The City of Ember

A city called Ember has survived, as the citizens believe, as the only human civilization left after a catastrophe no one can remember. Things aren’t going well though because the lights won’t stay on, supplies are running low, and growing political unrest. The city doesn’t produce anything other than vegetables in green houses, so any building materials have to be recycled.  Even things such as paper and coloring items (e.g. paints, crayons, colored pencils, etc.) have become luxury items.

EmberLina and Doon are 12 and about to choose their careers. Similar to Divergent, teens are sorted into what will be their future careers.  There’s a certain prestige to some of the careers so all are vying for the more exciting ones.  Lina has her heart set on being a messanger, but draws working in the Pipeworks.  Doon draws messenger which doesn’t interest him. He swaps Lina because he knows that she wants badly to be a messenger.For all of the importance that’s given to these careers, it seems anti-climactic that the kids just draw from a bag.

Doon decides that he will use his career to help solve Ember’s problems. Lina is just trying to keep her family together. Until she stumbles on some instructions that lay out how Ember can solve its problems. Early on readers will realize that Ember is a city in a cave but the people living in Ember don’t know that since they only know Ember as their reality. I don’t know whether it was meant to, but this read like an allegory of Plato’s “The Cave”. Picking up on this early on made the plot more interesting. Lina and Doon are pretty flat characters and the plot isn’t too complex. This is definitely a middle school read rather than high school but adults may be interested in the allegorical elements.

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet 2

This was a much better read for me than Book 1. While I still feel that I’m missing some of the context that happened before Book 1, Book 2 continues from where Book 1 left off, returning to familiar characters and conflicts.  Book 2 continues to show us the ongoing conflict between the Wakandans and their Black Panther and the rival guerilla leader who is trying to get Wakandans to return to their past roots.  Ironically, reading this post-election, it feels like this rival leader could really have the slogan, “Make Wakanda Great Again.”

I appreciated the development of the conflict that Black Panther 2Wakanda is facing. The nation is having to redefine itself. While the struggles that Wakanda faces are unique, there is a universal element, especially in 2017, that feels like many nations are having to redefine themselves too.  I for one and concerned with the way many, i.e. White Americans, are wanting to make things “great” again.  But a nation can never go back.  And going back for one group to find priviledge, usually means that another group finds itself subjugated.

The solution the Wakandans, and I believe many other nations should do as well, is turning to their past to find out how to confront these turn of events. If something worked in the past, how can we take the underlying principle and apply it to our modern times? The problem is that the old ways can’t answer for a changing world including technology. The same goes fro T’Challa. He’s wrestling with maintaining the dynasty while trying to find ways to confront a new world. The solution that T’Challa and the Wakandans are finding is that they have to return to their principles and find creative ways to apply them in the changing world.

The Devourers

“The Devourers” is going to be one of those books that I think people are either are going to really like or really not like. It’s a modern day story about Alok who lives in Kolkata and meets a stranger. We learn from this stranger that he’s half shape-shifter (what we might call a werewolf). Alok and the stranger develop a sort of friendship and the stranger asks Alok to type out the stories found on two scrolls the stranger has been carrying. We jump back in time to two different story lines. One is from a Nordic shape-shifter, Fenrir and the other is Cyrah, aDevourers woman we meet in Northern India but who hails from further west. As Alok types out these stories, we begin to see the connection to the stranger.

There’s many different ways of reading this book, so it’s hard to put into words what it’s about. On one hand it’s looking at the nature of humanity through non-human eyes. It’s exploring what love means to different people and how we expect and do express love. There’s also a questioning of who are identities are and whether they are fixed or fluid.

This would be a good text to add in a study of mythology/folktales as it gives the “werewolf” a sort of origin story and history much like “Dracula” did for Vampires. I would say there’s a lot more depth in “The Devourers” than “Dracula” but the former does a better job than say “Trueblood” or “Twilight” has done to update the Vampire mythology.

1984

Where to start with this review?  First, I think I missed the boat on this one.  I think had I read it in high school or college I would have enjoyed/appreciated it more.  I’ve read more compelling dystopian novels and this one just doesn’t compare. Saying that, I feel like the wrath of the reading world will rain down upon me.  “1984” seems to be a classic for many readers and I can appreciate it that. What was most powerful about the novel was the world that George Orwell created.  He aptly took the communist structure of the Soviet Union and took it to its logical conclusion.  At the same time, he doesn’t let the West off of the hook.  He seems, instead, to be critiquing the entire structure of the Cold War.  Mr. Orwell was able to detail how totalitarian government structure their programs and ensure their power.

1984So, what didn’t work? Winston.  I can’t stand Winston.  He’s not the type of guy I would choose to hang out with nor do I really appreciate.  He starts the book off giving off the vibe that people owe him for his terrible life.  Winston, everyone around is having a terrible life! You aren’t any worse off than your comrades! If you’re that angry, than fight back!  I thought he was going to rally when he started writing in his journal, but that takes a backseat to his fling with Julia. It was also odd that he’s able to understand how and why the Ministry of Thought is able to torture him, yet he’s not able to out-game them. How can you be so self-aware and to know what O’Brien wants from you and yet you can’t deliver the results?  It’s torture.  You can lie to them and it doesn’t make you a bad person. I might have been able to forgiven him, had I not felt that I was supposed to like Winston.  I don’t know whether I felt that due to Mr. Orwell or the reviews I’ve heard from others.  Maybe it’s both.  Either way, it killed my interest in Winston.

Then we have Orwell’s woman problem.  I’m very uncomfortable with the way that women were depicted.  Winston feels that Julia owes him sex since he’s interested and she’s beautiful.  It gets to the point that he has rape/snuff fantasies about her. He even tells her this and she just brushes it off!  Julia, you’re smarter than this! Mr. Orwell doesn’t give much description of men throughout the book, but he gives a lot of description of women. He describes their weight, breasts, hips, and how firm their bodies are.  By the end of the book it just was too much and so necessary; there’s no relationship between how the women look and the relationship to the plot.  They seem to just be objects for the men in the story and have no agency or purpose.

I think there’s better books out there, but this does deserve it’s place on the political dystopian shelf.