Tag Archives: Violence

People Hate People by Ellen Hopkins

At a time when hate has become a common occurrence where children are being held in detention centers while their parents are deported or bombs are being sent through the mail to high profile individuals or a synagogue has become the target of gunfire during a religious ceremony, these events, whether sanctioned or not, are the result of mistrust and resentment towards those who are not considered a part of main stream society. Nationalism (versus Patriotism), a part of the Make America Great Again Community, has become an accepted way of life for too many in the United States to the point where some individuals feel justified in acting out their feelings of hatred towards those they resent – for whatever reason.

Ellen Hopkins uses this darkness as the theme for her newest YA novel People Kill People. In her introduction she decries the rise of gun violence in this country and attempts to explore the reasons why someone might pick up a gun with the intent to do harm. Her unique style of combining freestyle poetry and introspective narratives introduces the reader to a group of struggling teenagers whose lives intersect through their reactions to their individual situations. Each faces varying issues, some dire others seemingly innocuous, but all internalized and possibly life changing.

We have seventeen year old Grace; her homeless boyfriend Daniel; Daniel’s half brother Tim, a skinhead; and Tim’s good friend Silas who is stalking Grace but finds solace in Tim’s cousin, the badass Ashlyn; Grace’s sister Cami who is a teen bride married to Rand with a two year old son Waylon; and Grace’s former best friend Noelle who was seriously injured in a car accident as a result of the shooting which killed Grace’s father. Their interactions create a story which ultimately leads to a shameful calamity.

I personally found this book difficult to read. The details were so tragic, the choices at times devastating, the introspections so negative I was left with a depressed view towards life, grateful that my own trials seemed trivial by comparison. This is definitely not a PG book since the dark subject matter  includes violence, sex, and numerous deplorable activities. Yet these subjects, while fictional, are based on real life events which occur too often in society, so I suppose they need to be addressed and discussed by the upcoming generation if attitudes have any hope of changing for the better.

Hopkins unique style provides smooth transitions as we “Slip into” each character’s skin and then “Fade out”,  helping us understand the motivations behind each of their choices.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Rabbit and Robot by Andrew Smith

Two spoiled teenage kids, sons of the richest men on earth, end up stranded on a luxury liner space vehicle and it looks like they are the last humans alive in the universe, or at least that’s what they think. It’s a world of cyborgs, war, drugs, and a crazy video series featuring Bonk and Mooney in the absurd and at times totally confusing novel Rabbit and Robot by Andrew Smith.

Cager Messer and Billy Hinman have led a sheltered life with carefully selected friends who are interviewed for the position. Basically ostracized from the general world at large, the two boys are usually left to their own devices and watched over by Rowan, Cager’s caretaker since birth. A cynical world is revealed full of curse words, sexual innuendos, bodily functions, and cyborgs who are obsessed with one thing or another unwittingly imparted into their being by disgruntled, happy, or horny workers. While these advancements of technology might be considered useful tools, like a toaster or can opener, their lifelike compositions make them difficult to ignore until, that is, they become infected with a “virus” and begin behaving unlike any modern human being.

Lots of twists and turns, this story is sure to appeal to the gross side of any preteen/teenage boy but might turn off anyone sensitive to antisocial behaviors such as constant swearing, erections, and farting. A “fun” little bit of entertainment with short chapters, lots of sumptuous meals, and some pompous robots who are prone to pontification along with their own fair share of gratuitous violence.

Despite the disgusting details, I’m giving this one four stars with a thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

 

Incendiaries: A Novel by R. O. Kwon

When I was in college, my boyfriend, for some reason, had to miss one of his upper level advanced mathematics courses and asked me to tape the class and copy down the notes written on the chalkboard. (Obviously this was quite a few years ago). The teacher was Asian with a stilted accent, but even if he had been totally fluent in English, my year of Introductory Calculus was not enough background for me to make heads or tails of the subject matter which the professor was attempting to impart, so I just nodded and copied and pretended that I had an inkling of the topic under discussion, flipping the tape over as appropriate.

This sense of confusion is similar to my experience in reading Incendiaries: A Novel by R. O. Kwon. Flitting from character to character giving little to no reference point with statements which only at times resemble sentences, flipping back and forth with tenses and pronouns so I wasn’t sure who was speaking and when the event occurred, I waded through this book (which was fortunately a quick read) until I finally got the gist of what was happening and was able to confirm my suspicions by going back to the beginning and skimming the chapters after my first go around with the text.

Not a traditional narrative, this book is about a group of students attending Edwards College in Noxhurst, a city somewhere in New York State (I think). There are side trips to New York City with a visit to other locations in the Northeast, although the main characters are originally from California and think nothing about bopping home. Ultimately the story is about a cult started by John Liel which entraps Phoebe Lin and almost ensnares her boyfriend, Will Kendall. The main characters all have some Korean blood and have experienced a past which makes them vulnerable to brainwashing, taking advantage of their questions concerning faith and Christianity. The Pro Life contingent is also a theme which reoccurs throughout the book.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to be sympathetic to any of these protagonists who are all self absorbed, with personality flaws that makes them largely unlikeable. Their college education is alluded to, but for the majority is more a setting than an activity. Bars and other gathering places abound with drinking, drugs, and sex which seem to be the primary activities mixed in with religious allusions. It’s a very jaded view of the college scene.

While the majority of the narrative is disjointed, there is a brief glimpse of a book which I could have liked – the section describing Will’s job as a waiter at an upscale restaurant and the difficulty he had with one of the patrons. Unfortunately, this is a mean spirited episode with more than a touch of misogyny, but at least it was readable.

So, if you like a challenge and are in the mood for a negative plot line, go for it. I, for one, plan to find a book which will make me laugh so as to remove the bitter taste which is currently lingering, just as I decided to major in English and not in Math.

Two and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Pierce Brown’s Red Rising: Son of Ares (#1-6) Collaborated with Rick Hoskin and illustrated by Eli Powell

It takes a team to create a successful graphic novel. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising: Sons of Ares is the compilation of six comics packaged into one book used as a prequel to the Red Rising Trilogy. Collaborated with Rick Hoskin and illustrated by Eli Powell, the story of Fitchner Au Barca’s survival as a Gold, despite his abnormally small stature, provides a backdrop to the motivations which lead him to become a violent killer yet loving father.

Admission: Since I have not read the SF Red Rising Trilogy (although I’m aware it’s a popular series) I am not handicapped by preconceptions. Some of the colorful illustrations were awe inspiring and while the features of the male characters were vague (although the masks they wore were intricate), the females were more articulately drawn. There was a lot, perhaps an excessive amount of brutality, but Brown has created a volatile world where society is strictly divided into castes which legally cannot intermingle. Unfortunately for our “golden” hero, he falls in love with Brynn, a service Red. On the sparsely populated Titan it isn’t much of an issue, but when he’s called back to Mars they must keep their illegal marriage a secret which is complicated by the birth of their son, Sevro. Brynn’s sister Ryanna, who has accompanied the couple, is caught in the middle as they try to survive an untenable situation which leads to even more bloodshed as a hodgepodge team of misfits try to rescue one of their own. Best friend Arturius, who betrays Fitchner, is a reminder that it’s almost impossible to go against your upbringing or understand those who are able to break away from the norms. The philosophy of safeguarding your own dominion by regarding others as dispensable commodities and not fellow “humans” is a foundation for the start of a revolution.

There were a few times I got “lost” and had to reread pages to figure out the motivations behind what was happening and to whom, but I expect readers of the books who know what comes next won’t have this problem.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

You know, there are other cities in the world besides New York?” Not if you’re a Manhattanite! Meet sex and the city without the sex, just a bunch of upscale families who live in a set of Brownstones on a one way/dead end block on the Upper West Side of “The City”. Not filthy rich, but definitely comfortable with the ability to afford a private school education and hire servants to care for the kids, cook the meals, and keep the house in good repair. An in-kind neighborhood where everyone meets up while walking their dog, using their free time to gossip over coffee and plan their lives so as not to miss the biyearly “hospitable” get-togethers – the Memorial Day BBQ and the January “Holiday” Party. Once you’re invited you know you have been accepted as one of the clique.

In Alternate Side, author Anna Quindlen brings us into the fold, placing us in a location where we can watch events unfurl. We see the world through the eyes of Nora Nolan, eyes that she often feels like rolling, such as when her husband Charlie is finally granted a coveted spot (and not a very good one at that) in the mini community parking lot – invitation only. No more playing the Alternate Side Game twice a week where you have to get up at the crack of dawn and move your car to the other side of the street to avoid getting a ticket. A sport that city dwellers, at least those with cars, are forced to play, since there’s no arguing once the meter maid puts pen tip to paper so as to fill the city’s coffers with fine money. Fortuitously, the nearby parking lot eases the pressure and makes Charlie feel like he belongs at a time when he isn’t quite certain this is the place he wants to be. Nora doesn’t need this affirmation, she knows she’s a New Yorker through and through, even though her childhood home was in Connecticut. She considers the greatest gift that she has given her twins is the ability to say they were born in Manhattan. Everything is going great, there’s still passion in her marriage, her son and daughter are set to graduate from college, her friendships are solid, and she has a fulfilling job managing the growing niche Museum of Jewelry. Then her sense of sublimeness is marred by an incident which seems to change the dynamics of the neighborhood and Nora finds herself reexamining the direction of her life as she tries to maintain an equilibrium that is threatening to fall apart despite her best efforts to keep an even keel.

If you are looking for action and intrigue, this is not the book for you. This is a simple story of the ebb and flow of life as one individual tries to navigate the course without losing her integrity. Nora is the woman we all want to be – living a life she loves in the city she loves doing what she loves to do. She’s privileged, yet recognizes she needs to be more inclusive. She’s kind, yet acknowledges the unavoidable drawbacks of her chosen lifestyle. She’s discerning, yet accepting of her ultimate fate. The men in this novel are not shown to advantage, although to be fair, I’m not sure the women are either.

The downside to the novel is keeping track of all of Nora’s friends and acquaintances which gets challengingly confusing at times. Perhaps a handy who’s who guide at the beginning or end of the book would help the reader figure things out. I’m also not sure if readers who don’t have a New York connection will appreciate the sentiment surrounding an urban subsistence or understand the intensity of Nora’s feelings towards a way of life that must seem artificial and exclusive. This could detract from the anticipated audience, but I, for one, who was born in Brooklyn, really relate to this book (even though I now live in a suburb of Buffalo). I get the close family feeling of the neighborhood and I also understand it doesn’t last forever, that various regions in New York City grow and change over a relatively short period of time. Peoples lives are also fluid, not static, forcing new adventures even on reluctant participants. Most of all, I get the Alternate Parking, since in my childhood the family car was parked in a lot about a mile away from our apartment, forcing us to make a deliberate decision to drive rather than walk/take the subway/catch a bus. My dad didn’t play the Parking Game, but I knew other parents who did and I didn’t envy them their crack of dawn dart out the door to maneuver a vehicle which was just going to sit there positioned in the same spot until the next “moving” day. I sometimes think about those metropolitan dwellers when I pull into my own driveway just steps from the front door. Yet, many are willing to put up with the inconvenience in exchange for the ambiance of life in “The City”.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende explores three individuals whose lives inexplicably intersect via a freak winter storm, a sick cat, and a run to the market for diapers. There’s 60 year old Richard Bowmaster who is living in a fog after tragically losing his Brazilian wife and child. His coworker and tenant, 62 year old Lucia Maraz, has survived her own life of upheavals in Chili, escaping the danger by moving to Canada and emigrating to the United States. Finally there’s 23 year old Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented refugee from Guatemala assisting a disabled boy whose father is involved in questionable business practices.

When Evelyn “borrows” her boss’s Lexus for a quick run to the supermarket, she’s caught in the “wrong place at the wrong time” when Richard’s car skids into the rear of the vehicle. Panicking, she ends up at his home, terrified of the consequences when her temporarily out of town employer returns home. Somehow Louisa and Evelyn end up with Richard in his apartment huddling together through the night while a freak blizzard rages across Brooklyn and into the surrounding regions. It’s not just the minor fender bender, but what’s inside the trunk that has them all in a sweat despite the cold.

Thus begins a bizarre road trip to an isolated location far away from the boundaries of the “incident” to get rid of the evidence. Close quarters and fear create the perfect environment for confidences as the three tell their personal stories and develop an unbreakable bond through this illicit deed. Back in Brooklyn is the “rest of the story” providing closure long after the threesome have resolved their accidental dilemma.

I’d like to highlight Lucia’s tale involving the Military coup d’etat in Chili in 1973 where President Salvador Allende was overthrown by armed forces and the national police. It is not a coincidence that the author’s last name is also Allende since this leader was Isabel’s “uncle” which endangered not only her life, but those of loved ones. I’m sure this particular tale invoked some strong emotions from Isabel’s past when she was actively involved in helping those on the “wanted” list find safe passage, which is inherently reflected in the attitudes and behaviors of the characters in this novel.

There was a lot to take in (almost too much to absorb) as the atrocities in Lucia’s and Evelyn’s childhoods are revealed. It is almost impossible to imagine living a life of terror, waiting for someone you love to be killed, or worse, not knowing whether or not the missing are still alive – not to mention your own dangers in an unstable country. Intertwined is the scenarios of those loved ones who influenced the decisions of the trio.

Without maintaining a specific focus on the immigration issue which is currently stalled in Congress, the reader is still left to ponder the attitude of American society towards undocumented workers who have fled their beloved homeland in order to stay safe, as well as the belligerence towards their children who were brought up in this country and know no other home.

While these timely issues make this a must read book (please note the President mentioned the violent M-13 in his 2018 State of the Union Address), I did have difficulty with the choppiness of the story as the plot flipped back and forth between the three main characters revealing their backgrounds piecemeal. I actually cheated and skipped ahead to read each biography in full (one at a time) which gave me a better understanding of their motivations. Oops, sorry Isabel. Allende had the difficult task of condensing their lives into a relatively brief narrative when each of the characters could have easily filled the pages of their own book (including some of the minor players). The conclusion neatly wraps up the details with a bit of poetic justice and a touch of romance thrown into the mix.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for proving an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Children can be cruel, especially middle school age kids. It’s the reason that most teachers choose to work at elementary or high school, they can’t deal with the angst involved with the hormonal surges of pre-teenagers. It takes a special breed to actually enjoy that age group, children who once they find a weakness in their peers have no qualms in exploiting that fact, whether real or imaginary. “Your nose is too big”, “Your hair is greasy”, “You’re too fat”, “You’re too thin”, “You smell”, You’re stupid”, “You’re smart” . . . Now imagine that you really do have a physical “abnormality” which is front and center and impossible to ignore? Wonder by R. J. Palacio explores the reaction of a private school community to August Pullman, a ten year old boy with a rare congenital defect which has distorted his facial features.

August was home schooled, both due to the recovery periods from his twenty seven surgeries and also to shield him from the reactions of his peers. However, by the time he was ready to start fifth grade, his mother wondered if it wasn’t time to consider a school setting, Beecher Prep, a private school in New York City with a “limited” population. August is leery, but he agrees to check it out. Three of his incoming classmates are chosen to show him around prior to the start of the school year. While Jack and Charlotte seem nice, Julian is outright nasty. After much discussion, August decides to give it a go. The whole experience is not an easy one, neither for August, his parents, or his older sister Olivia Pullman. The adjustment involves not just August, but his classmates, as everyone learns to deal with one another – a process fraught with tension, not just from the kids but also from some of the parents. It’s a time of growth for all, and August develops from a spoiled child into a self assured young man over the course of the year despite or perhaps because of the challenges thrown his way.

What I really liked about this well written, age appropriate children’s book (which should also be read by adults) is the narrative approach Palacio uses to tell August’s story. While it was Auggie’s tale to tell, his life also affected others so we get to hear the point of view of various events from his sister Via, her “best” girlfriend Miranda and boyfriend Justin, a couple of August’s friends – Jackalope and Summer, and even his nemesis – Julian Albany. While we mainly hear August’s voice, it was also important to get the perspective of the people who surrounded him.

Even if you go into this book feeling aloof, eventually the uplifting message grabs you and pulls at your heartstrings. While some might question the happy ending, remember that there was a lot of cruelty along the way. I can only imagine what a tear jerker the movie version evokes. I also appreciate how the educators were cast in a positive, supportive light – they even impart some knowledge on the reader. The additional chapter from Justin’s point of view is a good counterbalance with a surprise revelation which creates a positive outcome for all concerned. Although a little lengthy, it’s still a perfect book for fifth grade ELA! Five stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.