July 2012: This time through, I liked certain things more, and other things less, so it was pretty much a wash, but my re-read accomplished two things:
1) Caught me up so I won't feel hopelessly lost whilst reading Pandemonium, and
2) Secured my opinion, which I had begun to doubt after seeing so many people lose their minds over this book, that this book had promise, but for the most part that promise is unfulfilled.
I wanted to give the book another chance because I'd received both books free as part of a marketing thing on these here internets, and I had such a lovely experience with the marketing lady, who basically offered to give me the second book out of their stockpiled extras after I thanked her sending me the first one. I guess she felt bad that I already owned the first book in hardcover, and she appreciated that I was willing to pass my free copy onto someone else to keep the word of mouth going. Either way, I got a free copy of Pandemonium out of it as well, so I felt like I should give the series another shot.
Here are some thoughts that I have:
• In the end, I determined that I both love and hate Lauren Oliver's style. She has the imagination of a poet, and some of her images are just lovely. She also includes small details here and there that really flesh out the world she's created (like when she notes that a boy Lena dislikes is in the habit of picking his nose and leaving the boogers under the counter at the local convenience store), but and this is hard to explain, I feel like she over-relies on her imagery. I stopped counting the instances where she would throw in a lovely descriptive image or adjective, and then instead of stopping, she would just keep going.
• Lena is one of the most self-reflective narrators I've ever read, and is probably the most self-reflective YA character in existence, so it's lovely being in her head, but at the same time . . . I found myself wishing there was fewer poetic images and more plot, fewer times that Lena compared what was happening to her now in the present with what had happened to her in the past, and more of stuff actually happening.
• I still hate hate hate hate hate the use of first person present in this novel. If you're going to use it, your other junk has to be so good that I forget you're writing in that POV, and because Oliver draws so much attention to the writtenness of her novel, I was never able to forget that I was annoyed by it. But maybe that's just a personal thing . . . that I am absolutely 100% right about.
• I remember liking Alex the first time through, but this time he struck me as a shallow character, simply because we never see what motivates him, and we never really understand why it is that Lena has fallen in love with him. Lena is wrapped up in her own head and feelings and because we see the story through her eyes, we never see Alex in any other light or context. After spending 430 pages with these characters, even though I totally buy their actions, I'm still unsure of what it is specifically that brought them together. Alex tells us why he likes Lena, but Lena never stops to think about why she likes Alex, other than the fact that he represents freedom to her, and because he's holy shit beautiful.
• This time through, I also had trouble with suspending my disbelief for the main concept of the series. Love as a disease sounds neat in theory, but in execution, if you stop to think about it, it doesn't actually make much sense. Maybe this is something Oliver will answer in books two and three, but I had a hard time believing that humans could ever be made to believe that love was an actual ailment, and additionally, that the lack of love in society wouldn't have had more drastic consequences for children's psyches. It would have been interesting to use Lena as a benchmark, having grown up in a house with a mother who still loved her, as compared to the other children whose parents could care less. It's like Oliver is more concerned with the theme and the endgame than she is the "getting there," and I suppose that's okay, I just had a hard time with it.
• I HAAAATE the new covers. What is it that makes publishers think that some generic teenage girl model is appealing on a book cover? Frankly, both covers are creepy as hell, and I miss the old cover with the flowery script. Fuck you, redesign. I hate you and wish you would die. I have more to say, but I'm hungry and it's Friday, so I've decided that I'm done. More thoughts after I finish Pandemonium.
June 2011: I bought this before my little excursion with Tiger's Curse last week, and I probably would have enjoyed it more had I read it when I first bought it, rather than reading Tiger Tiger Love Triangle, which just made me cranky. Tiger's Curse had promising story, but was horribly written. This book had the opposite problem. Oliver's prose is good, even great at points (although a tad too serious and flowery for my taste), but her story is wanting. The premise sounds neat on the surface, but Oliver never bothers to justify it, so it reads just exactly like what it is: a premise, an excuse for her hero and heroine to feel the exquisite torture of teen emo pain. But the real flaw of this book is that nothing really happens in it. I'm calling it right now: the entire trilogy should have been squeezed into one book.
And finally, and please consider this a PSA, if I see one more author writing their goddamn teen romance paranormal dystopian Hunger Games/Twilight clone whatever else novel in first person present tense, I'm going to rip my fucking hair out. Writing in first person present tense is a no-no from now on. Unless you're Suzanne Collins and writing about kids killing each other all over the place, you are not allowed to write in first person present tense. It's narcissistic and dumb. So just stop it, people. JUST STOP IT.
This review is angrier than I meant it to be, but I just finished watching the second to last episode of S1 Game of Thrones and I'm pretty worked up right now, cause that's some good storytelling right there.