Reached by Ally Condie
Reached is the final book in the Matched trilogy. The Rising against the Society has begun, and Cassia, Ky, and, surprisingly, Xander are all working for the Rising. Ky is a pilot, Xander is a medic, and Cassia sorts, trades with the archivists, and starts an outdoor art/poetry gallery. Xander and Ky both love Cassis, which is no secret to readers of Matched and Crossed. Rarely together, the trio still work in concert to find a cure for the plague, which has mutated, and to search for their families. Cassia learns that she has lost memories from taking the Society’s red tablets, and struggles to remember a red garden day with her grandfather. The story is fast-paced, with lots of action, and reads quickly for a 500+ page book. There is often a question of who to trust, as well as the motives of the mysterious Pilot, leader of the Rising. A very satisfying conclusion to the trilogy; new readers will want to start with Matched, the beginning of this popular young adult series with crossover appeal for adults.
The Last Policeman, by Ben Winters
This is not another post-apocalyptic novel. Instead, it is set in Concord, New Hampshire six months before a very large asteroid will collide with Earth. Many people have left their jobs to check off the items on their bucket lists, while others have gotten married or moved somewhere with a better climate than Concord. Sadly, some people have given up and died. Rookie detective Hank Palace, known as Stretch, senses something suspicious about the recent death of Peter Zell, a quiet man who worked as an actuary at an insurance company.
Many of Hank’s colleagues don’t see why Hank is trying so hard, and are reluctant to help. Hank’s sister Nico asks him to track down her missing husband, and Peter Zell’s sister keeps avoiding Hank. This is a fine, melancholy police procedural. The next Hank Palace book will be set three months later.
Many authors have wondered what the world would be like if something big happened and the world changed. Many of the future earths imagined are rather bleak and more about survival then creating new futures. S. M. Stirling has a different viewpoint. When the Change happens to our characters in the Pacific Northwest, they see a dazzling flash of light, and find that higher technologies stop working, such as electricity and combustion engines. Chaos, disease, accidents, and hunger mean that a year later many people have died. The people still living have mostly gathered in small communities where archaic ways of life have become popular. Medieval history professor Norman Arminger takes charge of Portland, creating knights and serfs. Musician Juniper MacKenzie moves to her uncle’s farm and ends up chief of a Celtic clan which practices Wicca and trains youth in archery. College faculty form a democracy, and a monastery becomes a Catholic stronghold. A pilot with a teen passenger who’s a Tolkien fan become leaders of the Bearkillers and Rangers. Three books, starting with Dies the Fire, describe the development of the new societies. Another series, starting with The Sunrise Lands, tell the story of those leaders’ grown children and their quest to travel across North America fighting villains and bringing communities together. The characters are realistic, the author’s imagination fascinating, and the unfolding story lines and curiosity about the future engaging, as is the question of why and how the Change occurred and if a mystical sword will change things back.
Ashfall, by Mike Mullin
Alex Halprin, 15, is alone for the weekend in Cedar Falls, Iowa, while his parents and sister are visiting his uncle’s farm in Illinois. Suddenly, his world changes when a huge rock falls through the roof. Taking refuge with his neighbors, Alex learns that Yellowstone’s supervolcano is erupting, 900 miles away, showering them with ash, and days of sonic booms and darkness. Alex finds skis and travels east to find his family, scrounging for food and water along the way. Darla Edmunds and her mother take him in when Alex collapses after a fight. Darla has rigged up a bicycle to grind corn, so their farm is self-sufficient.
Later Darla and Alex search for a way across the Mississippi River while conditions (ash, snow, and anarchy) worsen. There is plenty of violence, so this gritty post-apocalyptic read is not for everyone. Alex and Darla are convincingly flawed, and we root for them as they fall in love and struggle to survive. For more about the author and a sequel, Ashen Winter, visit his website. This would be a good readalike for Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. For more dystopian or post-apocalyptic books like Ashfall, check out Denise’s book display of readalikes for The Hunger Games. Another readalike is Shipbreaker, reviewed earlier.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Children of the 80s, this one is for you. Despite taking place in 2044 and mostly in a completely immersive online simulation called the Oasis, this is really a tribute to the culture (popular and otherwise) of the 1980s. The Oasis is the creation of Richard Halliday—a videogame programmer who used music, movies, TV, books, and videogames to escape his dysfunctional home. His expertise and desire to escape lead him to create an online experience that becomes the escape for most of the population. The glimpses Cline gives of America in 2044 are bleak—resources like gasoline have been depleted so everyone lives in cities since they can’t travel and the poorest people live in trailers that have been stacked to form dangerous towering units. The Oasis provides them with a nicer, more hopeful world. Part of that hope comes from the hunt for Halliday’s Egg. Before he died, he hid three keys and three gates in the Oasis and left clues for egg hunters (nicknamed “gunters”) to find the first one. Whoever finds all the keys and makes it through all the gates will gain control of the Oasis. Millions of people studied the things Halliday was obsessed with to try to figure out the clues. Teenaged Wade Wilson is the first gunter to find a key. His fellow competitors Aech, Art3mis, Shoto, and Daito meet him along the way and sometimes offer help and camaraderie while trying to find the keys themselves and fending off the evil Sixers that want to gain control of the Oasis for their own profit. The plot is familiar but the setting and Cline’s love of the 80s makes this a fun read. You don’t have to be familiar with all the references and the really important ones are explained but you may find yourself wanting to dig out your old cassettes or find Family Ties on DVD.
Ernest Cline has a mix tape with all the songs mentioned in Ready Player One but some of them are spoilers
His blog is also full of 80s geekery.
There’s also a pretty rad fansite set up to look like the channel Wade Watt’s Oasis alter ego Parzival runs.
This is the unlikely book I recently selected for the library’s evening book discussion group. An award-winning dystopian novel written for teens was not an obvious choice, but the group found it interesting and discussible. Dystopian fiction has become popular for teens and adults, but what is it? Dystopia fiction is often set on Earth in a possible future where something has drastically changed, and not for the better. In 1984, it’s government and civil rights that have changed. In Life as We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, an asteroid hits the Moon, sending it closer to Earth, and causing climate upheaval and power outages. In Ship Breaker, climate change has led to higher sea levels and destructive hurricanes. Petroleum powered vehicles are gone, and corporations seem to have taken over from government. New Orleans has been submerged, rebuilt, and destroyed again. Nailer, a young teen boy, lives in a shack on Bright Sands Beach and works as light crew stripping copper wire from inside tankers abandoned on the Gulf coast. His father Richard is an abusive addict, and only his crewmate Pima’s mother Sadna is a trustworthy and caring adult. After a storm, Pima and Nailer are looking for shell fish when they find a wrecked high-tech clipper ship, with one young survivor. Their choices and adventures could end Nailer’s life or bring some luck into it. Luck and fate, loyalty and hard work are the main principles of Nailer and Pima’s world. Ship Breaker is a fascinating look at a world we hope won’t happen, and the memorable characters who inhabit it. Read more about the book and the author here .