I don’t seek out dystopian novels: I’m not usually looking for a downer, but somehow I end up reading dystopian novels for young adults, and I like them. These books have appeal that crosses genres. Usually sci-fi, they have the intrigue of thriller, the creative world-building of good fantasy, and strong characters who are capable of facing hard times. Unlike those for adults, dystopian books for teens often have a more hopeful ending, or aren’t quite so...um...grim. Unlike...cough...The Road.

Imagine living in a bottle two kilometers by two kilometers, and that people have been living there, reproducing, evolving as a society, well, forever now, and the small contained world is bursting at the seams. Maria V. Snyder creates such a space in Inside Out. Society is divided by the “uppers” in the upper two levels, and the “scrubs” packed into the lower two levels. Feisty scrub Trella tries to keep to herself, but ends up turning this world upside down, or is that inside out?

My first thought on encountering Uglies is remembrance of that old Twilight  episode in which the beautiful woman undergoes surgery so she can be as beautiful as everyone else - that is - ugly. At 16, everyone undergoes this surgery to be Pretty, except a few rebels. And that’s unacceptable.  Here we have the seeming elements of a utopia, with everyone happy, hoverboards and hovercars, ready-made food, and parties all the time. But then there’s that dark underside, that shadowy governing body that does anything to keep it that way. When Tally, so looking forward to her own Pretty-making surgery, is coerced to find rebels, adventure and coming-of-age hardships ensue.

A technological living prison gone rogue in which people inside have lost belief in the outside - that’s Incarceron. Outside, the prison world is also a myth. Outside, by royal decree, advanced technology is banned. Yet an insider and an outsider find a way to communicate. The insider’s memory has been wiped, but with clues that he once was outside. The outsider is a pampered daughter of the warden...the one person who has a clue about the forgotten experiment in incarceration. Of course, once the secret’s out to these two, action and intrigue develop.

“Who picks these books!?” That could be a question someone asks about In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. This well-written classic true crime stands up to the tests of time, but the violence can be a turnoff for some. When it comes to book groups, such as our library’s Pageturners groups, a great book for discussion is not necessarily liked by all.

As a facilitator my response to that question is, “I’m glad you asked. Let me give you the inside scoop.” In May, Pageturners book groups are busy picking their books for the next calendar year, which begins in September. Most groups pick by gathering votes from regular attendees, or, as I like to say, book groupies. Books on the ballot come from recommendations by groupies, awards lists, book news, and discussions with other facilitators. My little secret: my nominations include books that I hope to read, but won’t get around to unless my group reads them.

I thought I’d share with you a few books that have already been read by Pageturners book groups, but are likely to make another appearance on a group’s list sometime soon, like In Cold Blood. Many people first come to a group for a book they like, but keep returning for the books they might not otherwise read. Perhaps you’ll catch the bug and attend a Pageturners book group near you...there’s nothing like that aha moment when a book’s deeper intentions are revealed through lively and thoughtful discussion.

The Sisters Brothers  by local author Patrick deWitt captures the craziness of the gold rush era along with a complex relationship between brothers who navigate an odyssey through that 1850s underworld. Who knows, perhaps some enterprising facilitator will persuade the author to join their discussion.

You might think this collection is for children, but a revisit to The Jungle Books in adulthood will introduce you to the stellar writing of Kipling, and your more sophisticated awareness will pick up on the global politics of an Imperial era. Nancy, the facilitator of the St. John's Pageturners, shared all kinds of show and tell...maps, pictures of animals, plants, the author, and more.

This year, seven Pageturners groups readThe Warmth of Other Suns  by Isabel Wilkerson. It will certainly be a choice in the next year as well. It is about the “Great Migration” - the large movement of blacks from the South to the North and West from the time of WWI to the seventies. The story follows the lives of three people, making it very readable, while it bursts with rarely encountered historical facts.
Patricia, administrator of North Portland Library and Pageturners facilitator, said, “Though my family participated in the "migration,"the book still put things in perspective and explained a lot, like why my highly educated, architect uncle decided to move from Baltimore to California. The book just helped make sense of so much.”

I must have a thing for books that have books within them, as two of my most favorite novels have such. Let me amend that...the books within happen to be parables...perhaps that is the icing on the cake for me.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler could also fall under my favorite book variety of 'Tough
Girls You'll Love'. Lauren Olamina lives in a not-too-distant future where violence rules, people must guard their walled enclaves, and harvest their own foods, eating things like acorn flour bread. Lauren also has a dream, a purpose for humanity, which she chronicles in her parable, Earthseed: Books of the Living. It is our destiny, she tells us, to seed the stars. As she feeds us this vision, this foundation for a new faith, I found myself wishing for her new religion to become reality. She's rather insightful for her young age. Perhaps this has something to do with her hyper-empathy, through which she feels acutely the pain of others. Read or listen to it...both versions are great.

I loved Lovers and Beloveds by Meilin Miranda so much I went to the library's Suggest a Purchase page and asked the library to get some copies, and the collections mavens did so. (Yay! ...and let me say, this is something any of you can do.)

A young prince comes of age after a sheltered childhood. He must find his own way, irrespective of the pressures of his father the King, his mother the Queen, or even his notions of duty. His new training comes from his immortal Teacher, who activates a magic book called An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom, stories of the queens and kings of his country's past. Through this book, Prince Temmin experiences everything the characters do, and he must consider theirs and his mistakes, as well as feel the very erotic elements contained therein. Meanwhile, he is seriously considering becoming a follower of the gods of love and desire called the Lovers, and his father the King will do almost anything short of heresy to stop him.

This book contains explicit sex scenes, but they are not gratuitous; they are essential to the story, and far from boilerplate. Without the scenes, this novel would be among the best of the fantasy books I've read, but with them, it becomes a rather unique, outstanding book. It makes you think about how sweet and natural sex is in this world MeiLyn Miranda has created, and how difficult it can be to find that unstained attitude in the real world. MeiLyn's wisdom of experience regarding the human psyche shines through every chapter.

While my reading taste is pretty eclectic, until recently I hadn't read very much historical fiction.  Perhaps it is thanks to those engaging YA historical novels I've listened to in the past few years that I'm dipping into this genre a little more.

It also helps if I find an author I like who bounces around genres.  A couple of years ago my book group read The Sparrow.  At the time, I said it was hard to believe this was Mary Doria Russell's first novel, and that the book was like Ursula LeGuin, only deeper.  I know, hard to believe, deeper than Ursula?  In this SF masterpiece, Jesuits make First Contact, because, well, Catholics go on missions.  And you know how missionaries can get into trouble due to deep cultural misunderstandings?  The sole survivor who returns to Earth must reveal his story that includes a brothel and a dead child, as well as recover from unimaginable trauma.

Since I loved this author's style, I'll happily read her other books. In Doc, Russell daringly covers a subject that has entered our cultural consciousness through many movies: Dr. John Henry Holliday, dentist.  IMDB tells me there are 43 instances of the character Doc Holliday in movies and television since 1937. Along with Doc Holliday, in this book we get close to the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Morgan, and James, during their short time in Dodge City, before the famous OK Corral incident.

Despite all those occasions to encounter Doc as a character, I was surprised to learn there was a lot I did not know. John Holliday was born with a cleft palate, treated with surgery. He was a southern gentleman, and a search for relief from consumption drove him west. The tale is told as if from the view of a compassionate historian. The man was an alcoholic, but it was alcohol rather than laudanum that helped him relieve his consumptive cough without losing his sharp mental faculties he needed as a gambler. Faro was his game, not poker, usually.  We're given the myth that was spread in the papers, like say how Doc shot and killed a man, and the often innocuous story (in which no one was shot) that spawned the myth. The author clearly is fond of Doc, and now I too have a soft spot for the man.

OK so I've finally read The Hunger Games (previously reviewed by Jen). I avoided it because I wasn't in the mood for a dystopian novel, and it sounded like reality TV (which I hate) gone amuck. They didn't tell me I would fall in love with Katniss! She's a tough girl who has kept her family alive since the age of twelve, is coming of age with a pure lack of self-involvement, and is unaware of her effect on others. At its core this book is about loyalty, courage, honor, love. That book I would have read long ago.

It makes me think of other tough girls who I have loved.

Terrier by Tamora Pierce

You could pick up any series by Tamora Pierce and you'd find a tough girl that worms her way into your heart. The first one I picked up was Terrier, about Beka Cooper. She's a rookie cop...in Pierce's parlance, a dog, or I should say a puppy, in the Provost's Guard. She chose the tough beat where she grew up, but despite her beginnings, she has some advantages, including consultations with ghosts, dust spinners that spit out hidden conversations, and a very special cat. I'm currently listening to the third, Mastiff, and still loving her no-nonsense voice, strong with loyalty, duty, and astute investigation.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Plain Kate has a few things working against her.  She lost her father and must support herself with her woodcarving skills. She lives in a world where magic is sinister, and the townspeople accuse her of being the witch who caused their bad luck. Then she makes a deal with a real witch, and she escapes the town accompanied by, wait for this, her very special cat. (Come to think of it, there's a special cat in Hunger Games too...hmmmm.)

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Katsa may be the most feared assassin in all the seven kingdoms.  Born with the Grace to kill, she is the property of the king.  She doesn't like being the thug that her Grace makes her, and she's behind the secret Council that would change the way things work.  Then she meets Po, from another kingdom where people with these special abilities are free to make their own choices.

Oh, and all of these books...quite well written...with complexity, flowing prose, and no extra or missing plot points.

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