Sunday, August 25, 2013

Suspension of disbelief

I hadn't read any of D.J. MacHale's books until his latest, Sylo. MacHale is probably best known for the Pendragon series, of which there are about ten, plus a set of prequels. He takes up a lot of library real estate. Sylo is first in a series too, and having purchased it for the library, I decided to give it a try.

Sylo, published by an imprint of Penguin Books, is a sci-fi thriller set on an island in Maine. Tucker Pierce is an average kid, having moved to the island from Connecticut with his parents. After witnessing the death of a classmate and seeing a strange explosion in the sky, Tucker and his friend Quinn are disconcerted that their safe haven of Pemberwick Island is no longer so safe. When a strange military outfit named SYLO invades the island and quarantines the place, effectively cutting off Pemberwick from the outside world, Tucker must accept that nothing is as it seems.

Running parallel to the military occupation plot line is that of a mysterious substance called the Ruby, which gives anyone who uses it superhuman speed and strength. It is unclear if this is why the island is quarantined, but a shady character named Mr. Feit gives it to residents prior to the military occupation.

Tucker, Quinn, and another classmate Tori are quickly in the crosshairs of SYLO's commander, Granger. They must try to escape the island and expose SYLO since they believe the quarantine is bogus and there is something fishy going on.

I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I liked it a lot-- I spent most of last night turning pages to see what would happen. It has gripping moments. On the other hand, it was farfetched and just ok. The drug pusher, Mr. Feit, is a poorly created character and is clearly a warning "Don't do drugs, kids!" The escape scenes are decent, as is the boating terminology, but it still seems contrived. Tucker's sort-of-infatuation with Tori is a convenient plot device, but there is no meat. Most of the characters are stock-- the brainy friend, the pretty tourist girl, the wealthy jock, the cold soldier. I came across two usage errors (taught instead of taut and mantle instead of mantel) which pulled me out of the story.

All that being said, I would skim the next two series installments to see what happens. Despite its flaws, I am curious as to what happens next. I classify this book as middle grade, so grades 5 and up. Not fabulous, certainly not flawless, but definitely intriguing.

Ex libris,


Sunday, August 18, 2013

So realistic, I cried while stuck in traffic.

So here is some old news: If I Stay by Gayle Forman is a stunner. This book was originally released in 2009 by Dutton Children's, an imprint of Penguin. I listened to the audio version and finished it while stuck in bridge traffic headed to Cape Cod. I was such a soupy face afterwards, tears dribbling all over. I glanced around and everyone was in their cars, probably half irritated by the traffic and half "YAY CAPE COD!" And I looked like I had just had a very sad experience. Well, I did.

SPOILER ALERT. You find out the gist of the story very early on, but if you want to be surprised, don't read further. Although I imagine this book has already been widely read, I just didn't get around to it until now.

Mia is a promising cello player, on the cusp of getting into Julliard. Her punk-rock-turned-teacher-dad, tough-but-sweet mom, and ebullient little brother are all excited at the idea of a rare snow day and after breakfast, they go for a drive.

They get in a horrific accident. Mia has an out-of-body experience and sees her parents, dead and broken, on the pavement. (There is a reference to Mia seeing "what looked like cauliflower" on the pavement and realizing it is parts of her father's brain. Really.) It is not immediately clear what happened to Mia's brother. Mia realizes she's out of her body and goes with herself to the hospital.

Interspersed in the story are bits of Mia looking back on her life. For example, her friend Kim comes to visit her in the hospital and we get to learn how they became friends. However, a huge focus of Mia's remembrances are that of her musician boyfriend, Adam. Their whole story is beautiful but not saccharine.

The point of the story is that Mia must decide if she will stay and live out a very different life, or if she will die. It is poignant and sad and she has to weigh some tough choices...Adam and her friends and extended family versus going gently into that good night.

I like this story because it is realistic and mostly plausible, and it shows a family that is together, a strong network of family members and friends, and characters you can root for. I am looking forward to listening to the sequel and reading more of Forman's work. If I Stay is also going to be made into a movie.

Highly recommended, but have some tissues nearby, even in the car.

Ex libris,