An apocalyptic YA adventure with a familiar setup but refreshing young characters and unexpected plot turns.

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THE GAMERS

In Little’s YA dystopian sci-fi debut, teenagers who’ve spent most of their lives in virtual reality escape to a real world of nuclear and viral devastation.

In the year 2359, 13-year-old Libby has been connected to virtual technology for a decade and only has vague memories of her parents. She and her “ClassMates” live in the Trinity BioDome; nuclear destruction and a viral pandemic laid waste to the “Outside” long ago. Education for the Students comes in the form of a technology called “GamePlay,” which they use to acquire knowledge and, typically, play avatars of significant historical figures. Libby’s visions of the Hindu deity Vishnu, however, make her question her own existence. Soon, she and fellow ClassMate (and romantic interest) Kem decide to become “untethered.” They desire reality over imprisonment in the Dome, but the strange, unpredictable Outside may be more perilous than they imagine. This impressive first novel feels as if it takes place in an ever expanding universe. It starts small: there are a mere five Students in Libby’s Class, and they spend the bulk of their time inside Game Avatar Programs for their exams. But once Libby and Kem flee the Dome, new characters and surprising revelations flood the pages. The Clann of the Sol, for instance, is a group that often takes in Students who leave the Dome—but only the ones that it deems worthy. Little is clearly aiming this novel at a young-adult audience; the word “feces” is as harsh as the expletives ever get. Likewise, Libby and Kem’s winsome romance progresses but remains appropriate for the barely teenage characters; for example, each is prone to storming off after silly arguments, such as when Kem calls Libby stubborn. Later chapters, though, are decidedly more intense, as they introduce the Skinwalkers—much-feared men who paint their faces in powder made from corpses, which transforms them into shape-shifters. The story’s first part goes on a bit too long, particularly in its lengthy coverage of the Manhattan program; when a Student named Jaize attends Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral as first lady Eleanor, for example, it has little relevance to the main plot. But the novel shines after it goes Outside, and it answers readers’ hovering questions with a number of plot twists near the end. Nevertheless, it leaves some mysteries, such as Vishnu’s purpose, open for a welcome sequel.

An apocalyptic YA adventure with a familiar setup but refreshing young characters and unexpected plot turns.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-1477445761

Page Count: 440

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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A probably harmless, entirely forgettable series opener.

THE SELECTION

From the Selection series , Vol. 1

It's a bad sign when you can figure out the elevator pitch for a novel from the get-go.

In this case, if it wasn't "The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games," it was pretty darn close. In a rigid, caste-based dystopian future, Illéa’s Prince Maxon has come of age and needs to marry. One girl will be chosen by lottery from each province to travel to the Capital and live in the palace so the prince can make his choice. The winning girl will become queen, and her family will all be elevated to Ones. America, a Five, doesn't want to join the Selection because she is in love with Aspen, a Six. But pressure from both her family and Aspen causes her to relent, and the rest is entirely predictable. She's chosen, she goes to the palace, she draws the ire of the other girls with her beauty and the interest of the prince with her spunky independence. Prince Maxon is much nicer than she expected, but she will remain loyal to Aspen. Maybe. Shabby worldbuilding complements the formulaic plot. Scant explanation is made for the ructions that have created the current political reality, and the palace is laughably vulnerable to rebels from both the North and the South, neither of whom are given any credible motives. But there's lots of descriptions of dresses.

A probably harmless, entirely forgettable series opener. (Dystopian romance. 13 & up)

Pub Date: April 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-205993-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning.

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SCYTHE

From the Arc of a Scythe series , Vol. 1

Two teens train to be society-sanctioned killers in an otherwise immortal world.

On post-mortal Earth, humans live long (if not particularly passionate) lives without fear of disease, aging, or accidents. Operating independently of the governing AI (called the Thunderhead since it evolved from the cloud), scythes rely on 10 commandments, quotas, and their own moral codes to glean the population. After challenging Hon. Scythe Faraday, 16-year-olds Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova reluctantly become his apprentices. Subjected to killcraft training, exposed to numerous executions, and discouraged from becoming allies or lovers, the two find themselves engaged in a fatal competition but equally determined to fight corruption and cruelty. The vivid and often violent action unfolds slowly, anchored in complex worldbuilding and propelled by political machinations and existential musings. Scythes’ journal entries accompany Rowan’s and Citra’s dual and dueling narratives, revealing both personal struggles and societal problems. The futuristic post–2042 MidMerican world is both dystopia and utopia, free of fear, unexpected death, and blatant racism—multiracial main characters discuss their diverse ethnic percentages rather than purity—but also lacking creativity, emotion, and purpose. Elegant and elegiac, brooding but imbued with gallows humor, Shusterman’s dark tale thrusts realistic, likable teens into a surreal situation and raises deep philosophic questions.

A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4424-7242-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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