Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Holiday Break Reading Adventures

First, please note that I SKIED DOWN MY FIRST BLACK DIAMOND RUN on January 2nd.  Staring down a snowy cliff side was an amazing rush. I hope to put some of that feeling into fiction work this year. When I wasn't on the ski hill, recovering from skiing, or playing board games with my family, I made my way through three novels. Not all that impressive but, well, two of them were LONG!

I will comment on the short novel, Kate DiCamillo's enchanting FLORA & ULYSES, in another post. Today, some thoughts on the two YA "biggies" (and yes, I'm late to the table with these)...

While one is set in a dystopian future Chicago, and the other in a paranormal 1920s New York, both novels explored a factionalized society. In DIVERGENT, individuals have a choice of belonging to one of five groups, each of which values a different human attribute. In THE DIVINERS, money and ethnicity force people to live in different sorts of homes, live different sorts of lives.

The novels align in the way they depict the rebel-thinker: the person who has qualities that make fitting into one of the boxes defined by his or her society an impossibility. In DIVERGENT, Tris realizes that her nonconformist thought patterns make her both vulnerable and powerful. In THE DIVINERS, Evie struggles to come to terms with her psychic ability (won't tell what it is here), using it both as a social-climbing parlor trick and in a quest for fight true evil. How these evolutions of self-understanding play out counterpoint what is happening in the worlds around Tris and Evie.

Structurally, the novels differ greatly. DIVERGENT is an intense, present narrative presented by the protagonist, Tris. THE DIVINERS is a sprawling, multi-perspective, epic-style tale lightly anchored by Evie but, perhaps more importantly, showing the places and times of many characters, from Diviners to scholars to victims. Both authors are sure-handed in their style focus, adding to the pleasure of reading their work.

Each novel is also faithful to its genre. In the back matter of the DIVERGENT paperback, author Veronica Roth muses that people who like dystopian fiction like to consider "what-if" scenarios in a world populated by people like themselves whereas readers of fantasy/paranormal fiction such as THE DIVINERS prefer exploring challenges in a world where people have different abilities from we "non-fiction humans." I think this is a well-reasoned distinction. However, in the end what I most appreciated about both novels seems to be found in the crossover space between the genres. What I loved most about Roth's book was the edges of utopianism she sketched in the creation of her divided society--her portagonist's struggle to look outside the lines of their factions to see the limits of each.  Meanwhile, I was fascinated by Bray's evil-ridden, dark 1920s America--its own kind of dystopia within which her characters strive to quell evil as her protagonist comes to recognize darkness both within her own soul and outside, in the city.

Fantastic back-to-back reads!
Did you come back from holiday break with any new reading recs?

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