Review: Adaptation

Adaptation by Malinda Lo. Little, Brown. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Reese and David are returning home from nationals for debate  (they lost, don’t ask) when the world seems to go crazy. They are at the airport when birds begin attacking planes; a series of crashes forces the shut down of all air travel. Their teacher manages to rent a car for the long drive home from Phoenix to San Francisco, but panic on the streets has led to traffic, road closures, evacuations, and worse.

The car hits a bird and crashes; twenty-odd days later, Reese wakes up on a military base. She and David are lucky to be alive. They return home, to relieved parents, to a world that is has recovered from the panic but still has some measure, such as curfews, in place.

All seems normal; even Reese’s best friend, Julian, still believes in conspiracy theories. Only thing is now his theories involve birds and what’s been happening after the crashes. Things even start looking up for Reese personally. After a disastrous encounter with her crush, David, before nationals (don’t ask), Reese meets someone new. All seems normal.

Seems normal.

Except, it’s not. What happened with the birds? And what happened to Reese and David in the military hospital? Why did they have to sign confidentiality agreements about their treatment? Reese is noticing strange things, having strange dreams —

It all comes together in a way Reese couldn’t imagine, couldn’t predict, when she saw the first birds die outside a Phoenix airport.

The Good: So many twists and turns! Just when I thought, aha, THIS is what is going on, BAM, twist, BAM, secret, BAM, not what you think. Why would I ruin this roller coaster adventure ride for you by telling those secrets?

As you can imagine, from that, Adaptation has action and adventure and romance and science fiction, along with other things, and it’s all woven together wonderfully. More than wove together; sometimes, those elements are almost red herrings for what is “really” going on. One minute, birds are attacking and Reese and David are in a horror-type movie, taking a road trip from hell to get back home; the next, they are in a hospital wondering just what happened during the previous month. Next thing, Reese is home and adjusting to being back home, and part of that includes meeting Amber Gray, the girl who sets Reese’s heart racing, so things slow down, a bit, to a cute romance.

Or should I say hot romance? “[Amber] pulled at her hand, like a girl tugging on the string of a balloon that has floated nearly all the way up to the sky, and just like that balloon, Reese felt herself drawn downward, half-floating, half-sinking, towards Amber.”

Reese is dating Amber, adjusting to the realization that she likes girls (but she also likes David), but that doesn’t stop Reese’s nightmares or concerns about what went on while she was at that military base.

Reese, Amber, David — let me say this is one of my favorite love triangles in a YA book. Reese is attracted to both Amber and David; there are no good or bad guys. Yes, Reese likes boys and girls (well, at least one boy,  David, and one girl, Amber), and that’s another aspect about Adaptation. It’s multicultural and diverse, in a casual way, meaning it’s no big deal. It’s not a thing. The teens and adults in Adaptation are straight, bi, and gay; they are white, African American, Asian American. Except, it is a big deal to YA readers because too often the “default” for books is all white, all straight.

Because Adaptation is as diverse as our society. Because it kept twisting and turning, from adventure to romance to love triangle to conspiracy theories. Because I didn’t realize just where it was going to go, even though all the clues were there. Because Reese is smart and vulnerable. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.


Review: Huntress

Huntress by Malinda Lo. Little, Brown. 2011. Reviewed from ARC. Companion/prequel to Ash.

The Plot: The sun and the seasons have disappeared. The Fairy Queen summons the human king to visit him. The King, suspicious in part because many believe fairies to be a myth, sends his son Con instead. Taisin, a talented student from the Academy of Sages is chosen to go along, as is her fellow student, the less magically talented Kaede. Only three guards will accompany them as they travel north.

With each mile they travel, the devastating impact of food shortages is seen. It also becomes clear that something is happening to the boundary between the lands of fairy and human. Odd creatures are reported. The small party is attacked, both physically and mentally. Will they even be able to get to the lands of the Fairy Queen? And what waits them there?

The GoodHuntress is set a few centuries before Ash. Some of the world is familiar; other parts are new. For example, Huntress contains much stronger imagery and references to Chinese culture than I recall there being in Ash. Huntress has an Academy of Sages to train and develop young women who are magically adept. Ash had no such Academy but it did have greenwitches. I love, love, love companion books like these two that stand alone yet are part of the same world I want to visit and revisit. I particularly like how Lo visited this place in two radically different times. She also does it in such different ways; Ash was a very internal story, and Huntress is much more external and action driven.

If Ash was about recovering from grief (via a Cinderella retelling), Huntress is about love and what people will and won’t do for love and how those actions and non-actions impact people and their world. Love can be nurturing but it can also be destructive.

Taisin is in training to be a Sage. As the daughter of a farmer, she is both talented and driven to achieve. Part of being a sage requires committing to celibacy. When Taisin dreams of Kaede, dreams of being in love with her, Taisin’s reaction is “oh, no” because it means either that in the future, she will abandon her hoped for life as a sage or it will mean heartbreak for both Kaede and she because of the celibacy requirement. 

Kaede is the daughter of a woman who studied to be a sage and King’s Chancellor. She has no magical talent so her future is not in the Academy. Her father hopes to arrange a political marriage. Kaede has spent her time at the Academy learning more practical things than Taisin — knife throwing, for example. Kaede wants adventure, not marriage and children. Before going on this quest, the best she could have hoped for was a political alliance being made with a woman rather than a man.

As with Ash, two women falling in love is just a typical part of the world. The tension between Kaede and Taisin, the “will they or won’t they,” is driven by their differing backgrounds and aspirations. I loved how Taisin is so afraid to reveal her feelings for Kaede because she fears what falling in love will mean for her, emotionally, as a possible sage — and what it would also mean for Kaede. Avoid love, avoid future heartbreak. Also typical in this world is women pursuing lives of adventure. Kaede is taught to throw knives by a former female member of the King’s Guard; one of the three Guards sent on the journey north is a woman. Women having lives outside the domestic sphere of marriage and children is accepted as the norm. This is not a perfect world; Taisin can become a sage only because she has talent and drive. Kaede’s options may be limited because her father uses his children to make political alliances on behalf of his king.

Huntress is more than a love story; there is a lot of action here, much more than in Ash. Kaede is the type of young woman who makes use of her free morning by learning how to shoot a bow and arrow. Taisin, learning about a local baby who is “off”, not quite normal, ignores all advice to the contrary and seeks the mother and infant. Wolves attack. And the magic — the magic, like the fairy world, is real and almost scientific. A person needs to have the talent and gift for it, but it doesn’t just happen. A person has to study; there is cause and effect and consequences to actions.

As I said earlier, Huntress has many Chinese influences. European folk and fairy tales are also present, and the two twine together seamlessly. One group of fairy folk are called the Xi, pronounced Shee, with parallels to the Sidhe. A baby may nor may not be a changeling. Ours is a multicultural world, and I love how Huntress shows how two cultures can work together in one story, one creation, one world. It’s not either/or. It’s not exclusive.

While Huntress does not retell a fairy tale, it does have fairy tale elements: a destructive dynamic between (step)mother and child, a magical mirror, a world of ice.

Because Huntress is part of the world I loved in Ash. Because Huntress is different than Ash. Because the love between Kaede and Taisin is romantic and sweet. Because the action never ends. For all of this, Huntress is one of my Favorite Books Read in 2011.