The first offer (only available for a few more hours) is a free download of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Each day from now until Nov. 20th will have a new perk.
Ben and Marian Rolfe are desperate to escape a stifling summer in their tiny Brooklyn apartment, so when they get the chance to rent a mansion in upstate New York for the entire summer for only $900, it's an offer that's too good to refuse. There's only one catch: behind a strange and intricately carved door in a distant wing of the house lives elderly Mrs. Allardyce, and the Rolfes will be responsible for preparing her meals.
But Mrs. Allardyce never seems to emerge from her room, and it soon becomes clear that something weird and terrifying is happening in the house. As the suspense builds toward a revelation of what really lies behind that locked door, the Rolfes will discover that their cheap vacation rental comes at a terrible cost....
I'll be honest, I was with this book for about the first three quarters of it. And then it lost me. Actually, I was really enjoying it, despite the typical YA love triangle and a nobody who becomes the last hope of civilization. It's YA, I get it.
(Disclaimer: I LOVE young adult books, but there are those who happen to be coming of age stories but are mature and anyone could love and then there are those that are very specifically written for a teen audience. No judgement, but this is among the second kind.)
Don't get me wrong, the book isn't a total waste. I had originally chosen it for the gorgeous cover and that it's among the few titles with a "Z" in it for Litsy A to Z. It also perfect fit Read Harder's Task 12: Read a fantasy novel. I prefer science fiction over fantasy but this teeters in both so it was going to be a win. It almost was.
For starters, the world building is spectacular and I almost wish they would bring a world this well built to the big screen just so the graphic artists can play in it. I loved the way the cultures differed but were still based on the Zodiac the way that we have it now. I love the way the politics differed based on the cultures. I loved the way the Guardians form a sort of UN or something. Just spectacular.
I didn't mind Rho or her insecurities. Everyone has insecurities and this was obviously going to be a series so she needed to start off in a way that gave her enough room to grow into the powerhouse that is always the endgame for these kinds of books. I didn't mind Mathias and his brooding Edward-like qualities. Of all the Edwardesque characters I've seen over the years, he's my favorite. Even over Edward himself. Yes, I'm refering to Twilight because it makes an easy comparison as most people are still familiar with it. And then there was Hysan, who I thought of as more of a Gale from the Hunger Games. He's gorgeous and accessible and maybe hiding things but probably all wrong for some reason. They were decent characters but not as developed as some other books while not being entirely two dimensional either. Okay, they were close to two dimensional but they peaked into a third dimension that might come about in another book but this was told in the first person so perhaps it's meant to be Rho's point of view that restricts them. Given her title, I can see only anyone wanting to display only one dimension.
Then the plot. It's a little thin and the villain isn't exactly developed by the end but I also get that as an intentional part of the plot. It was in that last quarter though, that I would have thrown the book had it not been audio on my phone.
I don't want to spoil what happens but it irritated me. I still finished because I was too far along and I thought that since so much of the story was so YA that maybe it was a fake out. I felt like it happened just to avoid an awkward or uncomfortable scene that otherwise had to happen. There had to be better ways to get where the author wanted to go. It felt almost lazy to handle it this way.
And then I thought, maybe it is a fake out of a greater magnitude. I realized that this was also not a good enough reason to stick with the series. If it was a longer fake out, I would just be more annoyed when it resolved. So I'm left with this feeling of so much potential and disappointment.
Again, this is a YA book that is actually directed at a YA audience, so maybe they haven't read the umpteen million YA books that I have already and don't feel like this story has been played out. Maybe they'll love it anyway. I probably would have adored this book in my youth when love triangles didn't make me want to gag. The world building is really of a calibur that far outdoes the rest of the book. Most of the plot plays out enjoyable enough to make it worth reading until that moment in the last quarter that pissed me right off. It was going to be a solid three stars until that point. If you look over my rating scale, 3 stars are respectable here. They are still great books. 2 stars aren't common here but it's not entirely bad either. I was just really tweaked by that thing at the end. Maybe some of you will like that about it, but it's about to keep me from finishing the series.
It's amazing how hearing the same story from a different perspective makes you see it all a little differently. While there are some bits that I'm not familiar with from American history classes throughout the years, most of the information isn't entirely new. This book just does something with the information that no American history class I've ever taken has done. It added in the impact those actions had on the Native Americans.
It reminded me that carrying out an action against a people and then going home, doesn't make that the end of what happens there. Many war stories also include this, but again, we forget in the US because we go in, fight it out, destroy everything, call the people liberated, and then go home. At least, that's been our way for a long time. Even countries that we occupied for a time weren't in the main consciousness of the rest of the country and the troops that have occupied those countries weren't there for so long that they joined in or cared about the community in a general way. Yes, some troops will do that but its not the mission and most just get homesick the longer they are anywhere. We don't have to pick up the pieces. I remember also reading a beautiful poem by Wislawa Szymborska called The End and the Beginning, it can be found at the Poetry Foundation here. There is always work to be done to recover from the all the "growing" out west that the US did.
While there's no argument that what the US did to the Native Americans as a whole is tragic, I can't help but notice the irony in having called them the "uncivilized" as our civilization continues to kill all things natural around us, especially when they always strove to protect it all. I also read this book far too close to my reading of Looking for Palestine to not notice the parallel situation we would find ourselves in as a country were the UN to look at us and say that we have to abide by the treaties that we signed with the many indigenous peoples' of the US. The people currently living in those areas would revolt as if the land hadn't been misappropriated in the first place. It's not as if the account here of how it was taken is strikingly different from what I remember of high school history. Again, the difference mainly surrounds that this book includes the effect on the Native Americans.
It did make me cringe a little to hear her call us "colonialists". It's not that the moniker is really wrong, especially once you've heard her case for it, but that it's so right it hurts a little. We, as a country, did all this while denouncing the form of colonialism that we had been under. We still managed to feel absolutely nothing about putting ourselves upon those who we could after having been so put upon by the English. It barely makes sense except for the tendency for people to take out their inability to control their own destinies on those who they can control. Like an abused child abusing their smaller sibling. It was also disappointingly true to hear her talk about our actions towards people of other countries with less military might than ours. I've read a few other books that would completely agree with this assessment of what we do when we aim to "liberate" other peoples*. It's more of a mess than anything else, but it's a mess of a way to handle things that we inherited and maybe one day we'll come up with the right way or at least a better way to handle it all but I won't hold my breath.
The book does note some promising changes to the way Native Americans are viewed and treated in the US but which can be easily seen in the divided responses people had to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Stand with Standing Rock protests and campaign. The controversy received a lot of media attention and was a hot topic for part of the election but the direction of the election and that the pipeline stands and has already leaked oil show just how much further we have to go. Still, it gives me hope for the future.
My only problem with the book, though I completely understand it in the perspective, is the general way she talks about the troops. I get that it was exponentially easier in worse times to get the troops feeling hateful and then drunk and then just let them loose on society. I also get that incidents like Abu Ghraib doesn't inspire confidence in our present situation. The difference is that the Armed Forces themselves take great pains these days to prevent rather than inspire such behavior. I get that it doesn't make a whole lot of difference to the people that are on the other end of our weapons and I get that the present change in administration is troubling to many world-wide. Still, I felt I would be remiss in my review to not mention this attitude toward US troops for the benefit of future readers who may or may not have affiliation with the present Armed Forces. It makes the information here, though not generally untrue, a little harder to swallow at times.
Above all, I hope this book finds it's way into classrooms and churches and hearts. I hope we act on the actual virtues of Christianity and go back and decide without being further told to abide by those treaties, that we treat our neighbor better than we would treat ourselves, and find a way to coexist that's good for all of us. We can't fix the past but we can make a future that embodies what our ancestors should have done to begin with. Maybe we will one day. It's one of the things I'll be working toward in whatever ways I find.