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Tag Archives: Postapocalyptic

Round one: Glory O’ Brien’s History of the Future VS Grasshopper Jungle AKA Chronicles of the Apocalypse

In Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King, Glory O’Brien has no future. Despite her impending high school graduation, and her talent as a reflective and creative photographer, Glory has applied to no colleges and made no plans. Glory has become paralyzed by the fear of becoming her mother, Darla. Darla O’Brien, also a smart, funny, creative young woman and a gifted photographer, committed suicide when Glory was four years old. Glory’s father never recovered, giving up on his own career as a painter and eating himself to 400 pounds; he has stopped truly living. Glory has a “best friend,” Ellie, who is a friend only by default of proximity. Though Ellie brags about one day running away from her family’s controlling hippie commune, she too has no future plans.Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

When Glory and Ellie drink the desiccated remains of a bat, the two girls can suddenly see the past and future of each person they meet. And Glory sees horrific things. Everyone’s future culminates in a second Civil War, the history of which Glory begins to write down. She seeks out new people to piece together the story of this future she uncovers, and in doing so discovers her own past, present, and future. She gains the courage to ask questions about her mom, sets healthier boundaries with the parasitic Ellie, and reconnects with her dad. Readers watch a frightened teen become a compassionate, courageous young adult who not only turns away from numb despair toward hope, but helps others do the same. Despite the dark future Glory sees, knowledge that she will play a role in the future empowers her. She has the power to build her own future and begins to do just that.

A more visceral apocalyptic tale, Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle is quite literally a story of piss, shit, blood, and semen – the very stuff of life. The dust jacket promises catastrophic action, with 6-foot, man-eating praying mantises, yet these monsters don’t appear till almost 150 pages into the story. And while they do provide pretty provocative action, they are but a metaphorical and atmospheric backdrop for Austin Sczerba’s quest for truth. Austin is chronicling the history of the end of the world as these giant bugs take over. And much like the giant bugs, EVERYTHING in the history of the end of the world makes Austin horny – most of all his girlfriend, Shann, and his best friend Robby. They are both in love with him, and he with them.  Austin can’t decide between the two people he loves more than anything in the world and he smashes both their hearts trying not to decide between them. But this is not the real crux of the story either.

As Austin tells his Grasshopper Junglepersonal history of the end of the world, he recounts the history of his Polish immigrant ancestors (and their glamorous urinals), vagrants, cooks, neighbors (and their testicles), friends, strangers, politicians (and their testicles), teachers, Saint Casimir, a mad scientist (and his semen), cave painters, and humanity itself. In the larger narrative created, we are a bunch of messy animals, trying and failing miserably to prevent the repetition of our own mistakes. And the inevitability of it is gut wrenching, terrifying, and tragic. The bugs, Austin, his friends, and family become a metaphor for all of humanity desperately chronicling their terrible mistakes in an effort to create some tiny change in human history. It’s funny and clever, crude and uncomfortable, raw and poignant, and absolutely heartbreaking. This is a story, like all of Andrew Smith’s, that will stay with me.

These were excellent books to juxtapose – both about teens finding themselves amidst tragedy, the unraveling of civilizations, and the connectedness of past, present, and future. But the history chronicled by Glory O’Brien pales in comparison to that written by Austin Sczerba. Glory’s magical visions of the future are almost unnecessary to the novel. They are emotionally distant, lifeless, lacking detail. But her story is more accessible than Grasshopper Jungle. I will be book-talking Glory’s story to my students, not Austin’s. Yet Grasshopper Jungle wins this competition, hands down. Austin’s history of apocalypse is acerbic, poetically profane, and epic in scope. The many layered meanings of Austin’s story, while creating a rich and complex picture of the human condition, do make it impenetrable to an inexperienced teen reader. This book requires a special student – one with advanced reading skills but also liberal appreciation of scatological and sexual references. For that reader, however, this book will dig inside and crack them open like the giant bugs of MI Plague Strain 412E.

P.S. I’m glad that Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim, Shaun of the Dead) has signed on to direct the movie version of Grasshopper Jungle. If anyone can do this book justice, it’s the creator of The World’s End.

Winner: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

 

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Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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The 5th Wave vs. Just One Day (AKA Macarons vs. Sardines)

Trying to compare Gayle Foreman’s Just One Day and Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave is more difficult than comparing apples and oranges. It’s like comparing…the perfect macaron in a Parisian café to tinned sardines when you’re starving amidst an alien apocalypse. They are both something you would not want to miss—but they are very, very different things. While Just One Day can certainly be categorized as romance, I would more precisely term it a coming-of-age novel. The 5th Wave is falls squarely in the post-apocalyptic province. Both books are excellent examples of the genre they represent. Since we’re on the second round of the tournament now, plot summaries of Just One Day and The 5th Wave have already been done splendidly by my colleagues. Here I will direct my focus to the merits and weaknesses of each book.

The 5th Wave blends the action-oriented quest to survive with the exploration of philosophical theme, “Whom 5th wavecan I trust?” The shifting points of view in this novel highlight the isolation of each character as he or she is faced with the conundrum of distinguishing the good guys from the bad. As humanity faces possible extinction by aliens, the age-old question, “What does it mean to be human?” arises amidst the characters’ attempts to maintain hope, dignity, camaraderie, and love. The fast-paced plot works both for and against this book. The pages turn as secrets reveal themselves and the reader seeks to know who will live and how. However, the abrupt changes in point of view and time frame occasionally disorient the reader, and keeping track of the first four waves of the alien invasion is in itself a challenge!  Also, because the extremity of the situation has distilled the protagonists’ lives to the bare essentials, the characterization sometimes feels sparse, lacking the endearing quirks that often enhance the sympathy one feels for the characters.

Just One Day, on the other hand, luxuriates in the rich details of setting, and the reader relishes the description of each character–even the obnoxious ones! Readers cheer for protagonist Allyson as she tentatively asserts her own identity against the one her parents have chosen for her and as she gains the confidence to pursue the mystery of what happened to Willem. Forman further explores the theme of self-definition through parallel and foil characters like Melanie, Allyson’s BFF from high school who reinvents herself monthly in college, and Dee, Allyson’s code-switching, out-and-proud, gay African-American study partner. At the close of this novel, the reader feels absolutely compelled to read the companion piece, Just One Year, which tells the same story from the elusive Willem’s perspective. Shall I count it a weakness of Just One Day that the story is not complete in the first book? Or is it Forman’s strength that she manages to show the other side of the coin with equal depth, detail, and pathos in the second book? (I know, I know, that’s cheating…I’m only supposed to review the first book for this comparison!) Still, if I have to pick “Just One Book” to move to the next round of the tournament purely on its own merits, I will pick Just One Day because of the richness of the life into which it draws the reader and the empathy it evokes for the characters, especially Allyson, in her voyage to find her own identity.

Winner: Just One Day by Gayle Forman.

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Posted by on February 28, 2014 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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