First up is Wither by Lauren DeStefano. Premise: You know, the usual. In the future, a cure for cancer and many forms of aging has been found. Sadly, the generation born after the first, perfect generation has a life span of 20 for females and 25 for males. Everyone is freaked out. The other countries may or may not be nuked into non-existence. And human trafficking has amped up a notch since female brides are needed to breed quickly so that more children can be born to keep families, and the human race, alive. Teenaged Rhine Ellery has been grabbed by a rich family and forced into a marriage with two other wives to a pretty naïve young man. Fortunately, one of the family’s servants is young, male, not a jerk, and might help her get free. Less fortunately is the house’s all-knowing, controlling, super-creepy patriarch who experiments on dead bodies in the basement, looking for a cure that will save humanity. Sounds familiar, right? Ha, kidding.
The great thing about this book is the villain. The patriarch is really and truly scary in a lot of ways. His traits ring true and he will get your spine crawling, at least a little. The plot of this book is to be praised. While most of it happens in the house and there isn’t much action, it is intense, haunting, and you really, really want Rhine to be able to escape back to her twin brother. With death looming so closely over most of the protagonists, this book has a morbid, deep vibe that makes everything more urgent and less saccharine than other teen books. The main character is smart, emotionally healthy, and easy to like. The downside is that the love triangle probably won’t put butterflies in anyone’s stomach, but it will probably spark a good debate as to who Rhine should end up with at the end of this trilogy. Also, some of the things about the future world are way too unrealistic. The second book comes out in February, and we recommend reading this one in time for the sequel. We also like that Rhine was blond. Usually YA books have to have brunettes as main characters in order to show intelligence and strength, but that's one of our stupider stereotypes in society, right? (We're both brunettes, by the way.) The book was entertaining and weird enough to warrant checking out. We got it in audiobook format and the narrator's breathy, depressed-sounding voice was annoying at first, but the performance was good after you got used to those qualities. The best thing about this book was that it stayed with us days after we read it. Book grade: A-
The second young adult book we read recently was Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. This was one of the easiest reads we’ve come across in a long time. We don’t want to give much away about the premise, but let’s just say that it’s a star-crossed lovers story between a human girl raised by monsters and an angel. It’s less stupid than it sounds, really. This one is strong on the romance front. The side characters are also interesting. The main character, Karou, is likeable and her best friend brings humor to the book. The writing is good, and the fantasy aspects and world are pretty original. It has what’s usually called “good world-building.” The downside here is that this book ends on a cliffhanger and the next book doesn’t come out until late this year. We’re talking August, at least. If we were young adult book fans who hadn’t read this book yet, we would totally read it….but only once the next book was available. Book grade: B+
The last young adult book we read recently was Gabrielle Zevin’s All These Things I’ve Done. Of all three of these books, this was the quickest read. It had a strong plot, but we don’t know that we fully bought the premise and the world. Would chocolate REALLY be something to kill and steal for? We doubt it. This book takes place in New York City, in the future, after we have ruined our world a little bit more. Not as much as in Wither, but it’s still pretty bad. Sixteen-year-old Anya Balanchine (ridiculous name, right?) is the heir of a notorious crime boss and mobster, who is dead, and she has to take care of her grandmother and younger siblings. However, the book strongly implies that later Anya is going to take over the running of the family business from her extended family. The wrinkle in that is Anya falling in love with the district attorney’s son.
This book is entertaining fluff. We hope that, in the future, the author focuses more on the mafia and birthright aspect of Anya’s story. We loved how tough she was and how her intelligence made her a prime candidate to step up (down?) and be a crime lord. This could be sort of a teenage Walter White in the making. From nice girl to The Godfather. We know there will be a sequel at some point, so we hope to see the rift between herself and the D.A.’s son grow as she gets into the family business. But you know how sometimes you are reading a book and you think some of it is too like the author’s fantasy through which she is living vicariously here, and that it’s too self-indulgent? That’s present here. Some of it is TOO romantic, if you know what we mean. Did Anya really have to go to the juvenile detention center twice? Although her silent cellmate was pretty interesting… We also thought the title was forced. The last line of the book nearly ruined the whole thing for us. There's not as much action as you would expect from this premise. Anya goes to school like a regular kid too. Lots of it is pointless. But it’s a quick read and teens should enjoy it if they like futuristic romance. Book grade: B-