Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

The Lost GirlBook: The Lost Girl
Author: Sangu Mandanna
Publication Date: August 28th, 2012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Rating: 4 Stars

Eva's life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination--an echo. She was made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her "other," if she ever died. Eva spends every day studying that girl from far away, learning what Amarra does, what she eats, what it's like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.

But sixteen years of studying never prepared her for this.

Now she must abandon everything and everyone she's ever known--the guardians who raised her, the boy she's forbidden to love--to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive.

What Eva finds is a grief-stricken family; parents unsure how to handle this echo they thought they wanted; and Ray, who knew every detail, every contour of Amarra. And when Eva is unexpectedly dealt a fatal blow that will change her existence forever, she is forced to choose: Stay and live out her years as a copy or leave and risk it all for the freedom to be an original. To be Eva.

From debut novelist Sangu Mandanna comes the dazzling story of a girl who was always told what she had to be--until she found the strength to decide for herself.

But I don’t have a sword. My shield is broken. I don’t know what is and isn’t honorable anymore. And now I’ve sent my knight away.

It took me a long time to finally get to reading this book, but I guess the wait was worth it. I've hear raving reviews about it for a long time, but when I initially read the blurb, it didn't really appeal to me. After all, we've already seen lots of stories about girls who switch spots in life. True, there's a more supernatural twist added to this premise, but not enough to change the supposed outcome (girl adjusts to new life, finds new boy to love, makes friends that she never would've made otherwise, etc). Really, it should have all the elements of a feel-good chick lit.

But that's not what The Lost Girl is about. It's comprised of three parts. In the first, we learn about Eva's peaceful life in a cottage beside a lake, surrounded by people who love her but always with the looming concern that one day, she will have to serve her purpose. She exists for another person, and it's difficult because she must imitate every facet of her Other's lifestyle. In this part, I really appreciated the kindness that humans are capable of, especially in the way Eva's guardians behave. Although they follow the rules, the small allowances they make are what endeared me to them. Sean, especially, is wonderfully portrayed as logical but sweet. In my opinion, the first part is the best portion of the book: Eva's world and her conflict is beautifully portrayed, and the way it all comes screeching to a halt adds to the drama.

In the second part, Eva adjusts to her new life. What I loved about this was her frequent memories of her old life and the bittersweet nostalgia that those memories are tinged with. I liked her new family, and I thought there was a nice balance between their belief and disbelief that Amarra was still alive. It was relatively normal and typical, until she starts breaking the rules. The third part is when she finally goes on the run.

What stands out about this book is not its idea, but rather the way it's executed. The emotions running through it--desperation, hope, desire--are almost tangible. Each character is well-written, though maybe not as three-dimensional as I'd hoped. I can't say I absolutely loved the book, but I liked the precision that characterized its structure. I couldn't really get sucked in because I was always dubious about the idea of having an echo replace a loved one. What kind of person could convince him/herself that a copy is the same as the original?

At any rate, I enjoyed the book, especially the sweet love story and Eva's struggle for freedom. It's not the most intricate plot I read, but I definitely think this is a worthy debut.

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review: Pivot Point by Kasie West

Pivot Point (Pivot Point, #1)Book: Pivot Point
Author: Kasie West
Series: Pivot Point #1
Publication Date: February 12th, 2013
Publisher: HarperTeen
Rating: 4 Stars

Knowing the outcome doesn’t always make a choice easier . . .

Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.

This book packs a punch, it really does. I've been reading positive reviews about it for a long time, and so I was pretty excited when I won it through First Reads. When I started, I wasn't too blown away. The story centers around Addie, who has the ability to see two alternate fates when she's forced to make a decision. She decides to use the power when her parents divorce and she has to choose who she'll follow: her father, to the "normal world," or her mother in the world she's used to.

The superpowers themselves aren't that amazing. They're very similar to your typical X-Men powers, from moving mass to erasing memories. What really surprised me was how Kasie West wove the plot. She approaches it in a different and creative way by alternating between the two possible futures that Addie sees. We know which choice Addie is experiencing by the definitions that precede the chapters, which either have a word containing PARA (for Paranormal) or NORM (normal, obviously). I bet some of you are like, "Well, duh. What else could they be for?" but I actually only figured this out when I was 3/4 through the book. Call me stupid -_- I thought they were just dumb definitions that were supposed to somehow hint at what the chapter was about.

My favorite part was probably Addie's Norm life. I think that's because of Trevor. He's adorable and quietly confident, as opposed to Duke. Duke is the very exemplification of any annoying YA teenage boy: charming, cocky, making the girls drool (I do not drool over football players who think they're cool, thank you very much). I was like "Oh God, love triangle" when I started reading about Duke and Trevor, but it turns out that it's not a love triangle. Addie's choice of boys is made from the very start, and I think West deserves points for subtly hinting at who really is the boy for Addie. Back to Trevor; his love for comics was a surprise, and I really enjoyed it. The approach that Addie takes to finally telling him about her secret is interesting. I doubt many girls who are hiding their supernatural abilities from unsuspecting, cute high school boys use a comic to get their point across. Addie's final choice absolutely broke my heart, since I was rooting for the other option. Hopefully, things will get better in the second book...

Anyway, apart from the boys, I really enjoyed the plot. I do find Poison a bit random and believe that West should've expanded on why the Bureau decided he was the one guilty. Also, I'm still waiting to see why there's such a big deal made about the fact that Addie is Divergent and not Clairvoyant. Other than that, I was way hooked on the last couple chapters. The ending definitely threw me for a loop; I wasn't expecting so many secrets kept. And when you step back and think about the book and the way that West chose the characters that she did to have certain powers, you really have to admire the way she strung everything together so that all of these choices are relevant. All in all, this book has restored my faith in YA.

Also, Trevor and Addie 5EVA.

Thanks to HarperTeen for giving me a chance to read and review this book.

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