“Pirate Cinema” by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen, 2012)

Pirate Cinema
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After the success of Little Brother and For the Win, bestselling author Cory Doctorow returns with another young adult novel about an oppressed youth who is looking to change the world for the better in an uncertain near future.  This time Doctorow jumps across the pond to Britain, where he spends a good portion of his time, and writes about the subject of internet piracy.

In a near future, Trent McCauley is a smart sixteen year-old who does his school work but spends most of his time downloading videos of a fictitious celebrity and creating vids about him using clips from all the movies the person has been in, telling a specific story, usually played to music.  He has a lot of fun doing it and there’s definitely an artwork and talent to it.  Then the internet is cut off in the household under the recent law for internet piracy, and the family is now severed from the internet at home for a whole year; which is really important.  Trent’s sister needs it to do all her school work, she simply won’t pass her classes without it; his mother needs it to get support for her medical condition; and his father needs it because he’s unemployed, and needs to claim his unemployment checks, as well as look for jobs.  It puts the family in a dire situation, with Trent feeling really guilty about the whole thing.

So he does what any teenager would logically do: he runs away from home.  He arrives in London with high hopes of living on the street, which are soon dashed when his belongings are stolen and he finds himself hungry and terribly alone, and wondering if he’s made a terrible mistake.  But he soon makes some new friends who show him the ropes and how to get by pretty easily in London, eventually leading them to squat in an abandoned pub, where they get the power back on, the internet going, and life begins to go pretty well.

Their goal is to have lots of movie viewing parties via a secret internet website that gets people together, to support the vid-making industry and create awareness about what they’re doing and why it isn’t wrong and shouldn’t be illegal.  They’re also looking to fight back against the passing of a recent law in Parliament that is now imprisoning teenagers and children for internet piracy.  Their numbers begin to grow, and gain support; the question is how they are going to make this change happen, without coming off as a radical group of homeless people.

Pirate Cinema feels a lot like the British version of Little Brother, as Doctorow has done his work with how the government works and how the internet is used and perceived in Britain.  He even goes so far as to use a British vernacular, with plenty of slang thrown in.  The weakness of the book is in the conflicts and issues the main character has to deal with.  Trent definitely gets himself into some direct situations and problems, but they’re never really that hard or tough, and he always gets out of it real easy.  It still makes for an enjoyable story that is lacking in potential dramatic tension.  Readers — especially teens — will nevertheless enjoy the book for what it’s trying to do.

Originally written on December 5, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Pirate Cinema from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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With a Little Help  Makers  Little Brother  For the Win

“The Death Cure” by James Dashner (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2011)

Death Cure
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In the final book of the Maze Runner trilogy, James Dashner brings readers once again to a whole new part of his world, this time a look into an actual city outside of WICKED, where readers finally get to see if what they’ve been told so far is at all true and how harsh this Flare virus really is.  Just as with Maze Runner and Scorch Trials, Dashner continues to delve out one surprise and plot twist after another, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat with sheer excitement.

Thomas is now on the outside with the Gladers that are still alive, having been told by WICKED that the trials are over and the time for lies is no longer; now it’s time to see if all this work was worth it.  But he’s sick of waiting around for something that might or might not happen, and will the help of some others, they flee the WICKED confines for a slice of the real, Flare-ridden world.  It is a harsh place of haves and have nots, where society is crucially divided by those who are infected or not.  Then there are those, like Thomas, who are immune and are hated by some, revered by others.  But as the Gladers memories are given back to them, Thomas starts to remember a lot more than WICKED expected, and knows what he was involved in, which horrifies him, as he finally comprehends what WICKED is truly about.  As things come to a climax and Thomas realizes now what he must do, he must make the ultimate decision.

For the first three quarters of The Death Cure, the surprise and action is going at full steam, and as it approaches the end, things wind down a little and the finale arrives and is revealed.  It seems a little anticlimactic, after this lengthy build-up of three books that may leave some readers wondering: “Wait, why did they go through all this again?”  Nevertheless, for other readers it will feel satisfying and complete.

Originally written on April 24, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Death Cure from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Scorch Trials” by James Dashner (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010)

Scorch Trials
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In the sequel to the interesting Maze Runner, James Dashner takes readers to a whole new level of his dystopian world, where they get to see what’s going on beyond the “maze,” and what state the world is really in.  The Scorch Trials continues to do what its predecessor did so well: build up moments to big surprises, and continue to do this throughout the book so that the reader has no idea what’s going to happen next.

At the end of the last book, it was revealed that the whole “maze thing” was a grand experiment to find out who of these children would be the possible savior of the human race.  Now everyone thinks the work is done and they can finally go back to having a normal sense of life, especially Thomas; also they might finally find out about their families and their past.  But this doesn’t happen, as the group soon finds themselves left alone once more, and this time they are challenged to travel a great distance in a specific amount of time.  They are running both against the clock and against the other “girl group,” where whoever wins will be allowed to survive and live.  They must now travel across this scorched land, which has been blighted over time by sun flares, while the virus known as the Flare has ravaged the population.  There are also these zombie-like people known as Cranks, at a stage of infection far along with the virus, who present a formidable obstacle to the group.  Now Thomas will have to use what he has learned in the maze, as well as the knowledge he already has to get them all through this alive, somehow.

The Scorch Trials does what a good sequel should do, in ratcheting up the tension and the fear, as readers don’t know who is going to make it to the end, and who will be left dead in the dirt.  It’s a harsh world, and this is supposedly all being done to find the perfect human being who will save them all, at least according to WICKED.  Dashner continues to deliver plot twists and cliffhangers that will have readers gripping the pages to the very end and then anxiously awaiting the conclusion in The Death Cure.

Originally written on April 23, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Scorch Trials from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Maze Runner” by James Dashner (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2009)

Maze Runner
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One of the first books of the dystopian tsunami to come out shortly after The Hunger Games, this first book in the trilogy is an interesting one that does a great job of exploring what a bunch of teenage boys stuck together would be like, how they would act around each other, and what happens to them in dangerous situations.  The Maze Runner is done in the style of Lord of the Flies with a great what if?

Thomas wakes up to find himself in an elevator.  He doesn’t remember anything about his past or how he got where he is; all he remembers is his name.  The elevator reaches its destination and the doors open to reveal a strange world filled with a bunch of teenage boys.  They’ve been here for some time, some at least two years, with no knowledge of how they got there or why.  They have food and shelter provided for them, and each day the mighty gates open up to reveal the maze.  In this society everyone has a job; the runners are the ones who spend their days going around the maze looking for a way out.

It doesn’t take Thomas long to make friends, but also to make enemies, and it’s always a big competition.  Thomas wants to be a runner, but one can’t simply just become one, that is until Thomas makes the decision to help two boys stuck outside at night when the gates close, and there are machines out there and they’re hungry; no one has ever made it back alive overnight.  There’s also the strange fact that a new boy arrives every thirty days, only now for the first time a girl has arrived, and Thomas has a feeling he knows her; he also feels like he’s somehow been to this place before, which just seems impossible.

Dashner does a great job of starting with an interesting idea and building and building on it, to keep the reader completely hooked and wanting to know what’s going to happen next, right up until the very last page.  He also plays around with the dynamic of a bunch of teenage boys living together and making decisions for each other really well, where fights often break out, as boys will be boys.

Originally written on April 9, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Maze Runner from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Water Wars” by Cameron Stracher (Sourcebooks, 2011)

Water Wars
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Cameron Stracher takes on a growing genre with Water Wars, in a dystopian future young adult novel, but this is a doomed future we can all understand and possibly sympathize with as an eventuality that may one day come to fruition.  Water Wars will make you think again the next time you buy a bottle of water or take a water-wasteful bath.

It is some point in the future when one of our most important resources has become the scarcest.  In this world water is a rare commodity, and when you can get a drop of it, you need to make it last.  The United States has now been divided up into six republics that are at war with each other.  The ice caps have melted and the lakes have dried up.  The world is a different place after what became known as the “Great Panic.”  Our main characters are Vera and her older brother, Will, who do their best to help their impoverished family with an overworked father and a sick, bedridden mother.  Then Vera meets Kai, a cute boy who’s a member of a rich family that is able to acquire water with no problem.  Kai also has a special ability: he can divine the location of water.  Kai tells Vera of a secret giant well that he knows the location of.  The next time they go to see Kai they find the fancy mansion abandoned, with signs of a struggle.  It looks like Kai and his father may have been kidnapped for what they know.  And thus begins the adventure, as Vera and Will make the decision to track down Kai and find out what happened to him; the journey will take them across the borders and into the hands of water pirates and some other very interesting people you wouldn’t want to get caught with in a dark alley.

Water Wars is one of those books you enjoy for the interesting characters, the fun and compelling story, and then at the end starts you thinking about the longer ramifications of the story at hand that at first seemed simple, but the more you think about, the more is resonates with you, so that the next time your pour yourself a glass of water, you sip it slowly, deliciously, savoring each sweet, clean, hydrating drop.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on March 5, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Rot & Ruin” by Jonathan Maberry (Simon & Schuster, 2010)

Rot & Ruin
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After his success with Patient Zero and The Dragon Factory, Jonathan Maberry turns his zombie writing skills to Rot & Ruin, giving young adult readers a chance to enjoy a good story of the living dead.  Maberry creates a strong and interesting post-apocalyptic world akin to that of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, and while the book contains strong themes, it’s a lot lighter and accessible because it’s written for teenagers.

Benny Imura just turned fifteen.  For any normal kid in our world that would mean he’s in the prime of his teen years, carefree and enjoying life with little responsibility.  But this is a different world, overrun by zombies, while protected pockets of humanity fight to keep the zombies – or walkers as they’re known – at bay while attempting to have some semblance of a normal life.  At fifteen, Benny has to get some sort of job that helps to improve society, whether it’s a fence tester, a fence technician, a locksmith (zombies can’t unlock doors), or an erosion artist – which is creating images of what specific people look like when they’ve been turned into zombies.  But Benny basically fails at all these jobs and has little choice other than to join his brother in the family business.

Benny’s brother, Tom is a renowned and respected zombie killer, a type of bounty hunter.  Upon request with the use of an erosion artist, he will seek out and kill a known zombie that was once a relative of a caring family.  Tom is trained with a number of weapons, but prefers to use a katana, which is quiet and deadly.  Benny reluctantly joins his brother, as Tom shows him the ropes and begins his training.  Benny soon discovers that there’s a reason they don’t teach the kids much about the real world in school, but Benny has to find out the hard way.  Tom’s generation was the one that created stability for these pockets of society, so they could get some control over their lives.  Benny’s generation is one that is looking to do something, to make a change to their sequestered lives.  There are rumors of a distant ocean and islands where there might be no zombies, or at least a controllable population.

Rot & Ruin is a great fun read for teens and adults, with a compelling story and a broad and well created world; a worthy addition to the large growing monster of zombie media.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on October 29, 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Amber Spyglass” by Philip Pullman (Knopf, 2003)

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His Dark Materials Boxed Set: Part Three of Three

In the final and lengthier conclusion to the trilogy, the full realization of this story is brought to light to such an extent that everything now becomes symbolic in some way, literature quotes begin each chapter, and the depth and complexity of the novel passes far beyond any childhood or young adult fantasy, presenting a complicated plot and moral for even adults to handle.  It is in this final book that the strengths and beliefs of our heroes will be tested to their extent, while our own beliefs will be in danger, when the basis for all religion and faith in all worlds is brought into question and threatened.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally published on May 12th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.