Author Archives: jamiekoj

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is an incredible book. In many ways, it is a fairly typical YA novel about a teenage girl and has more modern pop culture references than any other book I’ve read, making it feel as though it were truly written by a teenager. However, the book is also unordinary in many ways. The main character, Starr, is an African American teenager living in a black neighborhood but goes to school out of district to attend a better school and deals with an internal conflict similar to Junior from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian in which she feels like she betrayed her community, deals with microaggressions from her friends at school, and feels as though she has to be two different people. However, the main topic of the book is following Starr’s story after she watches her closest childhood friend get shot in the back by the police. As Starr watches as, just as she’s seen many times before, Khalil’s name becomes a hashtag and people march in the streets while the police have no intention of punishing the guilty officer. This raises the point that police brutality is something which is talked about a lot on news and social media, but only in the shallowest, most impersonal ways and justice is rarely delivered. Angie Thomas delivers a strong message about police brutality in America by making it personal for the reader and showcasing the multiple issues with how justice is handled both by police officers and by society. She also brings up the relevance of microaggressions with how Starr’s non-black friends are well meaning but are ignorant about many of the issues Starr deals with and may say things that we, the reader, know are insensitive or offensive without knowing it. Thomas shows how these microaggressions hurt Starr and the different ways she and her friends respond to them. Usually, Starr calls them out on it, and they take personal offense. In one scenario, her friend asks, shocked, if Starr thinks she’s racist after everything they had been through together, to which Starr responds you don’t have to be racist to say racist things. I thought this was a very important statement as often people say things they do not realize are racist due to the society we live in where many things are internalized, and not realizing some things may be offensive is only human. However, once someone has been informed of the issue with their actions, it is their responsibility to own up to it and re-educate themself, because ultimately they are hurting other people. Thomas demonstrates this well as one of Starr’s friends does this well and one does not.

Overall, fantastic, fascinating book so far and I cannot wait to continue reading and find out what happens next.

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

 

Part 1

In need of a new book, I asked my friend for a quick recommendation and she gave me this. I admit, having wanted to continue my Terry Pratchett marathon but not having time to order the next book, I had pretty low expectations going into this, but was pleasantly surprised. I cannot put this book down.

An Ember in the Ashes, at a glance, is yet another YA dystopian novel, but it absolutely does not read like one, and I cannot emphasize that enough. At every chapter, it has blown away my expectations. It throws the reader straight into the world without any intro, and does a fantastic job of building a complex world without pausing the plot. The story switches between the point of view of Laia, a teenage girl living in a community recently conquered by the Empire, and Elias, a 20 year old boy who is graduating as one of the most ruthless, elite lines of soldiers known to the Empire, but wants no part in it. Without elaborating and spoiling the plot too much, Laia, in order to save her family, goes undercover as a slave to the cruel and heartless commandant of Elias’ training camp.

This book is remarkable for a number of reasons, but mainly for its realism when it comes to war. While its intent is not to shock or horrify and gruesome descriptions and situations are avoided, nothing is sugarcoated. Laia’s fear and hardships as a slave are notably worse than the typical YA protagonist. Meanwhile, the soldiers are more or less realistically humanized- evil to varying extents, but still human with human motives and emotions. The organized resistance against the Empire is equally complex, as it is never quite clear what their methods are and how effective they are, or where exactly their morals stand. It is clear that many people who trusted the resistance have been hurt, however. Was their sacrifice for the greater good, or were they wasted? I look forward to learning more.

The only character who seems inhuman is the Commandant. Her cruelty extends over her slaves, students, and especially her son, and she seems to have no redeeming factors. Perhaps this is merely for an old-fashioned hero/villain effect. After all, throughout the book I feel reassured that neither protagonist will die, as they seem to have so much left to do. In the complexity and realism of the book, it does make for a nice, steadying factor, and who knows? It is quite possible I’ll learn more about her later. However, I wonder if there is another reason for her simplicity?

***Minor Spoilers below***

 

One element of the book that has been recently introduced is the presence of magical beings, and I very much admire how they feel part of the story and not like an add on, as their influence is hinted at throughout the beginning of the book. It has been recently been revealed that, MAJOR SPOILER: [the Commandant has been in communication with Ghuls, who are magical and evil creatures. I wonder if their influence is what turned her rotten to the core?]

***end spoilers***

I very much look forward to seeing how the plot evolves. There is much room for character development, as well as many aspects about their world neither the characters nor the reader have been fully introduced to yet. While the plot seems more or less set up for a happy, satisfying conclusion, the road to get there is still unclear. Romance also seems an inevitable part of the novel, but both Elias and Laia have more important things to worry about at the moment, which is refreshing. It is also unclear with whom the protagonists will end up with. They’ve had little interactions with each other, but do seem drawn to one another, although they each seem to have their own, separate love interest as well. Wherever this novel goes, I’m eager to continue reading.

 

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The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett part 2

Towards the end of the book, the characters face final challenges, and their newfound enemies are a commentary on hateful people who resort to scapegoating and violence out of fear. The way Pratchett writes the characters is fascinating and thought provoking, and it manages to be serious despite the whimsical humor going on around it. When the main characters approach a gathering mob, they hear the silence that comes when, “hundreds of frightened and angry people are standing very still” and then a voice sails over the cloud, questioning magic and the gods and calling for ‘cleansing.’ The narrator writes, “The voice didn’t believe in gods, which in Rincewind’s book was fair enough, but it didn’t believe in people either,” and then death appears on the scene. Rincewind tells him he must be having a good day, but death shakes his head. He tells him he understands the death of a warrior, young child, or old man, but does not, “understand this death-of-the-mind.”

The characters escape the mobs, and it seems the danger has passed, but in the final battle of the book they encounter a man possessed not by demons, but things described only as, ‘things.’ The things are far worse than evil, “People were craving order, and order they would get… All the demons in Hell would torture your soul, but that was precisely because they valued souls very highly…those empty eyes would trample and destroy without even according its victims the dignity of hatred. It wouldn’t even notice them” (248).

I find it amazing that in this strange and whimsical book, Pratchett can write such insightful and pointed messages about the real world. He shows the mobs as they truly are: ordinary people who, faced with fear and desperation, became very very dangerous and hateful. He comments on the terribleness of this, but makes a point that so much worse is when this violence and hate become institutionalized and impersonal.

I have a great admiration for Terry Pratchett, both for his fascinating stories with spectacular mastery of language, and now for his awareness of real world issues as well.

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The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett part 1

To preface this post: Terry Pratchett has become my all time favorite author. He could write a dictionary and I would read it cover to cover.

Now, granted, his plots are fascinating. In all the books I’ve read so far, the main character has been a kind of unlikely or accidental hero, being a fairly average person who picks and chooses where their* morals lie, tending to lie in the gray area. In The Light Fantastic, that character is a wizard (wizards being morally gray by definition) who was kicked out of wizard university due to reading the spell book equivalent of the bible and having a mysterious, potentially dangerous and very powerful slightly sentient spell jump out and nestle in his head. Somehow, he finds himself working as a tour guide to a rich but dangerously trusting man and nearly misses death time and time again.

As interesting as this plot may be, the true reason I love Pratchett is his remarkable mastery of language. Before reading his writing, I never imagined someone could craft such witty and funny, yet unexpected commentary without feeling forced or random. Likewise, his metaphors and similes have an almost musical quality to them, coming to life on the page, hopping into your head to not just painting a picture, but carving a sculpture. For example, he described a passing spell passing through someone “as light as a thought” and mentioned once a quiet sound, “like a mouse’s heart breaking.” 

Like I said, if Pratchett wrote a dictionary, I would pour over every syllable. 

The Light Fantastic is interesting and funny, but it isn’t really a story, more of an experience. The main characters are protected from danger by plot, and I would never imagine anything south of melancholy appearing on the page. Likewise, the only messages I’ve gotten from the books so far are to be open to new experiences and enjoy adventures such as the one the books take you on. Again and again, they explore the world Terry Pratchett creates, with the perfect mix of new and familiar encounters. Finally, the lack of chapters means that the story never stops, just like in real life.

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The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin 7/10 Jamie Kojiro

On one of two twin planets, a scientist is born. Shevek, born on the planet Anarres, the moon of Urras, is pursuing a General Time Theory, although that isn’t really what this book is about. Both planets, Urras and Anarres, have opposite, extreme governments. Urras is ruled by capitalism while Anarres is ruled by a kind of communist anarchism. The story explores the flaws and the path to fixing both governments, as well as the complex history of the two planets and the power of social norms. Shevek, in his pursuit of discovery and in sharing knowledge, is able to realize the flaws of his own home planet. With this, he decides to travel to Urras, where more people study in his field. There, he becomes an icon for the poor and oppressed, who see Anarres as proof that they could better themselves. With these governments, the book is able make the reader think and question many assumptions.

I found these planets and cultures fascinating, as they were as rich and complex as any real culture. We don’t get all of  the information immediately, but eventually we get enough that we understand all the nuances and history of these planets. There are also multiple characters with very distinct personalities which we can recognize instantly, and they all feel complex and relatable. However, part of the reason I only gave the book a seven is that Shevek is not one of these characters. He is disconnected and mechanical and seems to experience a very limited range of emotion. He does still serve his purpose well as our link to his world, and perhaps only someone like him could follow the path which he took, exposing the flaws of the governments. 

The visuals in the book were also amazingly vivid. Each chapter would begin with describing the location and setting the scene, which could be a pro or con depending on what kind of reader you are. I personally found it mostly a pro, as it truly did paint clear, detailed picture, however towards the end of the book it became slightly tedious. Another interesting feature of each chapter was that it switched time periods and planets each chapter. The odd chapters take place in the future following Shevek on Urras while the even chapters take place in the past on Anarres. Each have an almost self-contained plot, with the story on Anarres acting as a prequel, however they rely on each other for the sharing of knowledge and understanding of the plot.

All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to have a book to make them think. The story raises many questions, both about the fictional universe and our own. Also anyone enjoys a well thought out sci-fi book. The story explores alien cultures which truly feel foreign, not to mention interesting technological and scientific realities which could only exist in the future. However, because the author had a tendency to use more words than always necessary, the book can be a bit of a headache to read, and as mentioned before, the main character whom the story is told through is difficult to relate to. The enjoyment in reading this book is not in the reading, but in the rich, thought-provoking, fascinating story contained in the reading. It’s one of those books which becomes part of you, and no matter your feelings toward it you will never forget it.

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