Sunday, November 27, 2016

Never Missing, Never Found - Amanda Panitch

Never Missing, Never Found
Amanda Panitch
Random House

Young Adult/Thriller

Once upon a time, Scarlett Contreras was an ordinary girl in third grade.  All of that changed when she was abducted off the street.  A man hauled her into his car and took her to a house, where she was forced to perform household tasks for the many women who lived in the house.  The boss was an older woman who told her, over and over again, that Scarlett’s family didn’t want her and was not even looking for her.  Being a terrified child, Scarlett believed her.  

During her imprisonment, another girl came to join her.  She was a small girl with a rat-ish face, named Pixie.  She continually tried to escape.  The penalty for such an attempt was, at the very least, a severe beating.  Pixie refused to fold, even after repeated beatings and frequent starvation punishments.  After being held for years, Scarlett was suddenly given a choice: remain in captivity with the girl she now calls her sister, or leave her behind and leave the house, alone.  It was a difficult choice, but Scarlett left the house.  She made it to a police station and told them her name.  Within hours, she was reunited with her family.

Trying for the life of a normal teenager, at 17, Scarlett takes a job at a local amusement park for the summer.  She begins making friends while trying very hard not to speak of her past.  Then Katharina appears.  She’s also a new hire and seems strangely familiar.  She seems to know Scarlett, and does not like her.  She makes mean comments to other employees, and alludes to Scarlett’s years of captivity and the fears that she still carries.  She clearly knows more than she should.  Who is this girl?  What does she know?  Why is she so set on ruining Scarlett’s attempt at a real life?

Like her previous novel DAMAGE DONE, the author does a great job at telling the story while building suspense.  It seems both completely impossible, and possible, that Katharina might be Pixie.  She might very well be angry that Scarlett left her in that house, alone.  This might be her revenge.  But that sounds so crazy, even to Scarlett.  She’s trying so hard to build a real life for herself, with friends, a possible boyfriend, a job.  Who else would want to ruin that for her?

The plotting is laid out perfectly, playing both sides of the ‘is she/isn’t she’ question with equal conviction.  When you add in a sister who, on her best day, doesn’t seen thrilled to have her home, a dad who seems to wish that she could just forget the whole thing, and a bunch of summer co-workers who are more than happy to spread and believe rumors,  and you’ve got a powerfully emotional story.  This story is possibly too dark for younger/tween readers, but it’s great for teens and older readers alike.

Rating: 8
July 2016

ISBN# 978-0-553-550764-5   (hardcover)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ninth City Burning - J. Patrick Black

Ninth City Burning
J. Patrick Black

Science Fiction/Military

Five hundred years ago, an alien race came to Earth.  Because they arrive on a February 14th, we call them Valentines.  We don’t know what they call themselves, because they didn’t come to talk.  They announced their arrival by blowing major cities off the face of the planet in seconds.  They brought death and destruction and a new kind of weapon, powered by something called ‘thelemity.’  Humans had never heard of this power before, but quickly learned to use it.  Our technology leaped forward, and we were able to take the fight to the Valentines.

After the destruction of so many of Earth’s cities, and the attendant death toll, society had to re-order itself.  There are several large Cities around the globe, each centered around the war effort and under the rule of the military force.  Outside the Cities are settlements that exist to supply food, goods, services, and draftees to the Cities.  Further out, in the wilderness, there are groups of people who know nothing of the war, never enter Cities, and only wish to live free.  In the Cities, kids train for the military from the time they enter school.

Several centuries of constant fighting seem to have brought this war to a stalemate, with no end in sight.  Both sides have been using largely the same tactics since the war began.  There are a few tacticians, though, who believe they detect a change in the way the Valentines are acting and reacting.  These few believe that something big, something different may happen in the very near future.  Something that could end the war and the human race.

This debut novel works well on so many different levels.  The world-building is solid and absolutely realistic.  The different levels of society make sense against a background of centuries of war.  If you’re a scifi fan, there’s plenty to love here.  The concept of thelemity and how it works is fascinating.  The way space travel works here, including time moving at a different rate on Earth and at the Front.  For techies and gearheads, the military hardware is amazing. 

Aside from all of that, this is a very character-driven story.  Much of the first section of the book is devoted to introducing a diverse and far-flung cast of characters.  Jax lives in Ninth City and can use thelemity.  He’s only twelve, but his ability leaves him respected but isolated.  Naomi is from the wilderness and a tight-knit family.  Her ability throws her into an entirely new life, fighting a war that she never knew existed.  And there are the “kiddos” from the settlement who are unlucky enough to get caught up in the most recent draft, changing all of their lives.  Each one is an individual with hopes and dreams and fears.  Watching these people move through events large and small makes this a very satisfying read.  I hope to see much more from this talented author.

Rating: 9
September 2016

ISBN# 978-1-101-99144-2 (hardcover)