Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Heather's Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

In the future, love is a disease. It is also an illegal emotion. Whenever a person turns 18, they are forced to undergo an operation that completely removes their ability to love, and then they are paired with the husband or wife determined for them by a government interview. Seventeen-year-old Lena is totally okay with this, even excited about it. She has heard the stories of people of the past, sufferers of so-called Amor Deliria Nervosa. She knows of the desires and pains that accompany falling in love, and she can’t wait for her 18th birthday to arrive so she can have the romantic part of her brain lopped out, thus eliminating her worries about contracting the Deliria. Shortly before her much-anticipated birthday, though, the unthinkable happens. She meets a boy, Alex. She falls in love.

This is the basic premise of Delirium by Lauren Oliver, a novel that combines two of today’s most popular genres—the romance and dystopian novel. It’s an odd combination, one that will enthrall some readers and turn others off completely, but for readers who are burned out on Twilight or similar romances or are looking for a light dystopia, it’s an okay read. In fact, as I read Delirium, I frequently found myself comparing it to Twilight. Though Delirium’s similarly Northwestern setting of Portland doesn’t have a hidden coven of vampires (or, really, any supernatural elements), the intrigue surrounding Lena’s interest in Alex is similar to Bella’s manic curiosity toward Edward. Delirium also moves at the same drawn-out, moodily detailed pace that Twilight does, which means that readers who liked the romantic sullenness of Twilight will probably enjoy this romance in a world gone wrong.
Readers who prefer dystopia before romance, however, might have a harder time with it. Delirium is not The Hunger Games by a long shot, though there are some mildly suspenseful moments involving raids on (gasp!) co-ed parties and some exciting chase scenes near the end. That doesn’t mean that the world Oliver has created isn’t intriguing, though. In fact, the world itself is what kept me reading. Looping through my head was the constant question: “How does a world like this happen?” How does an entire society become so disillusioned with love—not only romantic love, but even familial love—that it is willing to sacrifice simple happiness to get rid of it?
This question also reveals one of the book’s flaws, though, which is that it requires considerable suspension of disbelief. While it’s reasonable to suggest that a strict gender-segregated society could exist in the US (as it does in the book), and that individuals might opt to live without pursuing romantic attachment, it’s hard to picture a society as extreme as Delirium’s, in which most people want to eradicate love at the expense of all other positive emotions or relationships. Even a simple action like singing a lullaby to a baby can indicate love in this society and result in the singer being arrested for being a “sympathizer.” It’s not only ridiculous; it’s hard to imagine a government that would care enough to enforce such picky criteria.
Also, even though I was fascinated by Lena’s initial distaste for all things affectionate—what normal teenager doesn’t want to fall in love, after all?—once she met Alex, my interest began to fade. Alex himself is only generically likable, and though his backstory is somewhat interesting, his interactions with Lena are not especially engaging. I began to wonder early on whether Lena was really in love with him, or whether she was in love with being in love, since most of the book’s romantic details focus on her thoughts about love and its complications, rather than Alex himself. I was more interested in her relationship with her best friend Hana, which, though not romantic in the least, was easily the strongest, most positive relationship in the book. This was the relationship that I didn’t want to see ruined by both girls’ 18th-birthday operations. Lena is worried about it, too; after all, they’ve been friends since their earliest days. With this as a contrast, it irritated me to see Lena so caught up in this boy—or this love—that she’d only known briefly. But admittedly, this makes sense for her character. Since she has been repelled by the idea of love her entire life, it makes sense that she would be fascinated by it now that she’s found a reason to love. It doesn’t make sense for readers, though. We don’t have her loveless background to relate to; we need a person to love, not just an abstract feeling. For readers who are not reading for romance, this is one of the book’s biggest failings. Another is that the dystopian elements are never really explained; they’re just there.
Because of that, romance readers are more likely to enjoy Delirium than readers who know they prefer the harsher settings of other dystopian novels. For readers who have not read many dystopian novels, though, it’s a good starting point. If you like Delirium, you may also like Lois Lowry’s classic The Giver, which follows some similar themes.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tara's Book Review: The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell

This book isn’t actually a teen novel, but it won the Alex Award this year (which is given to adult books that have special appeal for teens) so I thought I’d give it a shot. I started reading it because I heard that it was similar in theme to Rot and Ruin, another zombie book I loved recently, but I had no idea how much I would love it. Yes, this is another zombie novel, but it’s different because the zombies aren’t the real antagonist—they’re more like part of the setting. The main plot lies in the adventures of Temple, a nomadic 15 year-old girl trying to find her place in the world, all while escaping from a murderous man bent on revenge. Temple meets all kinds of people as she travels throughout the southeast, and eventually picks up a simple-minded mute man on her journey. More impressive than the episodic plot, however, is the completely gorgeous prose this book is written in. There were passages that literally made me gasp because they were so well-written, and it probably took me twice as long as usual to read this because I spent so long soaking up Alden Bell’s sentences. This book may have just become my favorite book of all time, and I plan to immediately re-read it to enjoy it all over again.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Skype Savvy?

     If you haven’t heard about it already, Skype is free, downloadable software that lets you make video calls on the Internet at no cost. Skyping is pretty simple, you just need a computer with Internet access  and a web cam with a mic. Many authors enjoy using Skype to interact with their readers, and some will participate in short Skype sessions (ranging from 10-20 minutes) with libraries and schools for free. We were curious about the whole Skype thing and thought it would be cool to arrange a virtual author visit. So, we contacted Miami-based teen fiction writer Crissa-Jean Chappell (author of Total Constant Order) and invited her to Skype with a group of about 15 teens at the library.

     Our Skype session with Crissa was interesting and funny. She entertained us with stories about how she spies on people at the mall and uses an eavesdropping technique to gather ideas for her writing. When asked what her favorite thing about being a writer was, she smiled and said: “I have permission to daydream, and get paid for it.” Crissa also gave us advice on how to become better writers: “Read a lot, keep a journal, and make time for writing every day.”
     If you want to explore Skyping with friends, start by reviewing all the rules about safety on the Internet and ask for your parents’ permission. Try asking your teacher or school librarian if you could help plan a Skype session with one of your favorite authors or a guest lecturer in whatever subject you’re studying. Some schools use Skype to raise global awareness or to practice foreign language skills by video conferencing with students in other countries. However you approach it, Skype is an awesome tool and an entertaining way to communicate.
Skype Starter Sites:
Skype an Author Network for Children and Teens: http://skypeanauthor.wetpaint.com/

50 Awesome Ways to Use Skype in the Classroom: http://www.teachingdegree.org/2009/06/30/50-awesome-ways-to-use-skype-in-the-classroom/

-by Lisa, Teen Services Assistant at the Headquarters branch

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Susan's Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins


I read Anna and the French Kiss thanks to author John Green(he wrote Looking for Alaska and other awesome books). A few weeks ago he tweeted his love for this book, so I put it on hold (I do everything John Green tells me to do). Regardless of its great cover, I wouldn’t normally have picked this book up because:

A.       I’d never heard of the author.
B.       The title is too cutesy for me.
I’m so glad John Green intervened! Anna and the French Kiss is a wonderful straight-up love story. Anna is sent to the School of America in Paris for her senior year and must leave behind her best friend and a hot co-worker in Atlanta. In addition, Paris is big and daunting and she doesn’t speak French. Then Anna meets love interest Etienne St. Clair (on page 15 of the book, so the author wastes no time getting right to the story!) and begins to change her mind. Two things stand between Anna and St. Clair (as everyone calls him); seemingly every girl has a crush on him, including her first good friend in Paris, and he has a long term girlfriend who is a year older and therefore out of school (but attends a local university). The author’s real strength is creating chemistry through conversation between the main characters. I looked forward to all of their interactions and enjoyed trying to decipher if St. Clair was just a friend, or really did like her. I often feel like books jerk me around with twists and turns, but this one is straightforward, which I appreciate. Anna and St. Clair are both super likeable and I loved learning about Paris through their story. I didn’t know it was the film appreciation capital of the world! It just moved several notches up my Places I Need to Visit list. Anna is an aspiring film critic and she attends showings of classic movies because apparently that is really common in Paris. They even have film revivals on weeknights (at least they do in this fictional book!).
This is the author’s first novel  and my complaints are minor (Anna’s dad is a famous Nicholas Sparks-like author and the school she attends only accepts 25 students per grade, yet somehow she got in. However, complaint two might be explained by complaint one. I like my realistic fiction really realistic, as you can see.) She’s got two companion books in the works and I plan to be first in line to read them. If you enjoy authors like Sarah Dessen, I think you’ll like this book!

P.S. The author lives in Asheville, NC! This is her picture!