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.


How To Train Your Dragon 2

ImageAnimated movie sequels tend to get a bad rep. By the time you get to Cinderella 37, the movies have lost all meaning. The quality is not the same, the plot has faded into nothing, all the actors have changed, and even the original movie—which you loved—feels tainted. The same can be true of books sometimes. Not in the case of Harry Potter or the Queen’s Thief series, where the respective authors J.K. Rowling and Megan Whalen Turner took the time to make each sequential book as good as the first. But in the case of the third Hunger Games books, the quality suffered terribly because of the author’s rush to publish. So sometimes it can be nerve-racking to hear that one of your favorite movies is getting a sequel. After all, it could turn out to be terrible. But in the case of Dreamworks’ incredible movie How To Train Your Dragon, this is far from true.

I don’t think there was anyone who did not love How To Train Your Dragon. The animation was stellar, the plot was solid, the characters were well-developed. Overall, the creative team put out an almost spotless movie. And after the success of HTTYD, it would not have been surprising if Dreamworks had rushed to put out a sequel, but creative integrity won out over money, and the team behind HTTYD took the time to produce a second, just as wonderful movie as the first one.


How To Train Your Dragon 2 takes place about five years after the first movie. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), Astrid (America Ferrera), and their friends are no longer kids struggling to prove themselves as Vikings, but rather young adults coming into their own, Hiccup especially. Dragons are no longer threats, but rather family. And, of course, Toothless is still the most adorable dragon ever, with more personality than most human characters in film and books. Life is good in Berk, but soon that life—and the peace the Vikings have found with the dragons—is in danger.


Valka (Cate Blanchett)

While exploring, Hiccup comes across a dragon trapper (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington) and learns about Drago Bloodfist, a violent and cruel Viking who is building a dragon army. Hiccup’s father Stoick (Gerard Butler) thinks the best way to deal with this threat is to defend Berk from the coming invasion, but Hiccup is determined to meet with Drago and change his mind before war erupts. So he leaves, and on his way finds help from an unexpected source.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 possesses much of the same appeal as the first movie. Toothless is adorable. Hiccup is quirky and well-meaning, and their bond is central to the story. Hiccup’s friends, Astrid, Snoutlout, Fishlegs, Tuffnut, and Ruffnut are all entertaining, and the adults in the story, Stoick, Gobber (Craig Ferguson), and Valka (Cate Blanchett) provide good balance to the story. The themes of this movie are as strong as the first, and, of course, there are plenty of dragons.

This is one of the best sequels I have ever seen, both animated and live action. The plot is as good as the first movie and still packs an emotional punch. The characters are as lovable, even though they are growing up. The script is deep, but funny when it needs to be. The animation is incredible and the music is perfect for each frame. It may not be as novel as the first movie, but no sequel can ever be that. But How To Train Your Dragon 2 is just as good as the first one. Viewers will not be disappointed. Rather, we will settle down and wait (im)patiently for HTTYD 3.


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.


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.


ImageI was 66 on the wait list at my local library for Veronica Roth’s third and final book in her Divergent series—Allegiant. But it was definitely worth the wait. Third books in trilogies make me nervous. They’re supposed to be the climax of the series, be bigger than the previous two books, and wrap up the story to give the reader closure and a sense of fulfillment. That’s a tall order, and often books fall short of pulling this off. I don’t think many people were pleased with the third Hunger Games book. The third Twilight book was the worst in the series, in my opinion. I approached Allegiant with trepidation. Veronica Roth had set herself up for an epic conclusion, but that also gave her high standards to achieve. Would she do it? Would Allegiant be all I hoped it would be? The quick answer is yes.


Veronica Roth

To be perfectly honest, though I liked and enjoyed Divergent, a lot of the book annoyed me. It frustrated me that characters clung to their factions’ singular characteristics, like Dauntless was so into being fearless that they were not compassionate. I realize that this is one of the points Veronica Roth was trying to make—that to be too brave or too smart or too honest at the expense of kindness and compassion is a bad thing, and we should strive, as Tobias of the upcoming Divergent movie puts it, “I want to be brave, and I want to be selfless, intelligent, and honest, and kind.” But I found it difficult to read about characters who turned their backs on other people and left them for dead or to be cast out with the factionless. But I still found many good things in Divergent, so I read the second book, Insurgent. Insurgent, in my opinion, was better than Divergent. The characters started to realize that they shouldn’t sacrifice their compassion in order to succeed in their faction. Roth was also starting to really broaden the story, delving into questions about human nature, human relationships, government, morality, and all that good stuff. And then at the end of Insurgent, Roth laid the foundation for an epic third book.

Allegiant did not disappoint. Allegiant expanded on the themes Roth introduced earlier in the series, asking deep questions about human nature. She examines both the good and the evil found in each person, and is both optimistic and realistic about what she finds. Roth also develops her characters, making them grow as individuals and together in their relationships. Roth expands the scope of her book beyond the characters and beyond the city of Divergent. She looks at human nature itself and the world at large, successfully making Allegiant bigger than its two predecessors.


Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) in the upcoming Divergent movie.

There is enough action in Allegiant to make it a climatic end to Roth’s Divergent series. She also expands the story and the themes to be bigger than her first two books, making Allegiant epic and climatic. Readers get closure with a powerful and moving ending that is very well written. And most importantly, after so much conflict and hardship and struggle for her characters, Roth offers redemption in. After everything characters have been through, especially in dystopian stories, the author must offer something to give the characters and readers hope—to know that this was not all for nothing, that they will go on, that at the end of the story there is hope. Veronica Roth does that extraordinarily well.

Now that Divergent is behind her, it will be very interesting to see what Veronica Roth writes next. Though, for those of us unable to let go and move on from the Divergent trilogy, the movie Divergent is coming soon.

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.


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.


Ender’s Game


Before seeing the new movie Ender’s Game, you should check out the source material.

The first time that I stayed up all night was when I read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. My 7th grade English teacher assigned the book to our class, and I started reading it on the bus ride home. And then it stayed in my hands until I finished it around dawn the next morning. Published in 1985, Ender’s Game won the 1985 Nebula Award for best novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for best novel. Like me, it seems, there were many people who were unable to put this book down. Before there was The Hunger Games, before Divergent, there was Ender’s Game, a piece of genre fiction that showed just how good and powerful science fiction can be. Ender’s Game is important to the development of young adult literature because it shows how deep themes and complex characters can be conveyed through a genre that is often overlooked.

The story takes place in the future, after alien invaders known as “Buggers” have attacked earth twice. The people of earth have fought them off, but suffered devastating losses in the process. In order to ensure that they will be ready when the Buggers attack again, the governments of earth formed an International Fleet and a Battle School in space in order to train children to be the military leaders who will one day lead the battles against the Buggers. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is one of the children at the Battle School. Ender is a genius and already showed a flare for battle tactics before he joined the Battle School. Ender and the other children learn and master many games that will help prepare them for their imminent battle against the Buggers. But Ender also learns that he needs tactics and strategy to survive the fiercely competitive atmosphere and to navigate through a competitive world of kids who all want to be number one.

The summary above merely scratches the surface of story and sub-plots in Ender’s Game, but I will leave it at that because spoiling the end of the book would be criminal. Ender’s Game is a somewhat controversial read because of the violence in the text. In the incredibly competitive nature of the Battle School, brutal fights break out between the young children and there are serious injuries. The violence may trouble some and make others squirm, but it reveals the darkness inherent even in characters who are good.


Ender’s Game is a novel that proved that genre fiction could also be serious literature.

Ender’s Game has stood the test of time, as it is still popular today and was recently adapted into a movie. It is still a compelling story decades after it was published because the book connects with many young adult readers. Ender’s Game has enduring popularity for a few reasons:

  • The setting. Ender’s Game is a science fiction novel that takes itself seriously—the plot is tight and the prose is both deft and lyrical. The book also brings up questions of morality through the context of a world under imminent threat. The novel explores whether or not the end truly justifies the means, and whether or not a person can be good even after doing bad things. It is also a vividly imagined and described look at a futuristic earth and society that parallels the paranoia that surrounded the Cold War era in which the book was written. The Battle School has rules and regulations, and Card’s world building immerses the reader in the story and in Ender’s world.
  • The games. Ender and his fellow recruits play many different simulations that help prepare them for battle using strategy and tactics. The way that these games are described will blow your mind. The United States Marine Corps actually reads the book in order to think about battle tactics in out of the box ways. The Hunger Games and Divergent also deal with competitions and games that pit young adults and children against each other. Ender’s Game, as a good and popular science fiction novel, helped pave the way for the science fiction and dystopian books that are popular today.


    If you love Ender’s Game you should also read Ender’s Shadow, a companion novel told from Bean’s point of view.

  • The characters. Young adult readers have connected with the book since its publication for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is the book’s characters. Ender and his friends are intelligent beyond their years, and they face many of the frustrations that intelligent teens face as well. Adults talk down to them and hide information from them. But the characters are in fact very young, and are thrust into a cold world and some adult situations, which brings into conflict their actions and their chronological age, bringing up moral questions. There is also tension between intelligence and maturity is something that many young adults struggle with, especially early in their teens, as all of these children are incredibly intelligent but are not always wise. And it is why teens will keep reading Ender’s Game—it doesn’t talk down to them, it meets them where they are.
  • Ender is also a character with whom readers can easily relate. He is a genius, but he is also very young and suffers from homesickness, struggles with his self-identity, and how to navigate social situations. Ender struggles with these things a lot in the novel, but learns how these struggles can make him a stronger person. Ender’s moral struggle—between the violent and peaceful sides of his personality—is also the moral epicenter of the novel, as he embodies what his society is struggling with as well.

Ender’s Game is a seminal work of young adult literature, as it shows that genre fiction can also be serious and meaningful, that a story can be both entertaining and make readers think through serious moral issues. And I’m sure that it will keep many readers up all night in the future.