Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Death of Us by Alice Kuipers

The Death of Us by Alice Kuipers is a story of a toxic friendship between two girls that ends in tragedy. Shrouded within the mystery of a terrible accident is a toxic love triangle involving one young girl confused about her sexual identity and another with a troubled past.

Synopsis

The novel opens with the ending of the story and then works its back to that point with alternating narrators. It is July 31st, the middle of the summer. The story begins with one of the major characters, Kurt Hartnett, indicating that there has been a terrible car crash at a bridge outside of Edenville. Kurt is at a party at his best friend Xander Buckmaster's home where he overhears people talking about Ivy Foulds and Calliope Carraway who are on their way to the same party. One of the partiers screams that there has been a terrible crash at the bridge and a picture posted on social media indicates that the car is similar to Ivy's. Kurt knows that Callie is with Ivy.

Alternating with Kurt's narratives which occur mostly at the hospital are those of Callie and Ivy, beginning fourteen days prior to the accident which provide the backstory leading up to the accident.

Ivy has returned to Edenville with her alcoholic mother and her mother's boyfriend, Kevin. Ivy's life has been anything but stable. Her father left when she was three years old and her mother has been involved with many men and drinks a lot.

Ivy's friend, Callie, whom she describes as "shiny-penny Callie" still lives in Edenville with her mother and father and her baby brother, Cosmo. Her father is a history professor at the university and her mother is a successful children's author. Callie is a good girl who by her own accounts keeps her room tidy, does her homework and is "perfectly bone-crushingly normal". She feels she should be delighted with a baby in the house" and that at sixteen she should be able to deal with her mother having a new baby. But she's not. Callie is jealous.

When Ivy returns after leaving suddenly three years ago and not saying good-bye, Callie is both thrilled and upset.  Ivy tells Callie that they lived in San Francisco where her mother tried to re-ignite her relationship with Ivy's dad and then moved to Kansas City where she met Kevin, a pot-bellied, well to do man whom Ivy finds disgusting. Ivy forces Callie to go for a run one morning and they meet Callie's friend, Kurt. outside a home near where Callie lives. Callie is puzzled because she knows Kurt lives in a fancy house outside of town. Ivy is immediately attracted to Kurt and Callie notices this attraction. Kurt invites the two girls to accompany him and Xander on his boat the following day. Ivy agrees but Callie knows her mom won't allow her to go.

After visiting her ailing grandmother, Callie approaches her mom about the boat trip but as soon as she learns that Ivy will be going, her mom refuses to allow Callie to go. Her mother tells Callie that she's always been "intoxicated" with Ivy and that her friendship with her was not good for her, causing her to dump her close friend Rebecca three years ago. Because of this, Callies mom decides to forbid her to see Ivy.

Ivy goes out with Kurt and Xander on the boat and the next day the two girls meet at a cafe. On her way to the cafe, Callie sees a ad for a job in an art studio and thinking how forward Ivy is, decides to apply. At the cafe Callie and Ivy make plans to double date that night but Callie, knowing her mother will never give her permission, sneaks out to Ivy's home.The two girls meet Kurt and Xander at a BEneath, a bar a few blocks from Callie's home and get drunk.

Soon Callie begins lying more and more to her mother so she can see Ivy. She sneaks out of the house to go with Ivy, Kurt and Xander on the boat and then one night to go to a party at Kurt's house. However, Callie's parent's discover her lie when she doesn't return home after the party and when her granny passes away the night of the party. At first her mother is furious about the party but after the funeral relents, telling Callie that perhaps she needs to be more open-minded. She agrees to allow Callie to see Ivy but expects her not to lie anymore.

When Ivy tries to get Callie to come to another party, Callie tells her she's not allowed to. She finally explains that her mother doesn't like Ivy after she saw what the girls were doing three years earlier. The two girls go shopping at a store and while Ivy is changing, Callie discovers that Ivy has been lying to her about events that have happened in her life while away in Kansas. This greatly upsets Callie but she accepts Ivy's explanation. The night of the party, Callie decides to slip out of the house and attend without her parents permission. Callie is confused about Ivy's feelings towards her, towards Kurt and believes that possibly Ivy feels that same towards her. Eventually the relationship between the three teens gradually descends into a toxic love triangle with all three not really understanding how they feel about each other.This leads to jealousy, anger and tragedy no one could have predicted.

Discussion

Alice Kuipers keeps her readers guessing through the entire novel with narrations that seem to have one meaning only for the reader to discover that something very different was happening. For example, the reader believes that Xander and Kurt are at the party and head to the hospital to learn the fate of Ivy and Callie. In fact, this is not the case. Careful readers will quickly pick up on what is happening, others won't figure it out till the reveal at the end of the novel.  The same is true for Callie and how she feels about Ivy. At first it seems like she's happy for the return of a long lost friend, but soon it becomes apparent that Callie's relationship with Ivy is very different from an ordinary friendship. The effect of these unreliable narrators is to build a sense of deepening mystery, creating a shocking ending to the story.

Characterization is particularly strong in The Death of Us. Both Ivy and Callie are deeply troubled girls who are struggling with significant changes in their family life, while also trying to determine their own identities. Ivy, who has tried to kill herself, struggles to maintain control in her life, exercising to excess and listening to esteem-building podcasts while attempting to avoid morphing into a copy of her manipulative and needy mother. The rage inside her eventually explodes as she confronts Kurt and Callie about their relationship. Callie, on the other hand, comes from a stable home where she has to fit into her parents image of a good girl. She never parties, does her homework and blends in. But Callie feels lost in a family focused on a toddler, her parents oblivious to her needs as a teenager. Her rebellion is ignited by the arrival of Ivy. Callie's mother really does know the truth about her daughter's relationship with Ivy but tries to pretend that things are normal. Of course the difference between the two girls is that Callie has a mother who really does care about her. When she tells her mother she is confused about who she is, her mother is patient and understanding.

Especially well portrayed is the complex relationship between the two girls. It is a relationship fraught with secrets; the secret of Ivy's mother attempting suicide and the secret of the two girls experimenting sexually. Both of these secrets affect their relationship. Callie told Ivy she has told no one but when the girls visit Callie's granny, the elderly woman lets slip she knows about Ivy's mom. The sexual experimentation is a confusing point for both girls with what happened obviously meaning much more to Callie than to Ivy who definitely likes boys. Neither girl understands the other; Ivy doesn't understand Callie's attraction to her to the point that she doesn't believe she's not interested in Kurt and Callie doesn't understand Ivy's distrust and dishonesty.


As Kuipers has stated about The Death of Us, "Starting a book with the end of a story, makes for difficult writing.." But Alice Kuipers succeeds brilliantly in her novel. It an interesting, well written novel from a favourite writer of mine.

Book Details:
The Death of Us by Alice Kuipers
Toronto: HarperTrophy Canada     2014
216 pp.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Invaded by Melissa Landers

Invaded is the long anticipated sequel to Alienated by Melissa Landers and for the most part readers will not be disappointed.

In the first novel it was revealed that Earth has been scouted by an advanced alien culture from another galaxy. The L'eihrs require human DNA to rejuvenate their people and wish to form an alliance to bring human colonists to their planet for that purpose. As a result of contact with the L'eihr, Earth's water has inadvertently been contaminated by a super algae that will eventually destroy all the oceans and make the planet uninhabitable. Most humans are not aware of this impending catastrophe nor that the L'eihr have the technology to decontaminate the water. This fact is being hidden by the governments on Earth. The L'eihr will only provide the technology if Earth forms an alliance with them.

The novel ends with Cara having learned Aelyx's (along with Eron and Syrine) role in trying to sabotage the alliance by planting a parasitic tree, sh'alear, which destroyed nearby crops. When she is brought before The Way, who are the L'eihr Elders, Cara meets the two newest and youngest leaders, Jaxen and Aisly. Jaxen tells her that despite the murder of Eron and the violence against Syrine and Aelyx, the alliance negotiations will continue, Syrine and Aelyx are to be sent back to Earth to regain the human trust and work for the alliance and Cara is to accompany Jaxen and Aisly to L'eihr.

Invaded opens with Cara Sweeney headed to L'eihr alone after the L'eihr Elders decided to send Aelyx back to Earth to help rebuild the alliance between the two planets. They were supposed to start a life together on L'eihr but now Aelyx is in Manhattan with Ambassador Stepha. Aelyx finds life on Earth fraught with danger as HALO (Humans Against L'eihr Occupation) seems determined to assassinate him. His security detail is run by Colonel Rutter along with a new guard, Private David Sharpe who saves Aelyx from being killed when they first return to New York. As a result of this incident, Ambassador Stepha decides to confer with The Way. They decide that the technology to neutralize the algae blooms will be provided in the spring during an alliance ceremony between Earth and L'eihr. Any further attempts on the lives of the L'eihr youth will terminate the relationship. Both Aelyx and Stepha are puzzled at the ambivalent attitude of the Elders towards the attacks. He knows the real purpose behind the alliance is to recruit human colonists who will eventually provide fresh DNA to rejuvenate the L'eihr population. He knows humans are unaware of the algae contamination and believes that they should be told the truth.

To try to counter the resistance by people on Earth, Director General Kendrick suggests that Aelyx and Syrine undertake a multi-city tour in the hopes they can win over the human population. Syrine, who is disgusted by humans, begins to change her opinion after visiting dying children in a hospital. Soon after this, two more attempts are made on Aelyx's life. When David repeatedly risks his life to save them, Syrine begins to fall in love with David. Despite the attempts, the Elders refuse to call off the alliance leaving Aelyx and Stepha puzzled.

On L'eihr,  Cara is escorted to the capital by the two young Elders, Jaxen and Aisly. Aisly and Jaxen reveal that they are seventeen and twenty-one years old. This puzzles Cara because Aelyx has told her that the oldest clones were nineteen. Cara finds L'eihr very different from Earth: it has twin moons and one large continent in a vast ocean. Instead of being taken to the colony as she expected, Cara is taken to one of the five precincts in the capital to live. Jaxen tells Cara that the colony is still under construction and that it is located on an island where influence from the L'eihr will be minimal. Cara feels unsettled by Jaxen who looks like the L'eihrs but who seems different in some way that Cara can't yet explain.

Cara is assigned to live with Elle, (Aelyx's genetic sister) whose l'ihan, Eron, was killed while he was stationed in China. Cara's brother, Troy, a Marine, is stationed on L'eihr as her human mentor. Despite her devastation over the loss of Eron, Elle works with Cara on her Silent Speech and helps her to begin to adjust to life on L'eihr. Cara's days are filled with L'eihr classes in the Aegis, brutal fitness classes with an instructor she nicknames "Satan" and time in the L'eihr nursery.She has her Sh'ovah, a sort of citizenship ceremony but it is marred by the crash of what appears to be a meteorite. Cara notices that it is some kind of spherical object secretly retrieved by Jaxen.

On Earth, the attempts on Aelyx and Syrine's lives continue when David discovers that a supper brought in has been poisoned with strychnine. An image consultant is brought in to help reform his and Syrine's reputations and Aelyx agrees to be interviewed by a journalist named Sharon Taylor. During the interview, Aelyx explains that he and his fellow L'eihrs were initially against the alliance because of their views about humans which changed as they came to know them on a personal level. The interview is stopped however when Taylor brings in Marcus Johnson, the student who tried to kill Aelyx.

Living separately in two different galaxies begins to take its toll on Aelyx and Cara's relationship. Cara believes that Aelyx is attracted to Syrine and when Aelyx learns that Cara's brother deliberately missed his transport home, he worries that Cara is having trouble adapting. Aelyx also begins to form a strong friendship with David, his security guard. He becomes concerned when he discovers that David is taking L'eihr injections for a degenerative genetic disorder.

On L'eihr Cara continues to be challenged by someone determined to sabotage her mission on the planet. Professor Helm's tablet goes missing and is found in her quarters. Dahla, a L'eihr who hates Cara,  is poisoned by a deadly toxin that has been placed in her food. In both situations Cara is implicated but helped by Jaxen. But this is not as disturbing to Cara as her trip to the colony. Cara quickly realizes that the humans will be unable to leave the island once they are settled there and that they will be unable to choose their vocations. While on the island Cara makes the shocking discovery that both Jaxen and Aisly have the ability to control people's minds when they erase her brother Troy's memory of a second object falling from the sky. Cara, whose mind is more trained is able to block Jaxen's attempt and to hide his failure to do so from him.

Aelyx is puzzled when Cara tells him about Jaxen and Aisly hidden abilities since mind control is not believed to be possible. Tension begins to develop between Cara and Aelyx when she tells him that based on what she has learned about the colony she cannot go through with plans to live on L'eihr.  Aelyx tells her that she can appeal to the leading Elder, Alona, which she decides to do after she is accused of attacking Dahla a few days later.  While Cara deals with this, Aelyx decides to research the archives of the Voyagers who traveled the galaxies scouting various civilizations. He learns about a L'eihr researcher, Larish who believes that aliens called the Aribol transplanted humans to L'eihr thousands of years ago. His research only leads to more questions; if the mysterious probes are from the Aribol, why are they investigating L'eihr now?

Aelyx meets HALO leader Isaac Richards and reveals to him that all of Earth's water has been contaminated by a deadly algae bloom. He tells Richards that years ago L'eihr's Voyagers came to Earth and introduced scientists to their nanotechnology. Not fully understanding the technology, Earth's scientists unwittingly released nano-fertilizers into the oceans where they are now acting to destroy the water. Aelyx asks Richards to support the alliance publicly so that he can help Earth get the technology from the L'eihr's to save the planet. Meanwhile a third attempt on Aelyx's life leads Colonel Rutter to identify the mysterious hit man as an ex-infantryman named Anthony Grimes. David's impressive ability to save Aelyx each time leads Syrine to fall hopelessly in love with him.

Cara's interview with Alona impresses the Elder and sees her being assigned to the colony development panel. When Dahla recovers from her coma, she identifies Professor Helm as the attacker, but Cara is puzzled by his resulting confession. She considers the possibility that Helm has been forced to confess through mind control and the only two people capable of this are Jaxen and Aisly. 

In an attempt to figure out the origin of the probes, Cara meets with Larish who supplies her with information about the Aribol. Larish believes the Aribol to be tinkerers, who "seed species across multiple galaxies to see how each one develops" but he doubts that the Aribol would be sending probes to L'eihr . Cara however believes this is a real possibility. Larish tells Cara that the Aribol have the ability to change how they look as do the L'eihrs. This information tells Cara that Aisly who uses drops to alter her eye colour and Jaxen are not regular clones, only deepening the mystery as to who they are and why the probes are falling on L'eihr. She wonders if Jaxen and Aisly are from Aribol.

As Aelyx and Cara work to uncover the mystery behind the probes, they learn the real reason behind the L'eihr's desire for an alliance and discover a betrayal that has deadly consequences for David and Syrine and threatens the alliance and the future of both planets.

Discussion

Invaded is an exciting second novel in the Alienated series. It continues the interesting story started in Alienated although the title feels somewhat off for this novel since no real invasion occurs, only the threat of one. Landers does an excellent job of creating suspense and developing layers of intrigue. As with the first novel, the story is told by Cara and Aelyx in alternating voices, although Cara feels like the main narrator. Through her voice we learn more about life on L'eihr.

The characters of Cara, Aelyx and Syrine are more fully developed in Invaded with Landers adding a new villain in the character of Jaxen and introducing her readers to Elder Alona, Larish, a nasty pet named Vero and an anti-hero, David Sharpe. Readers will not only enjoy the suspense but the romance between David and Syrine.

Landers does a good job of showing how prejudices which are usually formed when people encounter those who are different can be changed. Syrine found humans disgusting and was visibly sick when she first went out with Aelyx on a public-relations tour. However, gradually her encounters with the sick children and with David changed how she viewed humans to the point that she even fell in love with a human.


My biggest complaint with this novel involves what I consider to be several weak plot points. For example, the plot in the first novel revolves around the point that Earth's water has been contaminated by a nano-algae unleashed into the world's oceans. This premise is continued in Invaded. Somehow, the algae problem, which is apparently easily detected by a microscope, as Aelyx demonstrates to the leader of  HALO, Isaac Richards, is being kept from the general population which seems completely unlikely.

In the second novel, Cara grows increasingly suspicious of L'eihr's motives for the alliance with humans. As she and Aelyx piece together the puzzle, Cara uncovers the reason for the weapons training on L'eihr; they are preparing for war. She learns from Alona that the Aribol have been sending dozens of probes over the entire planet. Fearing an invasion, the L'eihr desire an alliance with  humans because they do not have the soldiers to defend their planet. They intend "to arm humans with iphals and use them in battle in exchange for decontaminating the water supply."Cara who has mastered Silent Speech is unable to fire the iphal. The iphal is controlled by a person's mind. To expect human soldiers to be able to do the same and to battle aliens who are far advanced stretches the credibility of this part of the plot.

Landers ties up most of her loose ends but does leave room for a third novel in the series. It would be a shame to not have a final book that would explore the role of the Aribol and to finalize what happens to Jaxen and Aisly. Landers has said that if sales for Invaded are strong enough she will pen a third novel. Stay tuned!

Book Details:
Invaded by Melissa Landers
Los Angeles: Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group.     2015
356 pp.




Saturday, March 21, 2015

Movie: Cinderella

Continuing the series of fairytales that are being made into movies or remakes is Kenneth Branagh's visually captivating Cinderella starring Lily James and Robert Madden as Prince Charming.

The movie follows exactly the Disney version of fairytale Cinderella. Young Ella lives a beautiful, happy life with her father and mother. Her father is merchant who often travels away from home. When at home the family are kind and caring to one another. Then one day Ella's mother takes ill and then dies. Before dying Ella's mother tells her to have courage and to be kind.

Ella grows into a beautiful, kind woman. One day her father tells her that he will be marrying Lady Tremaine and that her two daughters, Anastasia and Drizella will be coming to live in their home. After the marriage, Ella's father resumes his business travels, only to die while away. This leaves Lady Tremaine in charge of the estate.

From their arrival, it is evident that neither Lady Tremaine nor her ill-mannered daughters are fond of Ella. Their treatment of her is dismissive at first but burgeons into full blown resentment and hatred. Gradually she is sent to live in the attic.

One day while out riding, Ella comes across a handsome young man who is part of a hunting party after a stag. She refuses to give him her name and he tells her his name is Kit but does not reveal that he is the Crown Prince. Ella returns home happy while Kit returns to the palace determined to learn the identity of the beautiful young girl he met in the forest. His father however, reminds him that he has a duty to marry a "princess" but Kit feels this is not important.

In order to learn the identity of the mystery girl, Kit, decides to hold a ball, to which every eligible maiden will be invited. This of course, sets in motion the events that lead to them finding one another, losing each other again and the discovery of the real identity of the prince's mystery girl.

Branagh's Cinderella is a lovely adaptation of the Disney fairytale that recaptures the innocence of the story. Parents with young children, older viewers who wish to just enjoy a good fairytale without the dark elements, the modern cynicism and the feminist overtones so common in even children's movies, will love this film. Ella is beautiful, kind and courageous - true to her mother's dying request. No matter how terrible Lady Tremaine treats Ella, she meets her time and again with unfailing kindness and respect. Even when all seems lost and she's locked in the attic, Ella refuses to despair or hate. And when Ella is rescued by the Prince from the clutches of Lady Tremaine, she responds not with hate or condescension but with forgiveness and humility. Lily James superbly captures Ella's purity of soul and strong character.

Prince Charming is well.... absolutely charming with a gorgeous smile and a determination to discover the true identity of the maiden who's captured his imagination. Encouraged by his father, the king, to marry a woman based on her social status, Kit hesitates. Despite everyone telling him that he doesn't know this girl and even that she is not suitable, he trusts his own instincts. He treats her with deference and respect. He also suspects that someone in the palace may be working against him.

As expected, Helena Bonham Carter plays the fairy godmother with her typical eccentricity. First appearing to Cinderella as a quirky, beggar-woman, she tests Ella by asking for something to drink and eat. Cinderella kindly complies. In this film, Helena is far from the Tim Burton style she's known for Les Miserables and Sweeney Todd. Her gown is pure white with 400 LED lights to achieve that fairy-godmother magic.

Cate Blanchette plays Lady Tremaine with cold harshness that convinces viewers there's not a nice bone in her body. Beautiful in a chilling sort of way, Lady Tremaine's evil is only emphasized by her spectacular couture costumes in bold colours and rich velvety fabrics.

Some aspects of Cinderella are exquisitely done. For example, the scene where Ella stumbles upon her fairy godmother, who turns a pumpkin, mice and a few lizards into a coach, horses and footmen, is brilliantly done. The lizard footmen are fantastic, still retaining some of their reptilian qualities that make them a bit repulsive but not enough to be totally off-putting. It's a chance once again, to showcase Ella's remarkable magnanimity as she treats the footman kindly, even though he's a bit creepy looking.

The costuming in Cinderella is simply stunning. Three time Oscar winner, Sandy Powell designed all the costumes including the amazing dresses worn by Lily James and Cate Blanchett. Swarovski provided Powell with 1.7 million crystals with which to use in Cinderella's ball gown and shoes. Cinderella's gown contains 270 yards of fabric in twelve layers and 10,000 Swarovski crystals. Powell wanted the dress to be voluminous and "to look like she was floating" when she danced and also ran down the stairs. Her wedding dress was simpler and more modest because as Powell explained in an interview with Paul Chi of Vanity Fair,  “Cinderella wins the Prince’s heart through her goodness, so I wanted to show this through her clothes."


The Prince, played by Robert Madden who has deep blue eyes, wore a blue wool military jacket that highlighted his eyes. It was modelled after the jacket in the Disney animated movie made years ago. 

Sandy Powell began working on the costume design two years before the film and has said that she blended 19th century style with that of the 1940's. This was especially evident in Lady Tremaine's costumes which are almost all done in green - the colour of envy.

Cinderella is a delightfully refreshing movie. Just go see this lovely film.

The trailer contains brief cuts of many scenes in this wonderful movie. Enjoy!






Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney

The Red Pencil is a novel in verse for young readers aged 9 to 12 that explores the Darfur genocide.

Twelve year old Amira Bright lives with her Dando, Muma and her little sister Leila on a vegetable farm. Her Dando grows tomatoes and okra and they have sheep as well. Amira is desperate to go to school but her mother does not feel schooling has any advantage for Amira, who is expected to marry. Amira's mother is like most in their village - bound by tradition.
"When it comes to schooling,
my mother is the most tight-minded of anyone."

Amira's mother believes marriage and farm chores are more important. But Amira feels her mother is locked in a "hut of tradition...with no windows for letting in fresh ideas."

Unlike Amira's family, her best friend Halima's family has left their village, moving to Darfur's largest town, Nyala. Halima's parents hope to send her to Gad Primary School which accepts girls.

One of Amira's neighbours, Old Anwar often argues with Dando about silly things such as the size of their tomatoes.When Amira admonishes her father for his feud with their neighbour he tells her that they are in a contest.

Overshadowing Amira's life is the threat of war. Dando tells her the war is about land and that,
"Brothers are killing each other
over the belief
that in the Almighty's eyes
some people are superior."

For her twelfth birthday, Dando gives Amira a sturdy branch with which to make pictures in the goz or sand. Amira loves to draw and spends much time doing this. But Amira's dream is to go to school and whenever she talks about school, her mother scolds her telling her they do not have the means.

One day Amira's mother warns her about the Janjaweed militia and that if they attack she is to run. After this warning, Amira notices that her village neighbours are stalked by the constant fear of attack by these dangerous people. That attack comes to pass one day when helicopters and Janjaweed riding camels attack and burn her village to the ground. Amira manages to escape but witnesses the murder of her father. Left with nothing, Amira, Leila, Muma, Anwar and Gamal, a boy who is friends with Leila set out to find safety.

After walking many nights, Amira and her family reach a Displaced Persons Camp at Kalma where they live in a structure made out of rice-bag scraps. Food and water are rationed as there are thousands in the camp - a number Amira finds unbelievable. Amira is so traumatized by what has happened to her family that she is unable to speak. It is Miss Sabine with her pencils and notebooks who helps Amira find her way out of her grief. A visitor to Kalma from Sudan Relief, Miss Sabine gives the children paper pads and pencils and for Amira, a beautiful, red pencil. Amira cherishes her red pencil as it re-ignites her desire to learn and to go to school. Locked in the safety of the camp means her dream might never happen but for some unexpected help from an unlikely person.

Discussion

The Red Pencil tells the story of the Darfur conflict through the eyes of a young girl. At the back of the novel, Pinkney provides readers with the backstory; a civil war that led to the Sudan government's use of the Janjaweed militia made up of Arab groups to fight rebellion by two groups opposed to the government.The name "Janjaweed" means "devils on horseback".  The massacre of hundreds of thousands of Darfuri civilians began in 2003 and continues to this day and is now widely considered to be genocide. The whys of the conflict are not deeply explored in this novel for younger readers as they are complex and date back to Sudan's independence from Britain in 1956. Instead the story focuses on the trauma the survivors like Amira and her mother experience.

Amira's life is simple and unencumbered. She lives on a farm where their food is grown and the major difficulties are carrying water, birthing lambs and dealing with haboob - sandstorms. The cycle of life passes simply from mother to daughter, from family to family. The attack leaves her afraid and unable to speak.

Pinkney captures Amira's distress in a straightforward manner. Amira is completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of both her personal tragedy and the displacement of thousands of others.

Everywhere bodies:
          We've fled
           peaceful homes.

Beautiful villages,
              Abundant farms.

              Forced to leave
              Prosperous lands
              whose unfortunate luck
              has set us in unsafe places,
              making us prey
              to the Janjaweed.

When she cannot speak her Muma tells her
"Amira, sorrow's fence
has locked you in," she says.
"The only way out is through time."

The conflict and what has happened to her also leaves Amira determined to achieve her goal of becoming educated. The gift of a red pencil helps her regain her voice and her determination.
"Today the red pencil does more
than beg for my hand.

It makes me a promise.
It tells me to try."

Amira eventually discovers that not only does she want to learn to read and write but she wants to teach others too.

Amira is strong, resilient and decides to take her future into her own hands. She sees in the young girl married to a much older man and now pregnant, her possible future. Leaving the camp is dangerous but, like the flies caught in the Fanta bottle, she must either flee the camp or die inside. It is the flies caught in the Fanta bottle that make Amira realize her situation;
"Maybe they know there's a way out,
but are too frightened by the possibility." 

Just as the flies cannot stay inside the bottle forever, Amira knows she too cannot stay in the camp forever. She must flee the camp to live the life she desperately wants or  stay and see her dreams and hopes die.

Amira represents the hundreds of millions girls and women throughout the world who are unable to read or write and who have little chance of obtaining a basic education because of cultural restrictions and/or poverty.

This novel written in free verse is illustrated by Coretta Scot King Award Winner, Shane W. Evans' grey coloured line drawings. The author has included an very informative Author's Note explaining the Darfurian crisis. The Red Pencil is based on Andrea Davis Pinkney's extensive research and interviews with people who lived through the Darfur conflict. Her novel contains many interesting references to tribal life including calling the moon which young readers will find fascinating.

For those wishing to learn more about the Darfur genocide check out the Darfur page at World Without Genocide and Save Darfur.

The Red Pencil is a sensitive, well crafted novel. Pinkney's sparse poetry combined with Evans' simple line drawings convey both the beauty of tribal life in Western Sudan as well as the brutality of a conflict that has affected millions.

Book Details:

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Boston: Little, Brown and Company 2014
309 pp.




Sunday, March 15, 2015

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

This is a story about a girl whose privileged life is turned upside down by an unspeakable tragedy.

Cadence (Cady) Eastman lives with her mother, Penny, and their dogs in a house in Burlington, Vermont. The year before her fifteenth summer, Cady's father left  her mother for another woman. Cady and her mother are part of the fabulously wealthy Sinclair family of Boston, headed by her grandparents, Harris and Tipper Sinclair. Harris and Tipper have three beautiful, tall, blonde daughters, Penny - who is Cady's mother, Bess Sheffield and Carrie Dennis.

Every summer Harris and Tipper along with their daughters and their families would travel to the family's private island, Beechwood Island, where Harris had built homes for each of his daughters. Penny and Cady lived at Windemere, the Sheffields at Cuddledown and the Dennises at Red Gate. Harris and Tipper resided at the largest home, Clairmont with its family portraits, expensive artwork.

The older cousins, Cadence Eastman, Johnny Dennis, Mirren Sheffield along with Gatwick Patil were eventually nicknamed the Four Liars by their aunts. Cadence, Mirren and Johnny were cousins, their mothers - Penny Eastman, Bess Sheffield and Carrie Dennis respectively.

For eight summers, three of the cousins who were closest in age, Cady Eastman, Johnny Dennis and Mirren Sheffield hung out together on Beechwood Island. During summer eight, Aunt Carrie (Dennis) arrived on Beechwood with Johnny and baby Will and her new partner, Ed, a dark skinned man of Indian heritage. Her marriage to her husband has broken down and she was now divorced. Ed brought along his nephew, Gat, who immediately seemed to fit in with the three cousins. Gat and Johnny grew close and Gat began coming to Beechwood every summer after that. From this point on the three cousins and Gat became known as the Liars.

When Cadence's father left, Cady was heartbroken. After the break-up, her mother told Cadence to ignore her feelings to pretend like nothing had happened. They proceeded to redecorate the house, throw out anything her father left behind and retreat to Beechwood Island. That summer was also different because Cady's grandmother, Tipper Sinclair had died eight months earlier and Granddad was struggling. As with the divorce, Cady's mother refused to allow her to mourn the loss of her beloved grandmother.  "She made me act normal. Because I was. Because I could. She told me to breathe and sit up."

However, Cady was very broken over the loss of these two people from her life. Gat comforted Cady and tried to get her to talk about what had happened " as if talking about something could make it better. As if wounds needed attention." That summer Cady found herself forming a deepening friendship with Gat that began to blossom into a first love. While her cousins Johnny and Mirren did their usual swimming and snorkeling and minding the "littles", Gat and Cady spent time together. Until one night Cady apparently went swimming alone, was found in her underwear on the beach by her aunts and was taken to a hospital on Martha's Vineyard. Cady remembered nothing about what happened that night.

Back home in Burlington, Vermont, after the accident, Cady wrote Gat and then Johnny but got no response from either. She began experiencing terrible migraines and blackouts six weeks after her accident. In the year after her accident, Cady missed classes and eventually failed her junior year. She tried calling both Mirren and Johnny but was unable to get an answer. During the next summer, Cady went to Europe with her father. Since Beechwood doesn't have cell reception, Cady sent Johnny and Mirren emails which also are ignored.

After the trip to Europe, Cady mails her cousins each something she owns; Mirren an old Barbie doll and Johnny a striped scarf. Cady only remembers certain things from the summer of the accident and when she asks her mother, she tells Cady that she keeps telling her the truth but that she keeps forgetting what she's been told. The doctors now think it's better that Cady remember on her own.

For summer seventeen her father plans to take her to Australia and New Zealand, but Cady wants to return to Beechwood. She wants to see Mirren and Johnny. She wants to remember the accident and to know why Gat disappeared.  Her parents eventually decide that she will go to Beechwood for four weeks and then spend the rest of the summer with her father.

In what will be her first trip back to Beechwood Island since her accident, Cady can't wait to catch up with the Liars. But the memories Cady uncovers will be more devastating that she could ever have imagined.

Discussion

We Were Liars is an amazing story with a truly heart-wrenching conclusion. Although Lockhart gives her readers clues along the way, the twist at the end is shocking and unbearable to the reader. But the truth, when faced by Cady, allows her to begin the path to healing.

At the center of the story is the dysfunctional Sinclair family with its wealth, its concern for a carefully crafted public image of beauty and strength and its inability to confront failure, death and conflict. Cady describes the Sinclairs as "athletic, tall, and handsome" and as "old-money Democrats" with "wide smiles, square chins.." The three daughters, Cady's mother and her aunts are tall and blond. Appearance is everything to the Sinclair family and especially so to Cady's mother, Penny who does not allow her daughter to express any emotional pain. "It doesn't matter if divorce shreds the muscles of our hears so that they will hardly beat without a struggle. It doesn't matter if trust-fund money is running out....We are Sinclairs. No one is needy. No one is wrong." Later on Cady describes "the beautiful Sinclair family" as believing in outdoor exercise, prescription drugs and cocktail hour. "We do not believe in displays of distress. Our upper lips are stiff,..."

When Cady arrives on Beechwood during Summer Seventeen and she sees that the beautiful maple tree with the swing is gone she feels immensely sad. Her mother's reaction, even after all Cady has been through is one that does not acknowledge in any way what Cady is feeling. She is to pretend all is well. "Be normal now," she whispers. "Right now."..."Don't cause a scene," whispers Mummy. "Breathe and sit up." I do what she asks as soon as I am able, just as I have always done."

The three sisters, Penny, Carrie and Bess have failed marriages and are struggling financially. Their aging father, the patriarch of the family, has a vast fortune to leave to them. But the three sisters are grasping and manipulative. Their fighting and back-biting begins to take a toll on the older grandchildren, Cady, Johnny and Mirren as they are drawn into the feud between the three sisters. They decide they've had enough and it is this decision the sets up the terrible tragedy which befalls the Sinclair family.

One of the strengths of this novel is the exquisite descriptive writing that allows the reader to deeply feel what Cady's pain. For example when talking about her father leaving Lockhart uses an extended metaphor to portray the depth of Cady's pain.
"Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,
then from my eyes,
my ears,
my mouth.
It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked on the grass in front of our house...My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout."

Later on when Gat talks about Gran's death, Cady describes her reaction in a way that metaphorically compares her to slitting her wrists:
"Everytime Gat said these things, so casual and truthful, so oblivious -- my veins opened. My wrists split. I bled down my palms. I went light-headed....When blood dripped on my bare feet or poured over the book I was reading, he was kind. He wrapped my wrists in soft white gauze..."

Only Gat allows acknowledges Cady's pain and allows her to express what she feels. He also attempts to make the Sinclairs confront the frayed areas that are common to all families but which the Sinclairs habitually ignore. For example, summer Fifteen, when Gran was gone, Gat makes a comment about Tipper and how he misses her. Instead of acknowledging their own loss, Johnny attempts to cover up what Gat has said. It is this willingness to acknowledge the unseen difficult parts of life, whether it be death of a beloved grandmother or poverty in India that makes Gat so special to Cady and yet as she says "a stranger, even after all those years." "He asked about Dad and about Gran-- as if talking about something could make it better. As if wounds needed attention."

The novel's story is told from the perspective of Cady who, because of her amnesia, will be gradually seen to be an unreliable narrator. Her narration is broken and at times disjointed, reflecting her fragile state of mind; first dwelling on the Sinclair family, then her father, then "her Gat", the boy she loves, then life on Beechwood and back to the elder Sinclairs. Overall the novel is divided into four parts. The backstory is provided by flashbacks in Part One Welcome where Cady sets the tone and also provides readers with an understanding of the family structure and how the Sinclair family function.To help with this, Emily Lockhart has included a map of Beechwood Island as well as a Sinclair family tree. Part Two Vermont tells of Cady's attempts to recover her memory and her struggles after her accident. Part Three Summer Seventeen relates her return to Beechwood and what happens that summer. Lockhart gives subtle hints at what is really going on; although Taft, Mirren's younger brother called to tell Cady they are already at  Beechwood, the Liars do not meet her at the dock when she arrives, Taft is afraid of the noises in Cuddledown which he believes in haunted and so his family abandons their home to stay with Granddad at the new Clairmont home, the Liars have Cuddledown to themselves and they never show up for meals at Clairmont. Gradually Cady begins to remember events from that summer. Part Four Look, A Fire reveals the truth about that summer and how the family conflicts led to the unspeakable tragedy.

We Were Liars
is a brilliant novel with a shocking truth revealed at the end. Emily Lockhart has written a "must read" novel for teens. The author had many well published authors comment on the early drafts of the novel including Sarah Mlynowksi, Justine Larbalestier, Lauren Myracle, Scott Westerfeld and Robin Wasserman. The result: a beautifully crafted story that readers will remember for some time to come.

Book Details:
We Were Liars by Emily Lockhart
New York: Delacorte Press      2013
227 pp.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fight For Power by Eric Walters

Fight For Pow3r is the exciting second novel in Walters' Power of Three series. It's now been sixty-six days since the catastrophic crash of computers bringing modern life to a halt. Nothing electronic works forcing society into an agrarian existence. Since then Adam and his family along with Herb, a former CIA agent and others have organized their neighbourhood into a community working together to survive the catastrophe.

Set in a location geographically similar to a neighbourhood in Mississauga Ontario, the story opens with Adam and the rest of the Eden Mills community dealing with the aftermath of blowing up a bridge to save their community from an attack by another band of survivors. After a nearby neighbourhood, Olde Burnham was destroyed by a group of heavily armed survivors to the north, Adam's group determined that they were planning a major attack on their neighbourhood. This group appeared to be made up of ex-military.b Herb orders Brett and his team to search the bodies and vehicles for anything that can be used including weapons and body armour.

Back in their neighbourhood the committee made up of Adam's mother, Herb, Judge Roberts, Councilor Stevens, the fire chief, two engineers, a lawyer, Howie who was one of Adam's mother's police officers, Lori's father, Mr. Peterson and two others, debate how to follow up the attack. Herb tells the Eden Mills group that unless they attack first their fate will be the same as the Olde Burnham neighbourhood. They go on the offensive, bombing the bridge leading to their side of the river, killing four hundred and eighty three men from the military compound. After scavenging for supplies and weapons from the bodies, Herb is determined to destroy the remainder of the group. He believes that unless every single person in the marauding group is killed they will continue to attack them.

First he orders Brett to take a group of trusted men to the far side of the bridge to make sure that any scouting party sent out from the military compound does not return alive. Then Herb convinces the committee to sanction the attack on the compound using two hundred and forty men and women from the neighbourhood.

Prior to the attack, Adam learns that they have a prisoner, named Quinn, who was left after the assault on Olde Burnham. Herb takes Adam to talk to Quinn who has been uncooperative. When Herb leaves a short time later to get coffee, a woman bursts into the room threatening to kill Quinn. Adam manages to defuse the situation until Herb returns with the guard. However, Adam is shocked when Herb tells him the entire situation was staged in order to get Quinn to cooperate and provide them with information about the compound. Herb tells Adam that while he is important to make sure they survive, Adam's strong conscience will be important to help rebuild society when things improve.

When they do attack the compound they find it abandoned but they discover forty-seven women and children who have been kept as prisoners in a building. At first Herb does not want to take these people to Eden Mills, but Adam insists they take them back with them. They also find an old Cessna and manage to push it back to the neighbourhood where repairing the engine becomes a priority.

Throughout all of this Adam becomes increasingly alarmed at Brett's strange pleasure in killing and his blood lust for battle. Brett tells Adam that he loves the high, the rush adrenaline produces and that he just wants more and more. Brett admits to Adam that he admired what the men from the compound even though they locked the women and children up to starve to death because they were prepared to do whatever they needed to in order to survive. Brett's attitude horrifies Adam, who is becoming increasingly wary of his strange behaviour.

When they are in the forest hunting deer, Adam inadvertently brings down one deer. A second deer is killed. However two young kids also out hunting insist that the second deer killed is theirs. Brett violently threatens the boy and girl leaving Adam to intervene. Adam tells Leonard and Penelope that they will share the deer meat with them and despite Brett's insistence that they do not, this is what the committee and Herb agree to do. When Adam, Todd and Lori help Leonard take his share of the meet home, they meet his family, his grandfather Sheldon and his Aunt Mary and his mother Amy who are living in tents, off the land in the forest.

Herb decides to send Brett and his small patrol out at night to learn what is happening outside the walls. Howie has indicated that things outside the neighbourhood walls are growing increasingly tense during the day. As a result Herb feels it would be wise to know what is happening at night too. Brett chooses nine people to be on his patrol including Tim and Owen, two boys Adam knew well from high school. They dress in black and slip over the fence each night to conduct their patrols.


Two unexpected events send the neighbourhood into a crisis that leads to a dramatic showdown.First, a condominium bordering the western side of the neighbourhood is set afire, leaving many homeless. Although Herb does not want to help these people, Adam once again insists that the least they can do is to find sleeping bags and tents for them. Those homeless are allowed to set up tents outside the wall of the neighbourhood but Herb and the committee are insistent that they receive no other help.

And then one night the tent community is attacked by men in black who set fire to the tents and kill many of the condo fire survivors. At dawn Herb, Adam and others go out to assess the damage. The identity of the attacks is unknown and the motive for the attack puzzling since nothing was taken. No longer safe outside the walls of the neighbourhood, Herb comes up with a unique solution to help the survivors. Soon however, Adam learns the truth of the attack and that the greatest danger they are all facing is from within their own community.

Discussion

The Fight For Power is an thrilling second novel with a cliffhanger ending that will leave readers desperate to read the final novel. Narrated by Adam, the story flows easily, his voice believable and remarkably mature for a young person whose world has been completely turned upside down. Yet for all his maturity, Adam is still a typical teen, questioning the actions of the adults in his life. His questioning nature is characterized by strong morals and an active conscience. He wants to help everyone and he wants to give most people the "benefit of the doubt" while struggling to sort out the morality of their decisions. Although he admires Herb, he's not entirely sure he trusts him and recognizes that Herb is only feeding him the information he needs him to know.

In direct contrast to Adam are the two most interesting characters in the novel, Herb and Brett. Herb is a former CIA agent and has admitted to doing many terrible things. He has a way of referring to people in a derogatory manner. When he and Adam are discussing what to do with possible survivors of the bridge attack, Herb tells Adam they may have to "take action" which upsets Adam. Herb tells Adam, "...It's on me. I wouldn't leave a dog to die in pain." to which Adam responds, "But we're not talking about dogs..." When Adam is arguing with Herb about taking in the women and children they have found at the compound, Herb makes compares the survivors to garbage when he states "It's not that simple. You can walk by a piece of garbage on the ground, but once you pick it up you have the responsibility." Again Adam reminds Herb that people are not garbage.

Brett who was a rookie police officer under Adam's mother's command, turns more violent as the novel progresses. He is impulsive and over reacts in almost every situation involving conflict. At first he is friendly towards Adam, but gradually that friendliness turns to contempt. His true personality is gradually revealed through his actions. He begins making derogatory remarks about Adam's mother and his girlfriend, Lori. The bloodlust Brett experiences when out hunting for deer frightens Adam who doesn't realize that it is this same excitement of the hunt that will draw him into hunting humans outside the walls at night. It is a deadly miscalculation on Adam's part. One night when Brett arrives back at Eden Mills with two of his team dead, he is questioned by Herb and Adam's mother. His attitude is cocky and confrontational. When Herb and the committee learn what Brett has been involved in outside the walls of Eden Mills, Herb recognizes the danger Brett has become and knows he must act.

Herb is able to recognize what Brett really is because he sees himself in Brett. Brett represents Herb when he was younger, a man addicted to the adrenaline rush and who learns to be a weapon. Brett describes his actions as "...I wasn't thinking, I was feeling. Like I said, it's a rush." Herb tells Adam that in the end "he and I are both animals, but I believe that we are basically two different types of animals." Herb states that he used Brett as a weapon just as the agency used him but that he likes to believe that he was motivated "by a sense of duty." Where they differ is that Brett enjoys the killing and feels no remorse for what he has done. So despite being similar in their natures, the strongest conflict in the novel exists between these two characters. This results in the ultimate showdown that creates the climax of this novel.

The Rule of 3 series will definitely appeal to 12 to 14 year old boys who are looking for an exciting survival story. Walters tackles the ethical problems and difficult decisions that survivors of an apocalypse might encounter but is never heavy-handed in his treatment. Walters is a Canadian author who has been quietly toiling away at his craft since 1994, having penned over ninety books since that time. Many of those books are solid reads that circulate well from libraries and which find themselves on class booklists. Walters has stated that one of the main themes in his novels is the ability to effect change in one's life and to survive difficult situations. This view is based on his own personal experiences growing up when he lost his mother to cancer at age four and watched his father struggle to raise him and his older sister while coping with mental and physical health issues and unemployment.

Overall Fight For Power is a great second book to a very exciting series. I wanted to keep reading and reading, the ending coming all too soon. Well written, with a creative cover to draw readers in. Highly recommended!

Book Details:

Fight For Power by Eric Walters
New York: Farrar Straus Giroux      2015
346 pp.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Movie: Mr. Turner

This independent film, by English director, Mike Leigh, explores the last twenty-five years of arguably the greatest British painter, J.M.W.Turner. Joseph Mallard William Turner was born in 1775 to William Turner, a barber and wig maker. His mother suffered from mental illness and was eventually hospitalized. Her illness led to Turner being sent away to school. The senior Turner encouraged his son's artistic talent early on and his earliest drawings were sometimes sold from his father's barbershop.

Turner gained admittance to the Royal Academy schools in 1789 and advanced through them studying various art mediums. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1790 through to 1796. Turner often painted in water colours but he also mastered oil. His first exhibited oil painting was Fishermen at Sea. He was elected an Associate of the Academy in 1799 and an Academician in 1802.

Turner travelled all throughout England - Yorkshire and the Lake Distric as well as Wales, with the intent of improving his craft. During the Treaty of Amiens, in which the hostilities between the England and the French Republic ceased, Turner was able to travel to Paris and into the Alps and Switzerland. The Napoleonic Wars interrupted his travels on the continent but he did eventually travel to Italy in 1819. His travels in Italy, especially Venice, were to have a profound effect on his art.  He focused on the grandeur and violent power of nature, painting storms, avalanches, volcanic eruptions and fires.  He painted numerous marine scenes and even had himself lashed to the mast of a ship so he could capture the fury of a storm in his painting Steam Boat off a Harbour's Mouth making Signals in Shallow Water and going by the Lead. This obsession with the power of nature led to a gradual evolution in his art. Instead of representing form by line, Turner gradually utilized colour and light. In this regard he was ahead of his time, resulting in the public and fellow artists alike not understanding what he was attempting to accomplish.

Turner's father lived with him for thirty years and was his studio assistant. His father passed away in 1829 and his death affected him keenly. Turner never married but was believed to be the father of two daughters, Evelina and Georgiana by Sarah Danby. He lived with his mistress, Sophia Caroline Booth in Chelsea where he died in 1851.


The film, Mr. Turner is essentially a character sketch of the artist that focuses not so much on his art, as on his personal eccentricities. Well known British actor, Timothy Spall, who portrayed the famous painter spent considerable time preparing for the role. He spent two years under the tutelage of Tim Wright who taught Spall to paint like Turner. In total, Wright had him create three hundred pieces of art. That Spall succeeded is evident in scenes where he is painting - he really does appear to be accomplish. However, the paintings seen in close ups are the work of artist Charlie Cobb while those shown in the background are prints.

The movie picks up Turner's life as a middle-aged man living with his father.  Spall captures Turner's libertine ways, common to the Georgian age which comprised most of his life.  By the Victorian age, social mores were changing and after his death, John Ruskin who went through Turner's art supposedly found a great deal of erotic art which he claimed to have destroyed.

Spall was able to accurately portray some of Turner's supposed mannerisms including his grunts and snuffles that he was known to make while painting, although sometimes it was difficult to understand the dialogue between the accent and the grunts and snorts.

At times Mr. Turner lags; the pacing is slow through most of the movie, picking up towards the end. Leigh manages to show a Turner who is focused on his art, traveling about the country, sketching constantly, involved in the Academy and even lecturing. His housekeeper's declining health is well shown as we see Hannah who suffered from psoriasis, which was a greatly misunderstood condition in the 19th century, shunned and at a complete loss at his death.


This movie is Restricted in Canada mainly due to its somewhat limited, but graphic sexual content. Turner is shown visiting a brothel and there is also other sexual content in the movie.

Mr. Turner will definitely appeal to those interested in either the artist or the art of film and so it's likely your best bet to catch it before it goes to DVD is through film clubs.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Marguerite Caine is the daughter of two brilliant scientists; Dr. Sophia Kovalenka, a physicist and Dr. Henry Caine, an oceanographer, physicist and mathematician. Dr. Kovalenka has been working on multidimensional universes and theorized that it should be possible to interact with them. Marguerite's father became interested in her work and they eventually became research partners and married. Marguerite and her sister, Josie, are the result of that union.

After twenty-four years of research, her parents were ready to try traveling between dimensions after their work demonstrating the existence of alternate dimensions had been replicated.They began working on building a device that would enable energy to travel between dimensions and since consciousness is a form of energy, theoretically this meant that people would be able to travel to other dimensions. The device to enable multidimensional travel needed to be made out of specific materials which move easier than other forms of matter and "anchor the consciousness of the traveler". Eventually Henry and Sophia made a device, which they named "Firebird" that seemed like it would work.

However, one of Marguerite's parent's trusted research assistants, Paul Markov, is suspected of murdering her father and has fled into another dimension with the only working Firebird. Theo Beck, their other research assistant,  is determined to recover the device and to stop Paul. To do so he has assembled two working Firebird devices from old prototypes which will enable him to pursue Paul who is leaving traces as he travels through different dimensions. Despite Theo's objections, Marguerite is determined to be involved and they both travel to the dimension where Paul has fled.

The first dimension Marguerite lands in finds her in London, England. Computers appear to have been invented much earlier and are more advanced. When she is contacted by Theo via computer, she learns that he is in Boston at MIT. It appears that Theo has experienced some sort of confusion, a side effect of dimensional travel and one that Marguerite has not had yet. Marguerite discovers that in this dimension her entire family was killed in an hovercraft accident years ago and that she is living with her father's sister, her Aunt Susannah. She also learns that Paul Markov is a research assistant at the University of Cambridge.

Marguerite finds her way to Aunt Susannah's posh apartment. The Marguerite in this dimension doesn't read, is a partier and dresses in designer labels. When she gets in trouble at a party, Theo rescues her and takes her back to Aunt Susannah's apartment. However Theo has problems, first blanking out in this dimension and needing a "reminder" to wake his consciousness and then he shoots up with a strange green liquid later on. This causes Marguerite to realize she may not be able to count on Theo to help her.

After recovering Theo tells Marguerite that they need to find Wyatt Conley head of Triad Corporation which has been financing Marguerite's parent's research. Triad is one of the world's biggest tech companies and Conley is to speak at a convention in London. Marguerite remembers that Paul was increasingly suspicious of Triad, especially after a machine used for measuring something called "dimensional resonance", which had been in Marguerite's family's home, overloaded, shocking Marguerite but otherwise not harming her. During the months before his disappearance she remembers him being very paranoid.

Theo and Marguerite confront Paul at the convention but when Theo gets carted off by security, Marguerite is taken by Paul onto the Tube. In the subway car he is shocked to learn of her father's death and tells Marguerite he would never hurt her father. Paul tells Marguerite that Theo must take her home and then abruptly jumps to another dimension.

Marguerite follows him only to find herself in a dimension where she is the daughter of His Imperial Highness Tsar Alexander V of Russia. As Marguerite enters into the body of the Marguerite in this dimension, she is walking down red velvet carpeted stairs and she falls, breaking a pearl necklace and the Firebird. In this dimension, Marguerite's mother is dead, her father Henry Caine is tutor to the royal children, and she has an older brother Vladimir and a younger sister, Katya and brother, Peter. Paul who has jumped ahead of her into this dimension, is the dashing Lieutenant Paul Markov, assigned to protect the Imperial Princess Marguerite.

At first Paul remembers who he is and as he's escorting Marguerite to her rooms, he warns her that Wyatt Conley is dangerous and that she needs to go home. However, Marguerite shows him the broken Firebird which he says can be fixed but before that happens, Paul loses his own Firebird when Colonel Azarenko takes it from him. Even worse, Paul's consciousness begins to fade inside this dimension's Lieutenant Markov. Marguerite does not know where Theo has landed in this dimension until she eventually receives a letter from him indicating that he is in France.

In this dimension, Marguerite falls in love with Lieutenant Markov and discovers that her father had an affair with the Tsar's wife, Sophia Kovalenka and that he is her father. Marguerite recognizes her father's brilliant mind and decides to ask him to put the Firebird back together. When the royal family decides to travel to Moscow via train, they are ambushed by the Tsar's brother, Grand Duke Sergei, who is intent upon killing the Romanov family and seizing power. This results in Marguerite and Lieutenant Paul Markov fleeing the train and spending an intimate night together. During this time Marguerite decides to reveal to Paul who she is, in the hopes that he can help her retrieve the Firebird and get her own device repaired.

The attack on the train leads to a civil war. Marguerite insists that Paul take her to the royal war camp which he does and there she also tells her biological father, Henry, her true identity in the hope that he can reconstruct the Firebird. Eventually her father does repair the device and Marguerite jumps to the next dimension, shortly after Lieutenant Markov has died and the fate of Paul from her dimension unknown.

Because her Firebird is set to follow Paul to whatever dimension he jumps, Marguerite reasons he is alive in this dimension that is very much like home. Marguerite finds her parents both alive and that they have been awarded a Nobel Prize indicating that they must have made their discoveries several years earlier. Marguerite learns that in this dimension, Paul is being sought by the police for stealing her parents data. When Theo shows up, he continues to press her to not believe in what Paul tells her. At dinner with her parents, Theo tells her that Triad wants to not only send energy but matter as well to different dimensions. The proof that matter can be sent is the presence of the Firebird in each alternate reality. Her father states that Conley's agenda is more sinister, involving spying on other dimensions and to take over the bodies of other people in alternate realities. Because they cannot stop Triad, they have managed to get Theo into Triad as an intern. This position allows Theo to take Marguerite into Triad's headquarters to see Lab Eleven where he works. However a series of desperate texts from Paul warn Marguerite to leave the building immediately. Marguerite manages to do this and meet up with Paul.  In this dimension, Paul reveals what is really going on and the danger Marguerite is in.

Synopsis

A Thousand Pieces of You is the first in the Firebird series by Gray with the second book, Ten Thousand Skies Above You, due out November 3, 2015. This first novel weaves an intriguing story involving the sci fi element of dimensional travel with a romantic relationship between Marguerite and Paul. The interesting premise which forms the basis for the entire series - traveling through alternate dimensions - is the prime strength of this novel.

The story is told in first person narration by Marguerite, a strong, vibrant protagonist. The novel starts out with Marguerite believing Paul is responsible for her father's death and that she must kill him to exact revenge. While this is a great hook to draw the reader into the story, (Marguerite writes "Kill Paul Markov" in lipstick on a wall) the decision to kill him seems a little over the top despite the fact that he's wiped their research data, killed her father and stolen the Firebird. Even Marguerite recognizes that such an action is problematic. wouldn't killing him in another dimension kill two people, one of whom lives in that other dimension but who is innocent? Marguerite does understand this when she says "It hasn't escaped my attention that the Paul I need to destroy is currently a passenger in the body of another Paul Markov entirely. Although right now it seems to me that anybody as evil as Paul would be evil in every single dimension, I don't know that for sure. So it's not as simple as finding him and...shooting him..." Wouldn't Marguerite's mission be to bring him back to his home dimension to face murder charges?

Gray does a good job of creating and maintaining suspense throughout the story and readers will probably clue into the fact that Paul might not be the person Marguerite needs to be worried about. Eventually all the lose ends are tied together through revelations by various characters. Unlike Paul or Theo, Marguerite retains her ability to function in the different realities because of the Accident with the machine that was placed in her home by Triad. It is this ability to retain her memories and her consciousness that Wyatt Conley of Triad hopes to utilize. His intent is to use Marguerite to control her parents - the inventors of dimensional travel, and thus control the technology in as many alternate realities as possible. In this way he can keep the technology to himself. Paul believes that the Wyatt Conley from the dimension which developed the technology earlier and in which Marguerite's parents won a Nobel Prize, has been visiting their home dimension for some time and may have even been in collusion with that Conley. All this is eventually revealed to Marguerite by Paul so that she understands the danger she is in.


At first it appears that there will be a love triangle between Marguerite, Paul and Theo but that is gradually resolved as the novel moves along. Marguerite's time in the alternate reality set in Russia is quite lengthy and it is in this dimension that Gray diverges from the storyline to develop the romance between Marguerite and Paul.While this development slows the novel, the relationship between Paul and Marguerite does further the plot because Paul holds vital information about her father's murder and the motive behind what really happened.

At times the novel does suffer from poor editing - for example when Marguerite spends almost an entire page discussing homeschooling. But overall readers will enjoy this story which offers the opportunity to consider what it might be like to travel to other dimensions (if they do in fact exist) along with a touch of romance. The beautiful cover art by Craig Shields will certainly entice readers to at least open the cover and check out the first few pages.


Claudia Gray is the pseudonym of New Orleans based writer Amy Vincent. She is also the author of the Spellcaster and Evernight series.

Book Details:
A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
New York: HarperTEEN     2014
357 pp.