Exo by Fonda Lee

This was a very strong, engaging YA book. Pages flew, time zipped by. The lines are a little less clear than most YA novels–the “bad guys” aren’t twirling their mustaches, and you can understand their resistance.

The heart of the book is being caught between, and our Donovan gets this again and again. His “aw shucks” high status would feel little cheap, but it works well in YA. The tech is fun, the aliens feel alien…it’s quite enjoyable.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

A good book, YA focused, the beginning of a trilogy. I enjoyed it enough to want to read the sequel.

For world building… somehow the world was messed up, probably involving corrupt politicians. From that fallen world, society organized itself into five factions (plus the leftovers)–each with a high minded goal and a widely acknowledged vice. Tris, our viewpoint character, grows up as a member of Abnegation–a service/charity focused faction that tends to the downtrodden… and runs society, since they personify selflessness.

This book is set in a fallen Chicago; prosperity is long behind, and communication, much less travel beyond the city appears strictly limited. A few chapters in, the students (who are 16?) are subjected to a hallucinatory experience that guides them to the faction that fits them best. Except that Beatrice is one of the (rare?) few who is Divergent–not strongly inclined to one faction. She learns that’s a dangerous place to be… and the rest of the book reinforces the need to conform and fit in.

Once I complete my current checked out books, the sequels will hop to the top of my queue…

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

A great YA book set in a late victorian clockwork and magic world that borrows a lot from real history… then throws in bold changes, making it unique. The borrowing from the real world, in the end, is mostly the names of countries and empires–but not even that, straight.

It’s a boarding school book, where our hero attends a large, exclusive school that trains people for their careers… including the career of Rithmatist. There’s a lot of interesting history about this weird magical practice that comes out over the book. The first thing we learn is that Rithmatic lines are drawn in chalk, often circles and lines. There’s art interspersed between chapters with drawings of the various circles and their points of intersection. That’s a fascinating read, and lends quite a bit to the feel of a complex, discovered magic system.

Joel is an interesting hero; near obsessed with Rithmatists, but unable to wield their powers. As you’d expect from YA, his focus and dedication, despite the evident incongruity, pays off in the end–but not much before that!

Much like Harry Potter, he’s poor in a society of wealthy aristocrats. While his father is also dead, his mother is present, if mostly in the background. Much of the book is about Joel coming to navigate relationships of his choosing, both with Professor Fitch and Melody.

Melody, in contrast to Joel, is a Rithmatist… but not a very good one. She doesn’t draw great circles, she drifts off in class, and “doodles” unicorns. She’s what Joel wishes to be, squandered… but we find that there’s more to her (and her chalklings) too.

In the end, it was well done. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion, but with a large thread left dangling. I’ll keep an eye out for its promised sequel, but writing hasn’t been begun on it yet.

Two recent books: 17 & Gone and Mistwood

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma. This book is supernatural from the start; a van stalling out at an intersection leads to Lauren picking up a missing girl flyer… and being haunted by her ghost. It’s a tricky look at school, relationships and understanding, finding a quest (or tilting at windmills)… a very baseline real world with challenges, and school in the backdrop. There’s a twist that amplifies the book and encourages you to look back on the events from other characters’ perspectives. I recommend it to Jennifer, and anyone else who is looking for good YA fiction. (Though you need to be able to handle some depressing/concerning elements–among other things, teenage runaways and abduction are a very strong theme.)

Mistwood by Leah Cypress is set in a fantasy world, and thrives there. Our protagonist is The Shifter, who comes to protect the prince and struggles to recover her memories. Isabel, the shifter, emerges to find that her reputation precedes her, which her memories come only when prompted. The alienness of the shifter, the bubbling conflict that lurks behind the scenes until Isabel gains enough skill to start unraveling the secret that no one is talking about, and the conflict in loyalties all resonated. The pacing is non-standard, but the book is plenty short to keep its drive throughout. (This book also has a twist that flows from those lost memories. It’s pretty well handled.) For a first novel, I thought it was great and look forward to reading her next book. [Though, honestly, this story is told and told well… I’d rather read about a new situation than continue a short time after the book ends.]