Book Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

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Book Summary

From Goodreads: Part social satire, part romance, part revolutionary thriller, Shades of Grey tells of a battle against overwhelming odds. In a society where the ability to see the higher end of the color spectrum denotes a better social standing, Eddie Russet belongs to the low-level House of Red and can see his own color—but no other. The sky, the grass, and everything in between are all just shades of grey, and must be colorized by artificial means.

Eddie’s world wasn’t always like this. There’s evidence of a never-discussed disaster and now, many years later, technology is poor, news sporadic, the notion of change abhorrent, and nighttime is terrifying: no one can see in the dark. Everyone abides by a bizarre regime of rules and regulations, a system of merits and demerits, where punishment can result in permanent expulsion.

Eddie, who works for the Color Control Agency, might well have lived out his rose-tinted life without a hitch. But that changes when he becomes smitten with Jane, a Grey Nightseer from the dark, unlit side of the village. She shows Eddie that all is not well with the world he thinks is just and good.

Review: 4 out of 5 Stars

If you enjoy cleverly-written, tongue-in-cheek, intelligent fantasy, you really must read something written by Jasper Fforde.  While Fforde is probably best known for his Thursday Next series, which is also excellent, Shades of Grey was his first entry into the world of YA.  This was swiftly followed by his next YA series, The Last Dragonslayer, which I ALSO really loved. This is becoming a pattern with me and Fforde, as you can see.

Shades of Grey is a really engaging dystopian written in Fforde’s usual nonsensical style. In this world, people are divided in a very strict caste system based on the hues they are able to see, governed by the Colortocracy.  When a person comes of age, they are permitted to take a test that evaluates what colors you can see and how well.  Both the color spectrum you can see as well as the strength of the hue provide your lot in life.  Everything from the person you are able to marry to the job you are able to perform is defined through this test.  Fforde makes clear that this society has come directly from the society we live in now, though how this major change came about is not immediately clear. There are many references to our present world, and through these Fforde manages a few tongue-in-cheek jabs at our society.

As with so many Fforde novels, Shades of Grey is utterly confusing at first, because the world is never built through info-dump, but through tantalizing clues throughout the novel. And yet somehow, it works.  You find yourself building the world in your mind as you go as then, snap, the final piece falls into place on the very last page and it all comes together. The world was immense and clearly developed. And because it was based entirely on a color-based ranking system, the entire novel was just so visual, making it a very interesting reading experience.

Another Fforde hallmark is a somewhat stilted cadance and flow to the dialogue.  The characters speak in stilted ways and it does take a few chapters to get completely used to the flow of the novel.  That said, I loved the characters in this novel, even though few of them were actually likeable. I particuarly enjoyed Eddie’s character development as he goes from a sort of goody-two-shoes to uncovering the various flaws inherent in his world.

My only sadness is that the rest of the trilogy is not yet out.  I am comforted by the high re-read potential this novel has and I look forward to pulling it back off the shelf very soon.

Bottom Line

This novel is yet another example of Fforde doing what he does best — writes these impossibly possible novels that stick with you long after the book is over. Highly recommended.

Epic Recs Book Review (1): Unwind by Neil Shusterman

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Hey everyone!  Remember back on February 12 when I told you I was participating in Epic Recs? This a really fun online book club idea hosted by Judith at Paper Riot and Amber from Books of Amber.  If you’re interested in more info and the rules and whatnot, check out Judith’s post here.

This month I was paired up with the AWESOME Kim from The Avid Reader.  She recommended that I read Unwind by Neil Shusterman.  I have read it and now I am here to review it! Let me just say up front, though, that I am really grateful to have been paired with Kim.  She was really fun to start catching up with on Twitter and her blog is great.  Plus she had such a great recommendation for me this month!  Thanks, Kim!

Unwind by Neil Shusterman

 unwind

Book Summary

From Goodreads: The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

Review: 4 out of 5 stars

I was very glad that Kim suggested this read to me, because it’s really not one I probably would have picked up and prioritized on my own.  I don’t personally choose to mix my politics with, well, anything, so the summary of this book had always kind of turned me off a little.  Basically, in this book there was a huge War fought over the right to have abortions.  The “compromise” that they came up with outlaws abortions, but permits a child to basically be killed — oh, sorry, “unwound” — at the request of their parents anytime between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, and their organs to be repurposed in others through organ donation.  As a result, there is almost no ailment or physical deformity that cannot be cured — assuming you make it past the age of eighteen, of course.  If you make it past the age of eighteen without your parents requesting that you be unwound, you are home free, but if your parents make the request, it cannot be taken back and there is basically no escape.  No one really understands the unwinding process or how it works, but there are starting to be hints and rumors that not all is what it seems.

The story follows three protagonists who have all been selected to be unwound — Connor, Risa and Lev.  All have been selected for unwinding for different reasons: Connor because of behavioral issues, Risa because she is an orphan and hasn’t proven to be of any particular special worth and Lev because he was the tenth child in his family and was conceived for the specific purpose of unwinding as a religious tithe.  Connor is horrified at the prospect of being unwound and goes on the run.  While he is in the process of running from the police, he causes a car accident that allows the paths of all of our protagonists to cross, and they all start traveling together.  Both Connor and Risa are horrified at the prospect of being unwound, but Lev is devastated to have been swept up in this escape process.  All of his life he has been taught that being unwound as a tithe is an honor and a good thing to do, so finding himself in the company of two deviants is pretty much more than he can handle.

The rest of the book follows the paths of Connor, Risa and Lev as they continue to try to escape their unwinding fates, get to know more about each other and develop their own feelings about and opinions on the society they live in.

So what did you think?

Overall, I really “enjoyed” this book.  I thought the character development that each of our protagonists go through was totally believable and well-thought out.  Shusterman writes each of these teens so well and so believably that it is very easy to put yourself in their shoes.   Overall, while Lev wasn’t my FAVORITE character, I personally connected to his character development arc the most.  Connor was also very interesting, but I guess I wanted a bit more from his background to understand WHY he was being unwound in the first place.  Risa was probably the least-well explored and developed, for me.

I also really loved the side characters we came across.  At one point, for example, Lev parts ways from Connor and Risa and ends up traveling with a boy named Cyrus Finch, or CyFi.  He was probably my favorite part of the entire book and I thought that the side plot and exploration of organ memory was so freaking well-done.

Ok, Emily, why the quotes around “enjoyed” then?

This book was absolutely freaking horrifying.  It was just so difficult to read.  The society, though in some ways so totally UNbelievably terrible, is so clearly drawn that it seems more possible than you would like to admit.  There is one chapter in particular (and if you’ve read this book I guarantee you know what I mean) that was just gut-wrenchingly awful — I still find myself thinking about it, and it was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever read.  Since Shusterman’s writing is so clear and detailed, you get drawn totally into this terrible world, and that was actually really tough.

I did have a few small issues with this novel — there were a few expansive tangents on the background of the War and the politics underlying everything that I thought drifted a bit into preaching.  I skimmed them, mostly, and didn’t think they added a lot to the novel.  In fact, they often took me out of the storyline.  I thought there were parts of this book that could make people even more squeamish about organ donation than some people already are.  I don’t know that Shusterman meant to do it that way (in fact, there was one line where he basically says “if more people donated organs, this [dystopian society] never would have happened”), but some parts surrounding organ donation and unwinding were so terrible and graphic, I do fear it could be taken the wrong way.

Bottom Line

Overall, I really thought this novel was worth a read, but it is TOUGH to read.  Shusterman’s writing is really beautiful and the novel is well done and makes you think.  I think this would be the perfect novel to read with a group, because there is just so much to talk about, much of which is hard to cover in a spoiler-free review.  I am not in a hurry to move on in the series just because I think I need to recover first.  That being said, I will finish out this series at some point because Shusterman is a master and I need to see what happens in this world.