Monday, March 27, 2017

Nandi Reviews: The Recoil Trilogy by Joanne Macgregor

Title: The Recoil Trilogy
Author: Joanne Macgregor
Publisher: KDP (2016)

When a skilled gamer gets recruited as a sniper in the war against a terrorist-produced pandemic, she discovers there’s more than one enemy and more than one war. The Game is real. 
Three years after a series of terrorist attacks flooded the US with a lethal plague, society has changed radically.  
Sixteen year-old Jinxy James spends her days trapped at home – immersed in virtual reality, worrying about the plague and longing for freedom. Then she wins a war simulation game and is recruited into a top-secret organisation where talented teenagers are trained to become agents in the war on terror. Eager to escape her mother’s over-protectiveness and to serve her country, Jinxy enlists and becomes an expert sniper of infected mutant rats. 
She’s immediately drawn to Quinn O’Riley, a charming and subversive intelligence analyst who knows more about the new order of government and society than he is telling. Then a shocking revelation forces Jinxy to make an impossible decision, and she risks losing everything.
When a highly contagious, killer virus is released by terrorists, people are forced to live indoors and take extreme precautions to keep themselves safe. The American population stays indoors, and only leaves for government sanctioned events, and only while wearing personal protective suits and masks to avoid the risk of contracting the disease. Because of this, teenagers play “The Game”, a violent virtual reality game where the player attempts to take out the enemy as an army specialist.

Our heroine, Jinxy, plays The Game as a sniper, and after honing her skills playing, is recruited by the government to help fight the spread of the killer virus.

The trilogy follows Jinxy as she is trained in a government compound. During the course of the story, we find out what the government has told the population, and we journey with Jinxy as she finds out the truth about both the virus and those who she thought were keeping her safe. As is usual for most YA books, there is a romantic element which adds to our understanding and empathy for Jinxy, and enhances the story rather than detracts from it.

The story covers themes of politics, terrorism, propaganda and activism, and although these are usually adult themes, they are blended seamlessly with the character and story development. They are looked at through the eyes of a teenager and are therefore easy to understand, without being over-simplified. Empathy for the characters is developed early on in the story, so it is easy to become immersed in the story. There is also a large aspect of emotional and conscience development in the majority of the characters, which keeps them real to the reader. There are some twists to the story that were entirely unexpected, which makes for an exciting reading experience.

I read Recoil before realising that it was the first book in a trilogy, and the third book had yet to be released. I held off reading Refuse (the second book) until after Rebel was released (which felt like ages, but was only a couple of months). I then read the trilogy in 2 days, as I couldn’t put it down. This really was a fantastic read, and I will be rereading it in the not-to-distant future. I love dystopian YA, and this is definitely one of my favourites – well written, an excellent story, and great character development.

(Nandi Baard is a co-blogger on UrbanisedGeek. She is a primary school teacher who can easily read a couple of books in a day during the school holidays. Hopefully, we will feature more of her reviews soon!)

Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Title: Holding Up the Universe
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Penguin (Oct 2016)

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything. 
Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.
Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

I am not going to lie. I was super hesitant about this book because I was really not a fan of Niven's debut, All the Bright Places.

I had a huge problem with her romanticising depression and suicide. In fact, I have a problem with a lot of YA contemporary novels for trying to make serious conditions a trivial plot point.

However, Holding Up the Universe was different. I loved Libby and Jack. The plot is compelling and twisty. In fact, I binged this book in a day.

I loved that this book did deal with just how shitty we are as people when it comes to what others look like. Because being fat is apparently a crime. And being skinny is also a crime. I fell in the Too Skinny Camp for all of my high school years and was even called into the counselor's office because it was suspected I had an eating disorder. Thanks to the overly concerned parent who raised that issue. It really helped me with my already weighty insecurities.

Jack's point of view was also interesting. I had never heard of the condition he has, where he is unable to recognise people by their faces. I thought this was written really well and his struggles from day to day felt real.

This book did have problems. I still have issues with the use of mental / physical conditions as a catalyst for love and will probably blog more about my thoughts on that. Maybe. But, in a sea of cliched, trite YA contemporaries all clamouring to be the next Fault in Our Stars, this one was really not that bad.

If you want a sweet read that is well researched and written, you won't go wrong with this.