My very favorite trilogy is His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. See reviews here: The Golden Compass and here: The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. And when I first read the Southern Reach trilogy, I had found my second favorite. A friend recommended the first book to me, but I was skeptical. I had read so many dystopian novels that finding any that were good and well-written just seemed like an impossible task. But I gave it a go. And I devoured the first book in days. It was terrifying. And it was brilliant. It was just as much science fiction as it was horror, and it was a perfect blend of the two. So, with the new movie coming out, trailer, I decided to give the books a reread. Here’s a link to the review of the first book, Annihilation, that I wrote a few months ago.
After the first reading of the trilogy, the second book, Authority, was my favorite. Book one takes place in Area X and book two takes place in the Southern Reach, which oversees Area X and the expeditions sent there. The third book combines the two areas and books, sort of. This time around, I think the third book is my favorite because so many crazy things happen that you just can’t see coming. There are horrifying events that happen in every book, but there’s scene that stands out in the second one that absolutely made shivers run down my spine, though.
There are many questions presented in the first book that are definitively answered in the second and third, but not everything is tied up for us. And I was okay with that, even after the first reading. After this second time around, I feel like I uncovered even more answers, since I knew where the story was ultimately heading. I know others who read the trilogy that were disappointed, and I get that, but I felt like I got more answers than I was expecting. The author, Jeff VanderMeer has written another, unrelated book Borne that has been also well-reviewed. He’s an author that I can guarantee I will read everything he publishes.
I have a lot of respect for John Green and the books he writes. He doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, and his characters are real. I feel like so much YA lit today is so unrealistic and watered down. I get that a lot of it is escapist, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t also be honest, so I appreciate books where the characters deal with difficult stuff and frequently fail at it.
And this one hit home. Hard. The main character, Aza, has anxiety. She gets into thought spirals that she has trouble escaping. She is constantly worried about germs, C diff, infections, etc. And, my gosh, can I relate to this. This book was really difficult for me to read because it was so accurate. And while Aza seems to struggle more than I do, her thoughts are my thoughts a lot of the time. I related to her in such a basic way. I have had anxiety most of my adult life. I was okay as a teenager, but it has definitely ramped up in the past decade.
The story just follows Aza and her circle of friends trying to solve a mystery. The plot isn’t all that complicated, or even all that interesting, but being inside her head is the best (and worst) part of this book. As hard as this book was to read, I still enjoyed it because how easy it was to relate to Aza and her best friend, Daisy. Daisy doesn’t have anxiety and she struggles with how to help Aza. She is also frustrated with how Aza gets wrapped up in her own thoughts. But the thing about anxiety is that the person truly can’t help it. Anxiety isn’t being self centered or narcissistic. The anxious person doesn’t WANT to have these thoughts, doesn’t enjoy having these thoughts. So the struggle is keeping them at bay while preserving some kind of life outside of them. It is hard and John Green captured this struggle well.
Let me get right to the point. This is one of the best YA books I’ve read in ages. Most YA these days is just drivel. Maybe it’s because I’m not in that age range anymore, but I feel like so much of it is watered down with nonsense. Finding a well-written book with meaning and heart is hard to find. But, this book has it all. I was so moved by the book’s first chapter that I decided to live tweet as I was reading, which I haven’t done in I don’t know how long.
Justyce is a black teenager from a single mom household. He goes to a very expensive private prep school. He doesn’t have money, but has great grades, a good head on his shoulders, and aspirations to be something great. But he is struggling with who he is and his place in the world. In the first chapter, he has a run-in with a police officer who gives Jus zero opportunity to speak, explain, or justify his actions. Jus was simply trying to help someone he cares about, and the officer jumped to conclusions and slapped Jus in cuffs. Sound familiar? This story draws from what is happening today and is relevant in so many ways.
Justyce quickly gets the situation resolved, but doesn’t forget what those cuffs feel like. He begins writing to Dr. Martin Luthur King, Jr. (hence the Dear Martin title) and you get some first person insight into Justyce’s life. The rest of the story is told in third person. There are several white kids in the book that are perfect representatives of white privilege and ignorance. There are a few conversations between these teens in class that just made me cringe because I’ve heard these words time and time again, whether it be in my own classroom, the hallways, or on the Internet. There are white people in Justyce’s life who, thankfully, aren’t ignorant and are very aware of their privilege, namely his debate partner, Sarah Jane and her family.
There are many things I want to say about the book’s plot, but I hesitate to give anything away. Let me just say that the book takes a turn that I didn’t want it to and it broke my heart. But what happens is today and now and relevant and current and impactful and powerful and honest and I could go on and on. At just over 200 pages, this is a book that is accessible to students who might not like to read because books can be intimidating. What the author, Nic Stone, has done is create a story that is meaningful to teenagers (all people really, but especially teens) today. The situations Justyce and his friends (and enemies, even) find them in are recognizable and probably ones that readers have already faced. Kids need to read this book. Teachers need to teach this book. Libraries need to purchase this book in multitudes. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
This book freaked me out. Entirely. My jaw literally dropped as I was reading it. See my review of the first book in the series here: Parable of the Sower. And as much as I liked Sower, this one just absolutely blew me away. Because in 1998, Octavia Butler saw the future. She knew we would be making American great again. I shit you not.
Jarret is the hypothetical president of the United States in this future society. His followers are uneducated and zealous. They will follow him anywhere in the name of Christianity and “progress.”
Our story picks up a few years after Sower ends. The family Lauren haphazardly collects has started to thrive and Earthseed is spreading. I love that fighting the evils of Christianity, within this book, means creating a new religion of love and change. Because the Christians in the book are evil, plain and simple. Not all, of course, but enough that it is a major issue in the book. The story is Lauren’s, but some details are added by another narrator, who I won’t name here to avoid spoilers.
This is just a two book set, and it is worth every word. I don’t know how Butler did it, but she had the foresight almost 20 years ago to know where our country was headed. I look forward to reading much more from her.