Tag Archives: Hierarchy

L: Reviews of Smith’s “Grasshopper Jungle” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Lots to talk about, so let’s get started.

Review of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle:

First things first:

This is the truth. This is history. It’s the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it. You know what I mean.

In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend, Robby, have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things.

Immediate thoughts upon finishing: “Now THAT was an ending.” I’ve written before about how endings of books or series often feel like afterthoughts, like the author planned in vivid detail the exposition, rising action, and climax and then threw a good enough but unsatisfying resolution onto the end and called it a day. Smith’s ending to the long and complicated saga that was Grasshopper Jungle was completely unexpected and utterly satisfying.

Since the Goodreads synopsis was wildly insufficient, I’ll elaborate by saying that the main character is sixteen-year-old Austin, who is navigating puberty in an ungraceful but painfully honest chronicle of what he calls “the end of the world.” Austin dates Shann. Austin is in love with Shann. Austin’s best friend is Robby. Austin is also in love with Robby. As if that isn’t complicated enough, Austin and Robby accidentally set in motion a series of events that lead to a world-wide epidemic and they’re the only ones who can save the world.

Sounds familiar, right? Yes, it sounds like every other YA book where the world and the fate of humanity rests on only slightly qualified teens. That’s the popular fantasy: the hero’s journey; “in a world of 7 billion, I’m special.” I get it. We all want to feel like there is something that sets us apart, so it’s no wonder this is such a popular theme in YA lit. The thing about Grasshopper Jungle, though, is that it’s absolutely ridiculous and it knows it. Almost as though making fun of the hero’s journey, our narrator, Austin, is a freaking mess of a boy. He’s faced with the likely end of the world and all he can think about are typical teenage boy things; it’s unrealistic to assume that weight of the world suddenly forces maturity, so he’s thinking about the end of the world and also threesomes or whether presidents poop or what he should name his testicles or his Polish lineage.

I’ve seen people criticize that it’s too weird and it jumps around too much. Yes, it’s weird; no doubt about that. Yes, it jumps around. Smith incorporates so much backstory and ancestry and parallel character lines into the story that, at times, he spends a whole page describing all the many ways that everything is connected. Without knowing it, everything, everywhere, and everyone involved is connected. If you go into reading this seeing the value in that, you’ll be fine. Let me be clear in saying that this book will NOT bee for everyone. Read this if you like and/or don’t mind the following: YA Contemp. Lit, small town stories, sexuality exploration, heritage exploration, hero’s journey, giant bugs, graphic detail, adventure, and action. It was a little long for my taste and I often had trouble relating, but I never had trouble enjoying it.

Review of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale:”

Go ahead and start practicing your “sick” phone voice, because you need to call in sick to work tomorrow.

Last summer I read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and had a lot of feelings. I’ve been seeing the *COMING SOON* ads for Hulu’s adaptation of the tale and I finally penciled in a day where the hubby was away long enough for me to binge the three released episodes. Reliving this story is, again, an emotional rollercoaster. I refuse to say that the show is better than the novel. Won’t say it. I WILL, however, say that they are so incredibly different that I can’t imagine how I existed with only one instead of both.

I’ve been trying to think of how to verbalize how different they are and I think it hinges on seeing it. When you’re reading something, you visualize it; for Handmaid, visualizing it was about imagining what it would look like to be oppressed and owned. Offred gave detail in a way that almost felt blasé to me. I think that was purposeful, on Atwood’s part, since our narrator had been living in this oppressed state and was used to punishment going along with speaking out, standing up, or even remembering. Our narrator has to be cautious and callous, since failing to get her *ish* together could get her killed. I have never experienced Offred’s horrific circumstances nor have I (yet) lived in a society where I have anything but complete freedom. Thus, imagining and visualizing could only take me so far.

The show, however, forces perspective. Offred’s experiences are right in your face, for better or for worse, so you MUST acknowledge them for what they are. Raw. A Dystopia at its finest. While the book allowed you to escape since it felt like it was all in the past, the show forces you to parallel the society with today, meaning that you, the viewer, have to acknowledge that this regression of freedoms is still entirely possible. It lays it all out via flashbacks and inner thoughts, detailing how the government tricked the public into thinking that a terrorist cell attacked and individual rights are being suspended in order to protect citizens. You see the brutality; you see the consequences; you see respectable individuals fight and beg for today’s basic rights; you see the 1% thrive and the 99% suffer. This is exactly the show that we all need to be watching right now.

Has anyone else seen it? I got a lot of buzz on my review of the novel, so I’d love to know if those same souls and others have feelings on the show. Talk to me!

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Book/Movie Review, Lindsay

L: Review of Pierce Brown’s “Golden Son”

I have officially been labeled a disturber of the peace due to my… expressive reactions while reading Pierce Brown’s second installment in his Red Rising Trilogy, Golden Son. In spite of my better judgement, I needed to read this book in public. I knew it would solicit gasps, giggles, and tears, the likes of which I generally try to keep on lock when in public, but I was addicted to this book and what was to become of my beloved character friends from Red Rising. Just last night, I was reading my book over here, the boyfriend was reading his book over there, and I hit a MAJOR plot twist that evoked this response: “*gasp*… what? wait, WHAT?? Oh my god… whatohmyGODOHMYGOD!! WHAT?!?!? *maniacal laughter*.” The boyfriend just stopped to watch me react and process the info that had just rocked my world and, when I had calmed down to just soft murmurs of disbelief, he went back to his book, just like the random strangers I had been interrupting all week. This book is WORTH disturbing others.

Let us endure the boring part:

Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within.

That’s distressingly short, don’t you think? And it has to be, considering the aforementioned dilemma of reviewing a subsequent volume in a series without spoiling the first book. This book, though, you guys, is out of this world and no dust jacket synopsis can adequately encapsulate that fact.

Whereas the first volume reflected elements of The Hunger Games Trilogy, with Darrow entering into a “game” for the entertainment of the upper class, even when his life and the lives of those he loves will be determined by his success or failure. However, in Golden Son, Darrow has now left the Institute and has entered into the world of politics. In my opinion, all hints of The Hunger Games have faded and been replaced with an essence of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. In the most flattering way possible, Brown echo’s Martin’s elements of political intrigue, familial bonds and betrayals, and the social divide enforced within the caste system. The similarities are subtle enough to be a mere tip-of-the-hat to Martin, not a blatant copycat. I have no idea whether Brown intended to emulate aspects of Martin’s series, but having read both, the similarities are clear to me.

Brown has achieved something that, to me, is a rare gift: a second volume that blows the first one out of the water! His writing is effortless, picking up where he left off in book one and including reminders of the previous events that are subtly worked into the story line, not uncomfortably forced in for reminder’s sake. The language is beautiful and evokes powerful opinions, forcing readers to take sides, pick favorites, and yearn for certain outcomes. I am emotionally invested in these characters and they immediately stand alongside my life-long favorites, the Potters, Bagginses, and Starks. Brown readily elicits emotions like victory, defeat, sorrow, hope, joy, and longing from his readers, meaning that I had to consistently remind myself that what I was reading was fake, not my life, and I needn’t feel so strongly, but I did, and still do.

5 stars. Hands down. No question. Golden Son is an undeniable success, appealing to all ages, sexes, races & creeds. I already got two friends addicted to the series, and you’re next!

Goodreads tells me the third volume, Morning Star, is expected to be published in early February. That cannot possibly come soon enough!

4 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Lindsay

L: Review of Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising”

I finished Pierce Brown’s Red Rising last night and then proceeded to mourn its absence in my life. I had to lie there for a few minutes, assembling my thoughts and opinions and, after seeing a pained expression on my face, the spousal unit asked what was wrong. I pitifully responded that I missed my character friends. I got so invested and then it just ended. This book has me all befuddled; I tried to immediately start another book (The Maze Runner is short…), but my mind kept returning to Red Rising, the [no doubt intentionally] unsatisfying ending, the characters lost, the characters redeemed. I’m bewitched by this book, for all too many reasons. More on that shortly, but first:

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

I’d like to say that I loved every minute of it, but I didn’t, and I feel as though I should warn you, since no one warned me. The first 50ish pages are a total snooze-fest. I was bored senseless and avoided the book, which is why it took 2 days more than it should have taken to read it. The beginning of the book is wasted on the main character, Darrow’s, unfortunate life. Misfortune strikes, and it feels like I will never compel myself to pick up this book again, and then WHAM BAM BOOM, things go from 0 to 60, boring to “I think my eyes are bleeding but I refuse to put down this book.”

However, if you manage to muck through the boring bits, you’ll be well rewarded. The writing is effortless. It felt as though I stepped out of my life and into the life of Darrow. His character’s progression, in both experience and perspective, is tremendous and deeply meaningful. Darrow endures tragedy and relishes in triumph in ways that challenge him, and challenge readers, to ask what motivates us. What makes an enemy an enemy? Can an enemy also be a friend? Does social status truly define us? The relationships are profound and thought-provoking. I constantly forgot that this was technically a Young Adult work, and that the majority of characters were teenagers. The language, attitudes, events, actions, and topics addressed in Red Rising are mature beyond the typical realistic lifestyle of today’s teens, but it is not beyond their comprehension and it is not so mature that they shouldn’t read it. Important issues are addressed, issues like social class & hierarchy, morality, slavery, life vs death, friendship, love, family, etc. Although I hope that none of my students ever experience a life like Darrow’s, I see a lot of parallels that can be drawn to real life, and thereby lessons that can be learned.

This novel was amazing. It is appealing for adults, teens, men, women, everyone! It is often compared to The Hunger Games and I totally see that now. I also picked up hints of A Song of Ice and Fire. I reduced it to 4 stars only because the beginning was painful, and because the ending wasn’t what I wanted to happen. But again, I understand that that was probably Brown’s intention. He’s got to pull me in to the second book, right? As if there was any question as to whether I’d be continuing this series. I am DYING to talk to someone about this book, so PLEASE go read it & then let’s chat. Also, I can’t wait for it to be made into a movie, as is inevitable. It is fantastic. Read it!!

 

7 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Lindsay