Book 17: Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress
In most cases, juxtaposition is a good thing. It adds an unexpected twist or a fresh perspective to something that might otherwise be bland and boring. When it works, it works well. When it doesn't, we end up with a book like this.
Ten-and-a-half-year-old Alex is a precocious young lady who often possesses a greater degree of insight and maturity than the adults with whom she interacts. The story is told from a third person limited POV, centering on Alex, and the narrator could not be any farther from the heroine. The narrator reminds me of a hyperactive five-year-old, bouncing cheerfully between thoughts and ideas, picking up or abandoning trains of thought on a whim. I found it highly distracting. However, I can see how this might appeal to a much younger person. Though the book is categorized as Teen Fiction, it seems more suited to children.
Book 18: XVI by Julia Karr
This is the sort of distopian novel that Matched strove so hard to be. As with Matched, we have a young girl raised in a futuristic society whose eyes slowly open to the truths of her world. However, unlike the main character of Matched, the heroine of XVI actually has a reason for opening her eyes. The awakening isn't spontaneous, and thus makes sense to the reader and so feels more believeable. This novel also has a romantic interest, but it isn't the sole driving force behind the plot.
Book 19: The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi There is an incredible amount packed into such a small book. In less than a hundred pages, Bacigalupi manages to fit an incredibly detailed and well-developed world along with an intriguing plot complete with a number of twists. Yet it was short, saying what it had to say and having done with it. I am always in awe of authors who can successfully pen novellas and short stories, because, as a writer, I know how great the temptation is to drag it out, to add more plot with more twists and more details. But Bacigalupi is able to do what I've never been able to: he pares down an entire world to tell one chapter of one man's story. I loved this book, and will definitely be seeking out more by this author.
Book 20: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron
Every so often we read the right book at the right point in our life, and it changes us. This is the right book, but unfortunately I read it at the wrong time. A poingant coming-of-age story, this is exactly the book that would have profoundly changed me if I'd read it a decade ago. As it was now, it was a thoroughly entrancing story of a young man's struggle to find his own feet beneath him and figure out which path they will carry him down. I absolutely cannot say enough nice things about this book.