Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

“Keep a fire burning; a fire is what saves you.”

Such is the number one rule in Margot’s household, set by her mother before she could even walk. 17-year-old Margot lives with her emotionally distant mother in a small town where it is difficult to find peace and solitude. They constantly struggle to get along, butting heads at the smallest of issues while ignoring the largest insecurities plaguing them. However, nothing compares to the biggest secret held from Margot; the girl has no idea where she came from, and her mother gives no clues or mention to any extended family. Eventually, several discoveries lead her down a new path, leaving home to gain independence and seek out the truth behind her mysterious origins.

Burn Our Bodies Down depicts the journey Margot takes to discover that hidden side of her history, to a town called Phalene. As the story develops, we are introduced to characters within the town, each reacting to Margot’s appearance in an unexpected way. One of my favorite elements of this book is the characterization of Margot and her new friend Tess, foils in ideas and influences. Margot sees the world through the eyes of someone living a tragedy, unable to get a firm grasp on a stable and happy life. Tess, on the other hand, is privileged enough to see the world as a written tragedy, experiencing the horrifying events that unfold as if they were a story and not someone’s real life. She treats her new friend’s dilemma as a mystery to be theorized about, not realizing that her life can too become tragic until it’s too late.

As the story unfolds, tension builds to the point where we can only throw blind guesses at the page, with a final reveal that sent chills down my spine. Themes of responsibility, love, and empathy reign supreme throughout the novel, creating a beautiful coming-of-age story (if you consider horrifying supernatural occurrences to be typical in a teenage experience). Unlike Power’s previous book “Wilder Girls”, I found this book difficult to get into. However, knowing the author’s potential, I luckily stuck with the story as it picked up steam. The final chapters are a whirlwind of shock and excitement that I was grateful to experience, and wholeheartedly recommend the book to any fan of mysteries, thrillers, and emotional dramas.

Bailey L.

The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Every place you’ll ever find yourself in is more than meets the eye. This is the central idea of Leigh Bardugo’s new novel The Ninth House, a supernatural fantasy about the life of Yale student Alex Stern. The story follows Alex through her freshman year of college, recruited by a secret society at the university known as Lethe. This society supervises 8 other organizations across campus, each of them specializing in a certain magical concept through rituals and other supernatural events. Lethe has been interested in her for most of her teenage life due to strange occurrences in police reports that reveal her secret; Alex was born with the power to see “Grays”, the ghosts that fail to pass over beyond “the Veil” and wander the living world. As someone who can see them, Alex plays an important role in protecting the societies from supernatural interference with their business. She studies the ways of Lethe and magic under her mentor Darlington, and receives help from grad student Dawes and Dean Sandow. However, life as a college recruit is not an easy path, and Alex must learn to navigate her struggling GPA and avoid suspicion from her roommates, all while keeping the existence of magic and the Nine Houses a secret.

However, life gets turned even more upside down when Darlington disappears and a random girl is found dead on campus. Concerned about the societies’ potential involvement in both cases, she goes out to solve the mysteries in a collection of twists and turns. As the murder investigation unfolds, people are tossed in and out of the scapegoat role, even some of the people she trusts most. At the novel’s conclusion, everything is made clear through shocking revelation that leaves its readers yearning for a second installment in Stern’s universe.

This book took me a little bit of time to get into. Being a “New Adult” book, it was a large jump in detailed writing from the book I had just read. However, once I sat down and committed to reading, I found soon enough that I couldn’t put the book down. The characterization of Alex fascinated me, and became more enthralling as her past is revealed. The interwoven stories between the world of the living and the dead and the world of Lethe and Yale as a whole make for an interesting story. I am looking forward to the next installment, hopefully to come out late 2021 or early 2022.

-Bailey L.

The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go follows 12-year-old Todd Hewitt and his companion Viola on their journey to reach New Haven, a town at the other end of the world. The history of their planet is one of the grim desolate conditions, which Todd learns early on as he has raised in Prentisstown: a town where every man can hear each other’s thoughts and all the women died of a mysterious disease soon after Todd was born. The youngest boy in the town, he is exactly one month away from becoming a man when his guardians, Ben and Cillian, send him away into the swamp with no explanations, and only a warning that everything he knows about the history of Prentisstown and the New World is a lie. In the wilderness, he meets Viola, a young girl that survived a space shuttle wreck meant to scout the area for new settlers. Together, along with Todd’s easily distracted yet loyal dog Manchee, they run and fight to survive in a world they soon realize is nothing like they were told.

Patrick Ness, the award-winning author of A Monster Calls, depicts the story through the thoughts of Todd, his inner monologue and Noise (men’s broadcasted thoughts in the New World), and the chaotic noise of the other men around him. He displays the emotional connections Todd makes with Viola and his guardian Ben, as well as the confusion and horror when slowly realizing the secrets of Prentisstown, all while hiding a dramatic bombshell of death and despair that we only get to read and imagine towards the end of their journey. Themes of maturity, love, death, and hope scatter the novel as the characters grow, leading to a beautiful final destination that feels all but complete, as plans are derailed for us to wait in anxiety for the next installment.

Having read this book for the first time several years ago, I was excited yet worried to read it again; the book is a towering and intimidating 500 pages, but is impossible to put down. The twists and turns shocked me once again, and I thoroughly enjoyed my second read. I look forward to uncovering the secrets of the rest of the trilogy in the coming months.

-Bailey L. 

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

A prestigious school. An abandoned island. A deadly disease. Secrets beyond comprehension. These elements present themselves in suspenseful and exciting ways in “Wilder Girls” a science fiction horror novel written by Rory Power. The story follows the Raxter School for Girls, a coveted boarding school off the coast of the United States. The story picks up 18 months after the island had been put under quarantine due to the Tox, a deadly virus that mutates the environment and the people within it. We follow the few survivors of the plague after the teachers and several girls have already succumbed to the Tox. As the story progresses, we discover secrets behind the military’s role in managing the disease, and the true meaning of finding a cure.

Hetty, one of the few survivors, lives within the school, bickering for rations with the other students and taking care of her friends Byatt and Reese. As she looks around at the fellow students, she describes the horrifying effects of the Tox: extra body parts, vines growing out of the body, and shocking spasms that leave each victim even more distraught than before. These girls are sitting ducks, slowly decomposing while waiting for the CDC and the outside world to provide a cure while donating occasional rations. As the months go by, the students and few remaining teachers develop a hierarchy of power in order to keep order and safety on school grounds. A quarantine is set both on the island and the school, only allowing certain students to venture into the dangerously mutated forest. We see bonds broken and formed between young women as they struggle to survive and save those they care most about, making a life in their hopeless situation, surrounded by death and decay.

Themes of sacrifice and selfishness develop through the novel as their situation at Raxter worsens. When Byatt, Hetty’s closest friend and almost sister, goes missing after a flare-up, her and Reese risk the security of their other classmates to go beyond the fence and search for her, uncovering deadly and scarring secrets that reveal the true fate of the island’s residents. Hetty’s careful, loving, and protective nature fails in the final critical moments, revealing her true ambitions as she is forced to decide between the group she loves and the people she cannot live without: Reese and Byatt. Hetty remains one of my favorite literary characters due to what may seem like backwards character development but is actually a revelation of her flawed heroic nature that exists her entire life. “Wilder Girls” does a phenomenal job of displaying the flaws of even the greatest heroes and sacrificers.

I read this book for the first time in summer 2019, and found it a fascinating story that I stayed up all night to finish reading. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys dystopian YA fiction, horror, or any story with dynamic and complex characters that showcase true universal themes.

-Bailey L.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Authors We Love: Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness at arrivals for A MONSTER CALLS Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2016, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, ON September 10, 2016. Photo By: James Atoa

Twice Carnegie Medal Winner Patrick Ness was born in the United States, currently holding dual citizenship status while living in London. He attended the University of Southern California, graduating with a degree in English Literature. While having written books for all age groups and genres, he is most known for his young adult fiction novels, most notably A Monster Calls.

After working as a corporate writer for a cable company, Ness published his first novel in 2003, titled The Crash of Hennington. He also published his pivotal short story collection Topics About Which I Know Nothing the same year. His career took off with the publishing of The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first in a young adult trilogy about a society where everyone can hear each other’s thoughts. He was awarded the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for this novel. He continued headstrong with the Chaos Walking trilogy, publishing the next two books and a series of short stories in the same literary universe. He is currently working on a film adaptation of the trilogy alongside screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.

A Monster Calls originates from the mind of Siobhan Dowd, and Ness was hired to write the story after her passing in 2007. With illustrations by Jim Kay, the novel’s tale of a boy struggling to come to terms with his mothers illness earned Ness the Carnegie Medal after its 2011 publication.

Patrick Ness has written numerous novels about defining the teen experience from non-stereotypical perspectives. The Rest of Us Just Live Here presents an ironic spin on the classic YA fantasy novel, instead focusing on the ordinary side characters while the powerful “protagonists” fight monsters in the background. He has also touched on science fiction with his book More Than This, showing a teenage boy’s journey through a strange world in which he somehow wakes up after drowning in the ocean. The novel is one of my favorites from the author, describing themes of life’s meaning, trauma, and the difficulties of growing up in a place where you don’t feel welcomed. Ness wonderfully defines his diverse character set, and is an expert of including representation of POC and LGBTQ characters without making those identities their defining traits. Instead, he writes diverse characters not for the sake of diversity, but for the sake of telling an important story that everyone can relate to. Other books by Ness include his adult novel The Crane Wife, and his new young adult story titled Burn. As one of my favorite authors, Patrick Ness has astounded me in the  diversity of his literary prowess. I have enjoyed reading all of his works, and would recommend them to anyone that has a love for reading. My personal favorite has been More Than This for several years, and I am currently rereading the Chaos Walking trilogy before the movie makes an appearance.

-Bailey L.

The works of Patrick Ness are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Book vs. Movie: “The Shining”

I have spent the last couple weeks making my way through Stephen King’s The Shining a horror literature classic that my dad gave me for Christmas. As I was reading the book, my parents asked me about some familiar and iconic movie scenes and how I enjoyed reading them. After finishing the book and not coming across those scenes, I realized that there were some stark contrasts between the novel and Stanley Kubrick’s re-imagined classic. Thus, I decided to do research and have conversations with my dad about the differences between the two entertainment sources, and analyze their impact on their respective audiences.

Several subtle differences to the atmosphere have occurred to properly terrify audiences according to the type of media consumed. For instance, Danny’s interaction with the “wolf-man” is replaced with Wendy’s vision of a man in a bear suit in the movie. While both concepts are frightening in description and convey similar themes, the “wolf-man” is more cartoonish and sudden, showing the experience as one would expect from a terrified child’s mind. However, the movie interpretation is more unnerving than a typical jumpscare, showcased in a quick zoom shot that cannot be as successfully accomplished in a literary style. These differences in interpretation thus offer a similar effect using entirely different scare techniques, both appropriate for the interpretation and entertainment style it’s present in. Additional scenes, such as Danny turning a corner to find himself faced with the twins and the blood-filled elevator, are not present in the book due to their unnerving and sudden appearances, something that cannot be done through King’s detailed descriptive writing. The strongest and most important setting difference between the book and the movie is the animal-shaped hedges, replaced in the move by a maze. This has a profound effect on the plot, and is known as one of the most memorable features of the film’s Overlook hotel.

Concept and character differences make up an even more influential part of the contrast between the two versions. In King’s book, it is made abundantly clear that while Jack has his demons to deal with regardless of his position, the hotel is genuinely haunted and a large factor in his eventual descent into madness. This is shown through his son Danny, and the kid’s ability to sense the ghosts of the Overlook through what the cook Halloran calls “The Shine”. In the movie, however, Danny’s power is less intense, and we are forced to question if Jack is truly seeing things and going crazy due to his own guilt and violent tendencies. One of my least favorite aspects of Kubrick’s adaptation is his treatment of Wendy Torrance, the leading lady of the story. In the novel, Wendy is much more powerful and independent, able to defend herself and her son from Jack. She even goes as far as to use a tiny shaving razor to defend herself, showing her resourcefulness when faced with impossible odds.

Because a story is always most well known for its plot, it is important to take note of the plot differences between the two media forms. In the book, the story ends with Halloran trudging through the snow to rescue Danny, taking the mother and son away on a snowmobile as the Overlook explodes with Jack inside. However, the movie takes a more eerie and suspenseful approach, all while killing off Halloran once he steps inside the hotel. Jack chases Danny through the hedge maze, and he eventually escapes, leaving Jack to freeze to death in his madness. The movie closes with an image from a 1920’s scrapbook picture, Jack being seen at the center of the party, symbolizing how Jack has become one of the eternal ghosts of the Overlook. Due to plot differences, this haunting final image does not present itself in the novel. Additional plot differences such as Jack’s weapon (an axe in the movie and a mallet in the novel) and the fate of Jack’s play are changed for the sake of forwarding the plot, allowing for characters to meet certain fates or build up to truly terrifying moments.

The Shining as a whole is a brilliant story filled with terrors, dread, and undeniably interesting characters. Both materials have stood the test of time and lived up to their reputation. As a literature fan, I am impartial to King’s original story due to its fascinating writing style and descriptions of themes and slow dread building to the plot’s climax. However, I also give credit to Kubrick’s film for its ability to terrify audiences in its own way. While not exactly holding true to the source material and thus an inadequate adaptation, it carves its own path in horror media as a phenomenally crafted film with its own story to tell.

-Bailey L.

The Shining by Stephen King is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Original Poem: “In a Few Days”

In a few days
the world stops looking less blue.
Sooner or later
there’s bound to be something new.

In a few days
the clouds above my head will lift.
As eventually as forever
my meaning will sensibly shift.

In a few days
I’ll fall asleep in complete dark.
A night without noise
from the purple and invisible spark.

In a few days
things will get better.
Because a few can mean soon,
or reach as close as possible to never.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Most teens are familiar with Odysseus, the ancient Greek myth spread orally and eventually written down to be read by us in the future. The epic depicts a man on his years-long journey home from the Trojan War, battling gods and monsters alike under the protection of Athena. As the legend goes, Odysseus returns home to find his dining hall filled to the brim with ravenous suitors, after his wife Penelope. Beating the suitors in a contest, he regains control of the castle, enlisting his son to kill the men and hang 12 maids who favored them for their company. Thus, the story is complete, and Odysseus and Penelope spend their remaining days together. Or so we thought…

The Penelopiad tells the story from Penelope’s point of view, the persevering and cunning wife who waits for Odysseus to return despite the world giving up on him. Atwood begins the story at the beginning of her life, following her through the myth as we know it. Told through Penelope in Hades (the afterlife underworld of the Greek mythos), perspective flips from recalling her time in the land of the living to her interactions with the same characters after death. The author also incorporates the story of the 12 hanged maids as a chorus, chanting intermittent, heart-wrenching chapters in verse. The short novel is timeless, using its afterlife setting as grounds for various anachronisms and interwoven cultural elements.

Atwood’s retelling of the popular myth describes an ancient world made for men from a powerful woman’s perspective, one has rarely seen in ancient Greek literature. While a 21st century adaptation, it stands as an important vision of the lives of women during a time where they were given no power or say in what happened in their lives. Always the sidekicks, romantic interests, and victims, The Penelopiad gives us a chance to finally imagine what their story could have been told with the ancient myth so long ago.

Having read the book in three days, I found myself enthralled by the perspective Penelope and the maids bring to the conversation and recommend it to any reader fascinated by Greek epics beyond the mandatory school reading. Told by a remarkably influential author, The Penelopiad brings Greek women’s stories to life in dramatic and humorous ways.

– Bailey L.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.