Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘teen fiction’

Life or Death by Michael Robotham


I started reading Life or Death by Australian author Michael Robothamon on the train to work, and on arriving at Flinders Street Station seriously considered calling in sick to ride the trains all day while I finished the story. Because I am a responsible member of society I went to work, but read at lunchtime, again on the train home, and then sat up in bed half the night until I finished.

Life or Death won the 2015 Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award, and I liked this story even better than The Wreckage, which I read last year.

The big mystery of Life or Death is why Audie Palmer, who has been in jail in Texas for over ten years for armed robbery, would escape from prison the day before he was due to be released. The story starts with a flashback to Audie’s childhood, when Audie was fishing and learning life lessons from his father. As a result, the reader is on Audie’s side of the story from the beginning, even though we soon learn that as well as him being a criminal on the run, four innocent people died during the armed robbery.

Audie is helped by some kind-hearted people who probably would have reported him for the reward had they realised who he was, as he makes his way to Houston with a posse of police, FBI agents and gangsters on his tail.

The combination of wondering where the missing seven million dollars from the armed robbery got to, and why Audie, who seems to have selfless and kind nature but was involved in a crime which killed four people was driving me crazy with curiosity, and the more I read, the more questions I had.

Audie is the biggest underdog I’ve ever come across in a story, but time and time again he scraped out of dire situations.

He was regularly beaten in prison by people who wanted to get their hands on the money, he had a no-hoper brother who led him into disaster and tarnished his reputation and he fell in love with a gangster’s moll and she with him. Not to mention that he was shot in the head during the armed robbery. Things didn’t improve much for Audie after he escaped from prison, but as the plot unravels, all of my questions were answered, although right up until the very last few pages, I could not see how this story would work out.

Each of the characters in this book become real to me in just a few sentences. Besides Audie, there is another prisoner called Moss, whose name would have been Moses except that his mother didn’t know how to spell his name, Special Agent Desiree Furness, who is fantastic at her job but patronised by the whole world because she is female and five foot nothing, a politician who is doing his best to avoid former associates, a police officer and his family and a single mother who is living in her car with her daughter.

Believable characters, exciting plot and good writing have made me a big fan of this author’s works. While I’m hanging out for the next Michael Robotham book, in the meantime, I can always go back to some of his earlier works which feature the same characters as The Wreckage, although it might be best if I save them to read on the weekends.






Divergent by Veronica Roth


Divergent by Veronica Roth is the first book in a series aimed at teenagers. Divergent has strong willed main characters, alternate realities and loads of obstacles to be overcome. The story will appeal to the same audience as the Tomorrow series by John Marsden (he is a fantastic Australian author, do yourself a favour and read these books if you haven’t already), The Hunger Games and of course, the Harry Potter books.

The Divergent series is very popular, according to my source of youth fiction book recommendations (thanks Honey, you rarely lead me astray when it comes to a good book), and has been made into a very successful movie.

One of the main themes of Divergent is belonging. When I read the Harry Potter series, I couldn’t help wondering which house the sorting hat would put me into, as determined by my characteristics and values. Obviously everyone can’t be Gryffindor, but to be placed in Hufflepuff would have been an insult to my organisational skills, Slytherin would mean I am not trustworthy and I forget what the other house is…obviously I didn’t align my values with it.

Twilight has Team Edward and Team the other bloke (or vampires vs. werewolves), so female readers probably choose their alignment based on the gorgeousness of the actors playing these roles. The Tomorrow series is straightforward, as it is us against them – Australia fighting an un-named invading enemy. In The Hunger Games people become part of a community based on where they are born, which is probably the closest to real life.

Divergent is set in Chicago in a future where something seems to have gone terribly wrong right about now.

In Divergent, sixteen year olds take part in a simulation where their responses confirm their aptitude for one of the five factions which make up society. The day after the simulation is known as Choosing Day, where they must select a faction to align with. They can choose to ignore or follow the results of their tests. Either way, the indcutees may still have to prove their worth to their chosen faction to become part of it. Choosing a faction other than what they were born into generally means losing their connections with family and the community they were brought up in.

The factions in Divergent are Abnegation – the selfless, Dauntless – the brave, Erudite – the intelligent, Candor – the honest and Amity – the peaceful. Those who fail to become part of their chosen faction become factionless – similar to the untouchables in some cultures. The factionless do the worst jobs in society. Abnegation members ensure the factionless are supported by charity.

Trisis the 16 year old heroine of Divergent. She was raised by her parents in Abnegation, and was brought up to always put others first, in a kind and loving community. Due to their qualities, Abnegation govern and are thought to be incorruptible.

When Tris sits her aptitude test her results are inconclusive, or ‘divergent’, meaning her characteristics are suited to more than one faction. The woman from Dauntless who oversaw Tris’s test manually alters her results and told Tris not to tell anyone what has happened, as to be known as divergent would put her in danger from unknown people.

When the time comes to choose a faction, Tris’s brother Caleb unexpectedly chooses Erudite and Tris chooses Dauntless.

When Tris arrives at the Dauntless compound she is surprised to find that they will not be automatically accepted by the faction. They have to pass a harsh initiation with difficult physical and mental challenges. Not surprisingly, the initiations prove too much for some, who suicide or die in accidents. There is also a culture of bullying throughout the Dauntless community. Friends betray each other and others fall in love.

As the initiates work to overcome their fears, Tris and her instructor, Four, fall in love. Like Tris, he was a transfer from Abnegation. Tris suspects Four may also be divergent.

Towards the end of the novel, the action, which is already fast paced, speeds up. Dauntless members are injected by a serum which allows their minds to be controlled by Erudite leaders, and they are used to try and wipe out everyone in Abnegation, in an attempt by Erudite to gain power and greater riches for themselves.

As Tris is divergent, the serum does not work on her. Tris’s parents and brother make another appearance and in the killing frenzy, not everyone survives. The story ends with Tris, Four (or Tobias, as he was called before joining Dauntless) and some of her family escaping. The story continues in book two of the series, ‘Insurgent,’ which I am busting to read.

The stretch for readers of Divergent is that all of the characters except those who are divergent, identify strongly enough with particular traits that they commit to one faction or other. In real life, we are all divergent, a bit brave and a bit cowardly, sometimes truthful and sometimes liars. We behave selfishly and generously within minutes of either action. On a given day we may be peaceful and the next at war and we all show flashes of brilliance amidst our blind spots. We all have elements of the five characteristics which make up the factions in this novel in varying degrees.

However, this is a novel and the whole point of reading novels is to go with the author on the trip they take us, so in order to enjoy this novel I had to let go of my irritation that all of the characters weren’t divergent, because then there would not have been a story.

I will be recommending these novels to my teenage nieces C, G and S, all of whom are the perfect audience for the Divergent series.

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