Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro does have a way of delicately discussing intense matters and the twist, which is nearly science fiction, brings up all sorts of moral questions.

A delicate dystopian novel.

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 288 pages.
Read from July 13 to 19, 2016.

This novel has been nominated for a few awards and is frequently on lists as one of the books that we should read before we die. Ishiguro has won other awards with some of his other works and is often praised for his simple style of writing on complicated scenarios and his ability to merge literary fiction with a dystopian setting. As of lover of anything to do with reading lists, I was anxious to add this book to pile.

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are students at an exclusive and secluded boarding school in England called Hailsham but not everything is as it appears. The students are told that they are special but are never really told why, but whispers from the teachers and rumours from the students start to unfold the horrifying truth about the real reason these students are attending the school. Kathy recalls how the the three of them grew up in Hailsham and has mixed feelings of fondness as she comes to terms with the fate that the three of them, and all the other students at Hailsham share. As an adult, Ruth and Tommy enter Kathy’s life again and the three of them try to make up for the time that they are quickly losing.

It is difficult to summarize the plot without giving away the novel but Ishiguro slowly builds the plot through Kathy so that as a reader you are not sure what is truly going with these students until halfway through the novel. The twist is nearly that of science fiction and brings up all sorts of moral questions. Ishiguro does have a way of delicately discussing intense matters. However, I do feel that that was the major fault of this novel. This book is simple, too simple in my opinion, for the moral content it is discussing. I felt like I was reading a young adult novel, not an nominated piece of literary fiction.

I wanted more than what Ishiguro offered me. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the novel, but there were aspects of it that I found petty. For example, it wasn’t until the last half of the novel that I came to like the characters in the book. Ruth is not a good friend and I was constantly waiting for the day when Kathy would get some sense and end things with her and as a result I did not like Kathy until later in the novel. Tommy I always sympathized with however. My questions are why didn’t the students run away when they had a chance? Once they were older and knew what was coming, why didn’t they run for it? I can’t imagine that they all managed to accept their fates without question, especially once they had a taste for the real world. Were they too afraid of finding their doubles? Was it part of their re-wired genetics to never question their own purpose? I never got those answers but perhaps that is what makes this novel so haunting.

However, the setting of this book is beautifully done. The tiny details of the how the school functioned, the teachers who had moral issues with the information students were given about their special situation, Kathy dancing and singing with a pillow, and of course once they became carers were what I felt were the pinnacles in this book and were the foundation to the subtle and emotional contexts that the reader connects with. It was these aspects that sat with me long after I finished the novel. So needless to say, Ishiguro still accomplished his job with me as a reader.

This story asks moral questions in regards to medicine and cloning and the moral risks that come in regards to curing illnesses. How do we make moral decisions in medicine on our abilities to play with genetics and creation? How do we make the means worth the ends and does something/someone have to suffer as a result? The ultimate question being, just because we can, does it mean we should?  I imagine because of the questions that this book asks that it has become a timeless piece of fiction.

Overall, Ishiguro has made me curious and I am very interested in reading more by him. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys sci-fi plots without spaceships and for those looking for something outside the standard dystopian.

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

3/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read from January 21 to 30, 2016.

This book was a fitting ending to a trilogy that unintentionally took me a  few years to finish.This is because I didn’t even know this was meant to be a trilogy when I picked up Oryx and Crake all that time ago. This book is an action packed dystopian that questions our current societal values along with what it is to be human. Heck, there is even a bit of romance that’s worth reading.

A waterless flood has wiped out humanity. Those that remain are struggling to survive and those from the passive religious group God’s Gardener are finally rejoining. Toby and Ren manage to save Amanda from the ruthless Painballers, though Amanda is left with severe mental trauma from the ordeal. They then return to a safe house but are accompanied by the Crakers, a gentle and subhuman creation of the deceased Crake. With them they bring their “prophet”,  Jimmy-the-Snowman, who is very unwell. Their prophet tells them the stories of Oryx and Crake to them every evening before bed but since Jimmy is so unwell the strange task is left to Toby.  Zeb has been out looking for Adam-One, the creator of God’s Gardener’s. Zeb is Adam’s brother, and the creator of the MaddAddamites, an active resistance group in the fight against the CorpSeCorps. While learning about their horrible and destructive childhood, together, the two of them help unearth the deception and lies against the CorpSeCorps, all while trying to survive in this post-apocalyptica setting.

One of the most intriguing parts of this book is getting to know the Crakers. Crakers were created to be non-violent in hopes to create a better race than that of the humans. Yet their naive beliefs and practices do not play out well outside of the walled-utopia they were living in. Admittedly, they are very annoying in the beginning as they are so very naive with the real world;  that, and they never stop singing. However their role is crucial as they counterpart the violence, and other challenging human instincts and emotions, which help portray a wide-scope definition of humanness. There are also a few Crakers that come to understand certain human ways, implying that they might become more human like, which can be good or bad, depending on how your own views.

What really made this book for me though is Toby. She has always been my favourite character so I was glad to read even more about her in this book. You also finally get the in-depth story on Zeb and Adam and just how the Gardener’s and the MaddAddamite’s were created.

While you could potentially read this book without having read the other two books in the trilogy, I really would not recommend it. The world that Atwood has built takes the full 3 books appreciate and understand its depth. They can also get a little convoluted even when read together so it helps to have all of them as reference. Overall, a great read that I would recommend to anyone interested in a unique and well-plotted trilogy.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Q19

4/5 stars.
ebook, 325 pages.
Read from June 23 to July 04, 2014.

*Originally published on August 13, 2014*

You know what, I’d say that this book is deserving of all of the hype and fame that it has received. Why you ask? Because this is one of the few YA novels that isn’t chalked full of a bunch of barfy teenage romance but instead focuses on the more interesting dystopian setting and all of its encompassing action!

Divergent is set in a dystopian version of Chicago in which everyone is separated in to five different factions that represent different ideals to create a whole and peaceful unit of government:

1) Abnegation; The Selfless: “I choose to turn away from my reflection, to rely not on myself but on my brothers and sisters, to project always outward until I disappear.”

2) Erudite; The Intelligent: “Ignorance is defined not as stupidity but as lack of knowledge. Lack of knowledge inevitably leads to lack of understanding. Lack of understanding leads to a disconnect among people with differences. Disconnection among people with differences leads to conflict. Knowledge is the only logical solution to the problem of conflict. Therefore, we propose that in order to eliminate conflict, we must eliminate the disconnect among those with differences by correcting the lack of understanding that arises from ignorance with knowledge.”

3) Dauntless; The Brave: “We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another… We believe in shouting for those who can only whisper, in defending those who cannot defend themselves.”

4) Amity; The Peaceful: “Give freely, trusting that you will be given what you need… Do not be angry. The opinions of others cannot damage you… The wrong is past. You must let it rest where it lies… You must no longer think cruel thoughts. Cruel thoughts lead to cruel words, and hurt you as much as they hurt their target.”

5) Candor; The Honest: “Truth makes us transparent. Truth makes us strong. Truth makes us inextricable.”

At sixteen, each teenager is given an aptitude test to see which faction they would be best suited to. While the test is often the best suggestion to which faction they should go to (often the same one they grew up in), each teenager has the free will to choose which faction they would like to go to. Each faction follows specific rules and ways of life. For example, the Abnegation faction is based on selflessness. They dress drab, as to never focus on themselves and believe in helping others. A quirk with this faction is that they don’t have mirrors. It is in the Abnegation factions where the main protagonist, Beatrice Prior grows up.

The Abnegation faction is not the most well liked faction as they are the ones that run the whole government, given their selflessness. The Erudites, believe that because they focus on knowledge that they should be apart of the government which has created a massive rivalry between the two factions. Beatrice never feels like she quite belongs in the Abnegation faction, she isn’t quite selfless enough, not like her brother. When Beatrice takes her aptitude test she isn’t quite sure what to expect. He assessor tells her that she is Divergent, a word she had never heard before, and warns her not to share this information with anyone for fear of her life. When it comes time to pick a faction she decides to go with the Dauntless faction, and her brother, shockingly to the Erudites. It is not often that teens will leave their faction and family.

Beatrice is thrown into the world of the Dauntless, the brave and the fearless. They sport tattoos and eccentric clothing which, is unlike anything that Beatrice has ever seen before. The first few tests with the faction force her to do some death-defying feats in which not all new initiates make. For those that survive and fail any of these feats, they are considered ‘factionless’ and are sent to live, homeless, outside of the city.

Making her way from an initiate to a full Dauntless member, Beatrice learns what it means to be Divergent and why it was so important to keep it a secret. She also unfolds a plot which will change and destroy the way of life for each an every faction.

The book spends most of the time within the Dauntless faction following Beatrice’s trials, which are action packed and intense. She fights and beats up boys, she has to constantly put herself in the face of danger and stand up for those that were not Dauntless-born, like herself. Granted, she does meet a love interest but that doesn’t really unfold until near the end of the book and up until that point you’re taken on a wild ride of adventure and awesomeness!

Unlike a lot of YA novels, the qualities that make Beatrice different from the rest of the characters are not necessarily a good thing or overly exceptional. As Beatrice is Divergent, she thinks differently and has harder choices to make than those who aren’t. Things are not cut out so nice and clear for her as they are for others. It also raises the question of the potential that perhaps everyone is capable of being Divergent if they were given the chance to think outside the box of what their faction and government restricts them to. What makes Beatrice remarkable and a great heroine are her choices to want to be something more and her ability to stand in the face of fear even though she is deeply afraid. While she ends up fully embodying the Dauntless creed: “…ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another…” she ultimately represents every faction by being Divergent and shows that every person is able to display the qualities of each faction.

For those who are looking for a refreshing YA read and have been curious about the potential for this book I strongly encourage you to give Divergent a read!