Allegiant Survey Recap Part 1- SPOILERS ABOUND

November 10, 2013 at 6:13 pm (General) (, , , )

Okay, so obviously, if you haven’t read Allegiant, DO NOT READ THIS POST. Unless you have absolutely no intention of reading it, in which case spoilers aren’t really going to affect you one way or the other. But seriously, pretty much the entire post is made of SPOILER.

How this is going to work: I want to evaluate the responses I got to the survey, but I also want to talk about my own responses to the book. So. The questions are going to be written in bold, the gathered responses will be discussed straight out, and my own responses are going to be italic. And just as a warning, this will be a very long post.

If you were living in the city, what faction (or lack of faction) would you choose?

Unsurprisingly, Dauntless won out by a large measure, almost twice as much as any other faction (40%). Next up, and fairly evenly matched, were Erudite (24%) and Amity (21%). Abnegation followed at 11%, and Candor came in last with 6%. There were a couple of fluke answers (again, the Star Wars, and one that thought I was asking if they’d choose to have factions or not), but I have to admit, I wasn’t shocked by Dauntless winning out. Part of that is our main characters coming from or choosing that faction- we naturally sympathize with our main characters, project our values or virtues onto them and vice versa, but we tend to cling to that even against honest assessments of our own characters. What did surprise me was that Abnegation came ahead of Candor. Selflessness is a difficult concept to live up to, and honesty-especially the frequently tactless sort of honesty Candor espouses- can seem a great deal easier.

I’d love to say I’m the type of person to choose Dauntless- not the cruelty, not the recently enforced and inescapable hierarchy of brutality, but the courage and the resourcefulness and the sense of protection that strength can offer to others, that appeals to me. More honestly, however, I’d have to say Erudite. There’s something very safe about knowledge. Even when we’re overwhelmed by how much we don’t know, even as our understanding of the world makes us feel very small and insignificant, knowledge and its pursuit is still a very safe place, like we can run from all the problems in the world so long as we can only find a way to research and produce an answer.

What is your favorite book of the trilogy?

The response was fairly overwhelmingly Divergent. The third book got several votes, and there was a lone call for the second one, but for the most part, it was decisively the first.

For me, it’s also the first one. The first one was something fresh and amazing. It introduced a distinct world with the factions, but also introduced an element of choice. Tris was a character who didn’t know her own strength, who would be forced by her own choice into a series of circumstances that would not only test that strength, but also force it to either grow or break. The language irritated me a little-it felt a little formal, a little (unintended pun) stiff, very much a product of an MFA program, if that makes any sense. That feeling intensified through the second book, and even more into the third book, and the sense of audience expectation, of strain, even of the stress of writing under a deadline, also manifested into something that felt like it needed a great deal more editing. Of the three, the first was by far the tightest in story and character.

From 1 to 5 stars, how would you rate this book?

Excluding the outliers, as an average across the gathered responses, it came to about 3.6, which is actually pretty on par with the larger spread. On Goodreads, for example, across 38,694 ratings, it has a 3.78 average. (By outliers, by the way I mean the Star Wars and the number with so many digits I’m not even sure I could read it out loud) From those nearly 40K ratings on GR, it splits out to: 13,223 5s (34%); 11,275 4s (29%); 8435 3s (21%); 3827 2s (10%); and 1924 1s (5%). (Compare this to the feedback on Amazon, with 2,395 ratings and an average of 2.8).

Also interesting to note is the difference between that and the average for the first book. Granted, Divergent has been out for two and a half years, so it’s had time to garner a lot more ratings, but on the whole, those rating are also a great deal more positive. On Goodreads, Divergent has 446,070 ratings and an average of 4.38 (5/231,618/52%; 4/122,488/27%; 3/43,715/10%; 2/10014/2%; 1/3792/less than 1%).

I find that interesting mostly because it supports the numbers of which book of the trilogy was each person’s favorite. I’m honestly not very good at the whole data analysis thing, one of many reasons psychology and sociology were struggles for me in school, but I like when the numbers don’t make me feel like a complete idiot.

My initial response was a 5, but that was mostly out of a knee-jerk reaction to the ending. After thinking through it a bit more, I would probably go for a 3.5 or a barely-4. It was a fairly scattered book, in my opinion, in need of much tighter editing, and the science felt specious and rushed. The characters felt rather inconsistent and there were a lot of things that were dropped. I think what it really comes down to is that I spent most of the book bored. For me, the ending is what saved it, both as a book and as a trilogy.

Who is your favorite character in the series?

Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the responses came back as Tris and Tobias together. They’re the main characters, after all, so it makes sense. Behind them, though, came a strong showing for Uriah. Christina and Caleb both got a couple of votes, and there were some strays for Johanna, Matthew, Zeke, Will, and Marlene.

Honestly I don’t think I have a favorite character, and there were a few of those in the responses as well. If I had to choose one, I’d probably choose Cara, for the way she adapts, the choices she makes, the way she can take the same overexposure to the outside world that shatters Peter and instead make it a new motivation for a larger life.

What was your favorite part of this book?

Fairly overwhelmingly, the answers all focused on Tris and Tobias, on their relationship. The actual moments varied- drinking soda for the first time, the picnic, the kissing, etc- but far and away the most common response had something to do with Tris and Tobias together. Following that were moments with Tris and Caleb, especially when they played Candor.

Somewhat surprising, though, was the number of responders that said they had no favorite part, and I can’t help but wonder if that would have been their response had they been stopped before the ending and asked that question. That is, did a general disappointment in the ending discolor the entire book? And looking across the line of responses, those who responded with none were in fact incredibly disappointed or even angry with the ending. There’s not enough to support a direct correlation, but it’s a theory I enjoy.

My favorite part was actually right at the very end, when Tobias went ziplining to spread Tris’ ashes. The fact that it took him so long to recover enough to have that sort of ceremony, the fact that he did it in such a way as to make it exceedingly appropriate for her even though it terrified him, that moment made a massive impact. It’s bittersweet, certainly, but it also has a sense of rightness that ripples back to the climb in the first book.

What was your least favorite part of the book?

This is another non-shocker: many of the responses were directly connected to Tris’ death, followed by Uriah’s death. What was interesting, though, was how many of the responses mentioned the writing. “The dual narratives were confusing at times”, “The middle info dump”, The shaky science”, “It felt rushed, the characters all felt like they’d lost their personalities”, as well as the inconsistencies in Tobias’ character. These things came up in the responses again and again. As far as the narration, one of the responses hit in right on: the voices weren’t distinct enough. They both had the polished, slightly over-formal feel that struck more of MFA than of Abnegation stiffness. The genetics came up frequently in the responses as being rushed and confusing, or as feeling incredibly out of place. A good fifteen to twenty percent of the response dealt with Tobias. “Tobias’ personality morphed a bit”, “Tris and Tobias spent the whole book fighting, showing no character growth”, “How weak Four seemed at times”, “Four seemed like a different person”.

I think part of the dissatisfaction with Tobias is that suddenly we’re inside his head. We’ve only ever seen him from Tris’ eyes before, and now we’re getting his thoughts, his doubts, in a way he wouldn’t necessarily have voiced to her before. We’re understanding him in a much closer way, so naturally our perception of him is going to shift. The science I completely agree with; it felt rushed and very gap-toothed, like the frequent repetition of something was going to suddenly let it make sense. The serums came into massive significance but they were also let loose rather without consequence. The actual plot felt rushed in order to give Tris and Tobias plenty of time to fight and make out. I think this is probably one of the very few books where I’ve ever thought “Oh God, they’re kissing again?” because it seemed less like tender moments between characters deeply connected than it did a constant, low-buzz distraction, like the fly going around the room. It dragged at the pacing. This is a big book, but it reads very slowly and with an effort. I felt like I was trudging through it, because the pay offs on the action were so few and far between and it felt like there was so much extraneous activity (like Four and Nita going off on their little trip- where was the payoff?).

Would you read this book again?

This was a solid mix of everything from OH MY GOD YES to HELL NO and everything in between. Many of the responses were actually split within themselves, some of them coming to “everything but the ending”. Of all the questions, this one had the strongest mix of responses, and while the yes answers were fairly straightforward, the nos were incredibly passionate (for example YES BUT NOT BECAUSE I HATE THE ENDING I AM NOT EMOTIONALLY STABLE, caps and all, NO WAY too heartbreaking, which came across more than once).

I will eventually, because in a few years I’ll want to read the trilogy as a complete entity, but the only one I’ll reread more than once will be the first one. That one I enjoy revisiting from time to time, but Insurgent and Allegiant both drag too much for me to want to read them at all frequently.

What are the biggest things you look for in the ending of a book?

There were two responses that came up more than any other, and nearly equal to each other: closure, and a happy ending. Nearly half the answers wanted a sense of closure, the resolution of characters and storylines, perhaps not answering every question down to the last detail but weaving together the important things. Nearly the other half wanted a happy ending, either veiled in a theory of redemption or just flat out stated as a happy ending, no strings, no conditions. Satisfaction and a sense of purpose came through, and there were frequent mentions of cliffhangers being evil. Also mentioned was the desire for cliffhangers for books that don’t end a series. I think my favorite response was “for me, a book needs to leave you feeling lost, or it hasn’t really done its job of making you feel a part of the story”.

The question was meant to be general- what are the things you look for in the ending of any/every book? But a fair number of the responses tailored specifically to this book and this series, or tailored to what they DON’T want in a book.

I have to agree with the first half of the answers: I want a satisfying resolution that makes sense within the story, characters, and world, something that wraps up the loose ends without leaving stray holes but also opens up an imagined future for the characters beyond the scope of the story. I don’t necessarily want to know what that future is. Seeds, perhaps, at most, but mostly I don’t want to pretend that the world stops when the story does. Part of that is the fanfic writer in me. I love the world beyond the story. But part of loving that world means loving the stories and their resolutions. Do I mourn when a character I love dies? Absolutely. But what I’m looking for is for that death to make sense within the story. I want that sense of completion.

What are the biggest things you look for in the ending of a trilogy/series?

For the most part, the answers here mirrored the responses above: closure or a happy ending, though happy ending made an even stronger showing here. What surprised me, though, was the number of people what wanted an epilogue. Something that shows the characters two, ten, twenty years down the line, a la Harry Potter or Hunger Games.

The same thing that many people were asking for- the epilogue later on- is the biggest thing I hope I won’t find in a series ending. For the most part I look for the same things as the end of a book, except on a larger scale. The individual threads, the ones new to the final installment, should be wrapped up, as should the threads of the series. It’s part of what makes the ending of a series so challenging, trying to wrap everything up and not let any of the balls drop. I want to believe that the characters’ stories continue after the story we’re told, but I don’t want to details of them. I want my imagination to be given to the greater possibilities.

Do you feel authors have a responsibility to provide their readers with a happy ending?

I kind of loved this set of responses, because it was fairly evenly split between yes and no, it was the way the answers were given that really just gave me a kick. There were a lot of nos that immediately complained about how the ending wasn’t happy. There were ones that said no but it’s a young adult book so it should have a happy ending. “No, but I feel they should have an emotional connection to their characters, and much more of that than the reader(s). Because of this, they should feel responsible for what happens throughout the book”- this is one of my favorite responses, largely because I really wonder at where the perceived irresponsibility comes from. Because Tris died? Because Roth pulled a strong emotional response from her audience?

Another very passionate answer “No. Authors are the creators/writers, and they can do anything they want. It’s fiction. BUT. As a reader, I expect SOMETHING. ALLEGIANT broke a trust I didn’t realize I had until I read the book. And that trust is that certain characters are safe and untouchable, and trust you that, in the long run, they may get seriously injured and all that, but they will LIVE. And ALLEGIANT broke that. Anyone can die, but I expect THE Main Character and THE Love Interest to live together forever, happily ever after, the end” So that is an expectation. It says no, but all the rest of the answer says yes, I’ve been betrayed by the lack of a happy ending. We can’t feel betrayed unless we feel someone else has gone against their responsibility. I’m not sure where we get the idea that main characters should always live, that everything after a certain point should be rainbows and unicorns.

Most of the no responses were conditional, and most of those conditions directly negated the fact of the no. I’d love to see a genuinely psychological survey and study on this, because it seems like no is the instinctive response, the “I”m a rational human being” response, but that the actual gut feeling is YES. We’re owed this for reading, for buying. We’re owed certain outcomes. But there were some that were incredibly emphatic no, such as “Hell no. That is a profoundly stupid idea”.

And, of course, there was a lot of YES. This idea that because we’re invested in a character or characters, because we’ve trucked along with them, cared about them, we’re owed a positive outcome. An author’s responsibility becomes our emotional well-being. They’ve asked us to care, and we care, and we’re owed some kind of reward for that.

I detest the idea that authors are responsible for anything more than producing a well-crafted book with compelling and consistent stories and characters. An author’s job is to serve the stories and character. Not the reader. It’s where the line between art and product blur. Because we put money into purchasing the book, because we put time into reading it, we think we’re entitled to a certain resolution. I think it’s BS.

My favorite books are rarely overall happy endings. They’re usually bittersweet at best, the happiness of the resolution shadowed by the consequences of the actions it took to get there, and the price that was paid for them. In other words, my favorite books are usually those whose patterns mirror the world in which we live. The ones that feel the most real. I find deliriously happy endings to be forced, usually a cop out, and a compromise of the high stakes of the rest of the story. And because those bittersweet or even tragic endings mirror our reality more closely, because they’re the ones that feel more real, they’re the ones we tend to remember. Shakespeare’s tragedies are far more well known than his comedies. People who don’t know Shakespeare all that well, people who haven’t studied him or read him for fun, can usually name the tragedies. A lot of them can’t name the comedies. But we remember Romeo and Juliet twined together lifelessly in the tomb, we remember Horatio sitting there surrounded by corpses as it falls to him to explain everything that’s happened, we remember MacDuff carrying MacBeth’s head back onstage on a pike, even as he knows that death won’t bring his wife and children back from death. We remember the endings that carry with them a high emotional toll, whereas happy endings tend to blur together.

The author’s only responsibility to the readers is to produce a GOOD BOOK. If a happy ending contradicts the story and the characters, if a happy ending cheats everything that’s been sacrificed and won and lost, it’s an author’s responsibility not to reach for the cop out. Even when it’s hard, even when it causes a backlash by people who cannot comfortably separate reader expectation from author responsibility.

Do you feel proprietary towards characters?

This was a fun one, because even though most of the specific responses were no, many of the responses across the lines said yes, very much so. Where people said no, some of them echoed that idea all across the line. No, an author isn’t responsible for a happy ending. No, they’re not enraged by Tris’ death. No, they wouldn’t change it. It’s a consistent answer. But a LOT of the answers to this question were no, even where there is a clearly proprietary rage and dismay across the individual’s other answers.

And this was, perhaps, the one question where people didn’t answer it. They sidestepped it, made a comment on something else, something that should have been different, should have been changed, and I wonder if it’s because they didn’t like the honest answer they came up with.

Because admitting that we feel proprietary about someone else’s characters feels an awful lot like stealing, right? We can take the half step back and remember that they don’t really belong to us. Except…when we get that emotionally invested, we can’t take that step away, we can’t get that little bit of distance, but there’s still that part of our brain that says no, this is not a rational way to behave. So rather than listen to that voice and confront the dissonance in behavior, we avoid it.

I’m not sure if this comes out of being a writer or a fanfic writer, but no, I don’t feel proprietary towards any characters other than my own, and even then half the time I have to admit that they’ve somehow moved beyond being mine at all. When writing (or reading) a fanfic, there’s a disclaimer at the top of every story, usually every chapter, reminding the reader that the writer is not claiming any of this as their own. They don’t own this. This is not theirs. You put the disclaimer up there for legal reasons, but it also serves as constant reinforcement that you’re playing in someone else’s world. This carries over to readership as well.

If your answer to the previous question was yes, do you feel the urge to lash out at the author?

Like the previous question, the single most common answer was “No but”, then some conditional reason why they really did want to lash out and yell at the author for This or That. Of these, the most common answer was that the respondee had no desire to read another Veronica Roth book in the future. Equally common was no, but I will make my displeasure known in a review/blog post/rant.

What I saw in a lot of these responses was a desire for an explanation. People wanted answers from Ms. Roth as to why she would do this, why would she hurt characters this way, why would she betray readers this way.

My first response would be not applicable, because I don’t feel proprietary towards the characters, but I’ll add to that by saying I don’t understand the impulse to lash out at authors. Get pissed at an author? Sure. I get that. But the lashing out, that I don’t get. When the ending to the last Sookie Stackhouse book was leaked, Charlaine Harris actually received death threats.Death threats. In what way does that make sense? Books can be an escape, books can be entire worlds unto themselves, but they’re not OUR world. To invest ourselves so heavily into fictional characters that we’re willing to offer harm to another REAL human being…I don’t understand that.

If your ‘ship doesn’t work out, does it automatically lower your overall rating of a book?

Given the incredibly passionate responses to the other questions, I was fairly surprised to see that this was mostly answered with no. There’s a scattering of yes, some “it depends”, but most were no. Favorite response? “Piss on shipping. What a stupid way to read.” Most of what I saw was “No, as long as it makes sense why it didn’t work out”. Again there was a request for an explanation, this idea of “It’s okay if it doesn’t work out as long as you tell me why”.

I tend to ‘ship less than anti-‘ship, as strange as that sounds. I’m willing to accept the pairings as given as long as they make sense to me, make sense within the story. Where I tend to get a little ranty is when the pairing doesn’t really make sense. Like Hermione and Ron ending up together. That irritates me, mainly because their personalities, as given, are not conducive to a functional long term relationship. But it’s irritation, and I can ignore it if I focus on the story rather than what comes after. Because the thing about relationships is, even if we call it true love, most pairings wouldn’t actually last that long after the story is over. They’re puppy love, or high-adrenaline love, a relationship based on high stakes events and intense circumstances, where disparate personalities can do better together than in more restful times. Which, if I’m honest, is what I would have expected had Tris lived. If Tris and Tobias both lived and got to pursue their ever after, I don’t really imagine them staying together more than a few years. The friction we saw between them in this book wasn’t going to just disappear once this story finished; it just would have found different ways to manifest. Are there teenage relationships that last a lifetime? Absolutely. But they’re rare, which is why we tend to hear a lot about the ones that do work and last.

There were four more questions, but I’m going to save those for next week, because these are the ones where responses get very unique and I don’t want to gloss over them (and because this post is super long already). These are the questions that focus very specifically on the ending, and I’m definitely looking forward to sharing them with you.

Until next time~

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Book Review: Insurgent, by Veronica Roth

May 16, 2012 at 7:15 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

WARNING: this is the second book in a series, sequel to 2011’s Divergent; if you have not read the first book, there WILL be spoilers below!

The factions are in chaos, Abnegation all but destroyed at the hands of the Erudite-controlled Dauntless. It’s hard to know who to trust, a situation made worse by the ever-present threat of another simulation that could turn even the most beloved people into mindless puppets intent on your death. In the wake of her parents’ deaths and her faction’s destruction, Tris has to decide how far she’s willing to go, what’s she fighting for, and- perhaps most importantly- what she’s willing to give up.

Middle books make me nervous, especially if I liked the first book. And I LOVED Divergent. Like it was almost physically painful to put the book down to clock back in for work, and while I was working my brain was still buried in the story and the characters. I loved the action, the brutality, the question of identity and choice and decisions. This book was more than captivating- it was engulfing. So I’ve been very nervous while waiting for this second book.

And I shouldn’t have been, because holy crap it’s AMAZING.

This book picks up immediately where the first left off, on the train running from the tattered remnants of the simulation that caused Dauntless to slaughter much of Abnegation. Her parents’ deaths are still raw and heavy with no time to try to make sense of what’s happened because if she doesn’t keep moving, she’ll join them. They have to find out what Erudite’s after (and why) at a time when only two of the five factions haven’t been directly impacted by the slaughter.

There is so much to love about this book. Right off the bat we get to start seeing more of the factions that separate this society. Tris and Four go with some of the Abnegation refugees (including Four’s father, Marcus) to the Amity compound on the edge of the city, but they know that isn’t going to be a long term solution. Amity is as foreign to Tris as Dauntless initially was, a compound awash in cheerful reds and yellows, with people who hug each other and talk things out until they reach a consensus. There’s no leader, just a spokeperson or representative who carries the decisions of the faction the rest of the council. They’re very happy people, and Tris at the best of times is not a particularly happy person. But we go beyond Amity to look within Candor, where unflinching honesty isn’t simply a way of life, but the hardest truths are accepted with the grace of a gift. We’ve peeked into Erudite before, but we get glimpses of a more complete world, one with children and people who couldn’t care less about who’s in control as long as they can keep learning. What makes these factions so compelling is that the vices and virtues inherent in their chosen trait is fully embraced. The sometimes black and white worldview of the first book, where each of the other three factions comes off as rather single-minded and flat, comes more into the world of grey here. It complicates things, certainly- decisions are easier to make when everything is black and white, right?- but it also makes us fully involved in these difficult moments.

And there are a LOT of difficult moments. Tris reels from crisis to crisis, not even given the time to recover from one before she’s thrust into the next. It’s a nearly constant state of high adrenaline, as crippling in its own way as grief and fear. Each crisis is not just a test but a blow, and some of them wound more than others. Nor are they all external blows. If the first book was about Tris’ choice, this book is about its consequences.

And one of thosse consequences is Four. I love the conflict that grows in the space between them, the way they respond differently to the events even as they cling to the comfort each usually finds in the other, but those differences become more pronounced until Tris has to try to figure out if they actually want the same things (which will force her to figure out what she even wants). As enigmatic and abrupt as Four could be in the first book, he starts to feel like someone we don’t really know anymore. It’s hard to understand some of what he’s thinking, what he’s working towards. We feel disconnected from someone we thought we understood really well, but that’s okay- because that’s also how Tris feels.

I LOVED how we got such a close look at the science behind divergence- how awesome is that? And really, it stands on its own without much gushing, because it’s frickin’ amazing.

I think one of my absolute favorite things about this book is how it truly continues the story not only in terms of action but in terms of character. And it’s not just choice and consequence, though that’s captivating. The first book was also very much about exploring the difference between strength and bullying, and where the line can be drawn. Tris chose strength, but strength leads into other traits as well, and here we see just how fine the line is between recklessness and courage. Just as she had to make choices in the first book, she has to make them here, and they’re not any easier.

I still wish Tris would use more contractions in her narration, simply because she uses them in her dialogue and the inconsistency is sometimes jarring, but other than that, there was really only one thing that bothered me. It’s hard to talk about without spoilers, but when you get to the biggest *GASP!*- and trust me you’ll know what it is- I have an issue with the timing, which could prove potentially problematic. I think you’ll see when you get there. But at the end of the day, if those two very tiny things are my only irritations about a book? I’m in love.

Insurgent, by Veronica Roth, absolutely NOT to be missed!

Until next time~

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Don’t Judge A Book By…

April 16, 2011 at 10:20 am (General, Industry) (, , , , , , )

Stay tuned below for giveaway information!

We all know what comes next, right?

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Except, we do. All the time.

Almost always, the cover is either the first or second thing we see. We may see the title first, if the book is spined out on the shelf, but if it’s faced out it’s the cover that first has the chance to catch our eye. That’s what’s going to bring us over to the shelf, that’s what’s going to make us pick up the book and investigate further. It isn’t the cover that makes us buy the book- the writing and the promise of the story is what does that- but the cover is the bait.

And because the cover is our first impression of the book, we make certain judgments based on that.

We decide what ‘type’ of book it is, what the story is likely to encompass, who the target audience is, even what the tone of the book is going to be. The cover can make or break a book as far as getting it into people’s hands are concerned- and publishers are very aware of this. The covers are designed to make very specific impressions; let’s take a look, shall we?

Right off the bat, there are certain things you know about this book. The background of a galaxy tells you right away that this is sci-fi; deep space, given the darker colors, which already gives us a sense of isolation and tension despite the beauty. The positions of the faces give us drama- we know there’s going to be romance, but we also know that things are going to be complicated by coming from very different perspectives. We also know there’s a mystery here- from right to left (opposite the way most people scan the page), as the background passes through the gap between the two figures, the image changes from a galaxy of stars through some bright source and into something that looks more like water, which makes us wonder what else we’re going to find out in space. It also tells us that the target audience is female- boys may not be terrified to be seen with it, but the predominance of pinks and purples, along with the near kiss of the figures, means this is going to appeal much more to females than males. (Across the Universe, by Beth Revis)

Compare that to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It’s striking (eye-catching) in its simplicity, stark contrasts, basic colors, a memorable design. It’s a strong image, a little military with the font and the clean lines, and then the bird with the arrow. We know right away that there’s going to be violence in this book; we know it’s going to be dark, we know the threats are going to come from multiple angles, and we know that arrow is going to be very, very important. Yes, the bird is as well, but even the way the bird is shaped draws the eye to the arrow. This is a cover that’s going to appeal to males and females alike. Just from the cover, we know better than to expect anything approaching light and fluffy.

We also see this in Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron. The dark colors draw us in, especially given the contrast with the prismatic blues and silvers. Our eyes like the shiny in conservative doses, especially because the prisms make it seem false.. The skeletal leaves speak to ill health, the rusting machine components speak to decay, and the portions of number- like computer code- fascinate us. What do they mean? Are they counting down? Counting up? Listing things off? Up near the top we see the blending become more intertwined, but the page is dominated by the key. Keys are, by themselves, fascinating things, because if there is a key, there must be a lock, and if there’s a lock, there’s an obstacle. Instant promise. The fact that this key is so ornate just draws us in deeper. The deep, cool colors make it gender neutral, so anyone who likes that bit of darkness, that edge, to their books is going to be drawn to this one.

Then there are covers like that of Andrea Cremer’s Nightshade– this is very much aiming at a female audience. It isn’t just that there’s a girl on the cover (though that’s certainly a piece of it). Ignoring the tag line for the moment, we see blood dripping from the T of the title, see splashes of color in the throats of the lilies that could also be blood. The girl’s make up, the shimmering sheen of the cover, the pinks and lavenders, all indicate that this is geared towards girls. The flowers and the make up indicate that there’ll be romance, even as the hard gold of her eyes lets us know that this isn’t going to be a typical high school drama at the lockers affair. Those eyes aren’t human, and the way they’re shaded at the edges, to draw that gold into greater relief against a cover with a mostly silver cast to it, we know there’s going to be violence- you don’t have colors hit each other that hard for a soft novel. We know, as soon as we look at this cover, that the main character isn’t human, she isn’t soft, and that there will be both blood and romance. (Note: the cover is being redone for the paperback issue; this is the original hardcover image)

Boys are harder to attract, on so many levels. It’s hard to get them in the bookstores in the first place, because we as a culture have this strange obsession against boys reading- that they have “better things to do”. Boys are much more self-conscious than girls about being seen with books, and many are worried that they’ll be made fun of. Covers with lots of soft colors or with glammed up girls across the front are unlikely to find their way into boys’ hands even if the story itself is designed to appeal to both genders.

So for this, publishers rely on things like Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. It’s a bold cover, strong colors, red and steel blue-greys and dull bronze. We know right away that this is steampunk, which is something boys can really sink their teeth into because it’s machines and grease and shop class on a grand scale. (No, I’m not saying girls can’t sink their teeth into steampunk, but we’re talking about boys for the moment.) The wings give us flight, but there’s something almost skeletal about them, unfinished- there are obstacles and threats visible even from the cover. Boys are less likely than girls to pick up books with portraits on the cover, but on other issuues of the cover, at least it’s a boy (and he isn’t so pretty that a boy will a: make fun of it, or b: feel uncomfortable with it). This is something a boy feels safe picking up and being seen reading.

So, AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION TIME: what cover has jumped out at you recently? What about it made you take that closer look?

Leave me an answer before midnight EST on April 23rd, and you can win a copy (might be ARC, might be finished) of one of my favorite covers so far this year: Veronica Roth’s riveting debut Divergent. (US only, sorry- postage is expensive). But seriously, isn’t that cover amazing? And all you have to do to win this amazing book is:

1. Follow this blog: lots of book reviews, meditations on writing and the book industry, and lots and lots of pretty covers.

2. Tell me about a cover that has captivated you recently, and what about it caught your attention. What did you like about it? Why did it work? Make sure you include a name and an email in the comment so I can contact the winner.

That’s it, folks, and that amazing book can be yours!

Update 4.24: And, thanks to, we have a randomly generated winner from the comments! Thank you so much to everyone who participated, and keep an eye out for more giveaways in the future. Congratulations, Danah! You’ve won the ARC of Divergent, and will be shortly getting an email from me to arrange details.

Until next time~

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Book Review: Divergent, by Veronica Roth

March 13, 2011 at 12:35 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Five factions form the basis of society: Abnegation, dedicated to selflessness; Amity, dedicated to kindness; Candor, dedicated to honesty; Dauntless, dedicated to courage; and Erudite, dedicated to knowledge. Five factions, five ways of life, for outside the faction, there is nothing. Your faction determines everything, the jobs you do, the way you eat, even how you dress and how you think.
Beatrice knows she doesn’t belong in Abnegation, the faction in which she was rasied, but she isn’t really sure where she does belong. She astonishes herself as much as anyone when she chooses to enter the brutal, even lethal initiation into Dauntless, but Abnegation is more a part of her than she thinks, and selflessness can be its own kind of bravery. She’ll need all the courage she can find; there is trouble brewing within the factions, and courage alone won’t be enough to stop what’s coming.

I maybe kind of squealed when I saw this ARC come into the store. I was already crazy looking forward to it just from the description in our computer system, and then to actually get my hands on it two months early? *swoon* And I knew- KNEW- it was a mistake to start reading it right before work. Every time I had to put it away in the locker was infuriating- if I was ever going to call out because I was too caught up in a book to move ┬áthink ┬ábe civil , this would have been it. I wanted to lose myself within the (absolutely gorgeous) cover and devour it in one sitting; that I couldn’t was almost physically painful.

I’m in love with the entire concept. The way people divide themselves, and are divided by others, fascinates me, and is also significant throughout all of history. The idea of a society spitting itself into factions by virtue just raises so many questions and possibilities and- in my mind one of the best things an author can provoke in a reader- what if’s. If the individual factions aren’t all drawn with the same exquisite sense of clarity, with all the fascinating shades of grey between the fault and the virtue, perhaps that’s to be expected given the limited contact Beatrice as the narrator has with them. It would have been nice to see more of a range within the other factions, but I think (hope?) that’s something we’ll get to see in the future.

Beatrice- or Tris, as she renames herself within Dauntless- is truly an exceptional narrator. Once I read her description of Abnegation life- a good life, with good people, a life she can genuinely admire but to which she can never really belong- I was hooked. Tris is very aware of her shortcomings, not in a morbid or self-pitying way, but in a candid appraisal of who and what she is. She learns and grows and develops, but even with the new realizations, there’s a sense of rightness as the pieces fit in place with the parts of her already present. She sees people very clearly, which can be as painful as it is helpful. This clarity, this precision, allows for some stunning, gorgeous moments when people manage to surprise her, whatever the result. It’s a relief to learn with her that who we were doesn’t have to be completely excised from who we want to be.

Every virtue is its own vice, an idea played out beautifully through this book. I love how clearly we get to see this. The darker aspects of each faction are easy to fall into, less easy to notice until the patterns have already been set. It’s plain to see that things began with the best of motives, but over time the latent poisons of humanity have seeped in to repeat the habits of millenia. Dauntless was meant to be bravery, the courage to defend, but has become instead a reckless, cruel abuse that systematically batters out the qualities that could redeem the faction into the true strength it used to have. I look forward to seeing how these realizations play out against the rest of what has to happen.

Some things that I so dearly enjoyed are almost impossible to talk about without giving things away…Let’s see, what’s a safe way to approach these… I love Four; I want one of my very own, endearing vulnerabilities, moody issues, and all. Just…*wants*. I love the tattoos, not just the fact and impulse of them, but all the different meanings they can (and do) have. And I love the pain. That sounds like such an odd thing to say, and I only partially mean it in a physical sense (I wasn’t kidding when I said the training was brutal), but some of the things Tris has to do and survive are shattering. Absolutely heart-breaking. If I’d reached some of these parts while I was still on break at work, there would have been much swearing involved, and quite possibly an extra hour and a half or so tacked onto my break (accidentally, I swear!).

The one thing that nagged at me through the entire book- other than the wish to see more range in the other factions- was a sense of time. I had none. I have absolutely no idea how much time passes in the course of the story. I’m assuming several weeks or months, and at one point it actually sounds like a full year has gone by which in no way feels right. The nebulous sense of time genuinely bothers me, perhaps because some things will have more of an impact if we know the time involved. Some things fester, some things burst unexpectedly, and not being able to place those within the context of growth kept throwing me off.

I know my dreams tonight are going to be full of factions and terrifying tasks and a world on the verge of shattering, because that’s what amazing books do to me. They grab hold of me, don’t let go for anything, and I am a willing captive.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth, available 3 May 2011- put it on your list NOW. You may hate me when you get to the end because now we have to wait forever at least a year for the next one, but this book is too good to put off.

Until next time~

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