It was going to be challenging enough for Quinn Maybrook to adjust to the transition from Philadelphia to Kettle Springs, MO, under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately for Quinn and her father, Kettle Springs isn’t simply another small town in the rural Midwest. Kettle Springs is suffering from a terrible pressure building up just beneath the surface of the seemingly prosaic day-to-day rustic community. Cesare lets the tension build as we familiarize ourselves with the mostly quaint environment of Kettle Springs. Dedicating the first half of the novel to a character study and framing the narrative as a coming-of-age tale that we anticipate taking a darker turn makes the latter half of the book more potent. The tension gradually builds, punctuated by scenes that guarantee the reader is in for more than just a fish out of water tale long before the party in the cornfield transforms into a nightmare. While I understand that this is ostensibly a young adult novel, it never pulls punches or treats the reader like they won’t be able to handle the visceral one-two punch once the violence kicks off. At its core, Clown In a Cornfield is a story of intergenerational conflict. We’re forced to face the ever-present conflict between youth and adulthood or tradition and novelty. When we join the story, we’re an ancient god and a charismatic child away from this book going the route of Children of the Corn. Similarly, we’re government sponsorship away from the story turning into Battle Royale. As the tale evolves from coming-of-age drama into slasher horror and finally into something altogether more ominous, we’re carried along by Cesare’s masterful storytelling. This is a young adult novel that is far more suited for adult readers than the books in the Harry Potter–and not solely because Rowling is a TERF and a bigot–or The Hunger Games series. Don’t let the YA categorization push you away from a fantastic dark tale for all ages.
This review was originally written in August of 2016.
I finished reading Morning Star by Pierce Brown yesterday and that was easily one of the more satisfying conclusions to a trilogy I’ve had the pleasure of reading, though now I kind of wish there was more simply because I enjoyed the characters (and how they grew and evolved over the course of the series) and the story itself. I don’t know if it’s just that it was predictable or if I had come to be so familiar with how the protagonist thought, but there was nothing at all surprising about the twist at the climax, and yet I still found the experience of reading through it to be thrilling. Also, there’s something to be said for Brown somehow finding the ability to weave the phrase, “Bye Felicia,” into the narrative without seeming like a total jackass in doing so…especially in a trilogy that takes place more than a thousand years from now. It was honestly refreshing to read a relatively near-future action science fiction series that wasn’t packed full of dystopian tropes and instead borrowed heavily from Greek, Roman, and even a bit of Norse mythology for the structuring of both the story itself and the society within which it transpired
This review was originally written in June of 2016.
Surprisingly, this second installment in the Red Rising series is substantially better than the first.
Golden Son by Pierce Brown takes the two qualities I most enjoyed, the intensity and depth of character, from Red Rising and amplifies them both to unexpected levels. I don’t know what I was expecting from the second book of the trilogy, but I certainly wasn’t anticipating the page-turning blend of action, drama, and utter despair that filled those pages…and I certainly didn’t expect the theme of betrayal to so seamlessly weave its way through the narrative from beginning to heartbreaking end. What I do know is that I certainly need to pick up the third volume of the trilogy and discover where it goes from here.
This review was originally written in April of 2016.
Pierce Brown’s Red Rising was a surprisingly good book, not necessarily because of the quality of the writing (which was good, just nothing outstanding) but because the story was compelling and original enough to feel like fresh ground. It’s a fairly distant future science fiction novel, taking place on Mars, but with a solar system that has been thoroughly populated by the time the novel begins. The human population of Red Rising has been divided into very distinct castes, defined by biological and neurological differences that are both technological and evolutionary in nature…and that is at the root of the story. Our protagonist is a “red” who works in deep tunnels below Mars, drilling and harvesting materials in exceedingly hazardous conditions for the noble purpose of terraforming the planet above. It’s only after his wife is hanged and he goes proudly to his own death that he finds nothing generations of his people had believed was true. The surface of Mars had been long terraformed and civilized as had essentially every planet or moon in our solar system. He undergoes painful and extensive alterations of all sorts in order to pass for one of the ruling class for the purpose of exacting vengeance and righting the wrong that had been done to his people from within that upper class. I’ve seen a number of people comparing this trilogy to The Hunger Games, which was one of the reasons I hadn’t bothered to read it until now. I didn’t care to read what I suspected to be a low-rent clone of a wildly successful series. Upon reading this book, I suspect any of those people comparing it to The Hunger Games haven’t read many other books, since the only similarities have to do with a corrupt and decadent ruling culture and a good deal of violence. There is more resemblance to Lord of the Flies and Ender’s Game than anything else, with a healthy dose of Roman (and a bit of Greek) mythology to set the stage. I enjoyed this book enough that I plan to read the next two, and I think it’s got a fantastic degree of character development that makes it feel more three-dimensional than a lot of young adult fiction.
I’m Not Dying With You Tonight is not a book I think I normally would have picked up, but I’m glad I did. I’m not the biggest fan of “young adult” literature in most instances, but this is so much more than just a young adult novel. This is something that I could see being considered a classic someday, decades down the road. Like so many of the classics, this book intimately and expertly peels away superficial elements and displays integral bits of human nature.
It’s initially offputting, reading a book entirely written in first-person with alternating chapters from the two protagonists’ perspectives, but they’re so well-crafted and uniquely voiced that it quickly ceases to be an issue. It’s a little bit experimental, in that sense, but I’ve never been one to shy away from experimental literature. In that sense, it’s reminiscent (in the loosest way) of the novel-length poem Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski, just not focused on two lovers and not spanning the whole of history.
Campbell and Lena attend the same high school but exist in different worlds until a riot at a football game forces them together as unlikely partners attempting to find safety and security. The two girls begin developing a bond, despite their differences and cultural ignorance with respect to one another’s lives and experiences, showcasing not that we’re all the same (because that’s a naive perspective) but that we can find common ground and understanding even when we aren’t the same. Just when they think the worst is over, when they believe they’re in the home stretch, everything around them seemingly collapses into chaos and violence.
It’s almost prescient, how timely this book ultimately ended up being, with the events of 2020 and the turmoil surrounding race relations…but that’s how it is with the best books, they help to shine a light at just the right time in the right place, quite the opposite of the circumstances that brought Campbell and Lena together.