Stranger and Hostage — Reviews!

I don’t write reviews often.  Review-writing puts me in book-report mode (always hated those in school!), and then I’m certain everything comes out sounded as stilted as a nervous non-actor reading the opening chorus of Henry V for the first time.  But I love talking about books, and deeply truly want to see more readers connect with books deserving of their attention.  So, in the spirit of keeping 2015 as The Year of Giving Up, I present you with an actual review:

Stranger is the first book of The Change series, a collaboration written by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown.  Getting that book in print through traditional publishers was a many-year battle complicated by the fact the YA novel had, as one of its viewpoint characters, a gay teenager.  (Publishers Weekly provided coverage on the matter.  The article and its comments are well worth reading.)  It took an additional three years for Stranger to make it into print.

Stranger gave me a book hangover.  I stayed up way too late to finish it.  It has all the elements I love: real and conflicted characters, a fast-moving plot, and really smart writing.

The relationships between the characters evolved, broke apart, and came together without falling into the trap of melodrama. Rather than rely on a cliché of rebellious young people in conflict with their parents and culture, Stranger shows us working and healthy relationships between the generations. These are real young adults rather than over-the-top caricatures, and it’s refreshing to see them respected by the world’s adults as well. With action that moves so quickly, there’s no time to waste on false conflicts.

The world is familiar enough to feel comfortable, but I learned early on I shouldn’t for a moment let my guard down. I loved the unpredictability. Even in the midst of the novel’s climactic final third, revelations developed that completely changed my perspective on earlier events.

And once I finished Stranger, I wanted to pick up the next book… but it hadn’t yet been released.  How thrilled I was to get my hands on an ARC of Hostage, set to be released on January 6.  (It’s available for pre-order now.)  Why, yes, the sequel is self-published.  Details about the reasons will be discussed by the authors on the release date, and I’ll put up a link when it goes live.

Just like the first book of this series, Hostage kept me up reading far too late. The plot moves quickly and the worldbuilding delivers cool surprises, but it’s the characters who keep me engaged.

I absolutely love that so many of the adults of Las Anclas are determined to include and support the children and teenagers. The society is one where the young people are included as equals-who-are-learning rather than excluded as too-young-to-know-better, and the result is fully realized throughout the story.

And all those young people are clear and distinct people, which makes it easy for the reader to move between multiple viewpoints. I’m used to reading multiple-viewpoint novels, but usually find there’s at least one character whose viewpoint I want to skim. Not in this novel!

I do admit a special place in my heart for Jennie, who must face the emotional wounds she endured in Stranger. Her journey is portrayed with amazing empathy and realism that never slips into convenient resolutions. And she isn’t the only one struggling to figure out who she is in the aftermath of one battle while preparing to fight another.

Most of the major plot threads left open in Stranger are taken up and resolved in Hostage, but there is one notable exception left hanging. That exception is teased out now and then, so I expect it’ll entwine with the new threads that’ll carry forward into the next novel.

I don’t know how many novels are have planned, but do hope the series continues for some time. They’ve established plenty of unknowns to explore, and fantastic characters to do the exploring.

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