book review: the age of miracles

I don’t think I’m unreasonable in being disappointed in Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles. The concept of the book is that the planet’s rotation is slowing, and the protagonist is a 12-year-old girl in California just living her life, trying to deal with things like unpopularity and parental infidelity.

One one hand, the book had this science fictional concept of the earth slowing and days lengthening, which is kind of interesting and no more ridiculous than Life As We Knew It‘s moon suddenly getting all up in Earth’s face. But it’s written as if the author had no idea how seasons work. There’s a bit of lip-service to the madness that comes from white nights at extreme latitudes, but the idea that the sun going down at 9pm isn’t a terrifying thing seemed completely foreign to the author. There’s a bit of information tossed in about the earth’s magnetic field, but it was very cursory.

Also, all of the big problems that arise from this global catastrophe are kind of glossed over in simplistic ways. Not just that the 12-year-old protagonist glossed over them because she didn’t get them, but like the author didn’t think it through very hard and just had the idea of monolithic blocks that would react in certain ways across the continent if not the globe.

So it seems to me that the book wasn’t written to be a science fiction book, but a backdrop for this young girl’s story. Fine. I can get behind the idea of a coming of age story in the midst of global crisis. The science and sociology could have been passed off as niggling details to annoy me if the story of the girl was compelling, but I did not find it to be so. There was a boy, and a lack of friends, and death, and a cheating father. It wasn’t terrible, but it felt simplistic and too uninvolving to distract me from the issues I had with the end of the world.

It might be an okay YA book, but I think a lot of readers would be put off by the lack of plot. In any case, Life As We Knew It is a much better YA book in the same vein.

book review: word nerd

Susin Nielsen’s Word Nerd is about a twelve-year-old kid named Ambrose whose mom is way overprotective. He makes friends with Cosmo, his landlord’s adult (and ex-con) son through Scrabble. It’s set in Vancouver (Kitsilano to be precise), and from the name-dropping of places they go, I feel confident I could find the block Ambrose would have lived on. There’s a peanut-allergy aspect to the character (he almost dies early on from jerks putting a peanut in his sandwich) but it feels like more of a justification for his mom to be overprotective. There’s also some talk of drugs and Ambrose stops Cosmo from slipping back into junkiedom.

Ambrose’s mom was very controlling and the book does try to get at why, but in a kid-focused kind of way. If I met Ambrose and wasn’t inside his head for the book, I’d find him an annoying twerp, much like Cosmo does at first, but he gets some of his obnoxiousness toned down as it goes. He helps Cosmo, Cosmo helps him, and they have to keep it secret from his mom.

It was a good kids book, maybe okay for the younger side of YA.

book review: the giver

Lois Lowry’s The Giver was in our unit on dystopias, and yes, it fits there. I ended up being unimpressed with it as a book though, mainly because of the “unique snowflake” syndrome it exhibits.

Jonas lives in a society where you’re assigned a job to be trained for when you hit 12 years old. Not exactly 12, because you’re part of a year which all hits these milestones together. The society has a huge number of rules and surveillance to maintain itself. Jonas is understandably excited about his upcoming assignment. But he gets a weird job that sets him apart from the community as a keeper of memory, which is when you learn that no one can see colours or knows what hills or snow are, since the Sameness was instituted to eliminate pain and poor choices.

It’s a good book, as far as it goes. It’s very firm in its support of individual choice as opposed to terrible efficiency (something it shares with A Wrinkle in Time). The problem is how Jonas has to have memories transmitted into him psychically and then the ending is kind of abrupt (though it’s also kind of ambiguous, leaving a few interpretations open until being stomped on by the sequel). The thing that bugs me is how Jonas and the Giver are the only people in the world who aren’t drones that care only about the status quo.

There’s more good than bad to it, though Scott Westerfeld does a better job with similar material in Uglies. Uglies is a bit more YA and this is a bit more childrens’ I guess.