I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I’m almost at a loss of words when it comes to this book. How could anyone read it without their heart shattering?

I guess to start, I’ll be the first to admit, politics are not my favorite subject. I’ve never liked confrontation, and I rarely paid attention to international conflicts. On September 11, 2001, I was a terrified fourth grader who didn’t understand what was happening in the world- but I was mollified by the promise that American soldiers were going to protect me from the terrorists. Growing up, I realize and confess, I was put in a privileged American bubble and only heard scraps of information about the war on terrorism and the conflict in the Middle East, mostly because I didn’t seek out information.

Now, as an adult (who is still working on adulting) I’d realized that I needed to wake up and pay attention to what is going on in the world. I read the headlines every day from various media outlets (because contrary to popular belief, just because it is on the internet doesn’t mean it must be true), and form educated opinions about current events. I still keep many of those opinions to myself, but I’ve come to enjoy discussing what is happening in the world- although at times (especially under our current administration) it tends to get me down- with family and friends.

At any rate, I Am Malala has been on my TBR for a long time. I knew it was a must read, and I had heard about Malala in the news, so I was somewhat familiar with her story… or so I thought, anyway. Reading Malala’s story in her own words not only educated me on the adversity in Pakistan and it’s turbulent history, but also the culture of a woman’s life under the reign of the Taliban.

Malala introduces herself and her family, starting from the day of her attack and working backwards. Her grandfather was a traditional Islamic man who was known for his ability to give amazing speeches in their community. He raised his son to also be a strong man of faith, and despite troubles with a stammer, helped to make him a renowned public speaker as well. As Malala’s father was also a fierce believer in children’s education, and eventually started his own school despite financial and economic hardships.

When Malala was born, her father rejoiced despite the common belief that boys were more prized than girls. Malala grew up in her father’s school and loved the educational environment. She would listen to the teachers tell stories, and when old enough, became a devoted pupil. She was interested in politics and history of her country, and intrigued by human rights. In Pakistan, females were not encouraged to go to school for both religious and economic reasons, with the common mentality being that education was meant for males, and a waste of resources and money on females. There was also the traditional belief to practice purdah, where the females of the household are completely covered and hidden from males that aren’t close family. Malala’s family was more modern in this context. Her father wanted education available to girls, allowed Malala to not cover her face, and encouraged her to speak out for the right of female education.

When the Taliban took over Swat (the area where Malala lived), extreme politics overturned the government, and Malala and her father became a target for speaking out against them. Their school was repeatedly told to shut down and disallow girls, and fined for absurd reasons. The town was terrorized by militant groups raiding homes in search of forbidden property like DVDs, CDs, and TVs- anything that could counter the propaganda being promoted by the leader of the Taliban. Anyone found- or accused- of speaking against the Taliban was targeted and either killed or flogged in public and left to die in the streets. Everything was done in the name of Islam, stating that the reasoning could be found in the Quran- yet many were uneducated and couldn’t read the original Arabic text, therefore relying on the translations and interpretations. Eventually, war came to the area, displacing millions of people in Swat- including Malala and her family. Through the tragedy, Malala and her father stayed true to their beliefs that peace, not violence, was the answer, and that education should be available to everyone.

When the Taliban was driven out of Swat and Malala’s family returned home, normalcy was still difficult to find, and everyone was still living in fear. However, Malala put on a brave face and continued to speak out- reaching locally and internationally- advocating for female education, ignoring the threats on her life. Though she was only fifteen, she was wise beyond her years and had faith in the Islam she knew, not the one projected by extremists. Then, one seemingly normal afternoon, Malala was shot.

As Malala tells her own story, I struggled to fight the heartbreak. This teenager lived in a paradise that she watched transform into a living hell, and survived the nightmare of it all, not losing an ounce of her faith or giving an inch in her beliefs. She is an absolute inspiration, and I was both in awe and shock as she recounted her short 16 years on earth. I personally would go to bed at night after reading a few chapters and have nightmares just from what I had read. As I said before, I live a privileged life, and even my imagination can’t handle what Malala went through.

I absolutely think I Am Malala is a must-read. We owe it to her, and to those who went through, and continue to go through, the fight on terrorism and the fight for basic human rights.

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth

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Oh. My. Heart.

For those of you who haven’t read Divergent and Insurgent, you know what to do…

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Read them? Good, because there is no way I can write about Allegiant without spoilers. I’ll try to leave out what I can, but there is just SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT.

Let’s start with a quick summary. At the beginning of the book, the Factionless have taken control of the city, declaring that there will be no more faction system. Tris is under arrest for treason, for trying to help stop the attack on Janine- which was done only to help release information that has been hidden for years. Tobias and Tris were at odds, since he was working with his mother and not with Tris, until the very last minute, when Tobias helped release the hidden information behind his mother’s back. The information contained a message from one of the original settlers of the establishment, revealing that there was life outside the city limits and why the establishment was originated.

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Now, as the novel continues, the point of view switches between Tris and Tobias every chapter. This was a little tricky for me, because for the last two books, I’ve been completely inside Tris’ head, and then getting into Allegiant, I had to start thinking like Tobias as well. There were a couple of times where the pace got fast, and as chapters whipped by, I had to go back and double check who’s point of view I was reading from. I disliked having to do that as it slow my pace, but at the same time, it was interesting to get the multiple points of view. I believe it made sense for the story to split the views, and come the end of the book, it was definitely necessary.

As the novel goes on, the reader finds out what is beyond the city establishment, and the whole story of how the economic structure came to be and how the ongoing genetic reconstruction experiments occurred completely redefine the lives of the main characters. As layers of the truth are revealed, you can predict an uprising coming from Tris and Tobias, but how it played out completely astounded me. This revelation complicates the fierce relationship problems between Tris and Tobias. One minute, they are on the same team, ready to fight, absolutely absorbed by each other. The next, they’re racing against each other, throwing the harshest dagger-like comments at each other, and barely speaking. Add the additional character’s conflicts, and you can see why this novel packs a punch. Basically, your heart is the punching bag, and Roth knows how to hit it- and even if you saw it coming, it still hurts.

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I don’t want to give the ending away, but I have to talk about that ending. The minute that the rebel group decides to send in a certain someone to set off the “reset” serum, I knew Tris wouldn’t let that happen. When she makes it through the first set of doors, I was thrilled that once again her Divergence won out. But then I knew that when you-know-who showed up, it was over. And I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that Roth would do that to her readers. And I fought back tears because I was both sad AND angry. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book where this situation occurs, and I wasn’t expecting it. At least there is resolution, and I guess in retrospect, one of the themes running through the series is moving on despite the past.

So, with that in mind, I’m moving on from this series a little battered, but with no regrets. It was captivating and exhilarating, and I’m crushed that this is the end. Well, at least until I get my copy of Four, but even so. Despite the ending, I completely recommend the read.

Also, I’m gonna leave you with this, in hopes that you giggle.

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Insurgent by Veronica Roth

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I tried to read this in two days but the real world kept interrupting me. When I opened up Insurgent, I was just as absorbed as the first in the series. If you haven’t read Divergent, do that first… I’ll wait.

Done? Didn’t take you long, did it? Okay, good, because it’s hard to write a review of a second book in the series without spoilers of the first.

The book starts with Tris and Four seeking refuge at the Amity headquarters after the Dauntless, under a simulation transmitter serum, attacked the Abnegation sector and killed innocents. The faction system as they know it is shattering after Erudite and traitor Dauntless members have teamed up to hunt Divergents and they will sacrifice anyone that gets in their way of finding a serum that will control the Divergents. Leading the pack in Janine Matthews, creator of the control serums and mastermind behind the attacks.

Tris and Four try to seek help from Amity, but they refuse to offer their aid, as they seek only peace in their faction. Knowing that conflict will have to occur, Tris and Four try to plan a way to take down Janine. When the Erudite seek them and other refugees out in Amity, a few select rebels are lead by Tris and Four into the city, to rendezvous with the Factionless. After this meeting, Tris learns more about Four’s past, and they have problems trusting each other. After some time and circumstances, Tris decides that the best way to save Four and aid in the revolt is to turn herself in to Janine- leaving her life as her parents did, as her origins taught her in Abnegation.

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It’s a complete roller coaster of action and emotions. Like before, Roth does an excellent job putting you inside Tris’ head, allowing the reader to see the action and process it as Tris does. I also don’t think I pointed it out on my last review, but Roth is very acute with her details, never letting them fall through the cracks. If someone was shot, she continually displays that ailment, for instance. I find that those details really impact the story, making it more realistic to the reader.

Being as that Insurgent is left on a bit of a cliffhanger, I’m going to keep this short and say, obviously, that this is an entertaining and absolute must read. Now, I’m going to go bury my nose in Allegiant… see you in a few days!

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Divergent by Veronica Roth

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I know, I know… another series that everyone had either read or heard of, and I’m yet again super late to the fanwagon. But guys… I GET IT NOW. I devoured Divergent in two days, and I’m just itching to start Insurgent, which is currently at home on my bookshelf, just calling my name…

For those of you who haven’t read the series (or seen the movies) like me, here’s a relatively short summary. Beatrice Prior (Tris) lives in dystopian Chicago. At sixteen, she is about to make the biggest choice of her life by decided what faction she is meant to live in. Growing up Abnegation, she has always felt a part of her doesn’t belong in the selfless  and reserved faction, and her curiosity has her admiring the Dauntless, who are brave and appear to fear nothing. On the day of her aptitude test, she learns that she doesn’t specifically fit into any of the factions- Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, Amity, or Erudite- but has an aptitude for multiple factions… making her Divergent. Unsure of what this means, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, and through her guilt tries to convince herself of the saying, “Faction before Blood”. As she sheds her old identity and becomes just Tris, her initiation is nothing like what she expects. Determined to make it through initiation, Tris learns more than what it takes to become Dauntless- she learns what it takes to be Divergent.

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I’m not sure if it’s the dystopian setting, the strength of the main character, or the barrage of intense action scenes, but I am HOOKED. Like, I even did the “What faction are you?” quiz. (Divergent, with Amity as the highest score). But I’ll contain my fangirling and keep this professional. Roth’s writing had me completely absorbed. I could imagine the Chicago trains always in motion, the Dauntless leaping on and off. I could see Tris’ train of thought, not as if I was reading her mind, but as if I was doing the processing myself. I could barely breathe during the fight scenes, and felt the punch in my gut when Tris states, “The bullet hit him in the head. I know because that’s where I aimed it.”

I’m so glad that this book lived up to the hype…in my opinion, it’s actually better. Highly recommend that you read it if you haven’t, and stay tuned- I know it won’t take me long to finish the rest of the series!

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The Circle by Dave Eggers

I have a Facebook account. A Twitter. Two Instagram accounts. A WordPress, a Pinterest, a Snapchat. I dabble in it all; share, like, post, tweet, snap, blog… I’m a typical millennial living in a tech savvy, social media driven, practically transparent world. But what if all those social accounts became one? And what if they became mandatory? And what if they could control the influence on everything that surrounds you, including the government? Enter the Circle.

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Meet Mae Holland, customer experience rep for The Circle, age 25. She’s landed the dream job working for a company that is always ahead of the curve, on the scene, and leading in technological developments. She’s thrilled to be there, and her best friend Annie made it happen. Though slightly intimidated at first, Mae is determined to prove that she belongs there, yet her home life and privacy are getting in the way of climbing the social Circle ladder. Her father is living with MS, her mother is fighting with insurance, and her ex-boyfriend Mercer is constant appearance at her home- a reminder that she’s not there now to help her parents.

When all of these issues come to a head, Mae takes off on a rental kayak (a common way for her to de-stress) in the middle of the night, and gets caught. Instead of punishment, she decides to go fully transparent, wearing a video camera and promoting the Circle, and it seems like nothing could be better. She’s becoming a prominent figure within the company, practically famous among her viewers, and actually making Annie jealous of her success. However, her private life no longer exists. Though she feels better about the choices that she makes, knowing that everyone is witnessing what she does, her family has gone into hiding to get away from the outpouring of commentary on their lives, her relationship with Annie is in tatters, and Mercer…

Mae pushes on, practically drinking the Kool Aid with the Wise Men and helping plot the completion of the Circle’s transparency quest. Ignoring warnings from Mercer and the mysterious Kalden about the repercussions of the Circle’s goal, Mae innocently suggests that Circle accounts not only become the official government voting registration center, but that it become a mandatory law that everyone in the country must have a Circle account.

I’m blown away at the prospect of such an organization, and that so many seem to opt for the monopoly of the Circle, yet I can also see that we are probably not that far from such a circumstance. Those that wish to keep their privacy are deemed “hiding something”, yet they are still under surveillance and easily convicted with “evidence”. To me, that’s like blackmail. Privacy is important- it’s why there are privacy laws, after all. The world isn’t a robotic black and white- it’s human shades of gray. And I don’t think I could trust anyone if they were “completely transparent” or under constant surveillance. Who’s to know what they are really thinking? Who’s to know if they are just acting for the cameras? In the book, the reader is allowed to see what the audience members can’t, and that shows the real Mae- however it’s terrifying to note that she completely feels that transparency is for the greater good.

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Trying to grasp a complete picture, I also rented the movie based on the book, which stars Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. Many things were skipped over and changed in the movie, and I had intended to write a movie comparison but so much was different that I decided to write the book review. Overall, I thought it was an interesting movie, but I couldn’t stop focusing on Emma’s “introspection” (which honestly came off as her trying to concentrate on her American accent…which was bad… Sorry Emma!), and how slow the movie pace was, and how many things were changed in the movie.

Overall? Completely frustrated with both mediums. There was so much hype with both and the plot was promising to be a good thrill, but the book left me disliking the main character (which I really dislike in general) and the movie fell completely flat. Is it a great look into a brainwashing, totalitarian society? Yes. Should you read it? For the premise of understanding exactly why humans have a right to privacy, yes. But would I recommend the book for a bit of light reading? Absolutely not.

 

 

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

I would like to take a minute before I delve into the two movies/ one book comparison, and say that by the end of Mockingjay, if I hadn’t been in a public place when I turned the last page, I would have been crying. To go through the journey of horrors that Katniss had to deal with for three books, to the relatively happy ending in which even she has to remind herself that she is still surviving… talk about heavy heart. Despite those feelings, I wanted to subject myself to seeing the movie for the obvious comparison reasons, and the maybe not-so-obvious visual representation of the action that takes place. Because there are two movies, there’s going to be a lot of things to point out, so bear with me.

  • The reunion with Gabe- there is no lead up, nor is it as emotionally charged as in the book. At this point, Katniss is still having a lot of internal conflict about who she loves more, Peeta or Gale, in the book, and yet the movie skims this.
  • Katniss’s conditions of becoming the Mockingjay are cut short. In the movie, she only asks for Peeta, Johanna, and Annie to be spared (and no mention of Enobaria) to be pardoned, and for her sisters cat to stay in the district. No mention of hunting, no mention of Gale being beside her at all times, no mention of getting to kill Snow.
  • Up to this point, no mention of Haymitch, except that he’s ‘drying out’. Effie is asked to help prep the Mockingjay, instead of who was left from the stylist team. There is no mention of the abuse to the stylist team, which is important in that it adds depth to the kind of person Coin is as a leader- the kind who hurts the innocent.
  • Prim relays the information about the District 13 epidemic and that Coin loses her husband and daughter to the epidemic, which is something that I either completely missed in the book, or was a Hollywood addition for sympathy from the audience.
  • Katniss breaks the news about the miscarriage in District 8, when in the book it was spread like a rumor by the uppers like Haymitch, Coin, and Plutarch.  Also while in 8, when the attack on the hospital happens, Katniss only shoots one plane down. There is no geese formation comment like in the book, which demonstrates the  bond between Gale and Katniss.
  • The movie does give much more coverage from other districts demonstrating the uprisings in comparison of the book, which mostly relays that information via narration from Katniss or broadcasts.
  • Hunting above ground was Gales idea and okayed by Coin in the movie, and relayed as a surprise for Katniss. In the book, this was one of the requests Katniss makes as a condition of being the Mockingjay. Also, as a hunter myself, I’m very curious as to what the map of the districts would look like, because in my mind, I was surprised to see Katniss and Gale hunting elk in District 13- I tend to think of them as more of a Rocky Mountain range animal, and in my mind, 13 was near the Appalachians (which I know have elk, but in small populations). I did a little research to see if a map existed, and this is what I found to be the “unofficial official” map of Panem:

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  • The evacuation to the lower level is portrayed with way more panic and chaos than the book describes. The only dramatic part in the book is when Prim can’t be found. No idea what all the rain is about in the movie either… I don’t remember any pipes bursting underground, so I’m not sure why it’s pouring in the movie.
  • Katniss is supposed to be talking about Peeta with Finnick as a distraction during the rescue mission of Peeta and the others captured during the Quarter Quell. However, in the movie, Katniss isn’t a part of the propo.  Instead she is watching the rescue mission, a in communication with President Snow, which didn’t happen during Peeta’s rescue mission.
  • They send in Prim, not Delly, as the first introduction to Peeta after he attacks Katniss. This makes no sense to those who read the book, because Prim would be a definite trigger that would connect back to Katniss.
  • Snow poisoning the minister was definitely a show piece for the movie audience and not a part of the book- or at least, it wasn’t narrated, but more speculated by Finnick.
  • Johanna looking at Katniss’s things in the hospital, not in their room. Johanna shows no hesitance when she sees the stuff, nor gets permission from Katniss to look at the things. This doesn’t allow the movie audience to see their sort of camaraderie build.
  • Instead of earning her place on the 451 squad, and showing the effort that Johanna and Katniss put in training, the movie bypasses the situation and has Johanna cover for Katniss after Finnick and Annie’s wedding so that Katniss can sneak onto a plane headed for the Capital. This frustrated me, because there was so much character development for Johanna in that time period, and when she fails to make the team, it was meaningful to the reader as to why. And the same goes for Katniss, especially when she outwits the training simulator into thinking she can follow orders. Anyways, it was so Hollywood to see her walk into the war front and of course everyone was recognizing her, and then when she meets up with Gale, she learns that Coin is annoyed with her now that she’s gone rogue- when in the book, the mistrust from Coin is found out later. Finally, the squad is introduced while in the Capital during the movie, when in the book they are all shipped to the capital together.
  • Finnick recognizes the Holo as akin to the Hunger Games arena before Katniss- in the book it is visa versa.
  • Katniss and Gale are the only ones to head out toward the Snow mansion, and  unlike when all 5 of them head out. In the book, the significance of the remaining squad members leaving to create distractions from Katniss as she makes her way to the mansion is lost in the movie. The same goes for Gale giving his nightlock pill to Peeta, and for Peeta to want to protect Katniss. Also, when Gale is captured, it is supposed to be a chaotic moment that Katniss doesn’t even have time to hear or register what Gale was shouting at her. She is not supposed to hear Gale saying shoot me.
  • Snow isn’t locked up within the garden like in the book.
  • Katniss only gets one arrow in the book to shoot Snow, and yet she walks out in the movie with a full quiver. Also, she mentions the lack of stage space, and how close she was to Snow for the execution, and yet the movie has a huge wide area. And on top of that, Peeta is there to witness the whole event when he should actually still be in the hospital.

There you have it, as many discrepancies as I could note while watching the films. I would like to say that over all, these movies kept me on the edge of my seat, and I enjoyed the way the actors fit their roles. I have to say, my favorite in the movie was surprisingly Haymitch- haha Woody Harrelson nailed the character. I’ll definitely be rereading and rewatching this series, and am glad I finally came out from under my rock to tackle them!

 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I’m just getting around to reading the Hunger Games series (I know, I know, but I like living under a rock!) and decided that since they were so popular and such major movies, I’d do a book/movie comparison! I mean, we all know the book is going to be much better because Hollywood likes cutting the good stuff for movie length reasons (just give us the 4 hour movie, seriously!) but I like being able to remember what really happened vs what happened in the movies.

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  • The introduction of the movie sums up the first few chapters of the book fairly well, though there is far more background in the book. And the relationship between Gale and Katniss isn’t as defined at the start of the movie as in the book.
  • How Katniss got the Mockingjay pin is far more meaningful in the book than in the movie. For a mayor’s daughter to give away a pure gold pin versus being handed it by a Hob woman without much insight on the pin doesn’t give the audience much information about the state of the district and the worth of the pin to Katniss. Though they add sentimentality in the movie- where Katniss gives the pin to Prim to protect her, and then she gives it back after the reaping- it still doesn’t do the book justice, in my opinion.
  • Katniss doesn’t put on as much of a show in the opening ceremony in the movie, and it’s Peeta’s idea to hold hands and not Cinna’s. Truthfully, this carries throughout the movie, and it makes their romantic interest in each other hard to believe in the movie. In the books, you really think there could be something mixed in from what the reader gathers from Katniss’ internal conflict.
  • Katniss’ display to the scoring panel- way more thrilling in the book than the movie- although, seeing her hit the apple was pretty cool!
  • The constant surveillance isn’t as apparent in the movies as in the book. The things that Peeta tells Katniss the eve of the Games in the movie is less censored than the book. The surveillance in general during the games is also lesser than the book portrays. Katniss doesn’t act up or hide her emotions in the movie as often as the book says. In the book, they seem to be constantly aware of the cameras.
  • The relationship between Katniss and Rue wasn’t as developed in the movie as the book. You get that they admire each other, but you don’t see Katniss’ soft side, the part that makes Rue remind her of Prim.
  • Katniss didn’t stay hidden after blowing up the cornucopia in the movie, nor did they explain her hearing loss.
  • The uprising of District 11 in the movie wasn’t talked about in the book. None of the underlying Gamemaker/Capital business is truly revealed, only speculated by Katniss, until the end of the book. Even so there wasn’t any mention of any district outside of the capital being upset about the Games ending the way that it did.
  • The love story is definitely not played up as much in the movie, making the whole “Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers” death threat at the end a lot less believable, and the whole end of the book is Katniss trying to sort out her feelings in the Games vs her reality.
  • There is no mention of the separation of the two main characters at the end of the movie, and Peeta finding out about Katniss’ not reciprocating the same feelings for Peeta. This obviously is supposed to set the reader up for the following book in the series, and therefore should also be done in the movies- but it wasn’t.

Obviously, as the first in the series, the movie left the audience curious about what might happen next, but the book left the reader rushing off to the store in search for the next one. Now, if you’re like me and haven’t read or seen the movie, I suggest you check them out, because even though I found the movie lacking in comparison, both the book and movie are thrilling and keep their respective audiences wanting more.