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Book Reviews: Gunslinger Girl & Dread Nation

One of the good things about summer is more daylight to read by! These past few months, I’ve read quite a few young adult novels, middle-grade novels, and graphic novels for all ages, interspersed with adult literature. In the next few weeks, I’ll highlight some of my favorites, grouped loosely by category.

Title: Gunslinger Girl

Author: Lindsay Ely

Age Range/Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Review cross-posted to Goodreads.

I could not put this book down, and powered through it in a (long) evening.

Serendipity “Pity” Jones lives on a commune with her father and brothers after the Second Civil War, but when her father decides to ship her off to become someone’s bride, she flees, taking her deceased mother’s prized pair of revolvers. Things don’t exactly go as planned, and she ends up in Cessation, a city just beyond the reach of the government. There, she’s brought to Selene, who gives her a chance to prove her worth at the Theatre Vespertine, which is full of death-defying acts. If Pity can give the audience a show, she can stay. Pity finds her place and gains a family of sorts in Casimir’s employees (Casimir being the brothel/gaming hall run by a woman named Selene), only to find it all crumbling around her when a presidential hopeful comes to town, trying to secure Selene’s backing to win the election.

Pity is a nuanced character, strong due to her upbringing, and flawed like any human being. Lyndsay Ely does a wonderful job with all her characters, giving them depth with histories that may only be hinted at and motivations that are complex. The tension is drawn out really well, with plenty of surprises along the way. And the worldbuilding is amazing, from the harsh life on the commune to the dirty alleys and enticing storefronts of Cessation, to the glittering, extravagant world of Casimir. Gunslinger Girl is an interesting mix of sci-fi, western, and dystopia, with a great main character, some romance, and a whole lot of intrigue. Highly recommended.

Title: Dread Nation

Author: Justina Ireland

Age Range/Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Historical Fiction

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Review cross-posted to Goodreads. (Warning: spoilers ahead in this one!)

I’m a sucker for a good zombie book. Add in an alternate-history Reconstruction timeline and a badass female main character, and I’m pretty much sold. (Plus, have you seen that cover? Amazing.)

Jane McKeane is a student at Miss Preston’s, a school where black girls learn combat and etiquette in order to secure jobs as Attendants for white women after they graduate. All she wants to do is take down shamblers, learn as much as she can, and return to Rose Hill and her mother—who happens to be the plantation’s mistress. Jane’s never one to follow the rules, however, and her refusal to stand aside for injustice lands her in more trouble than she could have imagined. After she and two companions are shipped off to Summerland, a Survivalist outpost in Kansas, Jane sees even more clearly that some pre-Civil War ideas about race haven’t died. Even scarier, though, she and her friends slowly realize that perhaps not all is at it seems with the shamblers. (Of course, at this point we have to wait for the sequel to see what exactly that might be.) 

Dread Nation is a page-turner, and now I understand all the buzz for it. In no particular order, some of the things I enjoyed about this book:

1) People of color as the main characters (and written by a woman of color) who don’t shy away from examining the system they’re entrenched in, and use it to their advantage as much as they can.
2) Jane and Katherine Deveroux’s enemies-to-friends relationship.
3) Jackson’s role in the story—we don’t see him much, but his role in Jane’s life is quite intriguing.
4) What we see of Jane’s relationship with her mother. This is told both in the narrative, and from excerpts of letters they write to each other, which is something I generally like in novels.
5) The action! The fight scenes are so well crafted—exciting and detailed in every movement, and yet not too gory that I’m turned off by it.
6) The historical ideas sprinkled about—the emergence of the germ theory of disease, the early days of electricity, the combat schools being based off the American Indian boarding schools, the Civil War and life on plantations, and race relations in the late 1800s.
7) The old west setting of the second half. 
8) The character development we see in Jane and Katherine as they navigate life at school and life in Summerland, away from everything—and everyone—they had known.
9) A feisty female main character, and well fleshed-out supporting characters at every turn.

So yeah, I loved this book. Definitely not for everyone, but if a few of these things hit your “must-read” buttons, I’d recommend it.

Read any good YA lately? Want to share it with the world (and add to people’s to-read lists)? Please comment below!

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