Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Unchanged by Jessica Brody

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:"

Unchanged is the final book in the Unremembered trilogy. At the end of Unforgotten, Sera is desperate to locate Dr. Maxxer and the antidote for the transessor gene which kills normal humans like Zen, the boy she's fallen in love with. Zen is at the home of Cody Carlson, now a scientist, and is dying as a result of the transessor gene. Sera and Kaelen manage to find Maxxer who has hidden in a submarine deep in the ocean. Maxxer explains to Sera the evil history behind the transessor gene and how she and Kaelen were designed to be promotional material "for a series of genetic modifications that were to be sold over the counter at virtually any store in the world."  But unlike the white fever vaccine, this product will have nanotechnology that will give Diotech the ability to control the entire human race. This is the reason Dr. Alixter is so determined to find Sera..

Maxxer asks Sera to help her bring down Diotech but Sera feels she's been manipulated and refuses.  Sera transesses to Kaelen and tells him what she has learned. Puzzled as to why Maxxer is still alive, since she obviously has the gene, they return to Maxxer and learn from her memories that there were three vials of antidote, one of which Dr. Maxxer used on herself, to neutralize the transessor gene but trapping herself forever in 2032. Kaelen tells Sera that he knows Dr. Rio is still alive in a guarded room at the compound's medical facility. Sera wants Kaelen to take her to the facility to try to access Rio's mind so they can locate the other two gene Repressor doses. They cut out their tracking devices giving them approximately one hour to search before they can be tracked again. They transess to the medical facility and after accessing Rio's memories Sera determines where the two doses are hidden. She finds the two doses hidden in a book, The Giving Tree in Rio's bookcase. However, the sickly Dr. Jan Alixter is waiting for them and he tells Sera that Kaelen has accomplished his mission of bringing Sera back to him along with the antidotes. Kaelen reverts back to being under the control of Alixter and gives him the vials sending Sera. Alixter reveals to Sera that Zen is Dr. Maxxer's son and that he created Kaelen to be her Adam, her "scientifically perfected match" - her soul mate. Sera is horrified and so is Kaelen, just enough that Sera manages to retrieve the vials and destroys the locket meaning she will never be able to transess again. In exchange she asks that Kaelen be allowed to transess to Zen in 2032 and administer the second dose to save his life. Alixter refuses but unknown to him Kaelen tricks the doctor by creating a distraction and transessing to Cody and Zen and giving the antidote to Zen. Kaelen shows Sera through their special connection that in fact in a few seconds he was able to transess to Zen and save him. Knowing Zen is cured and safe, Sera allows herself to be taken prisoner again by Dr. Alixter.

Unchanged picks up this story where Sera is once again a prisoner of Dr. Alixter at the Diotech Compound in the Las Vegas desert. Alixter orders that Sera be given a new treatment where she keeps her memories but these memories, when triggered cause her to feel tremendous guilt. A year later finds Sera convinced that Diotech is were she belongs and that her past with Lyzender was filled with lies. "I am strong now. A fully functioning member of the Objective. A soldier....That stupid girl is gone. I am the better version."

Out on a walk through the Diotech compound one day, she visits the cottage where she lived with Dr. Havin Rio, her creator and lead scientist of the Genesis Project. Dr. Rio brought her to life from an artificial womb on June 27, 2114 and she considered him her father. Sera's memories in the ramshackle cottage, now abandoned, overwhelm her."I can smell the scent of my own betrayal. My weakness is steeped in these walls. It makes me gag, but I force myself to breathe it in, allow it to settle in my lungs. The shame trickles through my body like a cold insect." Sera believes that focusing on her guilt will make her stay strong and remain loyal to the Objective.

The Diotech compound is divided into sectors, Residential, Agricultural, Medical. Director Raze is head of security, tasked with preventing breaches of security and guarding Diotech's secrets. If he fails, the Memory Coders led by Sevan Sidler specialize in removing memories of people who have broken either deliberately or otherwise, Diotech's security. Every so often Dr. Alixter (A) requests a random memory scan on Sera. Kaelen and Sera live in the Owner's Estate with Dr. A and his staff.

Kaelen, Sera's "Print Mate" also lives in the Diotech compound. Genetically engineered to be her match, Kaelen who was born December 19, 2115, is stronger and faster than Sera. While Sera and Kaelen are cavorting around the compound, they meet Rio who Dr. A has completely destroyed. Considered a traitor by Dr. A,  Dr. Rio's brain destroyed and replaced with "an artificial brain cobbled together with nanoprocessors and synthetic material." Dr. A has told Sera that they "have to punish our enemies...Otherwise, how will we stop more people from betraying us?" Rio had set Sera free and gave her the transession gene that allowed her to time travel and escape Diotech.

From inside the Diotech compound Sera learns of the opposition by Pastor Peder to Diotech's research. This makes Sera nervous because tomorrow she and Kaelen will be leaving on a publicity tour to market Diotech's genetic enhancements. At dinner that night, Dane who is head of publicity, shows Sera, Kaelen and Dr. A the final edit of the new Feed ad which hypes the ExGen Collection. Sera and Kaelen are ExGens, genetically perfect human beings but people will not be able to become like them. Instead they "will only be able to purchase a handful of self-administered genetic modifications that will each enhance one specific attribute. Like eye color, skin tone, muscle capacity, hair sheen, brain function, body shape." The ad will run after the Unveiling, which is when Sera and Kaelen will be presented to the public. Their role is to "show the world how Diotech products can improve their lives."  The Unveiling will take place on May 8, 2117 on world famous Feed journalist, Mosima Chan's show.After that will follow a twenty-eight city tour, the thought of which makes Sera terrified.

Later on when Sera and Kaelen are out on the grounds of the compound they witness a young woman who willing walks into a fire and is burned alive. Afterwards, this memory is erased from Sera by Sevan Sidler leaving her aware that she has had something significant erased and wondering  if Kaelen had his memories erased as well. The next morning before they leave for the Unveiling, Sera feels compelled to return to Rio's cottage and to the bench where she and Zen once buried items to show that Sera still remembered him. After digging a foot into the dirt she finds a cube drive, like the one Lyzender stored Sera's stolen memories on when they escaped. As she races back to the Residential sector, Sera encounters the drooling, mindless Rio who calls her Sariana and warns her to leave. Sera has no idea who Sariana is nor what is on the cube drive, which she hides in her shoe.

Sera can't risk finding out what is on the cube drive because everything she streams to the Lenses in her eyes is monitored. As she leaves her room to embark on the tour, Sera notices the plaque in the hallway that lists the history of the Genesis Project- all the failures before her creation Sequence: E/Recombination: A - June 27, 2114 or SERA for short. Before they board the capsule that will take them via the hyperloop to Los Angeles, both Sera and Kaelen are injected with a genetic disguise so no one will recognize them prior to the Unveiling. When Sera arrives at the Los Angeles hyperloop station she sees Kaelen has become insanely enraged by the paparazzi and has viciously attacked numerous people, seriously injuring them. Sera manages to calm Kaelen down but is shocked by his murderous rage.  Later on during dinner Sera learns that Kaelen killed two paparazzi and that the four who survived had their memories wiped.  She also learns that Alixter is very concerned  about someone named Jenza Paddok who is no longer able to be tracked by Diotech. Since their network is not up yet at the hotel, this provides Sera with the chance to access the cube drive. It contains a message from Zen seven months after she left him, Sept 23, 2032. Zen knows that she has been taken again by Diotech because she has not returned to his time. He encourages her to remember him and to stay strong and tells her that he will find a way back to her.

Unable to sleep, Sera overhears a conversation between Alixter an unknown person whom he tells "the girl just took a little bit longer than expected to adjust to the Memory Reassociation procedure..." and that Rylan Maxxer is no longer a problem. Sera doesn't know what Alixter is referring to but these statements remain in her memory.

The interview with Mosima Chan goes according to plan; Dr. A is amazingly charming and composed. Sera notes that his hatred of religion seems to have disappeared as he tells Chan that Diotech is "trying to work in conjunction with God" and he compares Seran and Kaelen to Eve and Adam. These lies cause Sera to question whether she should lie too. Sera and Kaelen dazzle Mosima with their personalities and beautiful physique. But during questions, Sera is completely unnerved by a question asked by someone with the handle SZ1609.. S + Z = 1609 was Sera and Lyzender's secret code. Could Lyzender really be out there?

That night after the interview, Sera's search for information online turns up some interesting results. First she sees in video footage of Dr.'s Alixter and Rio, a young girl with honey-coloured hair and honey skin. But then in a video of Jenza Paddok taken two years ago, Sera sees Lyzender. She also notices that Paddok has an unusual nanotat with a red crescent moon on the palm of her hand.

As the tour progresses, the protests become larger and angrier. In Atlanta, Sera learns from Dane that Dr. Rio had a young daughter, Sariana who died when she was eight years old after falling out of a tree.  She also has a scan done by Sevan who suddenly appears at their hotel. After the scan Sevan tells her that nothing unusual showed up, leaving Sera puzzled. Even more interesting is the nanotat, which is identical to Paddok's, on Sevan's palm

The next morning in Miami Sera never makes it to the Feed station. Instead a protest that turns violent sees her caught outside the station and kidnapped by the protesters. It is the beginning of a series of events that will change the fate of Sera and Lyzender forever.


Unchanged is a thrilling conclusion to the well written Unremembered trilogy. It is a story about technology and genetic manipulation run amok. Its central theme is technology used not to serve mankind, but to manipulate him. Unchanged demonstrates how new technology, without the proper oversight, can be manipulated by large corporations who own the patents to these new discoveries. A perfect example today is that of Monsanto which uses genetic alteration of seeds to create insect resistant crops, but which has moved to manipulate and litigate farmers into using only their genetically engineered products. Genetically modified crops or GMO's are largely untested and their effect on humans, animals and the environment is mostly unknown. While North America is largely accepting of GMO's, Europe remains resistant to their use.

In Unchanged Sera summarizes what we know: that Dr. Maxxer discovered a way to create time travel through genetic manipulation, what she termed a transession gene, DZ227. Fearing that this technology would be used for evil, she fled into the past. However, in the past she stumbled upon a secret organization, the Providence, that had been in existence for generations and that sought to control people. They invested in Diotech in an attempt to achieve that control, through the Genesis project. This research project saw two genetically altered humans created who were to be used as tools to promote genetic enhancements to the general population. However, what people did not know is that these enhancements piggybacked nanotechnology that could be used by the Providence to control people. From the beginning of the Unveiling when Sera and Kaelen are revealed publicly, Sera quickly recognizes that Diotech is lying to consumers by implying that normal humans (called Normates in the novel) can become ExGens (like Sera and Kaelen). But in fact, they will only be able to enhance one physical attribute, not their entire body. The ad is deliberately misleading but when Sera questions Dane he brushes her off by telling her that advertisers never give people exactly what they want. It is only through the events that follow that Sera comes to realize the truth of what Dr. Maxxer told her, of what Zen has told her and of what Sevan has restored in her memories. Diotech is being controlled by the Providence who intend enact this plan to control the entire human race. To try to stop the Providence, Sera decides she must go public with all the information she has, knowing that once the veil of secrecy is lifted, Diotech will be unable to sell the genetic enhancements.

Although the story in Unchanged is fiction, the technology described may not so far fetched. Scientists are diligently working on developing nanotechnology that could be used to administer drugs to patients via very small nanobots. Gene therapy is actively being researched today for a wide variety of medical conditions.While these discoveries can bring healing to many, they can also be abused.

These are the social implications of genetic modification but as the novel demonstrates there are also consequences for the individuals too. Sera spends most of the three novels knowing that she was created in an artificial womb from genetic material. But she doesn't seem to question where that genetic material came from or the identity of her mother and father. As many adults who are the product of in-vitro fertilization can attest, knowing one's biological heredity is important - it gives us a sense of identity and a link to the past. Eventually Sera, prompted by the dying Rio, learns who she really is. For most readers, Sera's identity will not come as a complete surprise as Brody does offer some hints through the novel.

Another consequence of the genetic manipulation undertaken in this story is the loss of the ability to choose certain things in one's life, like one's life work or who to love. This is especially seen in Kaelen who was engineered by Dr. A to be Sera's "print mate" - her perfect mate. This takes away Kaelen's choice to choose who to love because he is biologically engineered to love Sera and no one else. Whenever he tells Sera how beautiful she is or how he loves her she reminds him that he has to say these things because "It's in your DNA." This also affects Sera, who feels overwhelmingly drawn to Kaelen, at times against her will.

A dominant theme throughout the novel is the conflict that rages within Sera. This conflict is due to the procedure done on her to associate certain memories with specific emotions. Every time Sera recalls a memory of Lyzender she experiences "stabbing guilt, the despairing anguish, the fervent desire to crush my head between my hands until it bursts." She often refers to these emotions as "the sickness".  After she has been kidnapped, Sevan tries to explain to Sera what was done to her and that these feelings are the result of the Memory Reassociation procedure. "The idea behind it is that your brain can be programmed to associate a certain memory with any emotion we choose. It twists your recollection of events...We associate the desired emotion, your brain distorts the memory to make it fit. Do you want someone to feel guilty about a love that changed her life forever?...Done." But Sera refuses to believe Sevan. Sevan explains that in order for Alixter to make Sera feel loyal to Diotech he had to make her feel betrayal whenever she thought about what happened with Lyzender. To prove he's telling her the truth he triggers her memory of the woman walking into the fire.

All of this leads Sera to struggle with remaining loyal to Alixter and Diotech or believing what Sevan and Lyzender, Nico and Jenza Paddok tell her. She tells herself, "I can't believe everything. I have to choose. And I choose the Objective." It is a choice that will have devastating repercussions for Jenza Paddok and for Sera.

The novel does leave some questions unanswered: we never learn who the Providence is other than them being a secret society, we never know why Kaelen is subject to uncontrollable rages. But we do learn what happened to many characters from the second book including Dr. Rylan Maxxer, Cody Carlson, his son Reese and his grandson Nico, Dr. Havin Rio, and Lyzender.

Overall, Unchanged is a very good science fiction novel which fans of this genre will truly enjoy. Unchanged will challenge readers to think about genetic manipulation, nanotechnology and the implications of these technologies for society and individuals. Readers will be surprised at the unexpected twist at the end of the novel, which gives them what they want - sort of.
The Unremembered trilogy is remarkably well done and highly recommended.

Book Details:
Unchanged by Jessica Brody
New York: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers    2015
417 pp.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

The Last Time We Say Goodbye is novel about a young woman who must deal with the aftermath of both her parent's divorce and the suicide of her brother. The story is narrated by eighteen year old Alexis (Lex) Riggs who lives with her mother in Raymond, Nebraska. Her family has collapsed with the divorce of her parents after her father moved out four years ago and the recent suicide of her younger brother Tyler. Lex's narrative alternates between the present and diary entries. Although the journal entries parallel some of the events in the present they also fill in the details of how Ty came to commit suicide.

Lex begins the diary entries on February 5 at the request of her therapist Dave. It has been 7 weeks since the death of  Ty and Dave wants her to write about when he was happy rather than how his life ended. Lex's journal entries cover a wide range of events, filling in the missing details and providing the backstory.  The journal entries reveal that Tyler tried to kill himself two years earlier by taking an overdose of Advil, the day after their parent's divorce was finalized. When their dad finally shows up at the hospital, Ty begs his father to come home. Significantly, their father did not respond at all to Ty's request. After the suicide attempt Ty saw a therapist and went on antidepressants and his life seemed to turn around. In the two years after Ty's suicide attempt, their father remarried and their mom became a licensed nurse. Ty joined the basketball team and became popular in high school, while Lex achieved a high SAT score and began to consider applying to Ivy League colleges including MIT.

Other entries detail Lex's relationship with a fellow classmate, Steven, a boy much like Lex, who loves physics. Steven convinces her to date him as an experiment to see if there is chemistry between them. At the same time, Ty begins dating a cheerleader, Ashley, taking her to prom. However, Ty and Ashley's relationship ends in early December and Ty begins acting out, punching one of his friends in the face, breaking his jaw.  Journal entries also talk about when Tyler was born, what happened when their dad left their family "on a Tuesday morning in July", Ty's preoccupation with dying which began with the death of a girl from their church, Lex's break up with Steven and the details of Ty's last day. Lex's last entry is March 31 which she writes about December 20 from her perspective. For Lex and Steven it was their six month anniversary but it was also the day Ty killed himself.

In the present, Lex's mother is not coping well post divorce. She tells Lex that she senses Ty's presence in the house because she can smell his cologne. Later that night Lex also smells Ty's cologne and thinks she sees him standing by his bedroom door. Shocked Lex throws her phone at the image which vanishes. Lex is left with a cracked phone that thankfully still retains his last ever text to her. When she goes to see her therapist Dave, Lex decides not to tell him about the vision because she fears he will offer her medication, but she does tell him that she's stopped being involved with her friends. She suspects her friend Jill Beaker just wants her to cry on her shoulder so she can feel good about being her best friend who helped her. She's broken up with her boyfriend Steven, and her other friend Eleanor (El) is studiously avoiding  her. Dave considers this to be a very sad situation and encourages her to reach out to her friends who are trying to help her.

One night after returning home from dinner with her father, Lex again sees a vision of Ty, this time in the mirror, standing behind her. Terrified she runs out of the house but later on returns and discovers a letter addressed to Ashley in Ty's room. Lex is fairly certain that the "Ashley" Ty took to prom is a cheerleader known as Ashley Davenport. When she scouts out Ashley, she is certain she is not the right girl because she has copper red hair. At this time Lex runs into an old friend of Ty's, Damian Whittaker who used to be part of a trio that also consisted of Ty and Patrick Murphy.Ty, Damian and Patrick were very close friends but gradually drifted apart in high school.

Lex makes the first of several discoveries about some photographs in their home; a picture of Ty and his father (pre-Megan) is missing from its frame in the hallway. Her mother also tells her that her father's graduation picture is missing from its frame in the stairwell. Between the visions of Ty and the missing pictures, Lex wonders if Ty's spirit is still around and wants something. Inexplicably, her best friend from elementary school whom she hasn't been with in years, Sadie McIntyre, appears on her doorstep, inviting her out for a frozen juice. It's February and although it's freezing out, Lex agrees. Sadie's reason for reconnecting with Lex is that she saw her running from home and she now questions Lex as to what happened. Lex decides to confide in Sadie about seeing Tyler and it turns out Sadie has an interest in mediums and spirits. She also tells Sadie about the letter to Ashley and Sadie is able to confirm through social media that it is in fact Ashley Davenport.

At an appointment with her therapist, Lex attempts to get out of the journaling but Dave suggests that she choose a recipient for the journal- someone she is writing to, not someone she would actually give the journal to. After another appointment when her trusty little car nicknamed the Lemon won't start, Lex refuses to call her dad and instead calls Steven whom she broke up with months earlier. In response to Steven's question as to why she didn't call her dad, Lex tells him, "If my dad hadn't left us, Ty would still be alive." When Steven tries to help Lex, she pushes him away, refusing to consider Steven's offer to talk.

Life continues on for Lex and those around her; a fact brought home by her acceptance to MIT on March 3. However, Lex feels ambivalent and so she doesn't tell her parents, her therapist or her friends. She finally tells her mother when she comes home and discovers her mother an emotional wreck after a friend tried to get her to pack up Ty's room. But the joy of Lex's acceptance is destroyed by her mother's belief that her own life is over. As they are putting Ty's room back together, Lex and her mother look over the collage that Ty put together in the days before he died. Missing from the collage is a picture of Ty and his father, which her mother feels should have been in the collage but deliberately was not. Lex's mother tells her that her father was devastated when he saw there was no picture of himself in the collage. Lex notices that there is a picture of Ashley and Ty, suggesting that Ty wasn't mad at Ashley. Although she almost shreds the letter, Lex does end up giving Ashley Tyler's letter when she realizes that Ashley is basically a good person and that Ty broke up with her.

Lex's high school is rocked by another suicide, that of Patrick Murphy, a close friend of Ty's, who jumped in front of a train. Lex and her mother attend the funeral which brings back memories of Ty's funeral. At the wake, Lex notices the two collages similar to Ty's collage and when Stairway to Heaven is played, she realizes that like Ty, Patrick planned his suicide down to the simplest details. When Lex returns home she slips out to the backyard fort she and Ty shared as kids and finds the missing picture of her brother with their dad that was meant for the collage. She feels that despite the anger Ty felt towards their dad leaving, he would now want her to place the picture in the frame and tell their dad. But Lex has no intention of doing this because she cannot forgive her father for leaving and believes he is responsible for Ty's death. Instead she begins to focus on saving Damian Whittaker, the last remaining friend of Ty's group, whom she is convinced will try to commit suicide. Can Lex save Damian and learn to forgive herself and her father for all that has happened?

The Last Time We Say Goodbye is rich in themes of forgiveness, acceptance and guilt. It also presents, quite vividly, the effects of divorce on teenage children.

Lex's family has been struggling to come to terms with the breakup of their family.  When their father left, Lex was 15 and Ty was 13. The night he left, Ty and Lex go to the baseball field and smash all their father's bottles of cologne with a baseball bat. They vow never to forgive their father for what he has done. The day after the divorce is finalized Ty attempts to kill himself by overdosing and when his father finally shows up at the hospital, he begs his dad to come home. Their mother has also not done well, although she has managed to become a nurse. She self-medicates with alcohol and prescription drugs. Lex believes this inability to deal with the marriage breakup might have hurt Ty. "...But I wish that Mom was stronger. That she didn't cry. That she hadn't been so devastated when Dad left. That she'd done that woman-scorned thing and piled up his stuff in the yard and burned it all. Maybe, I think, if she hadn't been so weak, then Ty could have let go of the rage he felt whenever he saw her hurting like that. He could have moved on. And then maybe he would never have made that first attempt with the Advil. And maybe it would have occurred to him to fight back when life got tough."

As time passes and Lex continues her journal,  she comes to  realize in hindsight that Ty was seriously at risk for suicide; he had already attempted suicide once, he came from a broken home, he was male and he had recently suffered a breakup - all factors that contribute significantly to suicide.

The journal helps Lex begin to piece together how she feels and to understand what happened to her, to Ty and to her family. She is able to face her guilt and forgive herself - a big step towards healing.

In her narrative, Lex hints at the tremendous guilt that is eating away at her. In her journal she writes that when Ty was in hospital after his first suicide attempt, Lex visited him and made him promise that "if you ever feel like that again, like you want to --....But if you do, you have to tell me. Call me, text me, wake me up at three a.m., I don't care. I want to know about it. I'm here for you."  But she now feels that "In the end, I shouldn't have concerned myself with whether he'd keep his promise. I should have thought about whether I'd keep mine." Lex didn't keep her promise because that night when Ty called her she was making out with Steven and although she saw the text she ignored it. Later on at Patrick's funeral, the guilt over what happened resurfaces with the memories of Ty's funeral. She declined to speak at her brother's funeral. "I didn't speak, either, either. Mom asked me to, but I was afraid that if I got up in front of everybody I would tell them about the promise I had made to Ty, that I would be there for him when he needed me, when he called. The promise I had broken.
Then it would have been me on trial."

By the time she writes her final entry in the journal months later, Lex has come to realize some truths about what happened to Ty; that only Ty could save himself- he had to make the choice to live. She tells Damian when she intervenes in what she thinks might be another suicide attempt that she knows Ty wasn't calling her for help, but to say goodbye.  Her misplaced guilt results in her breaking up with Steven after Ty's death even though she loves him dearly.Lex feels Steven deserves the truth and she hopes he will forgive her.

Lex is also the one who moves both her parents forward. First she tells her mother, after their trip to Graceland that her life is not over and that she can be happy again. Secondly she decides to give her father the picture Ty never placed in the collage of himself and his dad. This takes a great deal of courage because Lex has to go to her father and Megan's home, something she promised herself she would never do. These are some of their unwritten rules.  "I don't call Dad at home. If I did that, it'd be like me saying it's okay, what he did. Like I'm accepting his new life, the one he built without us." She also lies to her father telling him that the picture was not deliberately omitted from the collage by Ty but possibly fell out and that Ty had forgiven his father for leaving. Her therapist tells Lex that this is a very positive sign for her, that she is moving towards acceptance of the divorce and her father's remarriage - both of which are realities to be faced.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye brings into focus two issues many young people today must face - that of suicide and divorce. Through her characters, Hand recognizes how difficult it is for teens to cope with these situations, acknowledging the pain and suffering young people encounter when a family breaks up but also recognizing that healing, forgiveness and acceptance are possible and necessary if life is to go on.  She also integrates some information regarding risk for suicide into the novel and also refers to the stigma attached to suicide when Lex notes that all of Ty's belongings were quickly brought to his house, that his name was stricken from the roster and that his school records were "expunged", "as if they could erase his existence altogether."

The Last Time We Say Goodbye is well written and deeply moving. Young readers will identify with Lex's realistic voice and her struggle to come to terms with her guilt as a suicide survivor and the anger she feels towards her parents. The author writes that she lost her younger brother to suicide in 1999 but that the novel is not autobiographical. Nevertheless, Cynthia Hand's personal experience with suicide has allowed her to write a novel that will touch many readers exactly in they way they need, whether it be to help understand, or to help heal.

Book Details:
The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand
New York: HarperTeen    2015
386 pp.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Escaping Into The Night by D.Dina Friedman

Escaping Into The Night is a compelling story about the flight of Jewish residents of Nowogrodek, Poland into the nearby forest, in an attempt to flee from the murderous Nazis. The city which was part of Poland, was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939. In June of 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and occupied Nowogrodek. Almost half of the city's population were Jewish. As in other Polish cities, the Jew population living in Nowogrodek was forced into a ghetto and then subjected to repeated "actions". By the end of the war only five hundred and fifty Jews remained out of a population of ten thousand. Many Jews in the ghetto managed to flee into the nearby forest where they remained hidden until the end of the war. Friedman has written a fictional account of what that escape and living in the forest under such difficult circumstances might have been like. She was inspired to write this story after reading about Tuvia Bielski, who according Friedman's website "organized a network of encampments in the forests of western Belorussia that offered protection to over 1200 Jewish men, women and children who were able to escape from the ghettos.

Thirteen year old Halina Rudowski lives in the Nowogrodek ghetto with her Mama. Halina's family lived in Berlin, Germany before the war. Her family was sent to Poland by the Germans (who deported all Jews). They went to her mother's village but then  were made to move to Nowogrodek. Her mother's boyfriend, Georg Goldmann, has told them that the Nazi's are about to have another "selection" and he pleads with them to flee to the forest. But Halina's mama believes that as a member of the Jewish police in the ghetto, Georg can protect them. Halina doubts this because Georg was not able to save her friend Batya Rojak's brother, Yosl, who was taken away.

While her mother and the Rojaks work at the munitions factory, Halina works as a cleaner at the commander's home. The commander's wife is kind to Halina, often feeding her extra food. One night after returning home from work, Georg meets Halina at her apartment and tells her that her mother along with everyone else at the munitions factory has been taken and that the Germans are planning to "liquidate" the ghetto in three days. Georg tells Halina that the escape route is ready but they need to bribe the right people. Later on Batya comes to Halina's apartment and tells her that all the men including her father and brothers were rounded up and sent on trains while the women were shot next to a deep pit.Batya tells Halina she must be ready to escape the ghetto that night.

With the help of Batya, Halina puts on extra clothes as well as her mother's heavy black coat.Halina and Batya are led by Georg to the synagogue basement where a tunnel connecting to the sewer line has been dug. Georg does not accompany them as he has to try to help as many people escape the ghetto as possible. Halina and Batya are accompanied by three brothers, Abel, Max and Reuven Weissman who is Halina's age.  The tunnel, which is dark and smells of sewage and vomit, leads them out of town to a dirt road. The group walks all night and then hides in a grove of fir trees during the first day. When they arrive the next night at the farm that was supposed to take them in, they find it has been burned to the ground.

The next day Abel, Max and Batya decide to go into town to see what food they can find, leaving Halina and Reuven at the Orvatski farm. However, Batya and the older brothers never return and several days later Halina's group are found by partisans who are hiding in the nearby woods. Reuven wants to stay and wait for his brothers to return but the partisans tell him if the brothers are in the village they will find them. The group is taken by Grolsky and another man, along with an older couple, the Fiozman's to the partisan camp in the forest.

In the camp, which is run by Mr. Moskin, life is rustic; people sleep in a ziemlanka, a sort of dugout hidden by branches. Batya is eventually recovered by the partisans and tells Reuven his brothers were murdered by the German soldiers in the town.  Reuven begs Moskin to find his brothers but they tell him that the town was taken days earlier by the Nazis. For Halina, the camp offers her a chance to find peace and to rest after the traumatic events of the past months. Despite being haunted by Batya's revelation of her mother's murder, she willingly begins helping out in any way she can. Trapped between the Russian army to the east and the Nazi's who have overrun villages in the west, Halina, Reuven and the partisan's struggle to survive culminates in a battle that leaves them questioning the meaning of family and faith.


Escaping Into The Night is a well written novel about a little known aspect of the Second World War in eastern Europe - the escape of thousands of Jews who managed to hide from the Nazis in forests for the duration of the war.  Friedman realistically portrays the horrors of war without being too graphic for the younger readers the book is geared to. Batya's rape and torture is only hinted at and her description of what happened to Halina's mother is brief and simple. Nevertheless, Halina's narrative manages to portray the hardship of the partisans, the sense of loss and the fear of discovery that many of the Jewish survivors had to cope with.

Both Halina and Batya are strong female characters who show remarkable resilience and courage - characteristics common among Holocaust survivors. Thirteen year old Halina looks up to the older Batya who sets an example of courage and determination by volunteering to be part of a scouting party to search for food for the partisans. Batya did this even after witnessing Reuven's two older brothers, Max and Abel, murdered by the Germans and barely escaping herself. When Batya's request is dismissed, Batya argues, "I'm fifteen. According to religious law, if I were a man, I'd have full adult privileges...It's better for us young people to go. We're strong and healthy, and most of us are orphans..." Batya argues that she has been lucky, having escaped the Germans twice.

Escaping Into the Night is also a coming of age story. Halina meets the much older Eli Koussivitsky in the partisan camp. Eli plays the Russian Waltz, a song Halina had been singing, on his violin. His direct manner and his beautiful playing capture her heart, leading Halina to quickly become infatuated with him. "No one had ever looked at me so long and so hard."  Halina's first kiss is shared with Eli, whom she lies to about her age.  But Halina is stunned when she, Reuven and the severely injured Batya encounter Eli in the forest with his girlfriend. Despite the desperate circumstances, Halina is still upset and feels betrayed. However, Eli later explains to Halina that he didn't mean to mislead her, that her beautiful singing made him behave inappropriately and he begs her forgiveness. Eli wants this forgiveness because he is going on a dangerous mission which may cost him his life. As Halina struggles to come to terms with the fact that Eli's feelings are not those of romantic love, he gives her the gift of his violin, telling her to use her gift of singing and to one day learn to play the violin. Later on when Eli does not return from his mission, Georg explains to Halina his bravery and that it is dangerous time to love, that the German's manipulated anyone they knew had attachments to others. All of this helps Halina mature and understand the sacrifice Eli and others are making in the fight against the Nazis.

A strong theme throughout the novel is that of the role of faith in difficult times. Batya and Reuven represent opposite sides of the theme of faith; Batya, despite the loss of her family continues to practice her faith diligently while Reuven believes they have been abandoned by God.  Reuven asks Halina,
" 'Do you believe in God?' Reuven asked.
'I don't know. I'd like to, but I don't know.'

'I don't,' Reuven said. 'If there were a God, He would never have let this happen to us.' "
Halina notes that "Batya had lost her entire family, yet when we reached the barn, she had whispered her morning prayers under her breath. Was this just a habit, or did she still believe?'

When Reuven, Halina and Batya are rescued and taken to the partisan's camp, the commander of the camp, Moskin tells Reuven that there is only so much they can do.
"The commander gazed at Reuven thoughtfully. 'I pray that God delivers your brothers safely, and your friend Batya, too. We'll have to leave it in His hands."
'How can you even talk of praying after all that has happened?" Reuven choked as he spoke, trying to block the sobs. 'How can you trust God to do anything?'

Moskin tells Reuven that he is not a religious man, "But I've learned that there are times to fight, and other times where the only thing we can do is to pray."

When Reuven learns the fate of his brothers he concludes "God is dead." Reuven said. "God is dead and so are my brothers. I spent all day praying to a dead god." But Halina isn't having any of Reuven's self-pity, telling him that everyone has lost someone and that he must focus on the present.

In contrast to Reuven, Batya's life is centered around her Jewish faith. When Reuven asks Batya to tell him what happened to his brothers, she tells him that she recited Kaddish, a Jewish prayer said by mourners and at funerals. It is her way of trying to avoid telling Reuven all the terrible details of their fate. She repeatedly but unintentionally infuriates Reuven by exclaiming Baruch HaShem (Thank God) for their rescue by the partisans. However, after she is assaulted, she tells Halina that she is ruined and that her life doesn't matter anymore. In response to Halina telling her that she cannot expect to live by normal rules, Batya responds, "No. Without rules there would be nothing left. God is giving us a challenge, to see if we can follow the rules even when it's difficult. I failed the challenge." Eventually though, Batya's faith is restored and she prays for Eli and Reuven's safe return from their search for survivors of the attack by the Germans.

The novel also explores the meaning of family. Throughout the novel Halina questions her relationship with Reuven who is a year older. At first he is like a brother but near the end of the novel she begins to wonder if he is more than a brother. When Halina and Reuven are taken to the partisan's camp, they meet a woman Tante Rosa who tells them, "You are our mishpokha now, our family." There are almost a hundred people in the camp, most of them not related to one another. Under the circumstances, the definition of family has changed - it is not necessarily a blood relative anymore. This leads Halina to reconsider what family means and is demonstrated by her actions later on in the novel. After Batya is rescued from the German soldier by Halina and Reuven, as she slips into shock from her injuries, Halina asks Batya to be her sister. When Georg tells Russian medic that Halina is his "takhter" or daughter, Halina bristles at this. She wants to yell that he is not her father but then she questions how this is different from Batya being her sister. "Why shouldn't they be my family?"

Friedman has written a high interest novel, with strong main characters and interesting supporting characters, and the themes of love family and faith. A map of the area the novel is set in would have helped young readers place the events taking place in the novel, which although fictional, are based on real historical events. The dramatic cover will push younger readers to crack the cover.

Book Details:
Escaping Into The Night by D.Dina Friedman
New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers    2006
195 pp.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise by Matthew Crow

One trend in young adult literature is novels about teens with cancer, the most famous recently being, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. But several other recent offers, such as Anthem for Jackson Dawes, are better written and more appealing.

Fifteen year old Francis Wootton is part of a family with a story. He lives with his mother who is a teacher. There was a time when Francis's mom and dad lived together but his dad began to leave, eventually for longer and longer periods of time until he simply never returned. He has an older brother Chris, who is gay and who worked as a graphic designer. Chris lives in a flat with several roommates including Fiona whom Francis adores. Francis's twin sister Emma, died after being run over by a truck when she was very young.

Francis's health problems first began with headaches. Thinking the problem was his eyes, his mother took him to the optician who discounted this possibility. Then came the nose bleeds - great big ones with lots of blood. Francis began feeling unwell and his mother tried to diagnose him herself thinking first he had the flu, then allergies, then depression and then anemia. But when Francis passes out at school, he ends up in hospital with blood and bone-marrow tests and a diagnosis of cancer. For the first time he faces the possibility of death.
"One of the first things we learn is that people die. Then we start to learn why. Old age is the starting point. It's more or less palatable, something everybody can just about stomach; the Soup of the Day to mortality's grand buffet...
Then we learn more. Guns. War. Disease.
The big words. The bad words. The words that never end well."
Francis's feelings about having leukemia are mixed; he worries that people will remember his death by cancer and not his life, he's overwhelmed by the thought of having cancer, but he's also excited "that things were going to change, to become different and focused. And on me, which was a plus."

Francis moves into a specialist unit that treats teens with cancer where he meets the head nurse, Jackie and his carers, Marc and Amy. At first there are three patients in the unit, Francis and another boy named Paul, as well as a girl, Kelly. Francis has trouble relating to either of them, describing Paul as "pasta" and "Everyone thought they loved him because they had never been forced to experience the true blandness of him on his own. Paul was surface all the way to the bone." Kelly is similar to Paul, little substance on the inside, a girl who wears makeup in the unit to whom outward appearances matter most.  Although Francis's brother Chris encourages him to make friends with Paul and Kelly, Francis cannot relate to either and feels alone.

On Francis's fourth day in the unit, Amber Spratt arrives with her oddball, ecofriendly mother  Colette and her younger sister, Olivia. From the beginning Amber is eccentric, like her mother, and very outspoken. In group therapy with Christian their soft-spoken counselor, Amber is openly hostile towards Kelly who accuses Amber of being afraid of dying just like the rest of them. After this confrontation the unit is divided into two groups, Paul and Kelly in one and Amber and Francis in another.

Francis and Amber begin to form a friendship that eventually turns romantic with the two sharing their first kiss and leading Francis to wonder if Amber is now his girlfriend. As treatment progresses, Francis, like the others, has good and bad days. "The whole world would stop mattering to us. All we had to occupy ourselves with was firstly, trying not to throw up, and then perversely, trying with all our might to throw up,..."

When Francis begins loosing his hair, his brother Chris comes to the unit to shave Francis's head. In a show of solidarity with his brother, Chris wants Francis to shave his head too but Francis is unable to, so Amber does the shaving. Later that night Amber and Francis sneak into the bathroom and Francis shaves her head. Despite her being bald, Francis still feels she's beautiful and what is better is that she doesn't care. This helps him cope with this outward sign that he is seriously ill.

While Francis gradually improves, Amber still has many days were she does not feel well. When her flaky mother brings crystals to the hospital to try to help heal her daughter, Francis's mother, Julie, tells Colette that her daughter needs something like having her nails done to make her feel good about herself. After this confrontation, Julie offers to drive Colette to the hospital visits, beginning a sort of friendship between the two very different women.

Eventually Francis is well enough to return home, but not back to school. He is seen by a nurse once a day for treatment at home. Soon his cancer begins to respond to treatment. His first visit to the unit to see Amber finds her still very sick. Subsequent visits find her sometimes better, other times very sick. Throughout this time, Francis tries to be upbeat and positive while her return home to receive some of her treatments continues to be delayed. When Francis is not allowed to visit her one day because he doesn't feel well, he laments that "even breathing hurts when I'm not with her..."

Finally Amber is allowed to go home and Francis manages to convince his mother to let him visit. At Amber's home they listen to music and have sex, but by the following evening Amber is back in the unit. Amber is in and out of the unit for weeks leading up to Christmas.  Because they live so far away from each other and because their "Good Days" don't line up, it's difficult for Francis and Amber to see one another. Eventually before Christmas, Amber is released and her family spend Christmas with Francis and his family. But the joy of the holiday is ruined when Amber reveals to Francis that she is going back into hospital after Christmas. When Francis promises to visit, Amber tells him not to - that she needs to be on her own this time.

Not really understanding what is happening, Francis struggles to understand Amber's distance. He gradually comes to realize that while he is recovering, Amber may not be. When you are fifteen and in love, where does that leave you?


The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise is an irreverent look at teenagers coping with cancer. At it's core is the romantic relationship between romantic nerd Francis Wootton and the realistic, practical Amber Spratt.

As in life outside the hospital, in the cancer unit, Francis finds himself a social outcast.  Then along comes Amber Spratt whom Francis likes  - partly because she makes friends with him immediately. He also likes her because she is able to deal with Kelly and Paul, whom Francis considers to be superficial. Francis states that "In school Kelly would have had the upper hand. No matter how much she spat and snarled, Amber would have been torn limb from limb by Kelly and her crew, like a wildebeest calf faced with a pack of lions. But in the real world she had Kelly over a barrel. Every time she said something stupid, which was always, Amber was there to set her straight. " 

While Francis believes their little group in the cancer unit is analogous to the group of students in detention in the 1985 movie, The Breakfast Club  (Paul is Andy Clarke, the popular athlete, Amber is Allison Reynolds the social outcast and "basket case") Amber thinks she and Francis are like Bud and Fran in the Apartment, a 1960's Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine movie. In the movie, Bud, "a nervous geek falls in love with a loud mouth harlot" named Fran. Amber tells Francis "you won't have an trouble identifying".  Francis, however, tells Amber that she is like the star in John Keats love poem, Bright Star - "she's like a star...not because stars are shiny and stuff, but because they're always there, always looking down and that sort of thing."  But Amber prefers realism over Francis's romanticism. She tells him stars are like looking up at a million different memories" - referring to the science of stars. Amber tells Francis, "It's real, and that's what's important."

Crow continues this romance versus realism in other parts of the novel. Francis and Amber's first kiss is not romantic like in the movies. Instead, Francis states "our teeth clacked together and I could hear it magnified in my head. Teeth never seem to clack in films; it's all smooth running there." 

The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise is more about living than dying. It is not so much about dying from cancer as being about living life to the fullest despite being dealt a bad hand. Hence the reference to the final line in The Apartment. At the end of the movie, Shirley MacLaine's character, Fran, has a famous one line response, "Shut up and deal.", when Bud (Jack Lemmon) professes his love for her.  After all Bud and Fran have been through, they know the truth about each other and yet they still love one another. Life is full of "bad hands" and we must learn to accept and deal with it. This becomes Amber's final message to her romantic friend, Francis.

The tragedy of their relationship is hinted at early on when Amber's release from the unit is repeatedly delayed. Although Amber puts on a brave front when her treatment is not going well, Francis recognizes what she feels. "Those awful days when she'd joke for me but her eyes looked like they belonged to someone else, looked like they knew something the rest of her body wasn't yet willing to acknowledge." When Francis is released from the unit he wonders how he will cope:  "Already I knew that my days would be wasted without her. She was my strongest limb; without her I would be lost."

When Amber tells Francis she's going back into the unit after Christmas, he refuses to accept the reality that she must do this part alone and that he shouldn't text her.  Ever the romantic, he sends her numerous texts, concerned that not doing so would be a sign he doesn't care. But he begins to suspect that something is seriously wrong. When he confronts his mother she tells him the painful truth about Amber. This leads Francis to sneak into the unit to see her, hoping to convince her to live. Shocked at her condition  he tells her  his deepest fear. "The thing is, Amber, I need you to get better because I'm getting better, and the problem is I can't really remember what I ever did before I knew you. Before we were us. I know you must feel scared about being ill, but I'm starting to feel scared about getting better...about having to do anything without you." Sadly, Amber is too ill to help Francis and he leaves realizing that everything that will now follow is a mere formality.

Francis is scared to lose Amber because she's taught him how to live and he's not sure he can do life without her. Earlier in the novel,  Amber stated that in spite of death, life goes on around them. When Kelly insists that Amber is afraid to die, Amber tells Francis later on that she is not. Her father died of a heart attack when she was ten years old. Although she misses her father, she tells Francis about the reality of  death; "I know that it's just one less person at the dinner table, and they don't take the whole world with them; it carries on like it always has, only a bit sadder for a bit..." 

Amber's final message to Francis reveals that she accepts and acknowledges both his romantic view of life as well as her own more realistic approach. The envelope she leaves for him is filled with tiny gold stars - a nod to the poem he loved, Bright Star. Her message "Shut up and deal." - is a request to live life fully in her memory. She hasn't taken the whole world with her and there's more remaining for Francis. He does just that as he states in the chapter titled After. "Everything was how I'd always imagined it would be, but better. I spent my nights talking to interesting strangers about interesting things. I discovered friends who made me a better person. I read books that changed my life and watched films that left me so breathless that I would still be stuck to the seat long after the credits had finished rolling. I saw parts of the country, parts of the world, that at one point I couldn't even spell. I fell in and out of love on an almost daily basis, and said yes to any opportunity that came my way.  I lived."

The witty narrative of the socially inept, nerdy Francis Wootton makes the heavy topic of cancer, with its frightening possibilities, lighter and the novel wonderfully readable with his laugh out loud humour.  Crows characters are real, full bodied and interesting. The cast of supporting characters, Francis's mom, Julie, his grandmother, and Amber's mother, Colette, are all equally well formed.

Expecting The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise to be another The Fault in Our Stars novel would be to not do this book justice. It is different, better written and more subtle. It's "sick lit" and yet it's not- it's a story about living life to the fullest and appreciating every day, no matter our circumstances.

The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise was previously published in the UK under the title In Bloom.

Book Details:
The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise by Matthew Crow
New York: Simon Pulse        2015
295 pp.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

On the surface, Vanishing Girls appears to be a mystery about two missing girls, but is essentially a story about the grief and guilt experienced after a traumatic loss. The story is told by two narrators, Nicole (Nick) and Dara Warren, both before and after a terrible automobile accident. The story begins just before the accident on March 27 but also includes flashbacks to provide some backstory.

Seventeen year old Nick and her sixteen year old sister Dara are at a party on the evening of March 27. Later that night, at 11:55pm, Nick crashes her car and Dara is seriously injured after she flies into the side window of the vehicle. Nick and Dara's parents' marriage broke up months ago, her father living in a condo in ritzy Main Heights while their mother along with Dara live in Somerville. After recovering, Nick lives with her father  until she is caught skinny dipping the night of July 15. Concerned about her well being Nick's father takes her to live at her mother's home in Somerville. Since the break-up of her marriage and the terrible accident, Nick's mother has been struggling, so Nick is not keen to live with her. She's also anxious about reconnecting with Dara, whom she hasn't spoken to since the accident.

Nick wants to return to work at the Palladium during the summer break, but her mother refuses and tells her she has arranged for her to work at the nearby amusement park, Fantasy Land, run by Greg Wilcox, a former math teacher from her mother's old school. Nick goes upstairs to see Dara but she's fled out her bedroom window. Dara has no intention of talking to Nick whom she describes as "Perfect Nicki. The Good Child" Dara was badly injured in the car accident, breaking her kneecaps, pelvis, wrist and tibia. Her head went through the passenger window leaving her with red scars on her forehead, cheek and neck.

On July 20, the media reports the "possible" abduction of nine year old Madeline Snow from a car outside Big Scoop Ice Cream. Madeline disappeared from the back seat of the car after her sister Sarah and her friend Kennedy left her alone.

The same day, Nick starts her new job at Fantasy Land, nicknamed FanLand.  Nick hasn't seen Dara in the two days she's been home.At FanLand Nick is shocked to see that her once best friend, John Parker works there. Parker as she affectionately calls him is a childhood friend that both Nick and Dara hung out with together. Parker was Nick's best friend for years; they did everything together. Then in December of last year things changed  after Dara broke up with her latest boyfriend and she began dating Parker. But Nick hasn't thought about him for months. Nick is assigned to a work crew with Parker who acts as her tour guide for FanLand, showing her the ropes. At the end of their shift, Parker invites Nick to a party at the Drink which is a local nickname for the Saskawatchee River.

Nick writes Dara a note telling her about the party at the Drink. Impulsively Dara decides to go to the party, grabbing Nicks hoodie to hide the facial scars she received from the accident. At the party Dara meets her "former" best friend, Ariana and her ex-boyfriend, Parker who tries to apologize about what happened between them. Dara doesn't want to deal with Parker and feeling like an outsider she decides to leave. But not before the party is raided by cops and Dara leaves behind Nick's hoodie. The next day, July 22, Nick is confronted by a woman cop who insists that she was at the party at the river. Nick doesn't give away Dara but takes the blame and is ordered to do community service by helping to search for missing Madeline Snow. Furious at Dara, Nick leaves her a note telling her she is the one who needs to do the community service.

After seeing Nick's note, Dara helps out in the search for Madeline Snow. During the line search, she meets a woman named Cookie Hendrickson who worked at MLK High when Dara's mom worked there. Her questions to Dara are interrupted by Margie, a reporter who works for the Shoreline Blotter. AFter volunteering Dara receives a text from an unknown number which she deletes. She also meets Sarah Snow, Madeline's older sister. Sarah tells Dara, "I was trying so hard to protect her...It's all my fault...The lying is the hardest part, isn't it?"

On July 23, after dinner with her dad and his girlfriend, Cheryl, Dara's father tells her that he and her mother plan to have a family dinner at Sergei's on Dara's birthday. Dara agrees to this even though she's not happy about the idea.

By July 28, Nick has settled into her job at FanLand. She's now playing the part of a mermaid in the park's pirate singing show. Parker and Nick have mended their relationship, eating lunch together at work and taking breaks together. The evening before the park's anniversary party, Nick and Parker are assigned garbage duty to clean the park. While passing the closed Gateway ride, Nick thinks she hears someone humming and wonders if the ride is truly haunted. Before leaving for the night, Parker and Nick spend some time together at the wave pool when Nick asks Parker if he still loves her sister. Parker admits that he never was truly in love with her but that he misses her.

Later that night Parker shows up drunk at the Warren home and convinces Dara to spend a few minutes talking with him in his car.  He tells Dara that he loves her but when he calls out Nick's name she is furious and leaves.

The next day is July 29th, Dara's seventeenth birthday. Nick arranges a special surprise for her sister, asking her to meet her at the Gateway to Heaven ride at 10pm when FanLand is closing. Dara is not in her room in the morning and later on in the day does not show at a family dinner at a restaurant. Nick believes she saw Dara getting on a bus to FanLand and when she arrives at the restaurant she tells her parents and her Aunt Jackie that Dara is not coming because their family no longer exists due to their father leaving. Nick leaves the restaurant and returns home later on to confront Dara but she's still not home. She returns to FanLand in the hopes of meeting Dara at 10pm but when she doesn't show Nick begins to wonder if Dara is in trouble. "All along, I've been assuming she just blew us off tonight. But what if she didn't? What if something bad happened? ....What if, what if, what if. The drumbeat of the past four years of my life."

Searching through Dara's phone, Nick discovers disturbing pictures of her sister in various compromising situations. The pictures were sent March 26, the day before the accident. Nick begins to suspect that these pictures contain the truth of what happened before the accident, events she cannot remember. "This is it: somehow, in these pictures, the mystery of the accident is contained, and the explanation for Dara's subsequent behavior, for the silences and disappearances." Determined to learn what has happened to Dara, Nick begins following the thread connecting Dara to whoever sent the photos. It is a journey that will finally uncover her sister's darkest secret, lead her to find Madeline Snow and help her to recover her own identity and heal.


**This discussion contains spoilers.**

Vanishing Girls is marketed to readers as a mystery - one that involves the disappearance of two girls. However, this novel is one of several recent young adult novels that deals with dissociative identity in teenagers. Dissociation, which sometimes occurs as a result of severe trauma, is a complex illness that is often misunderstood and often poorly treated. It's a difficult condition to write into a story but Lauren Oliver is up to the task in Vanishing Girls. The story is told by two sisters, Nick and Dara  who have experienced a traumatic event - a car accident. The story, like the main character, is further fragmented by narratives that are labelled Before and After, in reference to this accident. The Before narratives by both girls provide the backstory to their lives; Nick the good older sister and Dara, the wild younger girl who parties and has plenty of boyfriends. We learn from this backstory that a sort of love triangle developed between Nick, Dara and Parker. They all started out as childhood friends, but Dara changed the parameters of the friendship when she began hooking up with Parker. This caused a huge rift between the two sisters as Nick considered Parker to be her best friend. Dara's on again, off again relationship with Parker eventually results in huge problems for everyone. The After narratives deal with the short time period from July 15 until July 29 when Nick returns to her mother's home to live. Further complicating the After narratives is that Nick does not remember what happened before the car accident.

What the reader doesn't know is that Nicole Warren is suffering from deep trauma as a result of the death of her sister Dara in the car accident and she not only hallucinates, but eventually assumes Dara's identity in addition to retaining her own identity. So everything that Dara narrates AFTER the accident is really Nick's narrative as Dara. Oliver provides her readers with many subtle clues; Dara and Nick actually never have a direct conversation with one another and conversations between Nick and other characters such as Parker, her parents and Aunt Jackie, are open ended so that they can be read several ways. For example, when Nick is talking to Parker about the party at the Drink she believes she never went to the party. But Parker saw her there and spoke with her and is angry because she left so quickly. Because the narrator of this event was Dara, the reader assumes that it is Dara they are talking about. Nick however was there, as Dara, but dressed in her own hoodie!

The hints become more obvious as the story moves along but can still be read two ways. For example, in Dara's narrative when Parker shows up at the Warren house drunk, the reader believes he is with Dara. Parker asks "Dara' if he can speak with her for a few minutes. They go to his car and begin making out, when Parker tells her he loves her and then says Nick's name - because of course Parker is actually with Nick, not Dara (who is really dead). But Nick who has taken on Dara's identity acts exactly as Dara would - she is furious and leaves. The reality is that Parker is actually with Nick whom he does love.

Eventually what emerges from the story is a very disordered relationship between Nick who considers herself a caretaker for her rebellious, wild younger sister. always rescuing her. When she can't save Dara, her world crumbles, her identity as the caretaker lost.

The use of Nick as an unreliable narrator helps build suspense throughout the novel. We don't really know what happened the night of the accident due to Nick's repressed memories. And as Nick explores Dara's life she begins to uncover secrets about her sister that connect her to Sarah Snow and ultimately lead her to solve the mystery of Madeline Snow's disappearance.

Oliver does a great job of tying together all the loose ends of the story using emails between Nick's parents and her doctors and medical reports, so that readers fully understand what happened to Nick, what led to the accident, and how Madeline Snow came to disappear.

The book cover is well done - the out of focus cover image hinting at the confusion Nick is experiencing after the trauma of the car accident. In the style of Ransom Riggs, Oliver has placed photographs in her novel that are supposed to relate to parts of the story. The novel could have done without the pictures, which were infrequent enough as to not have added to the story.

Overall, Vanishing Girls is a very good read.

Book Details:
Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver (Laura Schecter)
New York: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers    2015
357 pp.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Resistance by Craig Simpson

Set in Norway in 1943, Resistance tells the story of young Norwegian boy's coming of age during the turmoil of the Nazi occupation of his beloved country.

The novel opens in September 1943, with Marek Olsen and his older brother Olaf on a hunting trip in the Hardanger Plateau, a vast "uninhabitable wasteland freckled with lakes and meandering rivers and streams". Olaf and Marek have grown up in the (fictional) village of Ulfhus on the shores of the Sorfjord where their father is the schoolmaster.

After shooting a reindeer, Marek helps Olaf skin and butcher the deer and they take the meat to their Borsobu - a small hut. On the way they are buzzed by a Luftwaffe plane which fires at them on its second pass. Terrified, Marek pushes Olaf to the ground saving his life as the bullets pass through Olaf's rucksack and into the deer meat.

In their hut, Marek and his brother Olaf eat the reindeer stew, drink potato whisky and smoke an English cigarette. It is Olaf's possession of the forbidden cigarette that makes Marek realize that despite his brother's great intellect, he is a risk-taker. He realizes that Olaf "enjoyed the thrill and revelled in the danger." The two young men talk about their futures; Olaf is planning on studying medicine in Oslo but he worries that the Germans will not allow him to go. Marek likes to fix cars and machinery but his father wants him to study law.

On their way home they meet three men, one of whom is a Norwegian and likely a member of the Norwegian resistance, MILORG. When Marek and Olaf return to Ulfhus, they are shocked to see guards outside the Johanssen's guest house and watch as the Gestapo take their father and Mr. Torstig and the Johanssens away in a truck, their hands bound. Marek and Olaf's mother collapses when she learns of her husband's arrest and Marek is sent to fetch Dr. Haskveld.

Hans Tauber, one of the older Germans stationed in Ulfhus tells Marek not to worry if his father has not done anything "wrong" and that his father has been taken to the police station in Odda. Olaf decides that they must go to Odda to see what can be done about their father. He and his friend Lars decide to steal petrol from Tauber's car while Marek works on repairing the engine of their father's car, nicknamed Josephine.Lars and Olaf steal the gasoline and the three drive to Odda with Marek's mother. At a checkpoint, they encounter a German soldier named Hartwig Lauder who is enamored of their father's French Citroen. Hartwig insists on driving them to Odda and even offers to buy the car from them which Marek refuses. Although Marek wonders about killing the German, he notes that Hartwig seems to be quite a reasonable man. Their trip in Odda is unsuccessful; Marek has an uncomfortable "meeting" with Wolfgang Stretter, a Gestapo while Olaf and his mother learn that father will likely not be released any time soon.

Hans Tauber is sent to the Russian front and a new German is sent to Ulfhus, Lieutenant Klaus Wold, a young soldier intent on making his mark and harassing the women of Ulfhus and surrounding villages. Wold first encounters Agnete Hilting, Olaf's girfriend,  at her seventeenth birthday party and then one night insists she accompany him for a walk. When he sexually assaults Agnete, Olaf tries to intervene but is badly beaten by the German soldiers. Determined to seek revenge and punish Wold, Olaf plans to ambush Wold's car on his weekly trip to Odda. Wold's car is forced off the road but he survives the accident and Olaf shoots him dead. However, an unknown passenger in the car escapes. Dr. Haskveld happens upon the accident and when he is told what happened he advises Olaf and Marek to flee into the wilderness, promising to take care of their mother and get her to safety.

Olaf and Marek ski up to the Hardanger Plateau, intent upon reaching the Johanssen's hut. During their flight into the Hardanger, Olaf reveals to Marek that their father was a messenger for the resistance and that the Johanssens also work with the resistance. They soon become lost in a blizzard and weakened by lack of food and sleep, both Olaf and Marek collapse. They are saved by a man named Jorgen Peterson from Tromso - the same man Marek and Olaf met on the journey home from the Hardanger weeks ago. With Jorgen at the Johanssen's hut, are five other resistance members; Harald Larsson and Leif Brekke who found Marek and Olaf, Ingrid whose husband, a resistance member was shot and two British men, Major Tim Fletcher, an engineer and Sergeant Eddie Turner, a stonemason. Jorgen and the others reluctantly allow the brothers to stay at the hut until they recover and can decide what to do next. With an important, secret mission pending, the resistance wants the brothers to move on because they know the Germans will be looking for them.

Feeling badly about using up the group's food supplies, Marek and Olaf go out on the plateau to hunt reindeer. Their trip is cut short when they are surprised by two German soldiers. Hoping to kill them, Olaf fires his rifle but repeatedly misses and they are only saved when Eddie arrives. Because the Germans managed to contact their base, Jorgen and the others know they must now leave the hut. The group decides to travel to Kinsarvik on their way to Jondal on the coast of the Hardangerfjord. Olaf agrees to guide the group as far as Kinsarvik. Marek and Olaf learn that Jorgen and his group need to get to Jondal to meet up with their men and supplies without taking the Kvanndal ferry across the fjord. They also find out about the "Shetland bus", the nickname for the boat service used by the resistance between Lunna Voe on the Shetland Islands and Bergen, Norway.

When the group reaches Kinsarvik, they split up with Ingrid leaving to visit a friend to find out what the Germans are up to, Leif and Harald reconnoitring the town, and Jorgen, Eddie and Fletcher waiting in the forest. Olaf and Marek now leave the group but have a surprise encounter with Agnete in Kinsarvik. During their talk with Agnete, Marek sights the Gestapo officer, Herr Stretter. They see Ingrid captured by Stretter so Marek runs to tell Jorgen while Olaf attempts to warn Leif and Harald. Jorgen, Fletcher, Eddie and Marek decide to walk through town where they meet up with Olaf who tells them that Leif and Harald have also been arrested. In a strange coincidence, Marek recognizes Hartwig driving a German army truck onto the ferry. Convinced he can get a ride out of Hartwig, Marek approaches him and asks for a lift to Jondal. The ferry takes them across to Utne and Hartwig, not suspecting they are resistance, happily drives Marek, Olaf and their friends to Jondal.

Once in Jondal, the group manages to meet up with the Shetland bus, captained by the crusty Kurt Torvic. Now shorthanded, Jorgen decides to take on Olaf and Marek as members of the resistance and reveals to them their plan to sabotage German submarines in the Atlantic. Unfortunately at the last moment the Marek and Olaf learn the operation has been compromised, setting in motion a chain of events that thrust Marek into a dangerous confrontation with the hated Nazis. Both Marek and what's left of the resistance learn the shocking truth behind their betrayal.


Resistance is an exciting, well written historical adventure filled with thrilling escapes and tragic loss. Resistance vividly portrays in a realistic manner the true nature of war. In this novel,  the cruelty of the Nazi regime, the fear people in occupied countries experienced and how occupation divided the people in nations that were previously united against an aggressor are all . It also portrays the high price many civilians paid to resist tyranny. War is characterized by murder, rape and the imprisonment of people in labour camps where men look "as though there very souls have been stolen."  All of this is portrayed in Resistance, but not in an overly graphic manner.

The main character in the novel is fourteen year old Marek Olsen. Not a child anymore, but not yet a man, Marek struggles to be taken seriously by his brother Olaf. When their father is arrested and Olaf defers attending university to help out at home, Marek argues unsuccessfully for quitting school to work. Physically he can't keep up with Olaf or the other men in the story, but his quick thinking and knowledge of engines saves him and his brother and the resistance several times over and earns him the respect of resistance leader, Jorgen.

Resistance invites young readers to consider the morality of certain actions undertaken in war, specifically when a country is occupied by a brutal aggressor such as Nazi Germany was. Several of the secondary characters in the novel commit murder. The first is the murder of Wold in retaliation for the sexual assault of Agnete and the brutal beating of Olaf when he tried to protect her. Rape by German officers was extremely common in all occupied countries during the Second World War. Seeing the effect the assault had on Agnete, Olaf is determined to kill Wold and formulates a plan to blow up his car. Marek doesn't give the plan much thought, eagerly participates in its development and even helps Olaf carry it out.  After Olaf shoots Wold, Marek recalls the pity he felt for the reindeer Olaf killed on the Hardanger and states, "Towards Wold I felt nothing, despite him being a fellow human being. I suppose he represented to me all the evil of the Nazis. And somehow that rid me of guilt or shame." 

Much later on, when Marek, his brother and other members of the resistance are being driven to Jondal by Hartwig, Marek struggles against his feelings of friendship towards the Nazi. Hartwig states that "Underneath, we're just like everyone else. And we want an end to the war as much as you. I think people forget that we're not here by choice. They forget that we did not ask to wear this uniform or carry guns. Most of all, though, they forget that the very idea of shooting a fellow human being is abhorrent to many of us." It is Marek's ability to identify with a man he should hate that ultimately saves Hartwig's life.When they are leaving Hartwig's car, Marek recognizes that Jorgen is going to kill Hartwig. But he finds he cannot allow Jorgen to do this evil act. "We can't let Hartwig go in case he reports us. He had to die. And that struck me as wrong. I reached out and seized Jorgen's arm. He glared at me. I shook my head. 'It's OK,' I said quietly."

When Olaf kills a second man, a German soldier, during their daring rescue of their desperately ill father, Marek recognizes how war has changed his brother. "I saw only hatred in Olaf's eyes, hatred in its purest form, cold as ice diamonds and without remorse. Who was this standing before me? Could it really be the same brother as the one I thought I knew, the one who'd wanted to study medicine and dedicate his life to helping his fellow man?"

As the resistance's plan begins to collapse and some members are arrested, Marek comes to realize the terrible choices war forces people to make. When they suspect Harald of having betrayed their plans, Marek tells Ingrid he would never cut a deal with the Nazis. Ingrid however tells him not to judge Harald too severely "Faced with a firing squad and the promise that your whole family will be arrested and tortured, most human beings would understandably seize any offer, however treacherous." This scene is a foreshadowing of the larger and more personal betrayal Marek will confront near the end of the novel.

Likewise, when Jan and the other resistance members are captured in Ork, Marek and his group once again faces impossible choice. "Do nothing and Jan and his fellow Jossings would face execution. Liberate them and an equally horrid fate might befall the good people of Ork. The enormity crushed me and I had to sit down, glum-faced. Any sense that we were trying to do something brave or heroic vanished...It boiled down to a simple fact. We were deciding who would live and who would die -- or, at the very least, who would suffer most..." Marek begins to realize in war, people face difficult choices that challenge their deeply held beliefs and that people often act very differently from what they might do outside of war.

Resistance was British author Craig Simpson's first published novel and was written after considerable research into life in Norway during the Nazi occupation of World War II. The precarious existence of all who were part of the resistance movement against the Nazi's is well presented in Resistance. Few new all the details of specific operations and many paid the ultimate price in the attempt to fight back against the Nazi occupiers. Simpson includes a map of the setting for Resistance and an excellent Postscript that fills in details about the Nazi occupation of Norway.

While Resistance will definitely appeal to boys, anyone with an interest in World War II will find this novel well worth reading. And that definitely includes adult readers.

Book Details:
Resistance by Craig Simpson
London: Corgi Books    2007
353 pp.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kalahari by Jessica Khoury

Sarah Carmichael is the daughter of zoologists living and working in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Sarah has lived all her life in the field, working alongside her parents. Now it's just Sarah and her father after her mother died four months earlier from a bee attack. Helping them is Theo, a Bushman who has trained Sarah to track and to live in the Kalahari.

Sarah and Theo wait by the landing strip for a plane bringing in five teens who have signed on to a educational safari. The teens include seventeen year old Joey Xiong, a Hmong American from California, Canadian Avani Sharma, Miranda Kirk and Kase Rider of Boston, and seventeen year old Sam Quartermain from Pittsburg. In return for hosting the teens on a conservation exchange program, Sarah's father will receive much needed research funding from the Song Foundation. When the group arrives at camp they are met by Sarah's father who tells the group that they will be staying in tents.

The group has no chance to settle in when Sarah's father and Theo race out of camp in the truck to try to locate poachers who are hunting a white lion. When Sarah's father does not return by dark, she tries to contact him via radio but is unsuccessful. Sam asks Sarah if they should be worried and she tells him that the situation with the poachers has been getting progressively worse. As night comes on Sarah becomes increasingly concerned about her dad and Theo and even more so when they receive a garbled radio transmission that gives their location and that they are being pursued.  The transmission ends with the sounds of gunshots, leading Sarah to believe her father is now in grave danger.  Sarah is unable to reach Henrico, the South African warden located south of their camp, and she cannot contact the military nor anyone else to help them because the satellite radio is in the Cruiser with her father and Theo. 

At first Sarah wants to leave immediately to track her father but Sam insists he accompany her and this results in all five teens deciding not to stay in camp. Packing water and muesli bars, the group sets off the next morning, with Sarah tracking her father and Theo. Eventually they discover tracks that indicate the Cruiser was being followed by another vehicle. By evening Sarah makes another discovery that the trucks are being followed by an adult male lion. As the sun is beginning to set, Sarah and the group discover the damaged Cruiser smashed into a tree. Tracks leading away from the Cruiser lead Sarah and Sam to Theo who is fatally wounded. As Avani, whose parents are both doctors, attempts to help Theo, he warns them of a silver spirit, a lion hunting. Sarah is deeply shaken by Theo's death and mystified by her father's disappearance. She doesn't know if he has been captured or is somewhere out in the bush.

Sarah discovers that the lion has been around the Cruiser but instead of going after Theo appears to have followed her father. The group also discovers that the food supplies which were in the Cruiser have been ravaged by wild animals. After burying Theo, eats some leftover fruit and then tries to rest. The next morning they manage to get the Cruiser started and head back to their camp. However, they discover that the men after Sarah's father have visited the camp and burned it to the ground, destroying not only the tents and supplies but also Sarah's parent's notes and research. They learn that a man named Abramo is in charge and is determined to find them.

Sam tells Sarah that this is all very strange as ordinary poachers would never go to these lengths, to murder researchers. Sarah creates a false trail for the men to track while she leads her group west hoping to meet up with the road that will take them to Ghansi and safety.  The next morning while working to free the truck which has become bogged down in sand, the group first hears and then is attacked by a lion. However this lion is not ordinary - it is "silver, from nose to tail, as metallic and gleaming as mercury." Sarah immediately realizes that this is the lion the men have been searching for and that they have stumbled upon something much bigger than poaching.

The lion attacks the group as they huddle in fear in the truck and they are only saved by Sarah firing her shotgun and wounding it in the shoulder. The group flees in terror into the bush. Sarah and Sam return to the area and discover the lion is no longer wounded, but behaving strangely and watch as it kills an ostrich for no reason. The lion once again picks up their scent and begins pursuing them through the desert.  They only manage to escape the lion when the entire group falls into a huge underground cavern filled with water.

Sarah and the group find their way out of the pool by crawling to the top of metal scaffolding that leads them to an above ground pumping station and find themselves in what appears to be some kind of research facility. As Sarah, Sam and the others scout out the camp, which appears to be abandoned, they discover a laboratory and then a room filled with animals in cages. The cages are filled with numerous different mammals from the Kalahari desert. Many of the cages contain animals that have been shot dead.  Other cages hold live animals, some of whom are partially silver while others, like the lion, are completely silver. They also find a lab worker dead in the room.

Sarah now believes that the animals have some kind of infection and that the scientists from the lab are chasing the silver lion because it escaped from this facility. Sarah's father and Theo were complications they hadn't expected and so they killed Theo and are now hunting Sarah and her group, her father and the infected lion. Sarah and Sam realize that whoever is responsible for creating the infection now want to cover up the research and will be returning to the lab to finish destroying what remains.

In  a small trailer, Sarah makes a truly shocking discovery; three scientists who are infected and completely silver, locked in a room. The scientists who are in advanced stages of the infection are incoherent and in obvious distress. In the trailer, Sarah and Sam come face to face with Dr. Carl Monaghan, who admits that he created a metal that is "alive", - a type of inorganic life.  Dr. Monaghan explains "Metalcium is inorganic, and yet it self-replicates. It has a kind of metabolism. It adapts to changes in its environment....Just little cells of metal at first...It was when we began adding lead that its true potential was realized." Avani fills in the details for the others, that metalcium sneaks "into an organism's system by hiding behind a mask of lead."  Monaghan admits that he had hoped to use his discovery to heal but, instead the metalcium began attacking them, converting all an organism's cells to metal.

The doctor explains that they came to Kalahari because their research could be conducted under secrecy and it is rich in minerals which they required for their research. Once Monaghan realized the danger he tried to stop the research, but Corpus, the company funding the research, refused. Now Corpus has sent out Tony Abramo to clean up the mess, by killing everyone involved and everyone who knows about the research. Monaghan tells Sarah and Sam that they must leave immediately.

Sarah knows they have to get to safety and tell the world about the deadly infection but with Abramo on their tail, her father still missing, and the possibility that they have all been exposed to infection, the likelihood of her getting to Ghansi is beginning to seem remote.


Jessica Khoury's novels are characterized by unique stories involving futuristic science in the style of John Wydham. The story in Kalahari is centered around a new virus, Metalcium, that has been created in a lab, and which gradually converts living tissue into metal, eventually killing its host. Although this twist makes Kalahari an intriguing read, it doesn't appear until Chapter Eight. Instead the first hook is the disappearance of Sarah's father and the group's foray into the semidesert to find him. From there the plot thickens leading the group from one adventure to the next. The resolution to the story flows quickly and ties up loose ends rather neatly.

Khoury immediately sets up the beginnings of a romance between Sarah and Sam, who seem to develop a rapport quickly, learning about each other as the story moves along. There are other pairings as well, although they really don't figure much into the story; Miranda and Kase are already a couple, but Joey, the group clown, likes the brainy Canadian, Avani. The minor characters are not as well developed, only enough to give readers a sense of who they are.

The author does have her main character, Sarah Carmichael experience an inner journey that parallels the physical one she undertakes in the novel. Sarah is not keen to spend time with teenagers. Her one experience in school in the United States was disastrous. "The kids in the class called me Mowgli and threw bananas at me during lunch." However, Theo encourages her, telling Sarah she needs to spend time with humans too. When Sarah first meets the five teens she judges them as shallow and uncaring at the beginning of the novel. However, her opinion begins to change. When Miranda offers her diamond ring for Sarah to use on a stick, Sarah feels ashamed that she has made assumptions about Miranda without really knowing her. "When I studied wild animals, I always waited until I had all the facts before drawing conclusions about their habits and lives -- why couldn't I do that with people?" By the end of the novel, Sarah is glad to have met all five teens despite what they went through.

When Sarah becomes infected with the Metalcium which will be fatal, she begins to regret how she has lived over the past four months since her mother's death. She admits to herself that since her mother's death she hasn't cared much about life. "The world had been covered in a gray veneer, tasteless and uninteresting. She had been the sun that lit the savanna, and when she died, I'd been left in darkness, not caring whether I stumbled forever through the night or fell over a cliff and was lost. " However, now that she's caught the incurable infection, Sarah begins to see life differently. The change of heart has also come from her deepening relationship with Sam who has helped her to recognize that she could be happy again and "that the sun could rise on a world without my mom." Sarah also realizes that's she's never taken the time to cherish all the special moments in her life and that she's taken the time she's had for granted.

Kalahari has a few spots in the storyline which feel weak. The first is the unrealistic actions of Sarah's father, Ty Carmichael, who leaves his daughter with five inexperienced teenagers in a bush camp, taking ALL their food supplies AND the satellite radio with him. Ty is not just going for a short drive in the bush, he's going to try to track what he believes are poachers, who present some degree of risk for him and Theo. It's unlikely that Carmichael, as a seasoned field researcher would have done this.

Secondly, although Sarah's father does manage to escape from Abramo and he has considerable skill as a tracker, he never seems to quite be able to catch up to Sarah and her group. That is, until conveniently at the climax of the novel, when Sarah faces down Abramo - making his sudden appearance seem somewhat contrived.

Kalahari is filled with interesting facts about  this semi-desert region of Africa including the wildlife, the climate and geography and about the Bushmen who still live in the area. Khoury spent time in Africa at the Mabalingwe Nature Reserve and in Botswana where she had the experience of tracking elephants, lions and leopards.

Kalahari is book three in the Corpus series. Overall, Khoury's interesting storyline works well, providing readers with plenty of suspense, some intriguing science fiction and a little romance in an exotic setting.

Book Details:
Kalahari by Jessica Khoury
New York: RazorBill, an imprint of Penguin Group    2015
354 pp.