An atmospheric but squishy tale of a thirsty American dictatorship.

THE CLOUD SEEDERS

Two brothers deal with a totalitarian water emergency in this debut YA sci-fi eco-fantasy.

In a near future of permanent worldwide drought, Oregon has had no rain for a year and suffers drastic shortages of water and food. After the disappearance of their mother, Margaret, a poet, and father, Richard, a scientist working on cloud seeding, 18-year-old Thomas Banks and his 9-year-old brother, Dustin, join the water-patrol, where they hand out tickets for resource-wasting infractions such as failing to recycle urine, growing vegetables indoors, taking baths rather than wiping down with towelettes, and pirating scant renewable electricity. Complicating their duties is Thomas’ girlfriend, Jerusha, whom he can’t bring himself to turn in despite her being a bootlegger with a “water-brewing system” that condenses atmospheric moisture for sale on the black market. For no compelling reason, Thomas, Jerusha, and Dustin set out on a car trip to California through a desiccated landscape scoured by dust storms and brutal water cops. Along the road, they meet a car repairman with information about Richard and join a group of “Leftovers,” misfits who break the rules by digging wells, growing produce, and drinking goat milk. Alas, the police raid their idyllic camp and haul Thomas and Dustin to a “rehabilitation facility” for a baffling (and somewhat tiresome) coercive regimen: They are plied with fresh water and rare delicacies like pizza and orange juice while starving inmates watch; then their food and water are cut off; then a guard threatens to torture Dustin unless Thomas divulges secrets from Richard’s weather research. Zerndt’s dystopian yarn gives a sinister twist to environmental dogmas, making sustainability slogans like “Go Green 4 Life” the rhetorical facade of an Orwellian police state. But like many such novels, this hit-and-miss book suffers from haphazard plotting and an imagined society that makes little sense except to adolescents who think the adult world is nothing but an arbitrary power play. Thomas and Jerusha spend much time on quasi-parental fretting over Dustin’s emotional well-being, which often slows the narrative to a crawl. Still, the author’s prose is well-crafted and evocative—“The hills look like shriveled up nut-sacks, and I can barely see what’s left of the beach with all the dust tornadoeing around”—and her characters are intriguing enough to make readers sympathize with their parched predicament.

An atmospheric but squishy tale of a thirsty American dictatorship.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4782-0915-7

Page Count: 266

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2018

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THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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GUTS

THE TRUE STORIES BEHIND HATCHET AND THE BRIAN BOOKS

Paulsen recalls personal experiences that he incorporated into Hatchet (1987) and its three sequels, from savage attacks by moose and mosquitoes to watching helplessly as a heart-attack victim dies. As usual, his real adventures are every bit as vivid and hair-raising as those in his fiction, and he relates them with relish—discoursing on “The Fine Art of Wilderness Nutrition,” for instance: “Something that you would never consider eating, something completely repulsive and ugly and disgusting, something so gross it would make you vomit just looking at it, becomes absolutely delicious if you’re starving.” Specific examples follow, to prove that he knows whereof he writes. The author adds incidents from his Iditarod races, describes how he made, then learned to hunt with, bow and arrow, then closes with methods of cooking outdoors sans pots or pans. It’s a patchwork, but an entertaining one, and as likely to win him new fans as to answer questions from his old ones. (Autobiography. 10-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-32650-5

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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