Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Book review - Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

In their words:
'Auden has always felt like the odd one out. Since her parents’ divorce she’s shied away, studying lots and staying out of the party scene. But now Auden’s realised there must be something more and, just like that, she changes everything. Moving to her dad’s house opens up a whole new world of beach parties, food fights – and simply having fun. As she starts to get to know herself – and a secretive boy with dark, brooding eyes – can Auden begin to let go and finally feel like she truly belongs?'

In other words:
Auden’s grown up pretty much all work and no play, but the summer before university she has nothing to work towards – she’s already been accepted to her preferred uni, but in the meantime, has a summer to kill. Staying with her dad in a small town, she gets to know the teenage population. For Auden, who’s more at home behind a textbook, this summer is all about learning to let go.

Sarah Dessen’s books tend to follow not exactly the same formula, but similar themes. Family, friendship, love, and the main character is on a journey of self-discovery and growing up. She’s a master at writing books not only for teens, but books about teens. Each book, though similar, brings a new character with authentic issues and an authentic story.

So where does Along for the Ride fit into this strong repertoire? In my opinion it’s solidly in the middle. Auden is a character easy to relate to – she’s a product of her parents and her upbringing, slowly learning how to become her own person. The cast of characters are interesting – those who you’d least expect it of seem to be the most insightful. I did have a quibble: everyone in the town is essentially good – there are those with faults, but these are usually people from Auden’s past.

Eli is an interesting love interest, but I actually didn’t feel that I got to know him. Similarly, he was just too nice; going so far out of his way for a stranger reads as a little bit unlikely to me. Maybe I’m just too cynical. This small issue aside, I’m constantly amazed at Sarah Dessen’s ability to weave a story from almost mundane events and little action. She manages to do so without ever letting the story become stagnant or dull.

So where does it rate? I’d put it on a par with Lock & Key. A solid new read for any Sarah Dessen fans (especially as you will recognise cameos of characters from previous books). If you haven’t read anything by Sarah Dessen before then this is still worth reading, but my advice is to get yourself a copy of The Truth about Forever to read – one of my favourite contemporary books for teens. These books lean more towards a female readership, but I'm sure lads could enjoy them too.

Pages: 424
Category: Contemporary teen fiction

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Book review - Dark Life by Kat Falls

In their words:
'When the oceans rose, entire continents were swallowed up by the rising water. Now humans live packed into high rises on small tracts of land, while those willing to forge new frontiers settle deep beneath the waves. Ty has lived under the sea his entire life, helping his family to farm the ocean floor. But when outlaws attack, Ty finds himself in a fight to save the only home he has ever known. Joined by Gemma, a girl from Topside who is looking for her missing brother, Ty ventures into the frontier’s rough underworld – and discovers some very dark secrets. Secrets which threaten to destroy everything ...'

In other words:
Dark Life is set in a future in which Global Warming has swallowed up most of the land. Some people cling to the small remaining patches of land in ever-increasing sky-scrapers. Others take to the seas.
The science of this is mostly glossed over; people breathe in ‘liquigen’ just before leaving air. This allows them to breathe and also appears to alleviate effects of water pressure. In short, anyone can go underwater. The dangers arrive with what is an alien environment.

Dark Life actually manages to make a life under the sea sound tempting. In a world we know so well, the sea is a whole new frontier. Complete with some underworld pirates, an unsympathetic government and a group of children with strange secrets, it is a clever, exciting and compelling read. There is a relatable and diverse cast of children and teens, fighting to protect the homes that their parents have worked so hard to create. I loved the government cover-up aspect and the elements of mystery, though some parts are predictable.

I loved this world that Kat Falls has created and hope she’ll revisit it soon. With its unusual setting, interesting characters, layers of secrets and surprising powers, Dark Life is a book I would heartily recommend. It’s accessible to young teens while not alienating older readers. It actually makes me wish I’d been born under the sea myself a little bit!

Pages: 304
Publication date: 29th April 2010

Category: Slightly futuristic dystopia

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for providing me with a review copy.