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It’s Dystopian Utopia! “Bitterblue,” “Insurgent,” and “Pandemonium”

It’s “Screen-Free” week, America, which means it’s time for fun summer reading! Here are three brand-new YA novels I’m excited about, two of which release today. Remember: it can’t really be dystopia with such great reading options.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (May 1 release). This sequel to Graceling (2008) and companion to Fire (2009) has been a long time coming. The story picks up eight years after the coronation of Bitterblue, the wise and just daughter of the dastardly King Leck. Although he’s deceased, Leck’s influence lives on in frightening ways, threatening not only her kingdom but all the other kingdoms as well. The tagline on the back of the book says, “How can she find her place as a true queen when her kingdom is only just waking up from the thirty-five-year spell of a madman?” I can’t wait to read it. (And I have to read it quickly, because one of my friends is waiting eagerly for my copy.)

Insurgent by Veronica Roth (May 1 release). The first novel in Roth’s series, Divergent, was recommended to me by an indy bookseller when I told her my daughter liked adventure stories but was not ready for something as violent and mature as The Hunger Games. Let me be clear: Divergent was every bit as violent and mature as The Hunger Games. I’m not quite sure what the bookseller was thinking, except maybe that she was so blinded by the gripping story that she wasn’t thinking about audience. At any rate, I loved the novel when I read it earlier this year, and have been impatiently anticipating the sequel. The first one ended with a postapocalyptic apocalypse, if such a thing is possible. (To paraphrase Riley on Buffy, there comes a point when one begins to wonder about the plural form of the word “apocalypse.”) In Insurgent, the various factions are at war with one another, and as the title suggests, Tris has become a sort of revolutionary. Again: can’t wait to read it.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver (released in February 2012). This follow-up to Delirium was that rare find in YA: a sequel that actually improves upon its predecessor. I imagine that the marketing pressures for these authors to get a book out once a year must be intense, and sometimes the results are subpar (Mockingjay, Breaking Dawn). But in Pandemonium, Oliver keeps the focus tight even while introducing new characters and exploring the world of the Invalids who live outside the city walls. Inside the cities, all adults must have a procedure that surgically removes their ability to love or feel strong emotion. The dissidents are those who have chosen freedom over safety, pain over protection; and Oliver does not prettify their world. I think she writes some of the loveliest and most heartrending descriptions in YA fiction today, though many readers will zip right through her honed prose as they focus on the page-turning plot. But this novel is worth savoring, and in an odd way it struck me as deeply theological. Here is a rumination from C.S. Lewis that’s apt to understand the choices of the main characters:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 121)

And Hell is precisely where the choiceless “zombies” who have chosen to have love surgically removed now reside. They are damned.

So, happy reading. Dystopia never felt so entertaining.

Tags: best dystopian ya fiction, bitterblue, buffy the vampire slayer, c.s. lewis the four loves, delirium series, divergent, flunking sainthood, graceling, insurgent, jana riess, kristin cashore, lauren oliver, pandemonium, the hunger games, veronica roth

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