Book #40 of 2012 was Article Five: Compliance is Mandatory, by Kristen Simmons. Ember lives in a post-apocalyptic United States where the Bill of Rights has been replaced by the Moral Statutes. As the novel begins, Article Five has just been instituted. It states that children born out of wedlock will be taken for rehabilitation. The Federal Bureau of Reformation, the FBR, will take care of making everyone conform. This is a bit heavy-handed, and Ember is a very annoying heroine, sometimes seeming deliberately obtuse and making baffling choices. We're told she is close to other characters, but we don't really observe their closeness. There's plenty of action and suspense, but compared with other books I read for my Adolescent Literature class, this dystopic world isn't believable and the characters aren't compelling.
Book #41 was a needed break from all the YA I had been reading. I picked up Blessings by Anna Quindlen knowing it would not be full of action, heart-thumping plot twists, and post-apocalyptic drama. I knew this both because of the title and because I've read Anna Quindlen before. This is the story of Lydia Blessing, aging in her home, Blessings, and the caretaker she has hired, Skip. In the first chapter, a baby is left at Blessings, and Skip takes charge of her. Quindlen tells a beautiful, satisfying story, and there's not a chase scene in sight. Whew.
With book #42, I was right back to dystopia, but this time it was a real-life, historical dystopia. This harrowing novel is the story of a family arrested in Lithuania in 1941. Unfortunately, the title is Between Shades of Grey. Surely the author, Ruta Sepetys, regrets this title choice every single day. She must get so tired of saying, "No, not that Shades of Grey..." I had a hard time reading this because it was so terribly sad and hopeless. Based on many true stories of what the Soviets did to Lithuania, the book never lets up on the horrible nightmares experienced by Lina and her family. Just to give you an idea, there's a scene in the cattle car while the arrested Lithuanians are heading who knows where, and they find out that Hitler has invaded their country. They are full of excitement because now things will surely get better. I groaned aloud. But I am glad that I persevered and finished the book. It's very much worth reading.
Book #43 was the long-awaited The Casual Vacancy, the new book by J.K. Rowling, her first since Harry Potter. This one is most decidedly not for children. It shows us a whole new Rowling. Her talent for plot is much more on display because she has a much smaller canvas: a small town instead of a cast of thousands. There's not a single admirable character here, except maybe the one who dies in the first chapter. Everyone has sordid secrets. Who knew Rowling had this in her, I thought as I read, and then I thought of Voldemort, Dolores Umbridge, Dobby at his self-hating, self-punishing worst. This book is darker than the Dark Lord. It's brilliantly done and I couldn't put it down, but there's nothing remotely uplifting about it, so be warned. I think I need to cleanse my palate with another Anna Quindlen book now!
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