Wednesday, January 13, 2016

REMAKE by Ilima Todd

On Goodreads

The Blurb: 
Nine is the ninth female born in her batch of ten females and ten males. By design, her life in Freedom Province is without complications or consequences. However, such freedom comes with a price. The Prime Maker is determined to keep that price a secret from the new batches of citizens that are born, nurtured, and raised androgynously. 
But Nine isn't like every other batcher. She harbors indecision and worries about her upcoming Remake Day -- her seventeenth birthday, the age when batchers fly to the Remake facility and have the freedom to choose who and what they'll be.
When Nine discovers the truth about life outside of Freedom
Province, including the secret plan of the Prime Maker, she is
pulled between two worlds and two lives. Her decisions will test
her courage, her heart, and her beliefs. Who can she trust? Who does she love? And most importantly, who will she decide to be?

The Afterglow:

I've had my eye on this book for quite some time, ever since I first saw it at the local Deseret Bookstore. When I got it for Christmas, I was thrilled!

Gender is a hot-button cultural issue with many psychological and religious, even political, undertones. Thus, I was very impressed to see an author of faith had taken it on. That's brave. People of faith aren't politically popular right now, unless you're the Pope. And wearing it on your sleeve can earn you plenty of condemnation from your peers. Sure enough, when I went to rate this book FIVE STARS on Goodreads, I ended up exposed to plenty of negative, even angry, reviews. Fortunately, there are enough glowing reviews to land it very near to four whole stars cumulatively.

But this is an Afterglow Review, and this review blog is reserved for those books that wow-ed you, impressed you, or changed you, leaving you somehow better. Remake did that for me. I read it with my husband, which made me blush a bit in the particularly gushy parts, but definitely made the humor more fun. The mystery of it left us speculating and predicting throughout the book as we tried to figure out exactly why Nine is the way she is, so different from everyone else, and what the Prime Maker would do with her if she didn't do what was expected.

The part that impacted me, though, was the artful articulation of the true meaning and joy of FAMILY. It is, after all, what this book is all about. It ponders the questions, "Is family important? Necessary? Desirable? Or is it restrictive of freedom, oppressive of women, and inciting to revolution?"

For those of us who advocate for the continued protection of the natural family (I include myself as a homeschool mom who advocates for parents rights), family means something more to us than it seems to mean to those who believe a child is better off as a ward of the state. It means bundles of pride and joy, to be sure, but it also means mutual sacrifice, deep and abiding love, and an eternal sense of belonging that goes beyond all other affiliations in your life. Not everyone feels this way about family, and not everyone has had a beautiful experience in her own family. It can be difficult for family-lovers to articulate exactly why the family unit is worth protecting and proliferating.

Ilima Todd gently and with plenty of awkward humor, helps us discover the depth of meaning in the family pattern through the eyes of an androgynous girl without family who is fostered into a tight-knit, God-fearing, and hard-working family. From her new mother, she learns what a mother even is, that it's sometimes a painful role to play, and that her impact with a few whispered words can reach her children months later across an ocean. From her new father, she learns how fathers and mothers lead together, how the love of parents is the glue that binds the whole family together, and how to lead with love. From her new siblings, she learns that you can be happy no matter your circumstances, that complaining makes things a lot worse, and that everybody in the family has work they can do for the good of all.

Even though Nine is eased into this new life, it is still very alien to her, having grown up in a batch of genetically engineered children as the social pariah with only one best friend to protect her from ceaseless teasing. She weighs the good and the bad in what she sees, and struggles with concepts like freedom vs. loyalty or choice vs. acceptance of things that aren't easily changed. All she's ever wanted her entire life is to change who she is completely so she can be more like her best friend in every way, even down to his gender. She mistakenly believes that strength and courage are male traits. Right up to the last chapter, the reader must wonder what she will choose to be. Even if you disagree with the Biblical and historic definitions of family, this story will allow you to explore what a world would be like where children aren't considered their parents' charges and natural birth within families is not only discouraged, but illegal.

A good dystopia shows us ourselves in a fun-house mirror to make us think about the distortions and what the real picture is and should be. Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games forced us to realize the disgusting glamorization of violence in our entertainment by inventing a society where war and entertainment were one and the same. Ilima Todd has shown us our disregard for family stewardship, parents rights, and a child's need for the complementary and different abilities of both parents by inventing a society that isolates children from any constant caregivers, punishes parents for procreating and systematically sterilizes new citizens of a city ironically called Freedom 1.

In one particularly haunting conversation with the Prime Maker, Nine asks herself, "And what if I choose to be me?" 

Monday, January 11, 2016

ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE by Gail Carriger

On Goodreads

The Blurb:
It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School. 
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners--and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's, young ladies learn to finish...everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage--in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education.

The Afterglow:

 I absolutely loved Gail Carriger's adult series, The Parasol Protectorate, starting with Book the First: Soulless. With the light, witty tone of Jane Austen crashing into the clockworks and invention of Jules Verne, Gail Carriger has hit the sweet spot in her book universe. Set in the same delightful universe, her Finishing School series for teen readers explores a pair of unorthodox boarding schools for boys and girls: one for training up evil geniuses and the other for preparing female intelligencers to face the wild world of espionage and Picklemen.

I quickly fell in like with the main character of Etiquette & Espionage, Sophronia (love the name!) Temminnick, because of her intelligent fascination with how things work and her innate indifference to fashion and manners. I related to her because she comes from a large family, wears last season's dresses from her older sisters (though in my case it was a cousin), and can't help but be curious about everything! Even better, she doesn't come from a family steeped in the mystery of Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quali-tay. She's more like a scholarship case, referred to in the book as a covert recruit.

With her affinity for stable boys and indifference to gender or racial differences, Sophronia exudes goodness, despite her position at a school for would-be assassins and intelligencers. She is truly a main character to applaud.

While the many intriguing and mysterious characters come from diverse backgrounds and personalities, the school itself is a character. Its shape, its geographical location, and its propensity to float above the ocean all make the setting one of constant excitement and, yes, of course, danger.

While I haven't been a teenage girl for some time now, I do have a little anecdote which leads me to believe this book would be equally beloved by teen girls. Knowing my mom's love of good fiction, especially with a 19th century England setting, I gave her the book as soon as I finished it. She took it to work the next day and immediately lost it. Rather, it was stolen. Fortunately, she found it in the hands of one of her "troubled" girls who lives at the school where she works. The girl begged her to get the book approved so she, too, could read it. Apparently, she had read a few pages and was hooked. If that's not a glowing review, I don't know what is.

I'm waiting on amazon to bring me my sequel copy, Curtsies & Conspiracies.

Have you read Gail Carriger? Would you read her YA series? (Hint: The answer is yes!)