Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review: Illuminae (Kaufman/Kristoff)

"So attractive one day, not attractive the next. Yes, I am familiar with this syndrome. She's a Two-Face." --George Costanza, Seinfeld

This is the second book I've compared to this episode of Seinfeld. Illuminae is a book that has all the right ingredients to be a favorite of mine (favorite author, quotes Orwell, unique format, deep space), yet for whatever reason, I failed to connect with it.

AUTHOR: Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
SERIES: The Illuminae Files, book 1
PUBLISHER: Knopf
PUBLICATION DATE: Oct. 20, 2015
ISBN: 9780553499117
PAGES: 608
SOURCE: NetGalley
GENRE: science fiction, horror
SETTING: Year 2575; deep space, near planet Kerenza
GIVE IT TO: HS 

SUMMARY: In the year 2575, on a tiny ice planet called Kerenza, 17-year old Kady breaks up with her boyfriend Ezra. That afternoon, her planet is invaded. Kady and Ezra barely escape to a fleet of three evacuation ships. But the ships are not safe, either. In order to survive, Kady and Ezra must work together hack the ship's flawed AI, steer clear of a deadly plague, and combat an enemy ship pursuing them.

REVIEW: In keeping with my "Two-Face" comparison, I feel the need to write two reviews for this one:

Review #1, where I put on my reviewer hat and praise the book

As a librarian and reviewer, I think this book has it all. Corruption, cover-ups, computer hacking, space ships, a nasty plague, murder, romance, and a super-unique format. It will be incredibly easy to booktalk with my students, and the plot is easy to explain. The entire story is told through emails, IMs, attachments, surveillance footage, drawings, blueprints, and typed illustrations. Unique formats are always popular with my students.

Any book that quotes George Orwell, my all-time favorite writer, at the beginning is most definitely up my alley. Though it is 608 pages, I breezed through the book in less than two days. The plague stuff was especially heart-wrenching, as is the fate of some of the characters. It's graphic and disturbing--you've been warned. Despite that (or maybe because of it), I have no doubts that Illuminae will be successful and on many "Best of" lists over the next few months.

Review #2, where I take off my reviewer hat and say I wasn't personally connected

In reality, I'm kind of sad I didn't love this more. I adored Kaufman's first novel, These Broken Stars. And I liked Illuminae also. But. While the format was really cool and unique, I think it prevented me from really connecting with Ezra and Kady. Yes, I did root for them and liked them both, but it took over half of the book for me to feel any kind of connection to their relationship. I think if this were told both in prose and documents, that might have worked better for me. There's only so much emotion that goes into an email or IM.

There's also lots of tech-y stuff that just went over my head. Lots and lots and lots of acronyms and text-speak (funny how text-speak and email attachments are still the same in 500+ years). It reminded me a bit of Michael Grant's BZRK and Pierce Brown's Red Rising in that I know it's well-written and an excellent book, but it wasn't so engaging for me personally. That said, I can think of several specific students at my school who would eat this book right up.

There's a little twist at the end involving the "why" of the attack on Kerenza. I don't want to give anything away here, but I found it random and a little Scooby-Doo. Perhaps more information will come out about that in the next book.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A mixed review from me. On one hand, I'm rating it a "Best of 2015." But for me personally, it was just okay.

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: I'll definitely be ordering this--it's graphic, violent, and oh-so-perfect for the right reader.

READALIKES: 172 Hours on the Moon (Harstad); These Broken Stars (Kaufman, Spooner); The Knife of Never-Letting Go (Ness)

RATING BREAKDOWN:
  • Overall: 4/5--5 stars from reviewer-me and 3 stars from just-plain-me
  • Creativity: 5/5
  • Characters: 3/5
  • Engrossing: 3/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Appeal to teens: 4/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 4/5

CONTENT:
  • Language: extreme--though many communications are "censored," readers will know the real words. Also, plenty of F-bombs and shits make it through in the "uncensored" documents
  • Sexuality: mild--some innuendo, remembered kissing
  • Violence: extreme--the plague stuff is very disturbing and horrific; not for the faint of heart
  • Drugs/Alcohol: none

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