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Stranger Hardcover – November 13, 2014
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''Infused with a generous spirit - call it a utopian dystopia . . . Characterization is rich and stereotype-free . . . Equally exceptional is the depiction of conflict. The confusing adrenaline rush of war is followed by PTSD, its lingering afterimage. The five dynamic narrators and action-packed plot deliver thrills while slyly undermining genre clichés. A first-rate page-turner that leaves its own compelling afterimage.'' --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
''Told in alternating third-person narratives by teenage citizens of Las Anclas (a desolate future Los Angeles), this dystopian novel follows a town's attempts to survive after a solar storm ravaged the world and mutated some of its inhabitants. The setting is both bizarre (deadly 'singing' trees can kill humans) and familiar - the story has a 'wild west' atmosphere as the town battles the elements and invaders with only basic weaponry . . .The story's characters and their tightly woven relationships are well developed, and Brown and Smith provide plenty of narrative diversity, making each character's entry feel fresh, distinctive, and unexpected. The buildup to the action-packed ending does not disappoint.'' --Publishers Weekly
''A fresh story with well-developed characters, fast-paced action, a fantastical world, and a hint of romance.'' --School Library Journal (starred review) --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
About the Author
Sherwood Smith (www.sherwoodsmith.net) is the author of many fantasy novels for teenagers and adults, including Crown Duel and the Mythopoiec Award Finalist The Spy Princess. Rachel Manija Brown (www.rachelmanijabrown.com) is the author of the memoir All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India. They both live in Southern California.
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Top Customer Reviews
It would be easy to write this off as another HungerMazeRunnerDystopiana. It's not. It is about the difficulty of being a part of a community, and heroing that involves educating kids and recycling and research librarianship and amazing interdependence.
When I say a book is humane, I don't mean that it is free of cruelty (this one is not) or is prone to philosophical wanking (not so much); I mean that it is full of characters and situations that I recognize -- no one is an untouchable superhero, the stakes are not galactic, the fate of the world is not in the balance. I like all sorts of books, but I appreciate the unique courage it takes to write one that is not about starting a civil war, but rather a new business.
There are lots of other things that delighted me -- the sense of economics, the multicultural community (and their FOOD), the way characters didn't instantly overcome trauma, or all handle it the same way. The clothes, the worldbuilding, and the characters -- everything said that this was a book that had been thoughtfully constructed, but I didn't think of that until after I'd finished reading it in a day.
There's a love triangle. It's very sweet, and I give it two thumbs up, and yes, you can still let kids read this book. The overall level of sexiness is very low.
Overall, I would heartily recommend this book to anyone, and in fact, I'm nominating it for a Hugo. It is exactly what I want to see more of in the world.
Read if: You'd like to read about the post-post apocalypse, and how humanity has rebuilt. You're interested in the culture that does and does not get perpetuated.
Skip if: You can't handle teenagers dying in combat. It's not super gory, but there is a pitched battle.
Also read: Circus of Brass and Bone, for a community of mutants.
A Stranger to Command, for sheer awesomeness.
Flora's Dare for another satisfying retort to the love triangle.
It's a post-apocalyptic story done without this specific flair of post-ap noir despair: I've loved the vibrancy of the setting first, with deadly yet bright and lively fauna (or not always deadly: my favorites were squirrels that learned to telekinetically steal food), and small enclaves of people trying to survive. The book follows Ross, a skittish, half-feral boy who ends up in a town of Las Anclas, and slowly learns to trust and love other people, and several young people of Las Anclas community. There's a ton of lovely understated hurt/comfort, several queer couples (with and without POVs), a budding f/f/m relationship, a slowly unfolding plot (mostly setting up events for the following books, but still following a tight and self-contained narrative), lots of lovely worldbuilding details and a really appealing community.
One of my favorite things about this book was people genuinely trying their best to keep their world standing without resorting to violence or willful awfulness. There's some unsavory politics and unpleasant prejudices, but even most of these characters do try their best to stay human.
(My second favorite character is Felicite, a scheming, bitter girl trying to keep her world tightly controlled and struggling with her secret identity: she starts out as something of a hidden antagonist, and then slowly unfolds in a flawed yet sympathetic, almost tragic figure. I can't wait to see what she will make herself into).
Can't wait for a sequel!
Stranger is told through five teenage POV characters. There’s Ross, Mia, Jennie, Yuki, and Felicite. Ross has been on his own his entire life and is only starting to learn how to trust. Mia’s the town’s mechanic, and Jennie’s her friend, a strong willed girl who’s both a ranger in training and an interim schoolteacher. Yuki’s a prince who washed up at Las Anclas years ago but wants to venture out to see the world. Felicite’s the mayor’s daughter, self serving and manipulating.
Going into Stranger, I was wary of the number of POV chapters. However, I think it worked. By switching between so many different characters, Stranger became more about the town itself and the community created there than any one person. I really liked this focus on community. Las Anclas might have its problems, but it is by and large a good place to live. This book isn’t about a group of teenagers fighting the evil government. It’s about a community trying to work together and what it means to be a part of that community.
Also note while is the remarkable diversity of characters. None of our POV characters are white, and racism (or sexism or homophobia) don’t seem to be major forces in Las Anclas. There’s also a number of characters who’d fall under the LGBTQ umbrella, such as Yuki, who has a male love interest. Stranger is also one of the only YA books I’ve seen that proposes polyamory as the solution to a love triangle. However, I do have some problems with the treatment of Mia’s sexual orientation.
At the beginning of the book, it really looks like Mia’s asexual and maybe aromantic. She doesn’t get sex, romance, or those passionate feelings everyone keeps talking about. She went on a date only once, because she didn’t want to have turned eighteen without ever having been on a date. She worried about the fact that she was different from everyone else and wondered if there was something wrong with her or if she was “broken.” Over the past year or so, I’ve realized that I was asexual and I could relate to a lot of what was going on with Mia. However, despite her depiction at the beginning of the book, Mia turns out not to be either asexual or aromantic. She starts having romantic feelings for a male character (but could still be asexual) when there’s this scene. It’s the middle of a thunderstorm and she sees her love interest in soaking wet clothes and “suddenly understands” that passion everyone else talks about. It’s possible that she’s demisexual, though the book never uses any sort of labels for its LGBTQ characters and I haven’t found any sort of statement from the authors about Mia’s sexual orientation. However, even if Mia is demisexual, I’m really disappointed and upset about how the book handled her, in a large part because of how her worries about “broken” are fixed by her experiencing sexual attraction. What does this say about people who are asexual? I doubt the authors meant to imply anything, but it’s still bothered me. I think it would have helped if the beginning “broken” narrative had been different, if it used the words, or if it had a character who was asexual among the supporting cast.
All that aside, my main problems with the book steam from lackluster pacing. It starts off fast, with Ross being chased through the desert. Then the action and tension abruptly fall off and the plot slows down. Things pick back up towards the end, but the climax didn’t really have enough build up. I think some of the book’s issues here are that it may be a primarily character focused novel in an action focused genre.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the world building. There’s a sort of Western feel to the setting. There’s prospectors and sheriffs and many of the other familiar Western tropes, but there’s also squirrels with teleportation abilities and carnivorous trees made of glass. There’s so much imagination, and I loved the attention paid to little details.
I’m not sure if I’ll read the sequel to Stranger. Some of my uncertainty may be all the feelings I have surrounding the Mia situation, but the pacing problems also play a part. There are things that interested me about the book, but I haven’t decided yet if it’s worth expending time on the sequel.