stranger, and someone else dearest to him.

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This series has been on my reading list for a while (I actually picked up a copy of the 6th book, Becoming Holmes, at the 2013 OLA Super Conference), but my to-read list keeps growing and my free time keeps shrinking. But now with my new job in a school library (yay! so exciting!) I can call it ‘familiarizing myself with the collection’ and delve more into the middle grades fiction and leave off the adult books for a while. So I grabbed the first book and devoured it today after school.

It’s definitely written as a modern mystery, even though it’s set in the Victorian era. It doesn’t have the distinct tone of the Conan Doyle stories, even though it does well with the historical details. That said, it works well for this story, being written for children–the more modern, familiar tone makes it a fast and easy read.

Fans of the original Sherlock Holmes will see elements of the great detective scattered through the book, in somewhat changed circumstances. Miss Irene Doyle, for example, is a most daring young woman, and the intelligent and dangerous Malefactor is almost a dark version of Holmes. There is no loyal Watson, which seems odd–a Sherlock should never be without his Boswell–but it is only the first book in the series, so I’m hoping an equivalent shows up in a further adventure.

Sherlock himself is not the same cold, calculating man of pure practical science that some readers may recall. He is a child–gifted, different, but still hurt by others’ disdain. He is angry at the world, for condemning him as a half-breed and dooming him to a life of poverty and struggle for the conditions of his birth–it’s not FAIR! His anger costs him dearly–he is forced to shut away his emotions to solve the case and save himself, showing the roots of the once and future great detective.

I like the book–I’m a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and I enjoy rewrites of famous stories and characters, seeing all the different ways they can go in the hands of different authors. Peacock does a great job of going back to the beginning of such a famous and beloved character, and introducing him to a new generation. The book evokes the past Sherlock and his London while still being accessible to a young reader. Now, for the upcoming weekend, I think I need to borrow the rest of the series at school tomorrow…

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As the sun climbs, its rays spread light through the lifting yellow fog, filtering down upon a brown, flowing mass of people: on top hats and bonnets, heavy clothes and boots swarming on bridges and along cobblestone streets. Hooves strike the pavement, clip-clopping over the rumbling iron wheels, the drone of the crowds, and hawkers’ cries. The smell of horses, of refuse, of coal and gas, hangs in the air. Nearly everyone has somewhere to go on this late spring morning in the year of Our Lord, 1867.

Among those moving over the dirty river from the south, is a tall, thin youth with skin the pallor of the pale margins in The Times of London. He is thirteen years old and should be in school. From a distance he appears elegant in his black frock coat and necktie with waistcoat and polished boots. Up close, he looks frayed. He seems sad, but his gray eyes are alert.

His name is Sherlock Holmes.

Last night’s crime in Whitechapel, one of many in London, though perhaps its most vicious, will change his life. In moments it will introduce itself to him. Within days it will envelop him.

He comes to these loud, bustling streets to get away from his problems, to look for excitement, and to see the rich and famous, to wonder what makes them successful and appreciated. He has a nose for the scent of thrilling and desperate things, and all around these teeming arteries, he finds them.

He gets here by the same route every day. At first he heads south from the family’s first-floor flat over the old hatter’s shop in grimy Southwark, and walks in the direction of his school. But when he is out of sight he always veers west, and then sneaks north and crosses the river with the crowds at Blackfriars Bridge, for the glorious center of the city.

Londoners move past him in waves, each with a story. They all fascinate him.

Sherlock Holmes is an observing machine; has been that way almost since birth. He can size up a man or a woman in an instant. He can tell where someone is from, what another does to make his living. In fact, he is known for it on his little street. If something is missing – a boot or an apron or a crusty doorstep of bread – he can look into faces, examine trousers, find telltale clues, and track the culprit, large or small.

This man walking toward him has been in the army, you can tell by his bearing. He’s pulled the trigger of his rifle with the calloused index finger of his right hand. He’s served in India – notice the Hindu symbol on his left cuff link, like one the boy has seen in a book.

He walks on. A woman with a bonnet pulled down on her head and a shawl gripped around her shoulders brushes against him as she passes.

“Watch your step, you,” she grumbles, glaring at him.

An easy one, thinks the boy. She has recently lost in love, notice the stains around her eyes, the tight anger in her mouth, and the chocolate hidden in her hand. She is within a year of thirty, gaining a little weight, a resident of the Sussex countryside where its unique brown clay has marked the insteps of both her black boots.

The boy feels like he needs to know everything. He needs advantages in a life that has given him few. A teacher at his school once told him he was brilliant. He’d scoffed at that. “Brilliant at what?” he had muttered to himself. “At being in the wrong life at the wrong time?”

On Fleet Street, he reaches into a cast-iron dustbin and pulls out a handful of newspapers. The Times … toss it back. The Daily Telegraph … toss it back. The Illustrated Police News … ah, yes. Now there is a newspaper! Every sensation that London can create brought to life in big black-and-white pictures. He reads such scandal sheets every day, but this one, with a riveting tale of bloody violence and injustice, will reveal to him his destiny.

Today I read…burning from the inside

Burning from the insideToday I read burning from the inside by Christine Walde.

Anything is better than going home. Even working with the cops to get out of his latest graffiti charges. But then Thom finds out what they want him to do–go undercover and help them catch the G7, a group of socially conscious graffiti writers who have so far managed to elude the police. Not only will he be forced to narc on fellow artists, but for his day job he will be forced to buff–to remove graffiti, to cover it with grey paint until the walls are as dull as the people who live in between them. He can’t–but the only other option is to go to jail, or back home.

So Thom becomes TNT, the newest tagger in town. Creating art by night, by day he erases his own work. And then he meets her. Aura. Beautiful, talented, free-spirited Aura, so much like him. Aura, of the G7. She brings him into her world, and introduces him to the others: The DC. Kane. MC Lee. DJ O’d. Queen Mab. And their leader, Chef BS.

Together, Thom and Aura dream of finding the legendary Kalpa path on Tiger Mountain, the art left behind by Story, the greatest tagger the city has ever seen, who disappeared without a trace many years ago. But standing in their way is the police officer who secretly wants Thom to find more than just the G7–he wants Story, and he doesn’t care what happens to Thom as long as he gets her…

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This is another of the books I got at the OLA Super Conference,and it was written by a classmate of mine from library school, Christine Walde. I knew she was a poet, but I didn’t know that she was also a prose author. At times the language she uses is so beautifully put together, you can tell where the poetry whispered in her ear saying don’t you miss me?

The point of view alternates between Aura and Thom, and in some ways they’re very alike. They’re both just so *frustrated*–Thom wants to make art, art that is seen and changes the world a little bit, and Aura wants to send a message to the world with the rest of the G7 that it needs to WAKE UP. Young frustrated idealism in the face of a cynical world that doesn’t want to listen–a timeless story. Thom and Aura would never work as older characters, because they would be more jaded–they need the impatience of youth to change the world.

The book also talks a lot about graffiti, what drives people to go out and do it even though it is illegal. Graffiti is a culture I have never experienced–probably because I have no artistic talent (alright, and I tend to be boringly law-abiding). I can’t even draw stick people well, and I admire people who do have that talent. There’s a sharp difference drawn here between those who scribble meaningless things with paint on public property and those who create art, who have a message and something to say in a public forum. The amateur and the professional graffiti writer, in a way. Both have their place, but buffing scribbles is a pinprick to Thom while buffing art is a wound. Christine gives a great interview here about graffiti and art.

burning from the inside reminds you what it was like to be young and need to express yourself so intently that you, well, burned with it–burn until you explode. Like TNT.

burning autograph

Today I Read…Until Today

Until TodayToday I read Until Today by Pam Fluttert.

Kat has a lot of problems. She has an older brother who’s the apple of her mother’s eye, and a little sister who’s daddy’s princess. Her best friend Steph has been getting awfully obsessed with a boy who’s nothing but bad news, and her other best friend Scott has been acting a little weird. And there’s a scared little girl at the hospital Kat volunteers at who won’t talk to any of the adults–but she’ll talk to Kat. It’s a good thing that Kat has her diary to work out her problems in, especially her biggest problem–her father’s best friend, Greg. He says she’s his special girl, that no one would understand their relationship if they knew, that everyone will hate her if she tells…Her diary is the only safe place Kat can share her feelings. Until today, when her diary goes missing…

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This is one of the books that I got at the OLA Super Conference this year. It’s a powerful look at the experience of child sexual abuse, especially coming from an author who freely admits that she also has had personal experience with mental and sexual abuse. Fluttert’s website talks about her work on the issue of childhood sexual abuse and with the group Yes YOUth Can which promotes inspirational youth.

Kat is basically a list of the warning signs of childhood abuse: loose, baggy, unappealing clothing, disinterest in dating, mood swings and moodiness, trying to protect another potential victim without anyone realizing what she’s doing, vague statements about her abuser, fanatically protecting the secret even though she hates him and what he does, depression and self-loathing, fear of stigma of being known as an abuse survivor, problems with family & friends…A lot of these are common to teenagers, but they can also be warning signs of something seriously wrong. Greg is also a warning sign himself: he is charming and smooth, someone who everyone likes and trusts, and manipulates Kat from a young age into believing that what they do together is a special secret, a game, something that they do because he loves her and wants her to prove how much she loves him, that no one else will understand and everyone will hate her and she will lose all her family and friends if she tells because they will pick him over her… The whole book is a little After School Special, but it works very well as an explanation of what Kat goes through and what she thinks about everything.

My only issue with the book is that she never once uses the words rape or sexual assault. Words are powerful, as we see when Kat recognizes that she has been a victim of child abuse. Throughout the book, Kat says that Greg “does things to her” and that he “touches her” but she never once says that he rapes her or that he sexually assaults her or that they have sex. I don’t think that Kat yet recognizes that that was what he did–a real survivor at that point might not think in those terms–but I think it would have been even more powerful for the book to use the words. It is a YA book– I wonder if that was a choice made to make the book more ‘appropriate’ to market to young teens? Regardless, Kat is a character who find the courage to help someone else, which helps her find the courage to help herself.

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Inside, no one is manning the counter so Mom and I wait. The entrance is pretty much what I expected. The walls are cold and white, and the floor is a dull grey with black scuff marks and smudges. A poster hanging to my right promotes Neighborhood Watch programs and another one advertises an upcoming charity auction to raise money for the homeless. I half expect to see WANTED posters, but aside from pictures of missing children, there are none.

Stacks of pamphlets sit on the counter for people to read. I bend over to pick up one that’s fallen to the floor. I reach to return it to the pile, when the bright red words across the top catch my attention. “What Should You Do If You Suspect Child Abuse?” A little girl holding a teddy bear and sucking her thumb is pictured on the front.

I freeze, staring at the words, as they register and repeat in my head. Child abuse…child abuse…child abuse. I’m an abused child. Putting a label to me–to something that happened to me–makes it seem so real. I’m a statistic. I’m one of them…one of those numbers mentioned in a pamphlet that someone dropped on the floor not caring enough to pick it up let alone take it home.

“Can I help you?”

I come to attention with a start. Across the counter from me is a pair of impatient brown eyes, set in the face of a young officer who seems busy and about to rush off again. Fiddling with the pamphlet in my hand, I’m unable to make my brain connect to my mouth. Say something, Kat. Don’t just stare at him. Do you want to be a victim all your life?

“You okay?” the officer asks, narrowing his eyes and probably wondering what kind of drugs I’m on.

“I…I need to…” I stammer.

“We need to talk to someone.” My mom steps in just as another officer walks into the room. I immediately recognize him as the man who pulled Dad and Greg apart at our house.

“It’s all right, Chambers, I’ve got this,” he says, and the brown-eyed officer rushes away, a pile of papers under his arm and a look of relief on his face.

“Your name’s Kat, isn’t it?” The officer waits for me to find my tongue.

I nod stupidly.

“Are you here to add something to your statement?” He glances at Mom.

Mom grips my shoulders with reassuring hands. “Yes, we need to talk to you.” She glances around. “If we could go somewhere private–”

“Maria! Don’t say a word. I’ll handle this.” My father comes out through a door to the side. He doesn’t look much better than he did when he was taken away, except that the blood had stopped flowing from his nose. His right eye is swollen, he has a fat lip, and a rainbow of blues, purples and blacks colors his face.

“Where’s Sarah?”

Mom answers quietly. “She’s at home with Steph and Scott. Kat thought maybe she’d like to come and talk to somebody.” Mom squeezes my hand, trying to send me a message. I hesitate, uncertain if she is encouraging me to proceed or to listen to Dad. I’m so used to her being a buffer between us that I’m not sure what she is trying to tell me.

“Kat doesn’t need to talk to anybody, I’ll handle everything.”

They’re talking about me as if I’m not even here, just like Dad has always done. Talking about me and making all my decisions for me, without even stopping to wonder what I want and think. Years of hearing Dad saying “Kat needs this…” or “Kat doesn’t want that…” or “Kat is going to do this…” or, worst of all, “Kat will try better next time…”

No more.

 

Today I Read…The Selection Trilogy

The SelectionToday I read The Selection trilogy by Kiera Cass: The Selection, The Elite, and The One.

Once every generation comes the time of the Selection–the time when the prince of Illéa must choose a bride from among his subjects. The most beautiful, talented, and virtuous girls of the land must compete to win his heart and his hand. Now it is the turn of Maxon Schreave to choose his princess.

America Singer has a hard life, but a good one. She has a loving family and her work as a musician, and her secret boyfriend, Aspen Leger. But America is a Five, an artist, and Aspen is a Six, a servant, and marriages between the castes is highly restricted. Aspen is proud–he doesn’t wantPrint America to lower herself by marrying him, so he breaks up with her. Devastated, America is manipulated by her ambitious mother into applying to be a member of the Selection, and against all belief she is chosen to be one of the 35 chosen ones. She will live at the palace, learn how to conduct herself as befits a princess of Illéa, and compete with the other girls for the prize–Prince Maxon.

America doesn’t want to like him–she wants to go home, back to her real life. But Maxon is so kind–he’s smart and compassionate and funny and he talks to her. America finds herself falling for him, even while she mourns her relationship with Aspen. Aspen, who has been drafted into the army and is now the palace guard who watches her bedroom door.

The OneOn top of all of this is the strict caste system that the King embodies and promotes, that America has great difficulty living with. There are dangerous rebels, who attack the palace and what they claim are the symbols of a despotic regime–the royal family and the girls of the Selection. There also seem to be more reasonable rebels, who want to talk and work together to improve the state of the kingdom. And there are the other girls, the Elite, some friendly and some not, and all of whom are there for the same reason America is–to be The One to win Maxon’s love. And some of them will stop at nothing to get it.

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I wanted to read these books because they’re been pretty popular lately, especially with the release of The One last month, the final book in the trilogy. Also, the cover designs with the dresses are gorgeous and eye-catching, and I wanted to find out what the books were about.

The Selection is basically a reality show called Who Wants to Marry a Prince set in a 1950s dystopia future (actually I think that was a real show). Society and technology have gone backwards, and history is a very carefully designed mass of propaganda. The caste system is extremely strict, and almost impossible to change The Ones are royalty and have every luxury, while the Eights are homeless. America is lucky enough to like her status as a Five, the artist caste, but not the near-poverty that comes with it. Sexual purity is highly prized for both men and women, but there is still a secret double-standard. America is instructed by palace staff to do anything that Maxon wants, wink wink, but the girls of the Elite can legally be tortured and executed for kissing anyone other than Maxon.

America is a bit of a Mary Sue, and she makes a lot of mistakes,  but her confusion is genuine. She cares for both Maxon and Aspen, but her heart and her duty tear her in two directions. She wants to have the power to create a more fair society, but doesn’t want the attention that being a princess would bring. She doesn’t have the patience or the trust in Maxon to wait while he plots to slowly make things better, the only thing he can do with his abusive and controlling father still the king. Maxon is a little harder to get a handle on since we see him through America’s point of view, and there’s a lot she doesn’t understand until she’s explicitly told. She thinks he’s changeable in his affections, and he thinks he’s protecting himself from someone who won’t commit to him. She thinks he’s cold and imperious, and he thinks he’s cautious and raised to be a prince who must abide by the law. There’s a novella, The Prince, that tells about Maxon’s life before the Elite come to the palace, and I think  might try to find it. Aspen on the other hand lets his pride and jealousy get in the way of his relationship with America, and it’s only thanks to convenient plot devices that they don’t get caught sneaking round the palace kissing. There’s also a novella called The Guard about Aspen’s point of view during the Selection.

I’d say that this is a series with a lot of potential. The Selected is only her second novel, and the first, The Siren, was self-published. It’s good, but I think her writing will become much better with time and practice–it reads like an early novel. It’s not precisely a modern feminist fairy tale, but it’s not a stereotyped teen chicklit romance either. While the romantic triangle is an overused trope, it’s popular for a reason–people like it. As I said, there’s a lot of potential here.

This series will probably appeal most to teenage girls, and I’d recommend it primarily to people looking for a romance story, instead of as a story of societal change or a dystopia.

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WHEN WE GOT THE LETTER in the post, my mother was ecstatic.

She had already decided that all our problems were solved, gone forever. The big hitch in her brilliant plan was me. I didn’t think I was a particularly disobedient daughter, but this was where I drew the line.

I didn’t want to be royalty. And I didn’t want to be a One.

I didn’t even want to try.

I hid in my room, the only place to avoid the chattering of our full house, trying to come up with an argument that would sway her. So far, I had a solid collection of my honest opinions… I didn’t think there was a single one she would listen to.

I couldn’t avoid her much longer. It was approaching dinnertime, and as the oldest child left in the house, cooking duties fell on me. I pulled myself out of bed and walked into the snake pit.

I got a glare from Mom but no words.

We did a silent dance through the kitchen and dining room as we prepared chicken, pasta, and apple slices, and set the table for five. If I glanced up from a task, she’d fix me with a fierce look as if she could shame me into wanting the same things she did. She tried that every so often. Like if I didn’t want to take on a particular job because I knew the family hosting us was unnecessarily rude. Or if she wanted me to do a massive cleaning when we couldn’t afford to have a Six come and help.

Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. And this was one area where I was unswayable.

She couldn’t stand it when I was stubborn. But I got that from her, so she shouldn’t have been surprised. This wasn’t just about me, though. Mom had been tense lately. The summer was ending, and soon we’d be faced with cold. And worry.

Mom set down the pitcher of tea in the center of the table with an angry thud. My mouth watered at the thought of tea with lemon. But I would have to wait; it would be such a waste to have my glass now and then have to drink water with my meal.

“Would it kill you to fill out the form?” she said, no longer able to contain herself. “The Selection could be a wonderful opportunity for you, for all of us.”

I sighed aloud, thinking that filling out that form might actually be something close to death.

It was no secret that the rebels—the underground colonies that hated Illéa, our large and comparatively young country—made their attacks on the palace both violent and frequent. We’d seen them in action in Carolina before. One of the magistrates’ houses was burned to the ground, and a handful of Twos had their cars vandalized. There was even a magnificent jailbreak once, but considering they only released a teenage girl who’d managed to get herself pregnant and a Seven who was a father to nine, I couldn’t help thinking they were in the right that time.

But beyond the potential danger, I felt like it would hurt my heart to even consider the Selection. I couldn’t help smiling as I thought about all the reasons I had to stay exactly where I was.

“These last few years have been very hard on your father,” she hissed. “If you have any compassion at all, you might think of him.”

Dad. Yeah. I really did want to help Dad. And May and Gerad. And, I supposed, even my mother. When she talked about it that way, there was nothing to smile about. Things had been strained around here for far too long. I wondered if Dad would see this as a way back to normal, if any amount of money could make things better.

It wasn’t that our situation was so precarious that we were living in fear of survival or anything. We weren’t destitute. But I guess we weren’t that far off either.

Our caste was just three away from the bottom. We were artists. And artists and classical musicians were only three steps up from dirt. Literally. Our money was stretched as tight as a high wire, and our income was highly dependent on the changing seasons.

I remembered reading in a timeworn history book that all the major holidays used to be cramped into the winter months.

Something called Halloween followed by Thanksgiving, then Christmas and New Year’s. All back to back.

Christmas was still the same. It’s not like you could change the birth date of a deity. But when Illéa made the massive peace treaty with China, the New Year came in January or February, depending on the moon. All the individual celebrations of thankfulness and independence from our part of the world were now simply the Grateful Feast. That came in the summer. It was a time to celebrate the forming of Illéa, to rejoice in the fact that we were still here.

I didn’t know what Halloween was. It never resurfaced.

So at least three times a year, the whole family would be fully employed. Dad and May would make their art, and patrons would purchase them as gifts. Mom and I would perform at parties—me singing and her on piano—not turning down a single job if we could manage it. When I was younger, performing in front of an audience terrified me. But now I just tried to equate myself to background music. That’s what we were in the eyes of our employers: meant to be heard and not seen.

Gerad hadn’t found his talent yet. But he was only seven. He still had a little time.

Soon the leaves would change, and our tiny world would be unsteady again. Five mouths but only four workers. No guarantees of employment until Christmastime.

When I thought of it that way, the Selection seemed like a rope, something sure I could grab onto. That stupid letter could lift me out of the darkness, and I could pull my family along with me.