Friday, October 13, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

I was intrigued by Julia Walton's Words on Bathroom Walls as soon as I came across it on Goodreads. Add in yet another unplanned trip to Half Price Books, and here we are. I was not exactly sure what I had signed up for when I picked this story following a teenage boy diagnosed with schizophrenia, but at the very least, I figured it would be interesting.

The Situation: It is the start of a new school year and Adam is preparing to attend St. Agatha's, a private K-12 Catholic school where he will have to wear a school uniform, attend Mass, participate in an Easter play...the full deal. New schools are always a little intimidating and cause for some anxiety. But if meeting new people, making new friends, and getting around a new campus were not enough to worry about, Adam also has the knowledge that every adult in the building knows he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He attends weekly therapy sessions (where he refuses to talk) and is even on a new experimental medication known as ToZaPrex that is supposed to help with the hallucinations. Still, he is worried about the other students finding out about his secret, and even a little bit about the people who already know. 

The Problem: Everything seems to be going fairly well...or at least about as well as life in high school can go. School is what it is; Mass is boring; Adam's mom and stepdad are always supportive and there for him; he has met a cute girl; made a talkative friend; and made his way onto the school bully's hit list. All fairly standard stuff. But then the ToZaPrex does not seem to have the same effect it used to, and when the doctors managing the study recognize that Adam's body is building an immunity to it, they decide to bring him off of it, slowly. Since his diagnosis, Adam has been well aware that there is no cure for what he has, but he would like to at least be able to manage to a point that he does not hurt anyone, or give anyone reason to be afraid of him. Even at the height of ToZaPrex's effectiveness, the hallucinations do not go away completely, but he could handle them. Now, he risks losing everything he has spent the school year working so hard to gain, things that he never knew he needed or wanted until now. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in the 2012-2013 school year, which is Adam's junior year. The setting of the private Catholic school gives Adam some opportunity to talk about religion, though often the discussion is just him criticizing the Catholic church, their beliefs, and how they do things, rather than simply criticizing Christianity or religion in general. Since he refuses to talk in his therapy sessions, the story is told through the journal entries he writes to his therapist, telling everything important that is happening to him. Even the poor therapist is not free from Adam's scrutiny, as he often calls him out for his clothes, hair, even the line of questioning he sometimes chooses in an attempt to get Adam to open up. But given what Adam has been through, and what he is still going through, it is understandable that he would be unwilling to talk, even angry. Walton acknowledges that ToZaPrex may not be a real drug, and that this story is fiction, but schizophrenia is not. The book may be a peek inside of the mind of a fictional person diagnosed with schizophrenia, but it is still a window into someone who is hurting and makes a point of acknowledging that he may never be "fixed."

My Verdict: This one left me a little bit on the fence, but I am certainly leaning more towards the positive. Adam is a great character who embodies that always fascinating issue (at least it is fascinating to me) of how much support can be given to someone who is legitimately suffering, when a lot of what they offer back is pain and heartache. Adam is not quite to the point that the people in his life want to walk away for good, but he has his moments, and these moments sometimes made the book difficult to get through. Of course, that could have been the point. The format of reading the story through Adam's entries to his therapist works extremely well. It may be a one-sided conversation, but not allowing the therapist to interrupt works to let Adam say everything he wants, albeit only in written form. If there is any issue I have with the story it is that the villain, Ian, is almost a little too over-powered. He is not necessarily physically strong, but he has a little too much power and access. Because of his position as the son of the wealthy head of the school board, he does what he wants and gets away with it, right down to being able to know confidential information about his fellow students. But other than that, this is a solid story that would be good reading for anyone who is afraid of being found out for who they are.

Favorite Moment: When Adam's mom confronts her mother-in-law regarding things she said about Adam and his condition.

Favorite Character: Often in YA novels, parents are non-existent, completely useless, or part of the problem. In this case, Adam's mom and stepdad are none of those things. They are helpful, present, and by his side whenever he needs them. 

Favorite Quote: "It doesn't really matter that no one else can see what I see. That doesn't make my experience any less real."

Recommended Reading: You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds by Jenny Lawson is an awesome combination of self-help and an adult coloring book. In between the coloring pages, Lawson talks about her own struggles with mental illness. For a fiction book, I recommend All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

Contemporary Fiction: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Once again, shout-out to Half Price Books and their section of discounted new titles, coupled with their coupons and sales. I always feel better about the impulse book purchase when paying less than full price, and Hannah Tinti's The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley was on the right shelf at the right time. 

The Situation: Louise "Loo" Hawley has never lived in one place for long. She and her father, called "Hawley" by most everyone he knows, have had to pick up and leave quickly from many locations over the course of her life. When they do make their temporary home somewhere, Hawley has the same ritual of turning the bathroom into a makeshift shrine to his dead wife, Lily. Loo would note the strangeness of such an act if she was not so used to it. It is just something Hawley has always done. Now the pair have settled once again in Olympus, Massachusetts, which happened to be Lily's hometown. For the first time in a long time, Hawley and Loo manage to stay put for a few years, with Loo going to school and Hawley finding steady and legitimate work. The locals may be suspicious and wary of the strange pair, but like always, they are able to make it work.

The Problem: Hawley has a past, one that he would do anything to protect his daughter from. But his attempts to keep her safe, while also keeping his many secrets, has made her curious, suspicious, and socially awkward. From how she reacts to bullies at school, it is clear Loo has inherited her father's temper, something he is not that excited to learn. Being the way he is has only earned him multiple bullet wounds, endless grief, and a life spent constantly looking over his shoulder, waiting for his past to catch up to him and his daughter. Now that Loo is older, she decides to start learning for herself about Hawley and her mother. Such knowledge may provide answers to questions she has had all of her life, but it will threaten to create distance between herself and the only person she has ever truly trusted. And while his daughter grows up into her own person, Hawley cannot seem to change who he has become, or avoid those who want to find him.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in present day Massachusetts, though stories from Hawley's past come from various locations all over North America. Loo's story begins when she is 12 years old and Hawley teaches her how to shoot a gun, and carries through to her 17th birthday. But in between snapshots of their life in Olympus, the story between each of Hawley's bullet wounds is told. To say that the man has led a hard life would be an understatement. Hawley is man who always has a gun on him. He is careful to the point of paranoia, and if a situation is even slightly off from what he thinks it should be, he is prepared to take action. Even so, such a high level of caution has not helped him avoid being shot multiple times in different situations, with those who are with him getting hit as well. It is his past that has caused him to be so careful and worried when it comes to his daughter. And it is his temper that causes everyone in town to be careful about him. Even without knowing his past, people quickly become wary about him due to how he prefers to dole out his own justice instead of waiting on authorities. Hawley is not only a difficult man who has lead a hard life, but he is also a father drowning in grief and running from fear. And one of those fears is that his daughter will end up just like him.

My Verdict: This is a book with thoroughly fleshed out characters whose fear and suspicion can be felt on almost every page. Hawley is a man not to be messed with; Loo has grown into a young woman not to be messed with, but can still be undone by a local boy; and then there are various others in the community, such as Loo's hardened grandmother, the well-meaning high school principal, Hawley's old partner in crime, and the widow still dealing with her own grief in a way that would only hurt the local economy. The problem for me is that it is hard to root for any of these people, including Hawley and Loo. The former should be dead, and the latter is headed towards the same fate if she is not careful. But ultimately, it becomes clear that everyone is simply doing their best to manage their own pain and failing at it. 

Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When Lily is revealed to be the reason behind one of Hawley's gunshot wounds.

Favorite Character: Principal Gunderson may be annoying, but he ultimately has Loo's best interest in mind and does what he can to help her. 

Recommended Reading: American War by Omar El Akkad tells a story of a woman hardened by war and the little boy who wished to learn her story.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Science Fiction: The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

I received The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett after winning a giveaway on Goodreads. I had initially added the book after being intrigued by the synopsis. Settling colonies in space, a devastating virus, few survivors, a possible sinister government plot...all of these things got me interested to see where this new author was going to take the already thoroughly explored post-apocalyptic storyline.

The Situation: Jamie wakes up on the planet Soltaire after being bedridden due to a severe illness. The virus had grabbed hold on everyone across space. Earth was hit hard, but so were all of the settlements full of those that were forced off of the overpopulated planet, along with those who voluntarily left. Jamie fell into the latter category, but now none of that seems to matter. After remembering where she is and what happened, Jamie also remembers that the virus left few survivors. According to the statistics, only 0.0001% of those hit would survive. If that is true, then Jamie could not expect to find anyone else on the ranch she lived and worked as a veterinarian. And after a brief and frantic search that yields no signs of life, Jamie begins to see that sometimes there are worse things than dying. Fortunately, people do show up, and then a ship arrives to take them all to Earth, possibly proving that the statistics were not as accurate as Jamie had feared.

The Problem: There may be a small number of survivors, but it seems that humanity is intent on carrying on with its many bad habits. Everyone seems to have a different idea as to how society should proceed. And the more stops the ship makes on other colonies, the more unsure Jamie is of what the future will hold. Even before the virus hit, her life did not have a clear direction, although it was stable. Now, she finds herself curious about the people she left behind, but she is not the only one with a past, and also not the only one who may be searching for someone or something. The further the group travels, the more tension there seems to be, leaving Jamie to wonder if there was a point to anyone surviving such a catastrophic event.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel with an undetermined date as far as where to place it in our own timeline. The assumption is that it would be set in the future, but I could not be sure. It could easily have been placed in present-day, making it a reality where we as human beings long ago decided to send people to colonize in outer space. But there is talk of overcrowding on Earth leading to that decision, as well as much discussion about certain populations being forced to move, while there are others who also volunteered. Jamie is one who volunteered, and though her placement in society would have guaranteed that she never would have been forced, she resents those who made the decision to put such a policy in place. Throughout the novel, the subject of population control comes up quite a bit, along with the decision to reproduce, and how many see it as a duty, especially after a deadly virus has ravaged most of humanity. The novel also looks at how even those who choose to have children may not be able to, which can lead to a manic and desperate mindset where people make decisions they would not otherwise make. Before the virus hit, everyone Jamie meets had a previous life, but now none of it seems to matter. And those who attempt to hold onto their past end up the least equipped to properly move forward.

My Verdict: There are many things I enjoyed about this book, specifically that it was science fiction I could follow and understand. Also, the descriptions of the various settings that are visited manage to paint incredibly vivid pictures of lands and worlds that may be barren of humans, but are otherwise fine. Even the time spent on the ship while traveling through space is well-described, giving the reader a decent picture of what that would look like. With that being said, if there was one thing that threatened my enjoyment of the story it was the main character. Jamie is understandably struggling to come to terms with life after the virus. There are so many unknown factors, and she is traveling on a spaceship with strangers while they all attempt to figure things out. But she is so incredibly self-righteous about every little topic, and frequently gets mad at others for being the same way. She sees her way of moving forward as the only way, even though she is not even sure what her plan is. Her desires change at the turn of a page, and she finds even the smallest reasons to be frustrated with someone. Again, it is a stressful situation, but the protagonist made the narrative more annoying instead of intriguing or interesting.

Favorite Moment: When Jamie and her new friends manage to escape a settlement that would have them stay and be forced into whatever roles the government believes would suit them best. 

Favorite Character: Marcus Lowry is a former Catholic priest who always takes the role of peacemaker. It is obvious he has his own secrets (they all do), but he understands that if society is going to rebuild itself, everyone is going to have to get along and be patient with each other.

Recommended Reading: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel covers the days just before a deadly disease hits Earth, and continues until decades later when society is slowly rebuilding itself. There is no colonizing of other planets or space travel, but people must decide how they will move forward now that everything has changed.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Historical Fiction: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

When it came to historical fiction, 2016 was actually a good year for me. Now, we are nearing the end of September of 2017, and it has been incredibly difficult for me to find new historical fiction. There is plenty of it out there, of course. But for whatever reason, I am having a hard time finding books that I am interested in reading. Thankfully, I came upon Kathleen Rooney's Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. Here's to hoping that finding more historical fiction published in 2017 will be easier in these last few months of the year.

The Situation: It is New Year's Eve, and the city of New York is ready to ring in 1985. Lillian Boxfish is dressed and ready to go to Grimaldi's Restaurant, where she goes every New Year's Eve, to eat a fantastic meal among people who know her, and have known her for years. And though it is New York City in January, Lillian decides to walk, and as she does, not only will she come across various characters, and visit various businesses and establishments, but she will also more or less tell the story of her long life and her incredible career. At one point, Lillian was the highest paid female in advertising in the country. Working for R.H. Macy's, Lillian wrote advertising copy, and in the 1930s she was it. After finding success in that field, Lillian also published books of poetry that also met with both critical and commercial success, thus expanding the reach of her name and legacy. Incredibly witty, smart, independent and hard-working, Lillian does what she wants and on her own terms. Even after falling in love, getting married, and having a son, Lillian was determined to be her own woman.

The Problem: Having been born in 1899 (though she lied about her age, always taking off a year and pretending she was born in 1900), Lillian's streak of independence was often met with opposition, but she was always ready to fight it. Her own mother was the first to object, but Lillian would also contend with critics, a few fellow writers that she had to work with, occasionally her editor, and finally, her own husband. In the opening chapter of the book, Lillian admits that her job at R.H. Macy's, which she loved, both saved her life and ruined it. She is proud of the work she did, and did not want to stop doing it once she became pregnant with her son. But when Gian, or Johnny, was born, maternity leave was not a thing, and R.H. Macy's was not about to hold a job for her, despite her past history and success. As Lillian spends New Year's Eve walking the familiar streets of New York City, which even she admits have grown more sinister in the last few years, she relives her life and its many successes, as well as its many failures.

Genre, Things, History: This is a historical fiction novel set primarily on New Year's Eve, 1984 in New York City. Lillian takes a walk, beginning at her apartment in Murray Hill, and ends up walking a little over ten miles around the streets of Manhattan, before the clock finally strikes midnight, welcoming in the year 1985. As she walks and comes across landmarks, businesses, and offices, the reader is offered pieces of Lillian's life. Her stories are not necessarily in chronological order, but by the end, the reader has a pretty good idea of how Lillian's life has gone, and how she feels about it. If growing up as a feminist in the 21st century is hard, it was even harder when Lillian was making a name for herself in advertising. However, she managed to do it, and never backed down when challenged. This is not to say she never had her own issues. She would always have mixed feelings about motherhood, even after having a child. And though she fell fast and hard for her husband Max, and he fell fast and hard for her, the marriage would eventually end after Max's affair with another, younger woman. It seems even a fascinating and self-assured woman can have her moments of doubt, despair, and insecurity. It is acknowledged in the author's note that the character of Lillian Boxfish was modeled after the real-life ad woman Margaret Fishback, who also worked at R.H. Macy's and was once the highest paid woman in advertising. This book is not an autobiography of Fishback, but a fictionalized account of an independent woman who managed to make a name for herself during a time and in an industry when that was pretty much unheard of.    

My Verdict: Lillian Boxfish is a fascinating woman, and the story of her life is anything but boring. Unfortunately, the way it is told in this book is incredibly boring. I tried to get into it. I wanted to be interested and invested. But I simply could not do it. Even as Lillian talked about some of the more hectic or scandalous pieces of her life, I found that I cared very little as to how things turned out. And for whatever reason, her interactions with the people of New York as she walked the city did not come off as believable for me. Something about the dialogue seemed forced and out of place. However, things felt more natural when Lillian was speaking about or with an old friend or family member. I will say that I did learn some interesting tidbits about Manhattan, as well as New York City as a whole. But as far as the story goes, I felt like Lillian deserved more. More what? I don't know. Just more.

Favorite Moment: Lillian's interactions with her coworker Olive delighted me immensely. Olive was that person that seems to exist in every office in America who is both petty and useless, but somehow has not been fired yet. She is clearly jealous of Lillian and looks for opportunities to undermine her, but does not have the intelligence nor that power to do so. Lillian is always able to dispatch her with a witty remark, or an outright insult, but the poor girl just keeps coming back.

Favorite Character: Outside of Lillian, there really aren't any other characters worth noting. Her best friend Helen seems like the kind of best friend we all need, but there really was not much I could go on that would let me call her my favorite.

Recommended Reading: Okay, so this venture into new historical fiction did not quite go as planned. But that's okay. I think anyone who picks up A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles will be absolutely delighted by what they find. I certainly was. And I hope to run into that kind of delight again soon.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Nonfiction: You Are Here by Jenny Lawson

This is not Jenny Lawson's first rodeo, but this is the first chance I have gotten to pick up one of her books. Instead of going for either Furiously Happy or Let's Pretend This Never Happened, I decided to read You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds. After reading the description, I decided I would save this book for my trip to Europe, which would involve a stay in both Prague and Vienna, with a train trip in between. It seemed like the perfect book to relieve travel jitters, and I was right. 

Genre, Themes, History: I decided to place this book under the nonfiction heading, but I have seen it placed under self-help, as well as graphic novel, though that one may be a bit of a stretch. What Lawson has done here is create a book that is half narrative, half drawings and doodles that you can color in yourself. The sheets are even perforated to allow for easier coloring. Also, if you just want to take a few pages with you and not the entire book, tearing them out is naturally the way to go. But good luck picking which pages to take. Many of the drawings may be similar, but none of them are the same. The drawings, or doodles as Lawson refers to them, are a result of her efforts to do something productive with her mind and her hands when what she wants to do is freak out. After sharing a few of them online and receiving some positive feedback, she decided to make a book of them that is humorous, while also serious and helpful, and will provide hours of entertainment long after the actual words have been read. 

My Verdict: This is indeed the perfect book to take to the airport while knowing full well that it will be over 12 hours before you will be anywhere you will be comfortable again. And while I started reading it in the JFK airport, I did not start coloring pages until the train ride to Vienna, which proved to be an ideal setting for such an activity. The text is both funny and encouraging, and the drawings are creative and beautiful, even without any color added to them. As Lawson says a few times throughout the book, it really is whatever the reader wants to make it. Even outside of the coloring sheets, there are a few places where the reader can add in their own stories, secrets, and memories. It is certainly different, but it is also certainly awesome. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys humorous nonfiction, even if you are not all that into adult coloring books. Practically anyone can find some enjoyment in the pages of this book.

Favorite Doodle: Page 48 was the first one I decided to color. It is a drawing of the tail end of a whale above the surface of the water, with a small human figure in a boat near it. The text in the water reads, "She always felt far too afraid for adventures,but that was okay, because misadventure was her true calling." It felt fitting as I was traveling in Europe alone, and had just managed to find my train to Vienna from Prague. It was by no means my first time traveling by myself, but I am afraid every time, though I always push forward.

Recommended Reading: There is no other book like this in my collection. So I will recommend either comic collection by Sarah Andersen: Adulthood Is a Myth, or Big Mushy Happy Lump

Friday, September 8, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Oh Goodreads, how did I find new books and authors before you came along? Seriously, I cannot remember how I did that before. Though to be fair, I was in graduate school for forever before I started this blog, so what I read was often dictated to me by my professors, leaving little time to read anything for fun. But I digress...today's selection is When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I am all for discovering new YA authors. I am also all for books with diverse voices that involve cultures I am not all that familiar with. This book allowed for both, so this is going to be fun.

The Situation: Dimple Shah knows exactly what she wants in life, and it happens to be the direct opposite of what her mother wants. Dimple's mother would love it if her daughter were more interested in make-up, dressing nice, and finding the "Ideal Indian Husband." But Dimple is focused on starting at Stanford in the fall, and attending Insomnia Con this summer, where she will get to compete against others while creating an app, with the winner getting a chance to make the app available to the public. It is at Insomnia Con where she will meet Rishi Patel, in incredibly practical and dutiful boy who loves the idea of an arranged marriage, and wants to honor his parents by becoming a successful corporate business man, getting married, and having a family. He loves the idea so much that he agreed to attend Insomnia Con, even though he has no interest in coding or web development. He knows it is there that he will meet Dimple, as both his parents and her parents have already arranged the marriage.

The Problem: Everyone is pleased with this plan...well, everyone except Dimple, who did not even know about it until Rishi approached her outside of a Starbucks. Needless to say, that first meeting did not go well, and while Dimple is incredibly angry with her parents, Rishi is the one who incurs her wrath. And if things were not awkward enough, the two of them have been made partners for the entire six weeks of Insomnia Con. Eventually, the pair will get to know each other enough to relax into an easy relationship. But Insomnia Con is still a competition, and one that is incredibly important to Dimple. Together, they must endure encroaching family, snobby competitors, and flaky roommates. It is enough to make Dimple rethink her future, which just a few weeks ago was one thing she was absolutely sure of. Even Rishi begins to wonder if the life he mapped out for himself is truly what he wants.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in and around San Francisco, California. The program that Dimple and Rishi attend, Insomnia Con, takes place on the San Francisco State University campus, where the participants stay for six weeks in the student dorms and work on their own idea for an app. The winning pair will get the chance to develop their app for the market, and work with one of Dimple's idols. Dimple is at Insomnia Con because it is important to her and she wants to win. Rishi is at Insomnia Con because he wanted to meet Dimple, whom he solidly believes is his future wife. Tradition and history are important to both the Shahs and the Patels, but while Rishi embraces these things, Dimple could not care less, and wants nothing more than to be allowed to live her own life and follow her own dreams, without her mother's interference. It is these opposing viewpoints that will pit Dimple and Rishi against each other, and Dimple against her parents. It does not help that some of the other Insomnia Con participants are less than friendly, and have no problem showing how superior they believe themselves to be. It becomes a more complex issue beyond Dimple not wanting her only purpose in life to be finding a husband. And Insomnia Con becomes more than a competition about web development. 

My Verdict: Delightful. Absolutely delightful. Which I am glad for because I had high hopes and was incredibly excited to start this book. Dimple is headstrong and fierce without being tiresome or a cliche. Rishi is genuine and sweet in a way that will endear him to the reader, without coming off as desperate or cloying. The setting of Insomnia Con is perfect in that it gets the students away from their parents, who would otherwise just be in the way, while also keeping them in a somewhat high school-like setting with other students who are not nice people, and authority figures that give them cause to behave and obey a somewhat loose set of rules. Tradition and history of the Indian culture is presented without the plot becoming burdened in details, and the tension between Dimple and her mother feels real. If I had one issue, it would be the character of Celia Ramirez, Dimple's roommate at Insomnia Con. I do not even know if I can put my finger on it, but something about her was just...off. Parts of her personality felt forced and fake, and there were moments where it seemed her only purpose was to push Dimple to put on make-up or wear nicer clothes once in awhile. But her presence did not mar the book in any significant way, making this an awesome new read for any YA lover.

Favorite Moment: It is the moment depicted on the back cover: when Dimple throws her iced coffee in Rishi's face immediately upon meeting him for the first time.

Favorite Character: I am actually having a hard time choosing between Dimple or Rishi. I like that Dimple knows what she wants and is not easily swayed. But I also like how earnest Rishi is and how he manages to not be bothered by the crappy behavior of others.

Recommended Reading: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon also explores the clash that can occur when a college-bound teenager is not too thrilled about honoring their parents' wishes for their life.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Science Fiction: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Ah...science fiction I can actually follow. It is good stuff I must say. Jeff VanderMeer's Borne tells of a world where cities have been trashed, no one is safe, and to care about anyone or anything is to not only risk your own safety, but your sanity as well as all things can be taken from you. Sure, it is another book exploring a dystopian alternative, but with an interesting spin on it.

The Situation: Rachel lives with Wick in the Balcony Cliffs. Together they have carved out a sufficient existence as she scavenges for materials, and he creates and maintains valuable biotech that adds to the security, food source, and quality of their lives. For the most part they trust each other, but whether they did or not, they must depend on each other for survival. The city around them is more or less a wasteland, with every being for themselves, human or otherwise. There are plenty of threats around, the greatest of which being Mord, a created monster that terrorizes the city, and the Magician, a woman who seeks to contend with Mord for ultimate control of the area and its resources. For a long time, Rachel and Wick have only had to worry about each other, but that is until she finds Borne. He is small, seemingly helpless, and could be valuable, so Rachel takes him and keeps him, with no idea as to what she has possibly gotten herself into.

The Problem: Rachel has no clue what Borne is or what he is capable of, and neither does Borne. As time goes on and as Rachel cares for him, Borne will grow, get bigger, and learn language, among other things. From day one Wick is not a fan, and Borne knows it. He repeatedly demands that Borne be given to him so he can be taken apart, destroyed, as salvage. Wick continually asserts that Borne is dangerous, but Rachel will hear none of it. But as Borne gets bigger and bigger, it becomes difficult for any of them to ignore what is happening. Plus, Borne is not their only concern. Mord is still ruling the city with teeth and claws, while the Magician  is pulling her own tricks in an attempt to gain total control. Meanwhile, Rachel and Wick fight more often, keep more and more secrets from each other, and Borne continues to grown and learn at a terrifying rate. The already delicate balance that they kept over their lives is beginning to tip, and not in a good direction.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel set in an unknown time in an undetermined location, because ultimately, neither of those things matter, given the state of the world. The city where Rachel and Wick have made their home in the Balcony Cliffs is no longer recognizable as what it once was. An entity only referred to as the Company is often mentioned, mostly for its hand in the destruction, as well as its creation of Mord, a terrifying giant bear-like creature that roams the city and eats/destroys what it pleases. And if avoiding Mord is not enough of a task, there is also the Magician, who seems to serve not only as Mord's rival, but Wick's as well. Both of them are worth avoiding, but their growing presence make it fairly obvious that life in Balcony Cliffs cannot last forever. When Rachel finds Borne, she seems to find another purpose of life beyond scavenging. Eventually she will admit to seeing Borne almost like her child, which explains her compulsion to defend him endlessly against Wick, despite her longer relationship with the latter, and the obvious danger behind the growth of the former. In this book, what you see in someone or something is not necessarily what you get. Everyone has secrets; everyone has a hidden history that even they may not know about.

My Verdict: While the story may be incredibly original, even despite the dystopian setting, something about the story's pacing or the amount of internal dialogue threw me off. I liked the setting, I liked the characters, and I liked the action that took place. But Rachel's constant need to pick apart every little instance, every interaction, every shrug, every question, every answer, every silence...it becomes too much. The surprises came out less surprising, and excitement was hard to come by. With that being said, it is still a great book with interesting characters and a compelling story that made me wander how the ever-growing issue of Borne was going to be handled or dealt with. VanderMeer presents a problem with a seemingly simple solution, but that solution is hard to execute when someone refuses to see the obvious truth in front of them, while the problem only gets bigger and bigger. 

Favorite Moment: When Rachel is able to take firm action when dealing with the Magician.

Favorite Character: This is difficult, because Rachel's blindness and need to take care of something or have something of her own, despite the obvious issues, makes her hard to like. Wick seems more clear-sighted, but is difficult to trust. And Borne is innocent and ignorant, but also a troublemaker. 

Recommended Reading: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel tells the story of a world after a terrible epidemic has wiped out most of humanity. There are not enough human beings to run the bigger cities, and survival is a tenuous thing.