Tag Archives: Alternate Reality

Books That Defy Genres! (by Ms. Pelman)

One of the easiest ways to talk about books is by genre. We say, do you like mysteries? What about fantasy, or sci-fi? It’s a great way to find common ground and to seek out, or give, recommendations.

Did you know that genres follow a formula? It’s true! If you read enough mysteries or romance books, you’ll begin to see patterns. Some people really dig this for their reading, as familiarity can be comforting. Often people return to the same author over and over again because they know just what to expect.

Of course, there are times when you crave something out of the ordinary. And when that happens, books that break the mold are the most satisfying. When you want to expect the unexpected, here are a few books that blur the lines of categorization in interesting ways:

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

The year is 2065, Adri has been preparing her whole life to be an astronaut who will help colonize Mars, and she is elated when she is chosen for the mission. When she moves from Miami to Kansas for training, she discovers a journal written by someone who lived in her house over one hundred years ago. Adri becomes increasingly absorbed in the fates of the people contained within the journal.

Since the book is told in multiple timelines, and across vast geographies, it is a satisfying blend of science fiction and historical fiction, complete with secrets, betrayals, and heartbreak.

Lovely War by Julie Berry

Romance, history, and wartime, but with a mythological kick.

When Hephaestus finds his wife Aphrodite cheating on him with his brother Ares, he convenes a trial in which Aphrodite must defend herself and her actions. To do so, she relays a harrowing story about interracial love, music, and friendship during World War I.

Beautifully written and captivating, while not shying away from historically accurate portrayals of racism and sexism, this soaring book makes a compelling case for the enduring human spirit as told by the goddess of love herself.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

If you think you know all about books where teenagers go to magical schools, think again.

When the obnoxious and unloved Eliot winds up in a magical realm called the Borderlands (protected by an invisible wall), he meets elves, mermaids, and other magical people. It seems like his dreams will be realized, but this is a place where expectations, stereotypes, and other prejudices are thrown out in place of the unpredictable. Eliot will fall in love and make an unexpected friend, but can he save the world while doing it?

This funny novel plays with fantasy tropes, but more than that, it turns preconceived notions of gender, colonialism, and sexism upside down and inside out.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

A classic work of literature by an author whose work has produced a rabid and devoted fanbase.

In this book the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has become “unstuck in time” so the story does not follow a linear timeline. It jumps around all over the place featuring different moments of Billy’s life.

Vonnegut’s unique writing style is at times humorous, sometimes derisive, but always memorable and moving.

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

When the story begins, Travis is a 16-year-old suffering from cancer. Once he realizes that he will not survive the illness he agrees to participate in an experimental procedure in which, after he dies, his head will be removed from his body and cryogenically frozen, to then be attached to a new body if and when the technology allows…

…It doesn’t take long and Travis is born again 5 years later, albeit with a new body. He would like, and expects, to pick up his life where he left it, but that won’t be so simple. Some of the most important people in his life, namely his girlfriend and his best friend, have been living, loving, and changing in the time that he was gone and Travis must figure out where he fits in.

This strange tale raises both philosophical and existential questions about life, wrapped up in a funny and heartfelt story about love and the nature of being.

Have you read any other books that defy genres? Share them in the comments!

You by Austin Grossman (review by Tasha M. ’20)

YouYou by Austin Grossman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Austin Grossman’s You promises a fresh perspective on video games, with emphasis on how they are created and how they affect players, but ultimately fails to deliver. Russell, the protagonist, begins working as a game designer and attempts to find a bug in the code by playing through other games by the company, Black Arts Games. The writing is mostly descriptions of Russell’s experiences with the games, and almost nothing significant happens in the book’s reality.

The storyline started out a little far-fetched and rapidly devolved into a baffling wandering between several video games (each of which had enough description to bore but not enough to fully immerse the reader), Russell’s imagining of the characters in the video games, and Russell’s attempt to fix the bug. Also disorienting are the many sudden time and point-of-view shifts, and the incredibly blurred distinctions between the games, Russell’s imagination, and reality. The characterization was not much better. The reader learns almost nothing about Russell; the supporting characters, while very cookie-cutter, at least had definable personality traits.

In short, You spectacularly failed to live up to the high expectations it established, leaving me disappointed and at a loss as to what the purpose was. – Tasha M. ’20

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In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders (review by Shannon H. ’16)

In Persuasion NationIn Persuasion Nation by George Saunders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was almost addicted, inhaling this collection of dark short stories at an alarmingly fast pace. George Saunders creates a world in which advertising and persuasion overcome rational thought – his stories read like television commercials, slowly convincing the reader that the grotesque and brutal scenes are real. One short story begins with a polar bear lamenting his doomed existence to repeat the same patterns each day (he lives in a advertising scene). Each day he steals Cheetos from an igloo and is subsequently caught; afterwards, the owner of the igloo swings an ax to the polar bear’s head, and the day ends. Unsurprisingly, the polar bear engages in existential discussion and falls down the wormhole of philosophy. What a brilliant mix of realism and complete absurdism, and of course, it’s great satire. Would highly recommend to anyone looking for some grim reality mixed with a dosage of humor and science fiction.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (review by Andrew R.’17)

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ready Player One has the amusing (if unlikely) premise of a massive ’80s cultural revival in the year 2044 following the death of billionaire video game designer James Halliday. In a famine-stricken vision of future America, Halliday’s will is the last hope for many of the country’s hopeful gamers: it bestows the designer’s entire fortune upon the first person to complete a series of ’80s-themed riddles set in the OASIS, a sprawling virtual-reality videogame that redefines MMORPGs. For a future-world teenager, intrepid fortune-hunter Wade Watts spends a surprising amount of time obsessing over minutiae of ’80s culture that seem more likely to appeal to the author himself. (Case in point: the president of the OASIS is Cline’s fellow science-fiction novelist Cory Doctorow.) My only qualm with this book is that, while the OASIS is constantly glorified, it’s clear that the collapse of the real world is a direct result of the citizenry’s lack of regard for anything outside their alternate-reality visors. One character hints at this, but, of course, he immediately recants his views and never brings them up again. Still, Ready Player One is a fun diversion from the real world—for the author as well as the reader. – Andrew R. ’17

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Homeland (Little Brother #2) by Cory Doctorow (review by Catherine H. ’17)

Homeland (Little Brother, #2)Homeland by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since Marcus started up the Xnet and exposed the government in Little Brother, everything has gone downhill. After the economy the crashes and leaves him with nothing, his former rival Masha shows up with a mysterious USB drive containing a load of dark secrets. She warns Marcus to leak the info on the drive if she ever goes missing, which she promptly does. However, in his new job as a webmaster for an independent candidate, Marcus can’t afford to let anyone know that he’s the leaker. Cory Doctorow’s brilliant book, a sort of wake-up call that shows the dark side of technology, is a thrilling read. I would recommend this series to most if not all avid readers, regardless of age or genre preference.

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Timebound by Rysa Walker (review by Catherine H. ’17)

Timebound (The Chronos Files, #1)Timebound by Rysa Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rysa Walker’s Timebound, the first installment in the Chronos Files, is a very thought provoking read. Kate’s grandmother, Katherine, comes to town and announces that she is terminally ill and would like to spend more time with her granddaughter, which seems like a reasonable request. However, Kate’s mother insists that her grandmother is selfish and that she shouldn’t go. But Kate notices a strange medallion that glows a brilliant shade of blue that her mother can’t see but her grandmother can. Upon confronting her grandmother about it, she learns that her massive headaches have been caused by shifts in the timeline and that her grandfather is stuck in a different time, trying to create a religion and change history to benefit himself. Kate also finds out that this medallion is a CHRONOS key that lets her travel back in time. Before she can start training, another shift occurs and her parents disappear from the timeline, having never met each other and never having had her. She must now carry the key with her at all times or else disappear forever. It becomes her mission to go back in time and warn her grandmother so that she can restore her timeline. This book made me think about time travel in a different way. Even though there are several timelines that are mentioned, the story is straightforward and easy to follow. I recommend this book to anyone interested in time travel. – Catherine H. ‘17

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Delirium by Lauren Oliver (review by Catherine H. ’17)

Delirium (Delirium, #1)Delirium by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When love, or amor deliria nervosa, is seen as a disease, scientists develop a cure. However, the cure can only be administered when the patient is eighteen, otherwise it is unsafe. Lena Haloway, now Lena Tiddle, is eager to be cured so that she can’t become like her mother and sister, both previously infected. She’s worried about her friend Hana, who is beautiful and has recently begun riding the edge between loyal citizen and sympathizer. She forgets about this when her evaluations go horribly wrong and she meets a Cured named Alex. She falls in love and finally wakes up to reality, that love is not a disease, and that she must escape. Delirium had an interesting idea, and some nice romance, but I felt that the plot didn’t move smoothly throughout the book. – Catherine H. ’17

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Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (review by Elisabeth S. ’16)

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson, #1)Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A solid urban fantasy novel, Moon Called gives readers a healthy dose of independent, headstrong female characters, solid world building, and complex character depth. It succeeds in avoiding the usual tropes of urban fantasy or giving them new twists to keep things fresh. The series details the life of skinwalker Mercedes Thompson, a mechanic who toes the line that divides the society of fae, werewolves, vampires, and other monsters from normal humans. As a skinwalker, Mercedes can turn at will into a coyote–though she is not entirely a werewolf, she was raised by the werewolf community as one of their own until she leaves of her own accord after a decisive incident. Trouble brews when the neighboring pack has one of their children stolen. Overall, I would recommend Moon Called to fans of all fantasy, whether specifically urban or otherwise, for a fast-paced and entertaining read. – Elisabeth S. ’16

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Rebel Spring by Morgan Rhodes (review by Maya V. ’17)

Rebel Spring (Falling Kingdoms, #2)Rebel Spring by Morgan Rhodes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The sequel to Falling Kingdoms, Rebel Spring is extraordinary. The first novel, following the stories of young adults from different kingdoms of Mytica, ended at the point in which all of the characters met. Now, the teenagers live in a time of greater turmoil than they had lived in before. Whether controlled by murderous parents or harassed by brutal soldiers of other kingdoms, they must constantly watch their backs to avoid death. In such circumstances, the characters have to find a way to not only bring back peace to their land, but also manage their personal issues. If you expect a typical continuation of the story in which the teens team up and fight resistance as best friends forever, you are most definitely mistaken. You will be stunned at the turn of events that occur instead. Incorporating the side characters from the previous novel as main characters in the sequel, one can develop a broader view of the situation, given the several new perspectives. Containing even more gut-gripping moments, horrific murders, mystery, romance, and excellent writing, Rebel Spring is a must read! – Maya V. ‘17

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Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson (review by Elisabeth S. ’16)

Autobiography of RedAutobiography of Red by Anne Carson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anne Carson’s compelling language makes this book a masterpiece in verse. Autobiography of Red is a coming-of-age story loosely based on the story of Herakles’ tenth labor (stealing the cattle of the monster Geryon). This version is set in the modern day–Geryon is still a red monster with wings, but he’s also a photographer with his own familial troubles and thirst for adventure. He meets Herakles, and they fall in love, but Herakles departs from his life shortly after, not to be seen again until years later when Geryon is taking a trip through South America. Carson’s use of unlikely yet apt description and Geryon’s singular, confused voice makes this book utterly unforgettable. His trials with an abusive brother, a feeble mother, and lost love make it surprisingly easily to empathize with the red monster. Overall, this book is recommended to all fans of poetry and mythology. – Elisabeth S. ’16

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