Meagan Reads YA Sci-Fi: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Read this book for the 26 book reading challenge I started a couple of years ago and am still chugging through for the category “a book set in summer.” The whole novel takes place in Portland, Maine in the summer before a life-changing event takes place in the main character’s life.

Quick summary that includes spoilers, so read at your own risk. The premise is that this takes place in a future in which the disease of amor deliria nervosa has been eradicated through a procedure that U.S. citizens undergo when they come of age. So, a special kind of surgery targets the part of the brain that processes and let’s you express emotions related to love.

Lena is a typical teenage girl who enjoys running with her best friend Hannah and can’t wait to undergo the procedure and escape her past: being the daughter of the woman who committed suicide due to falling ill with the delirium. Lena follows the rules and wants to fit into her society until, wait for it, she meets a boy named Alex.

Overall, the idea of this society is interesting and captivating, but I think I’m definitely well past my young adult years, because the nauseating young love oh my god I can’t live without you after having just met you and I hardly know you trope makes me roll my eyes so hard. The whole story and character’s development hinges on this stereotype, but my biggest problem with it is how heteronormative it is.

The point of the procedure is to eradicate falling in love, but everything rides on the idea that only boys and girls fall in love with each other. The society even has rules that doesn’t allow boys and girls to have too much interaction prior to their procedures, to reduce the possibility of falling ill. At this point, I’m over books and stories that perpetuate the idea that only heterosexuals fall in love and no other kind of people even exist. It’s 2017. Get with the times please.

However, maybe it was my mind trying to read too much into it, but I felt a sort of queer element from Hannah. They were best friends, and the way she acts toward Lena and wanting her to break free from society’s restraints always felt like Hannah trying to push her friend to the realization of how she really felt about Lena. In the end, when Lena rebels for Alex, and Lena asks her best friend to run away with them, Hannah let’s her go and says she’s not actually brave enough. That whole relationship felt to me like Hannah was always in love with Lena, but Lena never realized it, and Hannah didn’t want to ruin things for her.

I appreciated the strong use of religion to establish this totalitarian government’s rhetoric behind the eradication of love. That is something that actually translates into real-life as is often seen in the U.S.’s politics with a blurred line between Church and State. Each chapter opens with a passage from the Book of Shhh, which is sort of like their constitution and bible. If the chapter doesn’t open with a passage from that book, it opens with lines from some kind of banned literature such as Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, or other poetry and novels that elevate the concept of love.

Another relevant element in this story is how police brutality is seen through Lena’s eyes. With her conditioning, she at first believes the law enforcement is there to protect the country’s citizens from themselves. When she falls to the deliria though and goes through each act of rebellion and becomes a victim of the patrollers, she finds they actually enjoy using extreme force and violence to bring criminals to justice. Lena’s description of her encounter with the police shows her thinking that the cure doesn’t eradicate all emotions, because hate and violence are still prevalent. This leads to the revelation that maybe love isn’t the problem. Love isn’t what makes people go mad and do terrible, chaotic and destructive things. That’s just people.

I’ll end this summary and review with a technical and structural choice the writer made and I think did well. The whole book is written in present tense, which is actually harder than it sounds. There’s a reason most books are written in past tense (in English at least). It’s just one of those things that feels and comes more naturally to our language. Oliver’s choice to write third person limited in present tense makes for an engaging story that brings the audience into the moment and feel like we know what Lena knows. It’s a structure that helps you feel the urgency of every situation, and it’s probably what kept me reading the whole book and look past the love story that I found cliche.

All in all, the book entertains and keeps you intrigued, but I didn’t feel a particular investment in any of the characters, and I don’t feel compelled to pick up the next installment.

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Forever Golden

Wrote this a few years ago for an assignment in my first creative writing class at UCF.

It was their fiftieth anniversary, the golden one. Fifty years ago on this day Theodore and Ethel were married in her father’s blooming garden. It had been filled with red and pink roses, white and purple carnations, purest white gardenias, and orange and yellow chrysanthemums, their sweet aroma dancing in the air around the young and hopeful newly weds.

She had worn her mother’s wedding gown and he had used his mother’s wedding ring. The sun floated in the sky, a brilliant, golden orb. There were only three witnesses to this matrimony, and they were Theodore, Ethel, and Father James. Both Ethel’s and Theodore’s parents were dead. They did not need to invite friends or distant family. They had each other.

After the brief ceremony, Ethel and Theodore remained together in the garden, reminiscing on times past and looking forward to the future. They danced to far away whispered music, hearing the strings of the acoustic guitar being plucked delicately from somewhere within them. Fifty years later, Ethel and Theodore still danced in the garden, appreciating the flowers’ sweet scents and feeling the golden setting sun warm them from the inside out.

“Theodore darling, can you believe it’s already been fifty years?” Ethel asked in a hushed voice and with a smile on her face.

“The best fifty years of my life,” Theodore responded tenderly, stroking her hair with a gentle hand.

“Do you remember the wedding?”

“Like it was yesterday,” he answered softly, a distant look in his eyes.

“You looked so handsome in your uniform.”

“And you were stunning in that dress,” Theodore replied lovingly.

“It was just the two of us.”

“That’s all we needed,” he said.

“We danced all night.”

“I held you just like this,” he whispered.

“We planned our future completely.”

“And all those dreams came true.”

A serene sigh escaped Ethel’s lips. The sun had almost completely set by now, leaving a perfect line of gold on the horizon. She and her husband swayed to the long forgotten melody of fifty years ago. The garden’s blooms were beginning to wilt away, but their fresh fragrance still lingered in the cool, evening air.

“Happy anniversary, honey,” Theodore said dreamily to his beloved wife of fifty years.

“Happy anniversary, Theodore darling,” Ethel replied, exhaling happily.

Hand in hand, they walked out of the garden as they had fifty years ago, and thought upon that golden sun and what it would bring them next.

Waiting On the River

This is an updated version of a piece of flash fiction I wrote for a prompt. The original is published on my old writer’s blog here.

A drop of sweat rolled down Riley’s forehead. Her eyes darted back and forth. She stared at the hand in her grasp.  She swallowed hard and licked her lips as she called the last bet, throwing more of her precious few chips into the pot.

With shoulders tensed and fingers clasping her cards tight, she felt a ripple of relaxation spread around the room, ending with the Cowboy tisking and whispering, “Brave little toaster.”  She said nothing.

True, it was only a two pair of sixes and sevens, and the Cowboy might’ve had her beat with a full house or four of a kind…if he was waiting on the river like her.

The river was everyone’s friend and enemy at the same time.  Schrödinger’s play.  All she needed was the kicker though, and she’d leave with the biggest pot she’d ever seen, on one of the crappier hands she’d ever played.

Small coughs and cleared throats echoed as the players waited for the dealer to flip the last card.  In slow motion, he took it from the top of the deck. With a communal intake of breath, he revealed the glossy print against the fuzzy green table top: ace of spades.

Riley peeked over her cards at her peers and watched fingers tap and brows furrow.  The last round started and two dropped out, leaving her against the Cowboy.

He raised the bet. Riley called, “All in.”

Guardian Angels

This is another one from the Supernatural chapbook I’d made for my friend’s birthday. Originally shared here.

“Angel of God, my guardian dear.
To whom his love commits me here…”
—Old children’s prayer

Mom always said angels were watching over me
but with what life dealt me, I found that hard to believe.

Then I found out angels dealt me this life
and I could almost laugh at that irony.

Angels are not guardians; they’re dicks with wings.
Well, except for Cas.

Castiel: fallen from God, and it was for me that he fell
and rebelled. So I guess I got one angel watching over me, Mom.

Wanderlust: New York City

Let’s start this travel blogging endeavor with the first trip I remember making that gave me the travel bug. I don’t count Puerto Rico at 1-year-old or Jersey at four because I have no memories of those trips.

nyc-scan-001
From my NYC trip 2000

No, my first official journey into the world of travel happened when I was 8-years-old and my parents took us, my brother and me, to New York City for the first time. My dad drove us the whole way in, in his graying, white Toyota Corolla with the thin blue stripes along the side.

We made our way through Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, stopping a few times to take pictures and bathroom breaks. All the way we went until finally, our hotel in the heart of New York lay ahead of us, behind a flurry of white cold sheets of snow. We’d arrived in the middle of a blizzard.

My father never let on his terror of driving in that snow, but I never saw it as a threat. I stepped out of the car, eyes wide and tongue out, trying to catch a snowflake, and let those tiny icicles charged by wind fly into my face without a care. I’d never been in snow before that day, and it was as magical as the movies always made it out to be.

I remember warm, toasty nights in the hotel room, wearing our flannels and thermal underwear while we sat under the bed covers eating pizza and drinking hot chocolate. Back home we never got to eat this much junk food, but we were on vacation, so health and diet be damned.

We saw the usual tourist sites: Central Park, Rockefeller center with the tree all lit up, ice skaters gliding on the ponds and in the rinks like fairies coming through portals to another world, and even the Twin Towers. We’d visited NYC the year before they crashed down, and that was the day I realized I had a fear of heights as we reached the top and my brother pretended to tip me over the edge. I haven’t been able to climb high places ever since.

The day we took the ferry to Ellis Island was bitter cold, chilling straight through my layers of a fluffy coat, fleece sweater, turtle neck long sleeve shirt, mittens and scarf, as if Jack Frost laughed at my poor attempts at armor. As we pulled into the parking lot for the ferry dock, my brother and I pointed and laughed at a seagull trying to fly away, but only getting knocked back to the ground by a strong gust of wind.

That day Lady Liberty’s upper floors were closed, so we only made it through half the museum, but I still saw so many pictures of immigrants, in black and white and sepia tone, arriving at the island, wearing smiles, signing their names to the books, greeting relatives. I saw pictures of the very statue I stood in from the point of view of newcomers seeking refuge, prosperity and family, and even then I knew what that meant.

The thing that always stuck with me though about New York City was the rush. The city that never sleeps. Constantly bustling, I had to learn how to walk fast and keep up with the flow of bodies from bus station through streets to subway stations and back all over again. I even got to yell at a taxi that nearly hit me as I walked with the throngs through impatient, honking traffic.

The reeking smell of garbage as we hustled through construction zones never bothered me. Truth be told, I probably didn’t notice because I breathed through my mouth as I struggled to keep up with my family in such thick and heavy wardrobe. The pace and flow of New York City is not to be taken lightly.

I’ve been to New York a couple of more times since then, and every time I still feel like Dorothy as she approaches the Emerald City. I’m just always in complete awe of the blazing lights of Broadway, the obnoxious honks of horns in standstill traffic, street performers putting on a show like their lives depended on it, and the rushing bodies as the crowds swarm the sidewalks and streets making their way home or to school or to work, all the while never paying each other any mind.

It’s the perfect place to be if you want to be left alone but not feel alone.

Updated 2/16/17 with photo.

Carry On Wayward Sons

Originally published on my old writer’s blog here, made for a chapbook for my friend’s birthday.

It starts as far back as Michael and Lucifer, two brothers
whose love drove to the destruction of Heaven and earth.
One loved his Father, and the other adored his brother.
This growing separation led to a road of dissention
where Cain and Abel felt the tear.

The rift left one with an instinct to kill
and the other to be victim. The bond that bound
brother to brother

broke

and cursed the line forever.

Carry on Sam. Carry on Dean.
There will not be peace, because you will never be done.

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

I’m going into my third year of the 26 book reading challenge (I’m a slow reader–sue me). For book 17, “a book by an author you love,” I went with Cinda Williams Chima’s The Demon King since I loved her Heir series.

A quick rundown of the story. It follows the lives of two characters: Raisa, the princess of the realm with a spunky attitude, and Han, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks just trying to get by. While Raisa is blissfully unaware of the injustices of the kingdom and dealing with her mother wanting to marry her off as soon as she comes of age, Han is trying to avoid his old gang life but still make an honest living by selling and trading to provide for his family.

In my Goodreads review, I said fans of Tamora Pierce’s Trickster duology or Bekah Cooper series would like this book, and that’s because it’s got classic fantasy elements with magic and wizards and political intrigue. The world building feels grounded in reality though, especially with the clan of Marissa Pines, a village outside of Fellsmarch, the royal city. There’s a clear dichotomy throughout the novel with the princess heir being of the rich elite living in the castle in the city, and Han being a foster child of the humble clans folk living off the land. Overall, it’s the equivalent of European colonialists versus the natives of the country.

I loved the descriptions Chima creates with how the clans people live, in tight knit communities that are in commune with natural remedies and trading goods for goods. It reminded me a lot of the smaller villages and towns I visited during my vacation to Ecuador 6 years ago. I could hear the crackling of the fires as the characters held meetings and shared stories under the open sky, surrounded by woods.

Throughout the whole book, I kept trying to unravel the mysteries that kept popping up with each new revelation. The reader learns things through the eyes of Raisa and Han, so when a new detail is brought to light that surprises or confuses them, you can’t help but feel blindsided too. There’s a parallel to the two characters in how they learn about the world they’ve been a part of this whole time was built on lies. For Han, he comes to feel like he can’t trust the people he grew up with or cares for, while Raisa starts to realize she’s far too ignorant of the strife going on around her in her own queendom. You can’t help but feel the pangs of coming of age, at that moment where you start to see things as an adult would, and not yet being ready for that responsibility.

In this world that Chima has created, there is a legend of an ancestral queen, Hanalea, who is abducted by the Demon King, a wizard, and forced to sacrifice her life for the greater good of the people. It is this legend that founds the people’s beliefs, and why the clan holds control of magic for wizards, allowing them the use of it through talismans for brief periods of time. The wizards serve the line of Hanalea, and thus royalty and magic can never marry.

Of course, as is apt to happen, some people don’t want to play by these rules anymore. This is where all the lies come undone little by little, and Raisa and Han must now make their decisions and judgments based on new truths, breaking from everything they’ve ever known. Wizards are dangerously close to regaining their old power, the clan is not as righteous as the legends would have it, Raisa and her royal line are in danger of extinction, and Han would rather have nothing to do with any of it but somehow is in the middle of all of it.

I’d have to say my biggest criticism of the book is its pacing. Especially in the beginning, it’s quite stop and go and you wish the narration would just pick a speed and stick with it for a while. The way the story reads at times is clumsy and expository, clearly setting the whole thing up for the next book. There’s lots of background information that’s conveyed through character dialogue, but it’s scenes in which the characters are specifically sitting down to have a meeting or talk, making it feel like the writer just couldn’t figure out how else to portray these details.

In conjunction with the pacing, and the fact that the reader knows this is book one of a series, Han’s and Raisa’s stories take way too long to intersect. Obviously, as each chapter jumps back and forth between them, we know they’re going to meet and have some kind of connection to one another eventually, but it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that the connection happens. And even then, there’s only 1 or 2 chapters in which they’re tied together before being severed into their individual lines again. This made the novel feel a bit fractured, so at times it was frustrating trying to read through. But overall, an excellent tale with many twists and fun characters.