Friday, December 16, 2011

Review of Replication by Jill Williamson

By Jill Williamson
3 Scribbles
Most of us don’t expect to die anytime soon, but Martyr, a.k.a. J:3:3, knows that he is set to expire on his eighteenth birthday. The medical experiments that he and the other clones in the deep-underground facility endure on a daily basis will help save human beings dying on the face of a now-toxic planet, and so Martyr is proud of his sacrifice—if he could only have one wish first—to see the sky. It is this desire that sets in motion a series of events that change his world, and the world of small-town Fishhook, Alaska, forever.


It is worth noting that this work of science-fiction was written by a Christian author, and published by Zondervan, a Christian house. At the onset, such evidence is subtle and effectively woven into the action of the story. One of the novel’s strengths is Abby, the main character, and her strong sense of self-esteem, at least in part because of her Christian faith. She has endured the loss of her mother, her father’s betrayal when he moves Abby far from her Uncle and friends without consulting her, and her beloved Youth Group, yet she remains optimistic about life in Alaska. Readers will also respect the weakness Abby feels for the "Main Man on Campus" J.D. who she is strongly attracted to. What girl hasn’t been tempted by great looks, charm, and flirtation? Equally impressive is Martyr’s character, who ads an innocent, comedic element to the story without being corny, and who lives up to his name and then some. The subtle skillful weaving of science fiction with Christian values begins to lean more heavily on the side of the didactic, however, in the second half of the narrative. Williamson manages to incorporate lessons of purity, fellowship, prayer and Bible study, the plan of salvation and God’s purpose in life, in a very tight span. But Abby is no saint, she gossips, she labels others, she feels anger, and she realizes that she can be self-righteous. And while the conclusion seems to lack balance, at one point being overly melodramatic and at another point rushed, it is satisfying and seems to leave room for additional installments. While this work cannot rival masterpieces like Unwind by Schusterman, the irony of Matryr and his brothers dying for the sins of the doctors is inspired. Williamson is to be applauded for taking Zondervan into new frontiers of fiction.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review of the Lost Saint by Bree Despain

The Lost Saint
by Bree Despain

4 Scribbles
Grace is enjoying her new-found relationship with Daniel, free of the suspicions and fears of book one, that is, until Daniel decides to stop training Grace in the use of her “wolf” skills—skills that make her neither Hound of Heaven nor entirely human. Confused about how to handle her evolving powers, Grace seeks out the guidance of another, and meets a mysterious, powerful boy named Talbot. As Talbot begins to train her, it becomes apparent that there is most assuredly a strong attraction between the two, and as their bond grows stronger in the continued search for Grace’s brother Jude, the reader is left to wonder, will Daniel and Grace ever be able to repair their relationship? And will they ever find the lost Jude? While it lacks the heat of Meyer’s Twilight, and the creativity of other “wolf” novels like recently released Nightshade by Andrea Cremer, it’s a solid, entertaining story.  If you like paranormal fiction, then pick it up! The reader won’t be disappointed with the riveting, (yet tastefully done) love triangle, the minor twists at the end, and the refreshing fact that Grace is from a more traditional family. A special nod goes to Despain’s exploration of female friendships. Grace suffers the cold shoulder of the entire student body following book one, including her former best friend April. Just like many young women today, Grace and April attempt to come to terms with betrayal and to trust one another again in book two; it’s hard not to feel the angst that comes along with that process, especially if you are a female reader.

Review of Divergent by Veronica Roth

Katherine Tegen Books
by Veronica Roth

5 Scribbles!
Most of us look forward to turning sixteen so that we can get a driver’s license. Not so in Beatrice’s world—the world of the future. In this world, sixteen-year-olds choose one of five factions to pledge to. Beatrice’s family is a part of the Abnegation, or a selfless faction of people. The other factions include the "Erudite" scholars, the "Dauntless" warriors, the "Amity" peacemakers, and the "Candor," or brutally honest people. After a rigorous "hazing" of sorts, these freshly pledged teens will be accepted into their chosen faction and forever turn their backs on the past. Will Beatrice choose to be a part of her family’s faction, or will she risk breaking the hearts of her parents by "de-pledging" from Abnigation? Worse, will she be accepted by the faction she chooses or be rejected and end up homeless, poor, starving and factionless? Not only is Divergent a fresh spin on the recently overworked dystopian novel, but the action plows forward with super-sonic speed. It is impossible not to identify with Beatrice, aka, Tris, who has the same concerns that all teens, and indeed all humans have. Beatrice often wonders how others see her, if she fits in, if she is strong enough, smart enough, and if she can measure up to the standards that others set for her. It is her character that draws the reader in—from her plain appearance to her truly believable personality. While she is often kind and generous (like when she takes the place of a friend who is in a frightening situation), she isn’t forgiving of those who wrong her just because she was brought up to be selfless. It is just those realistic qualities that make the reader fall in love with Beatrice and embrace her as a friend. Couple the strong characters with the dizzying action that plays out on every page, and you have a work of sci-fi that rivals the recent smash trilogy The Hunger Games. I have no doubt that this gem is destined to end up on the big screen. My only regret is that Insurgent, book two, is not out yet (released May 2012). Sigh—how can I possibly wait this long?
The Author
Veronica Roth is a mere 22 years old—and while I shouldn’t marvel that her first book should be such a hit because that discounts all of those young and amazing authors out there—I am marveling. Her work rivals some of my favorite sci-fi authors like Suzanne Collins, Scott Westerfeld, and James Dashner. I am so glad Ms. Roth has a long writing career ahead. I, for one, plan on following it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Review of The Sleepwalkers by J. Gabriel Gates

HCI Teens
The Sleepwalkers
by J. Gabriel Gates
4 Scribbles
Caleb is celebrating his graduation from high school with his family and his best friend Bean when he discovers a letter hidden amongst his pile of graduation cards.  Curious, Caleb opens the letter to discover that a childhood friend he hasn’t seen or spoken to in years, Christine, has written him, and he is compelled to travel to Florida, where his father lives, to find her.  After arriving in Florida, he realizes that it isn’t just Christine who has gone missing. And as a result, he and Bean begin an investigation into a truth that may prevent both of their graduation dreams from coming true. Gates has crafted a thriller that might best be described as The Grudge meets The Walking Dead.  There are plenty of creepy creatures (and people too) who go bump in the night in this tale, and the description of Florida, with its dank swampy areas, stifling heat, and thick, earthy smells add to the dark tone of the story.  The tension builds consistently throughout the novel, moving quickly between Ron (a man searching for his daughter), Margie (a waitress from a local diner), and Caleb (a.k.a. “Billy”).  Interestingly, the minor characters Ron and Margie actually seem at times to be better developed than the protagonist; and, the same goes for Caleb’s friend Christine. Yet this unbalanced characterization doesn’t function as a drawback, instead, it keeps the reader invested in the outcome. While the climax of the story is rewarding, the last chapter seems to have been tacked on as an afterthought.  One traumatized victim, Keisha, seems to use ridiculously simple dialogue to describe her distress, “this is freaking me out,” and the last line of the novel is an unnecessary cliché.  Let’s hope the neatly wrapped ending isn’t someone’s idea of an opening for a sequel, because this thriller can stand on its own.

Review of Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Harper Collins
by Lauren Oliver
5 Scribbles
In the United States of the future, our government has found that love—not hate, not intolerance or violence, not money—no, love, a.k.a amor deliria nervosa, is the cause of all evil. Without love there is no war, no suffering, no grieving, no longing or pain. How many of us have loved another and felt the glorious torture of rejection, or of that intense need for another fulfilled, or the sting of love lost to another person, some circumstance, or even lost to death? If only there existed a cure to prevent such tragedy from being a part of life. Fortunately, for Lena and the citizens of the future, the cure for love has been found; however, Lena must wait to safely receive the cure until she turns eighteen, just like everyone else.

Lena’s character, tender, naive, flawed, and real, brings home the desire of most teens to be happy and to "fit in." Lena looks forward to the day when she will receive the cure and not have to worry about being an "invalid" like her mother who was driven to suicide by the deliria. Then, mere months before her procedure, she meets a cured who seems different from the other cureds she has known. Alex—funny, sincere, interesting, and harmless because he is cured—captures her interest. As Lena learns more about him, and her cure date looms closer, she realizes that her understanding of the system and the world that she lives in is far from accurate. Her future, once settled and safe, now looms uncertainly before her.

One of the most unique works of science fiction today, Delirium feels frighteningly real. Readers will marvel at the simple, yet heretofore unrevealed, idea that love—a concept human beings have previously embraced as one of the great joys of life—love is the cause of all that is wrong on the planet.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Review of the Betrayal of Maggie Blair by Elizabeth Laird

Houghton Mifflin
Books for Children
The Betrayal of Maggie Blair
by Elizabeth Laird
4 Scribbles
What would you be willing to die for? Would you die to protect someone you love? Would you be willing to die for your country? Would you be willing to die for what you believe in? Maggie must decide what she is willing to die for when she is first falsely accused of being a witch, and then through a strange, ironic twist, she is accused of being a zealous Presbyterian "Covenanter" who directly opposes King Charles of Scotland. Wherever Maggie turns, deception and evil-hearted people bent on destruction follow her; none are worse than the evil servant girl, Annie, who uses her feminine wiles to charm and manipulate everyone she meets against sweet, naïve, Maggie. Will Maggie‘s heart remain pure, or will she become jaded like her grandmother and curse her countrymen for their selfishness? With the help of Tam, her mother’s faithful trickster friend, Maggie navigates the pitfalls of tumultuous seventeenth-century Scotland, and in the tradition of a true heroine’s journey—manages to find herself—and what she is willing to die for. Readers will love this story filled with trial after trail and test after test that Maggie must face, and they will grow with her in resolve as she learns to find her heart and her voice. Laird manages to breathe life into an era that many know little of, and to create a character that if not to die for, readers will certainly adore.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review of Hushed by Kelley York

Entangled Publishing, LLC
by Kelley York
5 Scribbles
From gripping page one, Asher, the wounded protagonist, risks his very soul to make up for not protecting his best friend Vivian when she was raped as a child. The guilt he carries for this failure has made Archer Vivian’s protector, her avenger, her confidant, and becomes the very reason for his co-dependency on the now narcissistic Vivian. He longs for her approval, her affections, her reciprocity, and he allows her to manipulate him time and time again. That is until Archer realizes that he is in love, but not with Vivian, with a new guy on campus, Evan. Evan is kind, giving, selfless, indulgent; Evan is all the things that Vivian is not. Despite all of his failures, could Archer have a happy life with Evan? The tone of the novel is dark and thick which permeates every scene and adds to the tension. York expertly weaves in morality questions that surprisingly, but refreshingly, often go unresolved. Readers will relate to Asher’s rage and frustration towards Vivian, while others may see themselves reflected in her character. What adds to the credibility of the novel is the ironic dénouement—leaving the reader to wonder have the tables simply turned? Clearly, York is an expert in psychology and the human condition.

Review of Populazzi by Elise Allen

Harcourt Children's
By Elise Allen
Warning—this novel makes Mean Girls look like child’s play! Cara and Claudia have always dreamed about being at the top of the popularity food chain, but have been the krill devoured by the "social killer whales" at their school since kindergarten. When Cara moves to a new high school, she decides to take full advantage of her anonymity, bag an acceptable boyfriend, and use his status to climb, rung by precious rung, to the top. She will live the dream for both of them. But when Cara ascends to the final step, she realizes her footing on the social ladder might be precarious at best, and the fall from the top is a lot further down than she imagined it would be. Although the message revealed in the climax is no big surprise and the novel (400 pages) is a tad on the lengthy side, the word-play between Cara and the other characters in the novel is fresh and entertaining, and the relationships between Cara and her new-found "friends" very believable. And as much as I wanted to condemn Cara and Claudia for their shallow perspective (be happy with who you are, right?), who hasn’t longed to be envied and admired by the entire high school population? A clever and edgy spin on an otherwise tired subject, Populazzi is a lens into the superficial world of high school.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review of Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

Clarion Books
Okay for Now
by Gary Schmidt
Fans of the Wednesday Wars will be excited to see the return of Doug Swieteck, Holling Hoodhood’s former nemisis. In fact, Okay for Now is devoted totally to the story of Doug and his trials with an abusive father, a new school that features an insensitive principal and a bully for a gym teacher, a brother who is an injured Vietnam veteran, and his most guarded secret. Schmidt uses an unlikely tool, the artwork of James Audubon, to illustrate Doug’s reactions to the challenges of growing up. Despite the weakness of the title (and all of Schmidt’s titles for that matter), Schmidt manages to elegantly weave the unlikely combination of Audubon’s bird plates and Doug Sweitech’s coming-of-age into a powerful story that teens will relate to. Who hasn’t felt the need to "front" so they don’t appear to be uncool in front of peers? Who hasn’t lived in the shadow of an elder sibling? Who hasn’t longed for something better, for something more? With just a sprinkling of humor for the astute reader (for instance, no actor could ever be the President of the United States), and plenty of angst for the average teen, Schmidt’s latest offering is another satisfying hit.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Review of Singled Out by Sara Griffiths

Singled Out
by Sara Griffiths
3 Scribbles
When Taylor receives a baseball scholarship to pitch for an all-boys prep school, Hazelton, she’s willing to give it a try, even if it is mostly to please her dad. But when she arrives, she realizes that she is less than welcome on campus—and begins to suspect a conspiracy that threatens to ruin her academic and baseball career. Readers will like Taylor’s character; she comes off as a tough, self-sufficient, lone-wolf type, but with a heart. When her housemate, Gabby, also on a scholarship for basketball, ends up the target of the bullying "Statesmen," Taylor reaches out to her, unable to see Gabby so distraught. The tension in the novel is admirable; it’s difficult to know who Taylor should really trust all the way up to the last few chapters. Ironically, despite the girls-at-boys-school conflict, the author stereotypes the girls’ characters. Taylor is a white baseball player, Gabby a black basketball player, and Kwan the smart, Asian math student. Additionally, the story comes off a bit rosy, making it appear that right choices are always rewarded and bad ones always punished, when in reality, that is not always the case. However, the themes of bullying and broken families are timely, and the subtle romance not too heavy handed. Overall, a good choice for sports readers, or readers who hesitate to pick up a book.

Review of Ashfall by Mike Mullen

Tanglewood Press
by Mike Mullen
5 Scribbles
With all of the apocalyptic-style novels hitting the market, a writer has to find some way to stand apart to be a success. Part survival story, part coming-of-age novel, Mullen manages to weave a story that does just that. Unlike other stories that rely on asteroids, global warming, or nuclear disasters to create a hostile world, historical evidence of past super-volcanic eruptions is the inspiration for this conflict. The story is told by Alex, the protagonist, who awakens to find his home burning after it is struck with a rock ejected from a far-away super-volcano. Unsure what to do in the absence of his parents, Alex embarks on a treacherous quest to find them. Strong characters abound in this novel, from cannibalistic, felonious villains, to Darla, a street-smart and physically strong farm girl who is impossible to resist. Cliffhanging action and a satisfying conclusion leave the book open for a second installment, although honestly this book is better as a stand alone. The only weaknesses in the novel are the "fringe" conflicts that seem to be tossed in for good measure--for instance the gay couple that lives next door to Alex, and the desire that Alex has to lose his virginity while remaining safe and responsible. Frankly, although timely issues today, in this novel they seem seem forced. Despite this, readers will be on the edge of their seats breathless while reading this novel. Kudos to Mullen for mixing up what is threatening to become a tired trend.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review of The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, PH.D.

Three Rivers Press
The Sociopath Next Door * Not Marketed as YA Fiction
By Martha Stout, PH.D.
5 Scribbles
You’ve seen it on TV, in movies, and sometimes, even in the people you go to school or work with—there are sociopaths among us. This chilling yet educational work of non-fiction not only helps us to identify sociopaths, those who have no conscience, but gives sage advice on how to protect oneself from sociopaths—even those who may live in our own homes. A magnificent lens into social interaction, this work should be required reading for every teen and adult. Stout’s descriptions of sociopaths seem at first to be a bit far-fetched, but after only a few chapters it is not difficult to see that her estimation--one in twenty-five people is a sociopath--is not at all reaching. Additionally, our view of what a sociopath is has become warped by the media; Stout helps to put the disorder into perspective quickly and with fantastic use of story. Note: this work may be for older, more advanced readers.

Review of the Dark Divine by Bree Despain

The Dark Divine
The Dark Divine Series Bk. 1
by Bree Despain
3 Scribbles
Grace has grown up in a very spiritual family. Her father is a minister who teaches forgiveness and grace, and this is where Grace’s namesake comes from. And yet there is a boy who goes to Grace’s school, Daniel, who seems to be the exception to the rule. It becomes clear in the beginning chapters that Grace, her brother Jude, and her family, all have a past with Daniel, although it takes nearly half of the novel to find out what that past actually is. Once the premise is unleashed (no pun intended) on the reader however, the pace of the story picks up tremendously. The next in the line of star-crossed tales about supernatural creatures (in this case werewolves) and their human beloveds, the story is not unique; however, fans of the genre will find the story, and the story’s end worthy of finishing if not for it’s romantic elements, then for it’s last minute twist. Ironic note: Despain's main character, Grace, bears the same name as Stiefvater's main character, also Grace. Both books are about werewolves and both released within months of one another.

Review of Shiver & Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Scholastic Paperbacks
by Maggie Stiefvater
4 Scribbles
When Grace was small she was dragged from a swing in her back yard by a band of starving wolves. She was mauled nearly to death; yet, instead of fearing them, wolves are all she can think about. Each night of the cold winter she watches the wolf with the yellow eyes—the wolf who saved her life—and she wonders why he continues to appear just outside of her reach. I can't tell you much more about the novel (don't want to spoil any surprises) but I can say that Stephenie Meyer of the Twilight series has some serious competition here. Grace is a very intelligent and strong young woman, and the romance that develops in the story doesn't come off as too sappy. She is a girl who needs to be loved and to connect with someone, but she doesn't allow that need to consume her completely.

Scholastic Press
By Maggie Stiefvater
The Wolves of Mercy Falls Book #2
2 Scribbles
Sam assumes his leadership role as keeper of the pack, even though he will apparently never shift again. His relationship with Grace is stronger than ever, despite the fact that Grace’s parents become opposed to their romance—why?—because they find Sam sleeping with Grace in her bed. New blood comes to the pack in the form of a drug-addled rocker named Cole who apparently becomes irresistible to Isabel. The dark, melodramatic affair that develops between Cole and Isabel stands in stark contrast to the relationship between Sam and Grace. In all, the plot of the novel trudges on with few surprises, and in keeping with Bk. 1 the mood is decidedly dark. Sadly, what was a serious but non-sappy romance in Bk. 1 has waxed a bit exaggerated and artificial in this second installment. And as for Cole and Isabel...the novel couldn’t get more predictable. The book’s ending is clearly supposed to be a twist, but falls into place like letters in the alphabet. With so many other great books out there waiting for me to read them, I, for one, might be hard-pressed to read book 3 in the series, Forever, already in stores.

Review of 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

13 Reasons Why
By Jay Asher
4 Scribbles
Very recently, a former student of mine committed suicide. I remember being shocked by the news, looking at pictures of this smiling young girl, hearing her laughter in my memories, going over snippets of conversations we had. It was very difficult for me to understand why anyone with such a great personality and so much to offer the world would choose death over life. This novel, told in the deceased girl, Hannah’s, own voice through taped confessions sent out to those 13 people she deemed most responsible for her state of mind, is riveting to say the least. While the novel may not answer the question of "Why?", it certainly redirects the focus not on Hannah, but back on the reader. Through Hannah’s stories the reader sees how Hannah becomes caught in a world where small injustices begin to pile up. While reading Asher’s novel I began to think, have I been one of the "13 reasons" for someone else? Was I a "reason" for my former student? Without being at all preachy, Asher shows how easy it is to become a "reason," and offers implied advice on how one should lead life.

Review of Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Scholastic Press
by Deborah Wiles
5 Scribbles
Students who attend school in the United States today are familiar with bomb evacuation drills and intruder "lockdowns." In fact, for most of us, it’s routine. But what we are not familiar with is the threat of nuclear annihilation by the Soviet Union (a.k.a. Russia) on a daily basis. Franny, the protagonist in this novel, faces daily bomb education drills where she is instructed to "duck and cover" to defend herself against a nuclear attack. Franny lives in a military family; her dad is a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, and her Uncle a WWI veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress and who is the laughingstock of the neighborhood. Couple Franny’s fears with the fact that her best friend is one of the original "Mean Girls" and that her sister is hiding what could be dangerous secrets, Franny doesn’t know where she fits anymore. Looking through Franny’s eyes offers a marvelous flavor of the world in the 1960’s; the novel is filled with 1960’s poetry, songs, photographs from the period, and famous speeches. And yet the story does not read like a history lesson. Franny is a lovable, real character who is coming of age in a very scary time, and who faces her own crisis with incredible bravery and strength. Wiles plans on making this a trilogy, but I for one, think it stands solidly on its own.

Review of London Calling by Edward Bloor

Knopf Books for
Young Readers
London Calling
by Edward Bloor
3 Scribbles
Martin Conway lives in the shadow of his grandfather’s memory, who lived at the American Embassy in London during WWII and served the famous General “Hollerin’ Hank” Lowery. In fact, the prep school Martin attends is funded in Lowery’s memory, and Lowery’s grandson attends there also, bullying Martin and the other “Scholarship” kids. Martin longs to go to Garden State Middle and escape the family legacy, so much so that he sinks into a deep depression. And it is one evening, in the midst of this sadness that Martin drifts off to sleep and into the London Blitz.  He witnesses thousands being bombed to death, and one boy in particular who asks for his help.  Is Martin going crazy? Or, does the radio he inherited from his grandmother have mystical powers? Martin must search to find the answer, to “do his bit” to help the victims of the Blitz of 1940, and while he does so, he discovers several startling secrets. Bloor does an excellent job at showing how depression can be passed down through generations, and while Martin’s speech is a bit stilted for a middle school-aged child, the reader will still be able to identify with Martin’s fears.  (Martin does, after all, attend an elite prep school.) With a “reveal” at the end and sweet, guiltless justice, the reader will leave this mystery satisfied and with a new interest in WWII history.

Review of the Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey

Simon & Schuster
Books for Young Readers
The Curse of the Wendigo
by Rick Yancey
4 Scribbles
The reader will learn more about Dr. Warthrop through the eyes of Will Henry than they ever expected in book two of the Monstrumologist series. Why is Dr. Warthrop short-tempered? Why does he have trouble showing affection, and why does he only love the gruesome world of monsters? The answers become clear as Dr. Warthrop and Will Henry travel into the frigid Canadian wilderness to find a lost fellow monstrumologist who is also Dr. Warthrop’s best friend. There, they make a gruesome discovery—humans are being impaled and skinned—possibly while still alive. The murderous culprit seems to be the notorious Wendigo, a vampiric creature who hungers eternally and who seeks to destroy not only Warthrop’s friend, but possibly Will Henry himself. Snippets of Warthrop’s past, his love-life, his failed friendships, and his dark tendencies all become more evident in this tale. As in book one, Yancey creates a prose true to the language of the period and a setting that whisks the reader back in time. Advanced readers and lovers of the cold, gothic world of book one will revel in the gore of book two, and leave the conclusion ready for book three, The Isle of Blood, already available in bookstores.

Review of Cloaked by Alex Flinn

by Alex Flinn
2 Scribbles
Fans of Flinn’s earlier works like Breathing Underwater, Nothing to Lose, Breaking Point, and even Beastly, might be disappointed with this work which was clearly drafted for a much younger audience. Johnny Marco is a cobbler and wannabe shoe designer who works in an upscale South Beach Hotel shoe shop. Johnny’s dad disappeared when he was a toddler, and so he slaves over shoe repairs all day, every day, to help provide for himself and his mother. Johnny figures his future will be the same dreary life-sentence until one day a stunning princess visiting Florida offers him thousands of dollars and a promise to marry Johnny if he will find her missing brother. But first, he must believe that her brother has been turned into a frog by an evil witch, that magic is real, and that he can actually find a frog before the evil witch discovers his plan. Bored, and with nothing else to do, he agrees to the quest, only to find that the world is not always as it seems. The quest has adequate challenge scenes, and mildly interesting spins on traditional fairy tales. However, the loosely-linked tales feel a bit forced, like they have been jammed into an outline form with heavy-handed, unnatural connections between them. Johnny is an extremely shallow character, and his friend Meg seems only slightly better. Fans of stories shaped by action who care little about theme, character development, and originality will love this story. Otherwise, stick with Flinn’s earlier works.