Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements (YA Science Fiction)

Things Not Seen

Things Not Seen    

Andrew Clements (Young Adult Science Fiction)

Did you ever wish that you were invisible or could just become invisible—even for a day?  Well that’s what happened to Robert “Bobby” Phillips one morning.  He goes to bed an average, normal fifteen-year-old boy and wakes up invisible.  There’s no explanation for it, although his physicist father knows that something doesn’t happen without a reason.  But how can this possibly happen?  What could have caused this?  Promising to keep his “condition” secret, Bobby and his parents frantically search for a cause and a cure because a boy that suddenly vanishes won’t go unnoticed for long.  But then Bobby meets Alicia, a blind girl he literally bumps into at the library.  Surely his secret would be safe with her?  After all, Bobby needs to share this with someone and maybe she can help because time is quickly running out.

Things Not Seen is the first of three books in the “Things” series by Andrew Clements.  In this installment, we are introduced to Bobby and his sarcastic yet devoted love interest Alicia Van Dorn.  This book has just enough science to make it a true science fiction, but not too much to bog down the story and lose reader interest.  Clements also gives us the standard fare of teenage angst: wanting acceptance from peers, craving independence from parents, and longing for a bit of attention from the opposite sex.  The need for acknowledgment, approval, and acceptance is truly universal, but these feelings are personified effectively through Bobby’s invisibility.

Throughout the book, we see Bobby’s new condition force an emotional awakening and maturity upon him.  What was a pleasant surprise was the evolution of his relationship with his parents (and vice versa).  Things Not Seen is a wonderful reminder that parents don’t always have the answers, and sometimes in order to really “see” someone, you simply just need to close your eyes and open your heart.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

 

The Giver by Lois Lowry (YA Science Fiction)

The Giver

The Giver    

Lois Lowry (Young Adult Science Fiction)

It is against the rules to brag.  It is against the rules to keep your feelings hidden.  It is against the rules to point out someone’s differences.  There are a lot of rules in the community—rules that are very hard to change, but keep the community orderly, predictable, pleasant, and safe.  Rules are good and will be followed or offenders will face the terrible punishment of release.  Jonas has nothing to worry about because he follows the rules.  What he is worried about is the Ceremony of Twelve where he, along with the community’s other twelve-year-olds, will be separated into an Assignment Group and receive training for adult life.  Jonas isn’t sure what he is suited for: nurturer, doctor, speaker, engineer, laborer.  When the big day finally arrives, Jonas isn’t assigned like the others.  Instead, he is selected and for the first time in his life, he’ll know what’s it like to feel alone and apart.

Lois Lowry’s The Giver was published in 1993 and since that time, it has graced a spot on the American Library Association’s list of banned books.  Life really does seem to imitate art since members in Lowry’s fictional community are themselves banned from reading all books except the dictionary and The Book of Rules.  Lowry addressed this very issue in the F.A.Q. section of her website (www.loislowry.com) by saying, “I think banning books is a very, very dangerous thing. It takes away an important freedom. The world portrayed in The Giver is a world where choice has been taken away. It is a frightening world. Let’s work hard to keep it from truly happening.”  Much of the resistance to The Giver stems from its targeted age group (grades 5-8) with the ALA considering the book “unsuited to age group”.  I would tend to agree that the subjects discussed in this book are weighty and extremely complex (population control, free will, memory suppression, psychological manipulation).  Interestingly, while some schools are banning this book, others are embracing it and actually making it required reading.  With such sensitive topics as infanticide and geriatricide, The Giver is a book that clearly benefits from teacher-led group discussions.  Talking about individual choice, the challenges of change, and the benefits and drawbacks of constancy can be debated and explored in a thoughtful and engaging environment.

One of the things that Jonas learns from the Giver is that the community was built to protect people from their own wrong choices.  Almost like the ALA and their list of books.  As Lowry said on her site, “Any time there is an attempt to ban a book, you should fight it as hard as you can. It’s okay for a parent to say, ‘I don’t want my child to read this book.’ But it is not okay for anyone to try to make that decision for other people.”  We’re fighting, Ms. Lowry, as hard as we can.

Reviewer’s Note: The Giver is the first in a series of four books.  All take place in the same futuristic time era but have different protagonists.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.barnesandnoble.com

 

 

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut (Adult Fiction)

By all measures, Billy Pilgrim would be considered a lucky fellow.  He’s survived the bombing of Dresden in 1945, a POW camp, and a mountainside plane crash.  He’s married, has children, and enjoys financial security as a successful optometrist.  But, Billy also time jumps, which can prove inconvenient at times.  He’s also been kidnapped by aliens and taken to another planet where he spends his time as a zoo exhibit.  Did I mention that he’s in the sights of a hired assassin?  It’s just another day in the life of Billy Pilgrim.

Slaughterhouse-Five is considered semi-autobiographical as Vonnegut shares many of the same military experiences as his main character.  His novel is an anti-war dark comedy that delivers a bitter social commentary on the pitfalls of free will and the destructive nature of man.  It also flirts with being a bit anti-American since the description of the American POWs—as compared to the other detainees—are far less flattering and the particular slaughterhouse (Slaughterhouse-Five) chosen to hold the Americans was once used to house pigs.  Although Vonnegut was born and raised in Indiana, this novel and its message were undoubtedly influenced by the current events of the late 60s: Woodstock, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Protests, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.  Vonnegut lays it all out there and has no qualms letting us know that he was none too pleased about the current states of affairs at that time.

Vonnegut’s novel was selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time, although I personally found it difficult to enjoy.  Given the time of its publication (1969), I understand the sentiments that Slaughterhouse-Five articulates, but I think less would have been more in this case.  Combining the firebombing of Dresden with time travel and then adding alien abduction on top of it left the story feeling disjointed and haphazard.  Just when the reader is feeling engrossed in a particular storyline, we are catapulted to a different time or planet.  It’s like trying to stand on the deck of a ship during rough seas and not seeing any sign of calm waters on the horizon.  Rather than being able to admire the overall view, you just want the voyage to be over so you can return to solid, stable ground.

Vonnegut also uses a lot of sensory imagery and phrasal repetition to reinforce the feeling of pain, the approach of danger, or the smell of death.  He is particularly partial to the phrase “So it goes” and one individual even took the time to count each occurrence…which turned out to be 106.  These three simple words always followed a mention of death and served as a convenient means of topic transition; however, by the fiftieth time you’ve seen it, it begins to lose its impact and has outlived its intended purpose.  Solid ground never seemed so far out of reach.

With all of the blatant anti-war messaging found throughout the book, I thought nothing stated Vonnegut’s intended message more simply and effectively than a rather benign scene where Billy jumped back in time and was watching a late movie.  It was running in reverse and showed American bombers during WWII.  As Billy watched, planes once pockmarked with bullet holes were suddenly pristine, German fighter planes were busy sucking bombs back into their holds, smoke and fire were lifted from the ravaged city, crewmen and civilians were again healthy and whole, and the dangerous minerals used to make those deadly weapons of war were safely restored back to the ground and no longer a danger.  Unfortunately, we know all too well that this didn’t happen.  So it goes.

Rating: 3/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury (Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy)

Long ago, there was a time when firemen used to put out fires rather than start them.  Now, they proudly display on their helmets and jackets the number “451”—the Fahrenheit temperature at which book paper ignites and burns.

Guy Montag has been a fireman for 10 years, which means his job is to burn books.  In the future, both reading and owning books are illegal.  One night, his life is irrevocably changed when his young neighbor asks him a seemingly simple question: “Are you happy?”  This question sets Guy on a course that will attempt to restore a sense of individual freedom in a world dominated by collective control.

Bradbury describes a future where a “happy” and thriving society is one devoid of outside influences, which may disrupt the status quo by promoting independent thought and ideas.  This book revisits the old question, “Would you rather be right or happy?”  This is one of Bradbury’s best works and a reminder of the hope, power, and knowledge that lies within a dust jacket.

Rating: 5/5