Review: Undivided by Neal Shusterman

Author: Neal Shusterman
Title: Undivided
Series: Unwind Dystology #4
Format/Source: eBook/Amazon
Published: October 2014
Publisher: Simon & Shuster
Length: 432 pages
Genre:Young adult dystopia
Why I Read: Loves the series
Read If You’re: Already invested in the story
Quote: “Measure F allows the Juvenile Authority to identify and track incorrigible children for the purpose of unwinding them as soon as they turn thirteen – which will be legal once the Parental Override bill becomes law.” (7%)
Rating:  β˜…β˜…β˜…Β½ [ratings guide]
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Please note: This is a review of the final book of a series. Contains spoilers!

I first read Unwind back in 2007. I was pleasantly shocked when I learned there would be a sequel, followed by two more books. Unwind was a fantastic self-contained story, but its world could definitely be explored further. Unwind’s progeny don’t (and perhaps coudn’t) live up to the greatness of their parent, though they still pack an engaging story. This final volume is perhaps the weakest in the series. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad book – it’s definitely ‘enjoyable, worth your time’ if you liked the previous books. But for me it doesn’t live up to the expectations created by book one and two. Because of this, it’s difficult for me to give a balanced review of this book independent from the others in the series. This post is less of a review and more of a reaction. 

I felt like very little happened until about 75% of the way into the book. Everything felt like set up, set up, set up. The suddenly, close to the end – BAM HOLY CRAP AHHHH WHOA WHAT’S GOING ON I CAN’T BELIEVE IT, oh it’s over now…? I blazed through the ending far too quickly, but how can you not? The narrative suddenly accelerates at such a pace that I couldn’t help but be pulled along. I loved Unwind because the plot was intense and rapid, yet character-driven. This book, however, was largely not intense and quickly paced, so when it suddenly became so I felt like the story gave me whiplash. Being the final book in the series, I suppose there isn’t a lot of room for new characters or development in the ones we already know, as they’re at the point they need to be to finish the story. But that development and those side characters were part of what I love so much about the Unwind books, so it was too bad they didn’t really fit in the concluding book.

Even so, there are plenty of emotions to be felt while reading, most driven by the three main characters but also due to the creepy social developments and tactics that come into play. I allowed myself to get worked up about Connor even though I knew he couldn’t be dead (I didn’t guess at his rewinding until a couple chapters later, though, once I was certain he had been unwound). Sometimes you just have to let the story do its work. I had tears in my eyes! Lev’s journey – wow, just wow, Lev. It’ll be incredible to follow his journey from start to finish in a reread of the dystology. What a character. In one way I’m happy of course that he survived, but what an impact it would have made had he died. On the other hand, Risa. What happened to her since the first book!? Her character became little more than a prize for Connor. She was great in the first book but in the last two she’s just a helpless pawn for the bad guys πŸ™ Huge disappointment.

The Bottom Line: I have a lot of mixed emotions about this book. Although I feel it’s the weakest in the series, Shusterman delivers an acceptable conclusion to the main storylines, if not a spectacular one. It has some of the distinguishing fiery action I came to love in the series, but overall the story is lacking in character development and plot excitement.


Review: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Author: Rene Denfeld 
Title: The Enchanted
Format/Source: eBook/Library
Published: March 2014
Publisher: Harper
Length: 261 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Why I Read: Intriguing premise, easily accessible through Overdrive
Read If You’re: Looking for something literary but different; interested in death row or the prison system
Quote: “This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do.” (1)
Rating:  β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜… [ratings guide]
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Coming in under 270 pages, The Enchanted is a short read, telling a story easy to blaze through but not easy to digest. Consequently, I’m also finding it difficult to write about even though I have lots of thoughts and feelings on the book. Please bear with me.

When I first encountered the online marketing campaign, I thought The Enchanted was going to be a great new innovative fantasy. I was very surprised and a little bit confused about how wrong that impression was. Even after reading the description, I thought, “So… this is a prison in a fantasy world?” I cannot recall what prompted me to add it to the TBR pile once the fantasy illusion was broken. Some readers label this book as magical realism, but I don’t think it contains any magical elements. The ‘magical’ elements are just a part of that character’s viewpoint. It’s not actually a magical world. I would categorize this book as nitty gritty realism, presented from an enchanted perspective.

The narrator’s voice and the style of prose (they are the same thing in this story, perhaps) also create the magical feel, in the following manner: I could barely accept some of the things that happen in the story. I felt like they couldn’t really happen in my world. The people in the story live such different lives, they must be some far distance away in a magical land where all the rules are different (which is indeed one way to look at the prison system). They create their own rules, their own methods of survival, their own magic. The prose contributes to that mystical, distant feeling. The words are simultaneously heavy and light, beautiful yet horrific. It’s like the words of the story open a small door at the end of a long dark tunnel to allow you to peak into this world. The feeling I had while reading this book is proving very difficult to describe. It doesn’t feel like a story grounded in our world. It feels like a story floating away behind a distant fog. I felt distanced from the story, but only in the manner that I didn’t feel like it was in my world. The Enchanted is a brutally realistic story presented in stunning wrapping.

A large focus of this book is the failings of the prison system, the awful things that happen inside, enabled by a vast network of corruption. The story also explores the tragic events that can lead a person to commit terrible acts. The Enchanted could be a difficult read for many people. I appreciated the book’s length once I finished reading. If the story was much longer, it may have become too overwhelming. (The book’s shortness was another thing that surprised me. I’d not seen a physical copy, so I had no idea how long it was. I was anticipating something heftier.) I anticipated prisoners being portrayed too sypathetically (ex. only focusing on the terrible conditions in the prison and not on their terrible deeds), but actually I think the issue (whether criminals deserve prison, as it is now) is well balanced. Denfeld demonstrates how broken a prison system can be – how much more damage than healing it inflicts – while also conveying that many people caught inside are dangerous people who have done terrible things (even if they’re only that way because they had a terrible childhood). Of course, the story promotes prevention as the best solution (obviously, herpderp) and of course, it’s not so cut and dry to say all prisoners deserve some punishment. The young boy character in particular illustrates some of the massive failings of the prison system. Anyway, I don’t really want to get into social commentary here, but The Enchanted definitely provides a good starting point for an important discussion.

From the book’s description, you might think the lady and the priest have equal page time. But, the lady is definitely the primary character while the priest is secondary. I’m not sure the priest really contributed a lot to the story. I would have either liked to see him as an equal role with the prisoners (i.e., a lesser role, one of many stories)  or a fuller role equal to the lady’s. I really appreciated the warden. Too often such authority figures are portrayed as bad guys. As mentioned above, the narrator has a strong voice. Reading the ‘side stories’ about the interplay between guards and inmates, and inmates and inmates, was the most difficult, as Denfeld certainly knows how to make them feel like real people. I think if it weren’t for the ‘magical’ prose this story would be too close to real crime fiction for reading comfort.

The Bottom Line: I find books difficult to write about tend to be books difficult to read. Oh boy, is The Enchanted a tough exploration of prison and death row, but it’s a well-written and balanced one. A unique read certainly worth a go if you’re up for it.


Quick Review: A Snicker of Magic and Escape from Camp 14

When I do a quick review post, there’s usually two books and I’m able to connect them somehow, as indicated in the post title. But with these two I can’t manage a connection!

  • A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
    • Rating: β˜…β˜…β˜…Β½ [ratings guide]
    • A very sweet and comforting story, about family and friendship and belonging and magic. I like that adult struggles were included alongside Felicity’s (the narrator) own.
    • I don’t think I’ve ever read a story where the only conflict was overcoming personal challenges. There’s no antagonist to be found here. This is part of the reason why I think this story is very sweet. No one is the bad guy, no one is against anyone else. 
    • I liked Felicity’s word collecting and her little sister Frannie Jo (can Frannie Jo have a spin-off book, please?)
    • Jonah, one of the main characters, has a physical disability. I think how Lloyd incorporates that disability into the story should serve as an example to anyone looking to do the same. His disability is not the story, but nor is it an invisibility. The references to Jonah’s wheelchair take up no more space than if he didn’t have a wheelchair. For example, where one might read “He ran ahead”, you’ll find “He rolled ahead”. This is how easy it is to include a diverse character. They really can be just like any other character.
  • Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
    • Rating: β˜…β˜…β˜… [ratings guide]  
    • An extremely illuminating and significant read 
    • Brutal and real in order to give readers an understanding of how life in the camp impacted Shin (could be difficult for some to read)
      • A saddening exploration of how a bad environment (nurture) affects a person. Shin’s only frame of references is life in the camp, under what he learns from the guards and his teachers, and so he buys into that completely, because he doesn’t know any different. The book does go on to explore the difficulties he has adjusting to life outside of the camp and how he comes to realize that he did not ‘learn’ to feel the right emotions (ex. didn’t care at all about his mother, now feels guilty about it).
    • Although Shin’s experiences are contextualized by what was happening in North Korea at the same time, the book doesn’t give a full picture of the situation in North Korea (and it doesn’t purport to; it’s primarily Shin’s story). Further reading is necessary if you wish to learn about North Korean history or the overall quality of life for general citizens (not those born and raised in a political prisoners like Shin)

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon: End of Event Meme

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
    •  Hour 21 (5PM). I was feeling a bit sluggish and hungry but I didn’t want to get up to make food…it was tough to get off the couch πŸ˜›
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
    • Though I haven’t finished it yet, Room‘s narrative style makes it an easy one to breeze through. I’m glad I saved it for the last hour!
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
    • I liked the idea of sprints hosted on the Goodreads group but I didn’t know when they were happening. Maybe have some way of announcing that, on the Twitter feed perhaps?
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
    • This was my first time cheerleading, and I think the Google Doc was really helpful and easy to use!
  5. How many books did you read?
    • I completed two books and read bits of three others.
  6. What were the names of the books you read?
    • Burial Rites (completed), I Am Malala (completed), Asleep (~40 pages), Life After Life (~40 pages) and Room  (~80 pages)
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?
    • Burial Rites! I couldn’t understand why everyone loved this book (the premise seemed a bit dull to me) but now I do.
  8. Which did you enjoy least?
    • Asleep – I read 40 pages but couldn’t get into it.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
    • This was my first time being a cheerleader. I tried to take a look at a person’s recent tweets and send a cheer related to whatever they’re up to at the the moment (instead of posting a general cheer). If you have the time for that, you can start up some great conversations!
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
    • 100% likely! I think I would take the same role. Focus on reading, but also be a cheerleader.

Once again I made use of Jenn of Jenn’s Bookshelves spreadsheet to track my reading. Here are my stats:

  • Burial Rites – 331 pages in 4.1 hours
  • I Am Malala – 319 pages in 3.9 hours
  • Asleep – 35 pages in 0.4 hours
  • Life After Life – 35 pages in 0.37 hours
  • Room – 86 pages in 0.9 hours

I read for 10.2 hours, surpassing my goal of 9 hours! ^-^ Now I’m off to bed. I hope everyone had a great Read-a-thon. I certainly did!

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon: Opening Meme

  1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
    • Shikoku, Japan
  2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
    • I have a really fantastic looking stack this year; it’s hard to pick! Possibly Burial Rites.
  3.  Which snack are you most looking forward to?
    • Popcorn πŸ˜€ I have a ration of one bag/month. Today I will eat the October bag.
  4. Tell us a little something about yourself!
    • Last Read-a-thon, I wrote that I was off to Japan in August. Now I’ve been in Japan for just over two months and I can happily say that I love sharing English picture books with Japanese people, children and adults alike.
  5. If you participated in the last Read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? 
    • I did a bit of cheering for Team Rogue last year, but this I signed up to be an official cheerleader. I plan to do more cheering, less reading blogs/Twitter, and more reading. 

Now I’m off to cheer a bit before heading to bed to read! Ganbatte to everyone who will be reading or cheering or otherwise participating while I’m asleep πŸ™‚