Category Archives: fantasy

The Rise of a Villain — Sorting My Emotions About Marie Lu’s The Young Elites

young elites 2

The Young Elites by Marie Lu is a wonderfully imaginative novel with so many layers of story-telling intertwined. Lu creates a world with three moons, and tells us the story of Adelina Amouteru, who lives on an island where the Inquisition chases after the malfettos — children scourged by a horrible blood fever that leaves them marked and with special abilities. She creates poetry, history, literary quotes, ancient gods, and the mythology that lies behind this elaborate tale. But most importantly, she creates complex characters and action-packed scenes that drive the story forward, pulling you in, forcing you to turn the pages as quickly as possible just see what happens next.

Adelina is a tortured soul — and I wanted to root for her every step of the way. But the poor girl is broken, beaten, and deeply disturbed. She has the makings of a very powerful villain… I just wanted to see her succeed so badly. My denial almost made me miss all the signs. She loses her mother to the blood fever, she is unloved and mistreated by her awful father, she’s sold off as a mistress, watches her father being trampled to death by a horse, is imprisoned and sentenced to death by burning at the stake… and this is all within the first few pages of the book! She is raised to feel… insufficient — her beauty is marred by her grey hair and missing eye; she is temperamental, yet eager to please; she is constantly compared (by herself and others) to her beautiful and affable little sister, Violetta. She’s bound to snap. “Soon you’re going to see that things don’t end well for everyone. Some of us are broken and there’s nothing you can do to fix it.”

Yet it is her affinity toward dark emotions that strengthen her. She basks in fear and anger and danger. She is one twisted sixteen-year-old, for sure. But she also wants to belong, she wants to be loved, she wants to be accepted by friends — she simply wants people who will be kind to her without expecting something in return. There is so much loss for Adelina, so much fear of trusting others — so much desire to hurt others as she’s been hurt in return.

“I am Adelina Amouteru… I belong to no one. On this night, I swear to you that I will rise above everything you’ve ever taught me. I will become a force that this world has never known. I will come into such power that none will dare hurt me again.”

Clearly, she means business. As we read her story, empathize with her insecurities, cower along with her in deep dark corners, root for her when things finally start to go right… only to watch them unravel bit by bit… we understand, why to become an unstoppable force, Adelina must suffer, and pull from the darkness of her life the ability to inflict pain upon others.

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“You disappoint me,” she whispered.

the stars

I loved reading this book. I cannot praise Kate DiCamillo’s talent enough for weaving such details into a story and creating such beautiful characters. Edward Tulane starts out as the perfect little self-centered porcelain bunny rabbit. At the beginning his word is just so… exact. But Pellegrina sees that he disappoints — a little girl’s bunny rabbit should love that little girl just as much as she loves him. But Edward doesn’t love anyone… he cares only about himself. So he must go out into the world… his heart must be broken… he must suffer and constantly leave without saying goodbye… only then, does he learn to love.

Those stars which he finds so comforting at the beginning of the story, don’t care the slightest bit about him when he’s out alone in a field of crows! “I have been loved,” poor little Edward cries pathetically into the night… “So?” is the stars’ reply. It’s quite befitting that the book opens with a quote from “The Testing Tree,” by Stanley Kunitz: “The heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking. / It is necessary to go / through dark and deeper dark / and not to turn.” Edward’s heart learns to break again and again — he loses Abilene when he falls overboard, he loses Nellie when he is thrown into the garbage by her daughter, he loses Bull and Lucy when they are thrown off the train, he loses Sara Ruth when she dies, and he loses Bryce who loves him so much he cannot leave him a broken heap of porcelain…

Oh, Edward’s heart does indeed break and break — and as a reader, my heart broke with him. But it’s only through breaking that Edward learns to live and to love and to appreciate those around him. Do we truly only learn through loss? Is it only suffering that shapes the best of us? Is it the stumbles and mistakes and heartbreaks that makes us lovably imperfect?

In any case, I am happy this little bunny, scrapes and all, found his way home again.

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The Existential Rats of NIMH

mazes and roses

“The cage was my home for a long time. It was not uncomfortable… Yet just the fact it was a cage made it horrible… [but] by teaching us how to read, they had taught us how to get away.”

It is impossible not to instantly fall in love with a rat that spends his life musing so deeply about the most significant matters of existence. Although the tale of these field rodents revolves around Mrs. Frisby and her children, it is clearly Nicodemus who steals the spotlight.

While being held captive at The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Nicodemus and his friends struggle with a gamut of emotions: fear for their lives, uncertainty over their fate from day to day, hope for their freedom… it is, of course, hope that keeps them going through the electrified maze, despite the depressing realization that only a metal gate awaits at its end. It is the illusion that at some point freedom can be attained that pushes them to explore their surroundings, keep track of the scientists’ routines, and finally leads them out into the world. However, it is learning to read that truly changes these rats’ destiny. Reading… “using symbols to suggest a picture or an idea. From that time on it gradually became clear to me what these lessons were for, and once I understood the idea, I was eager to learn more.” It is reading that provides both the way out and the way to a more complicated existence.

“The real point is this: We don’t know where to go because we don’t know what we are… Where does a group of civilized rats fit in?” Being different, being self-aware, and being eager to learn made these rats a new breed… it made them want more out of life, and it made Nicodemus in particular wonder and worry “about the fact that whatever we ate, whatever we needed, must always be stolen. Rats had always lived that way. And yet — why?” There is that tiny yet powerful question… WHY? Why steal what isn’t theirs to take? Why live as thieves when they are such intelligent creatures? Why scrounge off society when they could be useful and self-sustaining instead?

To feed their curiosity and thirst for knowledge, the rats read within the study of a temporarily vacant home. Nicodemus learns about what he calls “the People Race” — since “the Rat Race” has nothing to do with rats at all– ” a race where, no matter how fast you run, you don’t get anywhere.” The rats were stuck in a rut — life had become too easy: they could steal food, electricity, tools, water, even air! A lack of work made the rats far too complacent in their lethargic existence. “We did not have enough work to do because a thief’s life is always based on somebody else’s work.” This is what bothered Nicodemus: the rats enjoyed the fruits of someone else’ labor while doing nothing for themselves. Sadly, thievery and laziness are not the grounds upon which great civilizations are built. A hard choice that to be made, and thus, The Plan came into fruition: to live without stealing. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with Nicodemus’ plan for greatness. Many where perfectly happy and content with living like “fleas on a dog’s back” and doing nothing in exchange for their existence. For instance, Jenner complains about Nicodemus’ idea that “we’ve got to start from nothing and work hard and build a rat civilization.” That was far too much effort to achieve very much the same level of comfortable living — Jenner only cared about the end, but Nicodemus truly valued the means.

Clearly, Robert C. O’Brian drew many parallels between human beings and these fascinating rats. There are those who are aware of their responsibility to society and take pride in their hard work, while there are others perfectly satisfied with contributing nothing and taking as much as possible. Yet he is not pontifical about it — Nicodemus understands that it isn’t laziness that prevents Jenner from buying into his plan, it is his cynicism. Although Jenner and his group of dissenters die electrocuted while trying to steal some tools, it isn’t a moralizing death — after all, it seems Justin dies too while trying to save his friend. Nonetheless, there is a lesson to be learned and questions to be asked: what are we willing to die for? What do we contribute to the world? What do we value? … and lastly, WHY?

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