Well, it's the last week of summer vacation, and I've finished the first two of that list, and started a third. Not bad, considering the busy summer we've had—moving into a new apartment, a trip to Disneyland, a friend's wedding a five-hour drive away, and a three-week sojourn to Big Chimp's homeland, the United Kingdom.
Other books I've read this summer? Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed, both birthday presents from people who know me well. (I also received the most beautiful illustrated editions of one of my favorite books—Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë—*swoon*.)
This fall I want to start up the blog again, so I thought I would start with a post on my top three favorite summer reads from 2013:
#3: Delirium by Lauren Oliver
This novel is set in a dystopian alternate present, a world in which love has been medically classified as a disease. A surgical "cure" has been developed, and cities of "the cured" are walled off with electric fences, which protect them from the Wilds beyond, which may or may not be infested with Invalids—those who choose to remain uncured.
The story begins with Lena, who has just finished high school and is counting down the days to the procedure that will rid her of all deep human emotions, foremost of which is amor deliria nervosa—the most dreaded and feared disease of love. Lena can't wait to be cured, certain that it will bring her peace and happiness, and alleviate the anxiety she carries over a dark family secret. However, the day of her evaluation doesn't go exactly as planned, leading Lena on a journey that will unravel the tangle of lies she's been told since the day she was born.
I'm tend to be a little bit skeptical when I start a YA dystopian novel. I mean, I love the genre, but I've read enough of these books now that I tend to wonder—will this book really be all that different, all that original, compared to all the other dystopian novels out there?
Delirium has many of the dystopian fall-backs: a world in which genuine human emotions are discouraged and individuality is tamped down (1984, Brave New World), one in which the ruling class perpetrates brutal violence, often toward young people (Ender's Game, Chaos Walking, The Hunger Games), and one in which an individual's life is planned by the powers that be (Matched, The Giver). As is popular in YA, it's narrated in the first person present tense.
In spite of all these elements (none of which are bad things, just common in the genre), Delirium feels special to me. The characters seem like whole people (I love Lena because she is so frightened and awkward and unconfident, and yet so stubborn and brave), and the writing is beautiful—some passages made me stop and backtrack and re-read because the language is so lovely. There is a great sense of place (it's set in Portland, Maine), lots of sensory detail, and a plot that fits together (in my opinion) in a satisfying and complete way—garnished with a smattering of creepy post-apocalyptic folklore and shot through with sinister government agendas.
#2: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
If you were presented with an opportunity to sell your child—knowing that she would be well cared for and have a better chance of survival than if she remained with you, and at the same time knowing that the money would help your remaining children to survive—would you do it? This is the conflict at the center of And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.
I like this book for the same reasons I like the author's other novels—it contains an amazing sense of place and history. The focal point is Afghanistan, but the setting ranges from there to Greece to the United States, as side stories and subplots tangle and interconnect. The main thread is the story of Abdullah and his little sister, Pari, separated across time and space by one agonizing decision their father makes. However, the narrative frequently delves off into expansive subplots—a Greek plastic surgeon, a girl with a horrific injury, an unhappy housewife, a child disfigured by a vicious dog—that give you a sense of a broader story, one that expands ever outward from person to person, country to country, decade to decade. A beautiful, emotional, lovely story.
#1(Because, among other reasons, it made me cry on an airplane): Wonder by RJ Palacio
"I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse" (page 3). These are the words of August, ten years old and about to start real school for the first time, in spite of his misgivings about the way the other kids will react to his severe facial abnormalities. Countless surgeries haven't done much to stop people from gasping when they see Auggie, but his parents have decided that he can't be home-schooled forever, so off to school he goes.
I don't want to give too much away, but Auggie's school year definitely has its ups and downs as he navigates the friendships, betrayals, triumphs and setbacks of life in the fifth grade. I smiled a lot and cried a little (I had to put the book down and take a break in case the stranger in the seat next to mine on the plane got alarmed by my emotional state), and I think it was the fact that the book reached me on such a deep level that made me love it.
The story switches point of view frequently between August, his sister Via, and the other characters who touch their lives—a style I've found annoying in other books I've read, but one that seems to work well for this story. No one character gives you the same perspective, and seeing events through different eyes is interesting—it's a reminder that everyone in the world sees things differently, and no one way of looking at something is the right way.
I hope, if you decide to read the book, that you love Auggie and his family as much as I do.
So those are my favorite reads of summer 2013! What are yours? Tell me in the comments.