The Trilogy Grail Achieved

(A.K.A. Life After the Hunger Games: Part Three)

posted by Gina

Well, my friends, it’s been found: a post-apocalyptic dystopian teen romance trilogy with a wholly satisfying third installment.  I’ll tell you the truth, I hardly dared to hope – but it has been found.

This is a terrible cover. Please do not judge this book by it.

Welcome to the world of the Matched trilogy, by Ally Condie.  The first book, Matched, is an intriguing mash-up of Lois Lowry’s The Giver and the reality TV show The Bachelor.  The premise: our heroine, Cassia, is attending her Matching Ceremony Banquet – the single most important ceremony within the Society.  All young people in the Society attend such a banquet during their 17th year.  Girls are able to choose one of several Society owned gowns, dessert (a known but rarely experienced luxury) is served, and Matches (citizens’ researched and carefully chosen future mates) are revealed. Matches are optimally paired for success, contentment, and longevity, and Cassia has been eagerly looking forward to this night.  Her match is unusual, but not disappointing: a boy she already knows, from her own city, one of her close friends.   Continue reading “The Trilogy Grail Achieved”

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Life After the Hunger Games: Part Two

(A.K.A. Excellent Post-Apocalyptic Trilogies with Disappointing Third Installments)

Posted by Gina

After finishing the Hunger Games Trilogy, most of us went through the Five Stages of Mockingjay Grief:  sadness (over the various tragedies within the plot), disorientation (“Wait, WHAT?”), confusion (“Surely there are 40 pages missing from my copy.”), anger (“Seriously?”), and, finally, long-term vague disappointment.

It’s frustrating when a trilogy builds, for hundreds of pages and months of waiting between editions, to the inevitable Final Ultimate Choice, and then peters sadly out, with some form of Deus Ex Machina of circumstance and inconsistent character choice leading to the negation of said final choice.  There’s no final stand.  There’s no ultimate decision.  There’s merely a vague settling of elements and the feeling that we, the readers, have been cheated out of something.

Sadly, a lot of wonderful (specifically young adult dystopian romance) trilogies seem to have underwhelming third books, leading us to suspect that publishers are rushing publication or insisting on drawing a two-book idea out when it shouldn’t be.  Going in forewarned is half the battle; we can enjoy our first two books to the fullest and go into the third taking what we can and shrugging our shoulders over the rest.

The following trilogies are my go-to series recommendations for anyone who enjoyed the Hunger Games Trilogy.  They’re good for a wide-range of ages (both are considerably less violent and the romance is of the 6th Grade variety) and have the same kind of across-the-board appeal.

The MazeRunner Trilogy, by James Dashner

(Googling for the cover image, I see that this is about to made into a film.  So please go read it now before it’s messed around with.)

Our protagonist, Thomas, wakes up in an elevator with no memory, and finds himself delivered into a mysterious glade inhabited by other boys, surrounded by an ever-changing moving stone maze.  Where did they come from?  Why are they there?  Who’s watching them?

This is one of those fun, science-fiction-y, social experiment books where we put the pieces together along with Thomas.  It’s an absorbing read, and the sequel, The Scorch Trials, is close to as good.  The third installment, The Death Cure, is one of those books we finish because we want to know how it all ends, but is infinitely disappointing in its feel and conclusion.  It’s not bad, but it lacks the energy and drive of the first two.  And, like Katniss in Mockingjay, Thomas is ultimately robbed of his opportunity to make a final stand and clear cut choice.

The Uglies Series, by Scott Westerfeld

This series held me entirely enthralled for two books (Uglies and Pretties), but about halfway into the third (Specials), I found myself increasingly tired of this particular world.  Interestingly, the bonus fourth book (Extras) renewed my interest, having mixed things up enough to re-engage me.

In this post-apocalyptic society, all citizens undergo an operation to become ‘Pretty’ at age 16.  Young pretties live only for pleasure – going to parties, wearing fabulous clothes, and eating amazing meals.  Much of the fun of reading Pretties is inhabiting PrettyTown along with the characters.

The first book focuses on Tally, an Ugly close to her 16th birthday who’s never doubted that she’s ugly and that all she needs to be happy is her operation and subsequent move to PrettyTown.  A new friend and a visit to a mysterious settlement outside her society makes her begin to question what she’s always assumed to be true.

 Pretties and Specials both continue Tally’s story, but Specials finds the series beginning to pall.  The same plot formula has been employed at the end of the first two books, and we find ourselves tired of the veiled predictability.  I’ve re-read both Uglies and Pretties several times, but haven’t returned to Specials.

 Extras, a bonus fourth installment, breathes a new life into the series.  Changes have been made to Tally’s world, and while she exists in the story, she’s not the character we focus on.  The new societal structure (is it better?  Is it really the same, just under new constraints?) is interesting, and the new protagonist is a likeable underdog, a relief after tiring of Tally’s story.

The good thing about trilogies being the current It Girl of the Young Adult Literature world is that when we find an exciting story we are likely to be getting more of it.  But I’m still waiting for that amazing post-apocalyptic series that stays strong until the final page of the final chapter – let me know if you find it before I do.

Did you miss the first Life After the Hunger Games? Find it here.

Life After the Hunger Games: Part One

posted by Gina

Oh, those books that hook all our kids – readers and non-readers alike.  Oh, that wonderful day when your former-book-loather hides beneath the covers to finish a gripping story.  And oh, the joy of a massively popular reader-enticer that’s actually a pretty good book. I am proud to declare myself the resident expert on all things Children and Young Adult Lit, and even prouder to essentially minor in Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian Teenage Romance.  (There’s quite a market for it, these days.)  As your resident expert, I am here to share my knowledge with you, for that day when your tween, teen, or precocious young reader comes to you – after devouring the Hunger Games trilogy and being disappointed in the film – clamoring for something similar. Let’s begin with one of my favorites:  The Scorpio Races

It’s hard to explain the premise without sounding ridiculous, so when I tell you that it’s about mythical carnivorous water horses being trained for an annual life-changing (sometimes life-ending) race, don’t be put off.  The story is action packed, gritty, dangerous, and an excellent read.

What is to love:

      • Any young person that loves horses will captivated by the scenes of water horse taming, the bond between Sean (our hero) and his dangerous, potentially murderous, charge, and Puck, our plucky, horse-riding heroine.
      • Speaking of, dividing the storyline between the points of view of both a male and female protagonist is nothing but nifty, and offers levels to relate for readers across the board.
      • Edge-of-your-seat excitement!  I literally could not put this book down.  Meals were missed.  Families were ignored.  I was sorry when it was all over.

Now, technically, this isn’t a Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian novel (there are teenagers, and there’s a little romance), but it’s similar enough in feel to hook your Hunger Games lovin’ reader.

Stay tuned for more – because I’ve got ‘em.  This is only Part One, after all.

A last note, when considering The Hunger Games and the age of your child:

Several parents have asked me my thoughts on allowing their kid to read this book.  What I think: The Hunger Games has some scary elements, yes.  But in my opinion, many kids who are reading at this level can handle what’s in this series.  It’s not any more violent or scary than what’s on TV and in a typical Grimm’s Fairy Tale.
What there is: death, kids killing each other, and sadness.  What there isn’t: much in the way of sex, gruesome descriptions of the death and kids killing each other.

And so my response is always this:

Read the book.  You know your kid best and you are in the best place to make this call.  It’s a quick read and a great story, so you might as well.  Watching the movie is not going to help you make this call: the on-screen images are – for whatever reason – more distressing than the print version.  (Also, it’s not as good.)  Think on: what else are they reading and what issues have they encountered there? How have they handled those?  What’s their emotional maturity level?  What other concerns do you have – for example, do you have a child prone to nightmares?  If so, what are the triggers?

I’ve met 3rd Graders who have loved the series, 3rd Graders who have not understood, and 3rd Graders who have been bored.  As a general guideline, I’d put the series at 6th and up – also knowing that a good half of my 5th Graders would have loved it.