Monday, 3 November 2014

Arianne's Review Round-Up: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna & The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler.


I don’t think there’s a single reader of YA out there who hasn’t heard about The 5th Wave in the year since it was first released. Embraced by fans across the globe, it’s not seen quite as much success as its dystopian forerunners Divergent and The Hunger Games – but that could all change, with production of a film adaptation starring Chloe Grace Moretz already well underway. 

 Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy The 5th Wave as much as I thought I would. Maybe it was the hype, maybe it was the style in which the book was written; maybe it was a combination of both. I opened the book with high expectations that I would love it and be unable to stop thinking about it even after I’d finished it, and while the latter is certainly true, it was for all the wrong reasons. 

 The 5th Wave is billed as taut and twisted and ever so slightly subversive; The Walking Dead meets The 100 it focuses not on any upcoming disasters but rather on the aftermath of the apocalypse, which is refreshing; the characters, however, are not. I didn’t connect with any of them. The love triangle romance is about as unoriginal as it is possible to be, particularly where the end of the world is concerned. And the problem is, it does Cassie a disservice. When are writers of dystopia going to stop underestimating teenage girls? Where are the focused, determined, intelligent, realistic survivors of dystopian worlds? Marie Lu succeeds with it with June Iparis in Legend; why couldn’t Rick Yancey create that with Cassie Sullivan in this book? Or is The 5th Wave, as I began to believe by the closing chapters, simply another attempt to convince teenage readers, particularly girls, that they are not good enough, that they never will be, unless they have a hot guy to get them through the end of the world as we know it?

 In short: The 5th Wave’s worldbuilding is fine. The premise is fine. The plot is fine. But that’s just it; this book is fine, okay, average, but that’s it. For me, it wasn’t fantastic or thrilling or even particularly memorable, and the characterisation – Yancey’s treatment of main character Cassie in particular – was downright awful. This book had all the potential, and I can see why it’s found a strong fan base elsewhere, but for me, there were just too many ways in which it could have been improved. I don’t think I’ll be reading the sequels. 

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.  Publisher: Penguin Books.  Release date: May 2013.  Ages: 12+.  Rating: 3.5/5. Source: Received from publisher for review.

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I’ve tried to write this review so many times, but The Lost Girl is a very hard book to describe. It’s a novel I’m still a little undecided on, because while I wanted to love it, it just didn’t leave that much of a lasting impression on me.

 As an echo, or clone, Eva’s struggles take place both inside her head as she struggles to make sense of her past and outside it as she tries to fill the role she’s always been destined for. If the blurb sounds familiar, that’s because it is – the idea of echoes, or to put it more simply, clones designed to replace specific people, is one that’s been seen in fiction time and again, not least in the recently-released Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither (which, admittedly, puts a slightly darker twist on this plot device than The Lost Girl does).

 There’s no doubt that this is a good, well-written novel. I picked the book up because it intrigued me, and it continued to intrigue as the pages flipped by, but the story didn’t pull me in the way it should have.

 This is a book of almost equal downsides and upsides, and that’s what makes it difficult to rate. There were some characters I really liked, there’s a surprising amount of action in the finale and there’s lots of diversity, which is particularly fantastic if like me you support #WeNeedDiverseBooks. However, because clones comprise a very specific corner of alternate-universe-bordering-on-sci-fi, the downsides seemed to outweigh the positives. It’s slow to start, the world-building is vague, and there are plot-holes which are apparent from the beginning.

 That said, I loved the romance and there are some hugely thought-provoking questions raised throughout the events of the book. Few answers are ever really decided upon, but if you’re looking for a YA read with intellect, I’d look to The Lost Girl. Most of the book is sombre and full of stoicism, but I actually liked the ending. If only there’d been more to it. Maybe I’m just used to flashy, dramatic YA, but I felt there was something lacking here in terms of intensity and unpredictability. In short: I just wanted more from this book. More warmth, more drive, more high stakes. I wanted drama and action as well as thought-provoking questions on science and ethics. It’s a good book, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected I would. 

 The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna.  Publisher: Definitions.  Release date: January 2013.  Ages: 13+.  Rating: 3.5/5. Source: Received from publisher for review.

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The Forbidden Library is Alice in Wonderland meets A Series of Unfortunate Events – complete with mysterious relatives and even a talking cat! 

The premise itself is fantastic. It’s fantasy bordering on magical realism, which I absolutely loved. It’s an uncomplicated yet enchanting and well-built addition to the middle-grade shelf; the story of a girl who becomes a Reader – one of just a handful of people who have immense power over the adventures, monsters and secrets held within books - and the endless trouble this talent seems to get her into.

 The characters are easy to picture, if not quite as three-dimensional as I expected. I award an entire extra star to the book, however, for Ashes, the talking cat. He was delightful (in a fabulously sharp and snarky way). I just wish there had been more of that throughout the book. The Forbidden Library glimmers with potential and plot, but occasionally, I felt let down by the storytelling and all it failed to deliver.

 This book is heavy on description and positively lavish on detail, which adds a richness to the tale that will enable many readers to better visualise the world within the pages, but also slows the pacing. There’s also an emphasis on several familiar themes and the use of several even more familiar tropes, but that’s forgivable – if only there weren’t even worse problems to contend with. 

Unfortunately, I just don’t see this book holding the attention of young readers. It draws too much on the style of classic, old-fashioned children’s novels, instead of trying to stand on its own two feet. There’s little humour, charm or surprise; it doesn’t capture the imagination the way books for kids should; it simply panders to crossover appeal. Its prose reeks of those things that take the heart right out of middle grade fiction: the need to be seen as “literary” and the underestimation of young readers. This isn’t the arrival of a “fresh new voice” for fantasy kid lit. This is an author who’s writing for children but thinking about adults, and we all know that’s a recipe for disaster.

 In short: I’ve seen a lot of high commendation for this book both in the middle-grade book blogosphere and beyond, but it just didn’t work for me. I was disappointed by its predictable storyline and the fact that it reads as if it’s aimed for some kind of literary fiction market, instead of staying true to the potentially brilliant and enthralling children’s story that should have been its heart. 

 The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler.  Publisher: Doubleday.  Release date: April 2014.  Ages: 10+.  Rating: 3/5. Source: Received from publisher for review.

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4 comments :

  1. I'm sorry that you weren't able to enjoy The 5th Wave as much as you'd hoped Arianne, I can understand though why some parts fell flat for you. Fab reviews! :)

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  2. Ugh. After reading that about The 5th Wave I'm even more scared to try it. I haaaate it when teenage girls are brushed off or have to depend on a guy to save them. I mean, what year is this?? Have we not moved ON?! Gah. I will read it before the movie, but I have low expectations. :(

    Thanks for stopping by @ Notebook Sisters!

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  3. The 5th Wave definitely didn't live up to the hype - YA is simpy running out of room for dystopia. Thanks for commenting, Jasprit!

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  4. I know, right? The 5th Wave is just one misogynistic excuse after the other. I hope the movie version turns out better, but I wouldn't bet on it! If you haven't read it already, the Legend trilogy by Marie Lu is a great alternative - it's full of kick-ass guys and girls as well as thrilling twists and turns. Glad you enjoyed the review, Cait!A

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