Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor

2012 Book 139: Who Fears Death
written by Nnedi Okorafor, narrated by Anne Flosnik
Reason for Reading:
 This is my fourth book for The Diverse Universe blog tour, in which we are reading speculative fiction books written by authors-of-color. Who Fears Death was a Nebula nominee in 2010 and won the World Fantasy Award in 2011.

My Review

This book takes place in a post-apocalyptic Sudan, which is peopled by two races–the dominant Nurus and their “slaves” the Okekes. Onyesonwu Ubaig-Ogundiwu (whose name means “Who Fears Death?”) is a the daughter of an Okeke woman who was raped and brutalized by a Nuru sorcerer and his genocidal army. Onyesonwu was considered “Ewu,” a mixed-race child who brings bad luck and violence wherever she goes. Despite Onyesonwu’s mother’s lucky marriage to a kind man, the girl spent most of her younger years feeling insecure and angry at the world. However, as Onyesonwu grew, she inherited the powers of a sorcerer…angry powers that she couldn’t control without the help of a teacher. This story is the coming-of-age of a young sorcerer destined to wreak vengeance on a violent father. 
I am having a really difficult time deciding what rating to give this book. Okorafor’s writing was powerful (as was the reading by Flosnik). The story was compelling, though a few sections dragged for me–these parts could have been cut out to make a shorter book with no loss to the story. The genocidal violence and rape were described in disturbing detail, though these details were tactful and necessary. Okorafor used a post-apocalyptic setting to write a powerful story about issues (like genocide, female circumcision, and oppressive sexism) that are current problems in parts of Africa today. In fact, the most powerful part of the story (the consequences of human brutality) were disturbingly realistic and representative of the world many of us Westerners choose to ignore today. But, as disturbing as this book’s content was, there was also a ray of hope and optimism. And behind all of this darkness and light, there is the story of a girl who wants nothing more to love her man, her friends, and her mother despite all odds. (Well, ok, she also wants revenge…)
About the Author:
Nnedi Okorafor is the American-born daughter of Igbo Nigerian parents. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is a professor of creative writing at Chicago State University. She has written several YA fantasy novels. Who Fears Death is her first book for adults.  

Matched, by Ally Condie

2012 Book 131: Matched, by Ally Condie (9/9/2012)

Reason for Reading: Needed something light to get rid of all that “meaning” that’s been invading my mind from all those “meaningful” books I’ve been reading. This one was sufficiently fluffy, and was one of my top 5 LibraryThing recommendations. (LT seems to think that I love YA dystopia, which isn’t particularly true, but oh well.)

My Review
Cassia is thrilled about her matching ceremony, in which the officials of her government choose her perfect match…her future husband. But when she views her match, she is perplexed–TWO faces show up on her screen. Because of this “mistake” Cassia is thrown into a confusion of emotions and falls for the “wrong” boy. She begins to question the right of her government to make so many choices for their citizens. Perhaps no one is free in this seeming utopia? This was a cute book, and I certainly am eager to read the rest of the series. I appreciate it as one of the few non-violent YA dystopias out there on the market. On the other hand, love triangles are getting rather blase, aren’t they? And it’s not really possible to write a unique YA dystopia at the moment. Everything’s been done over and again. That said, it was certainly a quick, fun read; and it had very likable characters.

Insurgent, by Veronica Roth

2012 Book 83: Insurgent, by Veronica Roth (6/7/2012)

Reason for Reading: Second book in the Divergent trilogy

My Review 4.5/5 stars
The second book in the Divergent trilogy picks up almost immediately after the end of the first book. Tris explores the boundaries of friendship and betrayal as she fights to reestablish balance in her torn-up world. Like Divergent, Insurgent isn’t JUST an exciting dystopic novel with unique world-building and enticing protagonists, it is also a deeper book which will make the reader see areas of grey the in the choices the characters make. It’s a suspenseful, fun, and thoughtful book. I definitely recommend it to anyone who reads dystopic YA lit.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth

2012 Book 82: Divergent, by Veronica Roth (6/2/2012)

Reason for Reading: Curiosity

My Review 5/5 stars
The future Chicago has 5 factions of people, each representing a moral value: Amity, Dauntless, Candor, Erudite, and Abnegation. At the age of 16, Beatrice Prior and all her classmates must choose which faction to join. Beatrice struggles with the choice—does she follow her desires or does she choose to stay with her family? I was deeply impressed by this book. This isn’t ANY YA-dystopia-with-strong-female-lead. This is an amazing coming-of-age story that explores the meanings of morals, identity, and courage. Furthermore, Roth has managed to create a female lead who is strong while still leaving her human AND keeping her morals intact. Beatrice is an admirable and courageous young woman, despite her youthful identity crisis. Roth has also written a suspenseful and intriguing tale—I read the book in one sitting because I simply didn’t want to stop. The action is exciting without being gore-spittingly violent. Sure, there’s violence…there has to be for the plot to work. But Roth describes the scenes so well that people can imagine as much (or as little) gore as they wish. Gore is not inserted for its shock value. Divergent is exciting enough that all action-lovers should be thrilled, and the people who appreciate a more deeply meaningful story will be satisfied. I can’t wait to read the next!

PS FYI I’m comparing it to The Hunger Games, which I found to be tastelessly violent with a rather unlikeable main character. But that’s just me! 🙂

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

2012 Book 35: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (2/22/2012)

Reason for Reading: My friend Shweta has been telling me to read this book for quite a while. Now, my friend Alicia insisted I read it so that we can go watch the movie together.

My Review 3/5 stars
In a post-apocalyptic country called Panem, The Capital takes two children as tributes from each of its 12 Districts for an annual reality-TV survival competition. The children must fight until there is only one survivor. I understand why this book is so popular. Collins is a fantastic writer—the plot was fast-moving, suspenseful, and creative; the characters were well-developed and likable. However, I did not like this book. The idea of kids being forced to murder kids for entertainment is disturbing and tasteless as far as I’m concerned. It didn’t work for me in Lord of the Flies and it didn’t work for me in The Hunger Games. I thought about continuing with the rest of the series, but it would appear from the reviews that the next two books are just as violent, so I guess I don’t see the point. I do really appreciate that it was very exciting and well-written though. I practically read it in one sitting despite my disgust at the premise. It deserves 1-2 stars for the premise and 4-5 stars for the writing, so I gave it 3.