Trilogies

ruinrisingukWhat do all recent or current young adult books have in common? Maybe you’re thinking a strong female protagonist, a love triangle, or even vampires. But while these things are running rampant in YA literature at the moment, the one thing that all genres of YA have in common is that they are trilogies.

Think about it. The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Selection, Graceling, Grave Mercy, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Legend, The Maze Runner, and almost any other popular YA novel. They come in threes. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. After all, my favorite book in the entire world—Lord of the Rings—is a trilogy. Though Tolkien did write it as one book. My real problem with YA trilogies is that books two and three are completely, wholly, and entirely unnecessary.

Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo

I recently finished Ruin and Rising, the third and final book of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. While it was nice to have closure for the characters and the plot, to see the story come to an end, it lit the flame of my annoyance at YA trilogies. Why? Because absolutely nothing new happened in this book. The exact same things that happened in book 1 AND 2 happened in book 3. Alina struggled with her feelings for more than one guy. The bad guy caught her and one of these guys. They escaped to live and fight another day. This same plot progression happened in ALL THREE BOOKS. The entire trilogy could have happened in one book if Bardugo had the right editor.

Most YA trilogies could be boiled down to one book if editors actually bothered about tightening up a story. I don’t know if it’s a problem with the decline of technical writing in America, a money thing, or just a trend, but so many trilogies just seem unnecessary. If you can write a stellar story in one book, do it. Don’t use ten words when one will do. Don’t draw out the plot until it’s so thin the reader can’t even see it anymore.

In the end, it’s probably a loss of technical writing, a money thing, and a trend, but I wish it would stop. I can’t read any more third books with that much plot and character repetition. If you’re making me read a second or a third or even a fourth book, you better have something new to throw at me. Otherwise hone your editing skills and get your manuscript down to one book.

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The Maze Runner

The_Maze_Runner_coverAs you may have noticed if you’ve gone into a library or a bookstore and perused the Young Adult section, there is no shortage of dystopian fiction. Divergent by Veronica Roth, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, Legend by Marie Lu, and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi are some of the ones these bloggers have read, but there many more out there. And due to popular trends, many of these dystopian novels are getting the silver screen treatment. One of these books is The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

The Maze Runner is about a boy named Thomas who wakes up in a strange place called the Glade. It’s enclosed by giant stone walls and filled with boys of various friendliness. The boys live in the Glade, all working different positions, like the “runners”. The runners go out each day beyond the walls where a large maze encompasses the area. The walls change every day, so the runners are charged with mapping it out each day so they can try to find a way out of this place. The dangerous part is the Grievers, spiderlike creatures that like to kill. The mysterious part is that the boys can’t remember anything from their lives before they came to the Glade and they don’t know who put them there. All they know is that they want out.

James Dashner

James Dashner

Then a girl shows up, and she seems to know Thomas. Thomas feels like he knows her, but he’s still in the dark. But now he knows that their time in the Glade is limited and they need to get out now.

There are some good elements about The Maze Runner. There’s a Lord of the Flies feel to the dynamics of the boys. The whole point of the dystopian genre is to comment on society, and Dashner manages to make a small comment on society through the group of boys. But even though the concept is interesting, this was not my favorite dystopian novel. The writing can be off-putting, and the central characters are undeveloped. It’s the kind of book that fills the space if you’re on a dystopian binge and reading everything you can get your hands on. But if you’re a more discerning reader, take a pass on this one and try another book. There are lots of dystopian novels out there, and most of them are probably better than this one.

But, despite the book’s weaknesses, the movie, which comes out later this month, promises to be rather exciting. Dylan O’Brien (of MTV’s Teen Wolf) heads up the cast as Thomas, starring alongside Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones) and Will Poulter (Voyage of the Dawn Treader). This cast of young but talented boys, with Kaya Scoldelario as the girl Teresa, are a promising lead on the movie. So hopefully it will be good!

Dylan O'Brien from the movie adaptation.

Dylan O’Brien from the movie adaptation.

Ship Breaker

ImageThe New York Times Best Seller list used to be a good place to get book recommendations. Though now books like Fifty Shades of Gray make that list so it isn’t exactly reliable anymore. But the Michael L. Printz Award, or just Printz award, is still a guarantee for a good read, so if you’re ever fishing for book recommendations, simply scroll through the list of winners. When you hit the year 2011, you’ll see the book Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Ship Breaker is a young adult novel, and while it is dystopian, it is very different than the current popular strain of young adult dystopian novels. There is no love triangle. There is hardly a love duo. The dystopian setting has a very different feeling than Marie Lu’s series, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, or Veronica Roth’s Divergent. The story takes place in a futuristic America, around the Gulf of Mexico to be specific. Like many dystopian novels, society in Ship Breaker is divided sharply into the haves and the have-nots. The have nots are dirt poor and mostly work as scavengers, tearing apart old ships for scrap metal.

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Paolo Bacigalupi

One of these scavengers is a fifteen-year-old boy named Nailer. I know nowadays male protagonists in dystopian young adult fiction, or any young adult fiction really, is rare, so this alone is a breath of fresh air. Nailer lives the hard live of a ship breaker, working a dangerous job and living with an abusive father. Once in a while he dreams about making it out, but the only way to do that is to get lucky and find a preserved store of oil, and the chances of that happening is one in a million. But then Nailer gets his break. He finds a ship washed up on the shore after the shore. At first, the ship seems to be the lucky find, but a survivor in the wreckage of the ship’s cabin proves to be even more valuable.

Nita is one of the haves. She belongs to a rich and powerful business family, and Nailer soon realizes that she is worth more alive than dead. She is his ticket of his life of poverty and away from his abusive father. But returning Nita to her family becomes more and more difficult as Nailer’s father and enemies within Nita’s own family come after the pair.

Bacigalupi’s world is well built and different than other dystopian worlds you may have read about. And even more differently, Ship Breaker is a “boy” book. Not that girls won’t like it—after all, Emily and I both liked it—but being a “boy” book shifts the focus of the story. Bacigalupi doesn’t waste time with a love triangle or girlish day dreaming about love—no offense Katniss or Bella. Bacigalupi spends his time world building, presenting a gritty depiction of poverty and the depravity of human nature. He also explores themes like trust, loyalty, prejudice, the social gap, and many other nonromantic ideas. The focus of the book is on action, not relationships, though it doesn’t sacrifice character or relational development.

For readers who enjoy dystopian novels but are looking for something a little different than the dystopian books that are popular now, Ship Breaker is a good read. And since it won the Printz award, you can be certain that the writing, characters, and themes are all worth your time.

Another (Enjoyable) Dystopian Book

Dystopian setting. Badass fighting heroine. Love triangle. I just described the entire Young Adult Fiction shelf at the library/bookstore, didn’t I? Okay, so there may be nothing incredibly original about Marie Lu’s popular trilogy—Legend, Prodigy, and Champion—but that doesn’t mean that Legend, and it’s subsequent books, isn’t enjoyable.

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Marie Lu

Legend takes place in a dystopian future where the United States is split into the Republic (i.e. the West Coast basically) and the Colonies (the East Coast). The Republic is ruled by an Elector and a Senate, with the Elector holding most of the power through a powerful military. Children, when they come of age, undergo a series of tests known as “trials”. These trials allegedly determine their aptitude and therefore their social status. For some people, like the female protagonist June, this isn’t a bad thing. June comes from a wealthy family who lives in a sanitary and safe district. She aced her trials, which landed her a premium spot at one of the Republic’s universities, and she has a promising career ahead of her.

Day, the male protagonist of the story, is the opposite of June. He comes from a family in a poor district, where disease and crime abound. He failed his trials, and narrowly escaped being killed because of it. Now he’s a criminal, a rather famous one, trying to support his mother and two other brothers. Though his background is very different from June, he soon finds that they have more in common than they realize when the death of June’s brother and only living family member throws them together. The Republic tasks June, it’s star prodigy, with tracking down Day, the Republic’s most infamous criminal, whom June believes is responsible for her brother’s death. But once June tracks down Day and spends some time away from her sheltered view of her country, she starts to realize that the Republic may not be all that it seems. Now in doubt of whom she can trust, June sets out to find the truth about her government, her brother’s death, and the criminal she’s becoming increasingly fond of.

ImageDystopian novels are all the range in the Young Adult genre, and not without reason. Dystopian settings provide a unique canvas for examining questions about governments, societies, and morality. Lu’s interpretation of a possible future for America is very interesting, with the East and West of the country divided, society divided into poor and rich sections, much like in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Like many Dystopian novels, the government is portrayed as untrustworthy, an oppressive “Big Brother” entity. But even though this context is not an original setting for a story, Lu’s characters thrive in the story she’s given them. June and Day are typical YA characters, but their story is enjoyable. And, when the reader gets to the end of Prodigy and into Champion, Marie Lu will throw her readers an unexpected curveball in dystopian fiction—the characters are going to support the government instead of overthrow it!

Reform, not revolution. That is the most original aspect of Marie Lu’s trilogy. I recently finished the third and final book of the trilogy, and I quite enjoyed it. Lu’s characters are well-rounded and very human. They make mistakes, they fight for the people they love, etc. Lu asks interesting questions about how to structure societies, choosing the lesser of two evils, the benefits of reform over revolution. And the story is engaging. This isn’t a groundbreaking book series, but it is very enjoyable, especially for readers who are enjoying the current popularity of dystopian fiction.

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