Review: Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes

Viral Nation coverViral Nation is a post-apocalyptic book with many of the standard hallmarks of a YA dystopian story. The world was ravaged by a deadly plague and now the few survivors have come together into a small number of cities. They are all reliant on a drug that keeps the virus suppressed. Without regular doses, the virus will return. In the cities, law is kept because a time portal lets the authorities know what crimes will be committed so that they can stop them before they happen.

Clover is an autistic girl who depends on her support dog Mango to help her through loud and crowded situations which are incredibly stressful to her. She is extremely intelligent and is accepted into the prestigious Academy, only to be told that Mango can’t stay with her. When she refuses to be parted from her dog, she is sent instead to be a time mariner – to travel through the portal to bring back information from the future. In her new job, she learns that the system may not be as perfect as she’s been told.

The story is told largely from the perspectives of Clover and her brother West, with occasional sections from their father’s viewpoint. Clover’s character is a real strength for this book. Her experiences and thought processes are clearly described and made understandable to non-autistic readers. The way she behaves feels completely genuine and there is a real emotional connection. That feeling of reality is also reflected in the way she is sometimes treated by other characters in the book because of her autism. There were times when I felt fury and indignation on Clover’s behalf about the unfairness of how she is treated and I wished I could leap into the pages and yell at the other characters.

On the other hand, I didn’t think the plot did justice to the strength of the main character. There were a number of plot elements that seemed really convenient. I don’t want to give spoilers, but in particular the way the time travel is handled seems to lack consistent logic and there are details that are revealed that make no sense and seem to be there only because it furthered the plot.

The book also suffered a bit for being obviously the first one in a series. There are a lot of significant plot points that go unexplained which is frustrating, but I know I do this in my own series, so I can accept this. I trust that these mysteries will be resolved in the second book of this two-part series. The second book is already out, so at least I won’t have to wait to get the answers.

This isn’t going to make it on to my favourites shelf, but it’s an enjoyable read if you like dystopias and especially if you like well-written representations of autistic characters. Three and a half stars.

October giveaway

A Rational Arrangement coverI’ve talked about my diverse book giveaways in previous posts. October’s giveaway is A Rational Arrangement by L Rowyn. I’ve written a review of this book in an earlier post.

I picked this book because it ticks a lot of diversity boxes. One of the main characters is an autistic woman, the other two are bisexual men. One thing I especially liked about this story is the way it handles mental illness. Nik has the magical ability to heal mental illness, and the way the book handles the subject is very respectful, it also differentiates between the illnesses Nik treats and a condition like autism. At one point, Nik is asked if he plans to heal Wisteria of her autism and Nik’s response is that her condition is part of who she is and not a sickness to be cured with the line, “Personality is not a disease.”

If you want a chance to win this book, head over to Tumblr and reblog the giveaway post.

June’s Diverse Book Giveaway

In a previous post, I talked about the Diverse Book Giveaway that I’ve been running over on Tumblr. Every month through 2016 I am giving away a science ficiton or fantasy book I’ve enjoyed reading that showcases diversity in some form, ideally in multiple ways.

On the Edge of Gone coverIn previous months, I’ve given away Rivers of London, Adaptation, Shadows on the Moon, and other great books. June’s book is the fantastic On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis, which I’ve reviewed in an earlier blog post. I have also interviewed the book’s author.

If you have a Tumblr account, you can enter the giveaway simply by reblogging the giveaway post. The winner will be chosen on 1st July.

I’m still looking for suggestions of other books to include in the giveaway series so please leave me a comment telling me about diverse SF&F books you’ve read that you think should be a part of this project.

Author Interview: Corinne Duyvis

Please share a little bit about your books.

On the Edge of Gone coverRight now, I have two books out. My first book, Otherbound, came out in 2014. It’s a young adult fantasy novel which is about a boy from our world who witnesses the life of a mute servant girl from another world every single time he blinks. She has no idea—until they learn to communicate, and they have to work together to discover what binds them together.

My second book, On the Edge of Gone, came out in March 2016. It’s a young adult sci-fi novel about an apocalypse-in-progress: a guarded, autistic girl tries to keep her family together in the immediate aftermath of a devastating comet impact.

Do you have a favourite character in your books?

Ohh, choosing favorites! That’s always hard. I think I’d have to choose Cilla from Otherbound, as I found her an unusual and intriguing character to write—that balance between sweet and haughty, well-intentioned but clueless, made her very appealing to me.

From On the Edge of Gone, it’s Denise herself. I just related to her a lot—which probably isn’t surprising, since a large part of the reason I wrote her was because there were so few autistic characters for me to relate to!

Could you explain a little bit about the Disability in Kidlit program?

Disability in Kidlit is a website I co-founded alongside author Kody Keplinger in 2013; it was originally intended as a sort of temporary blog fest but turned into an actual resource. We post reviews of the portrayal of disability in MG/YA novels, write articles about tropes and stereotypes, and discuss representation from various angles. All of our contributors identify as disabled themselves. I’m so very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the years. A lot of people have expressed gratitude and stated how helpful the website is to them, which means the world to me.

Your books are great examples of diverse fiction. Could you tell us why you feel so strongly about diversity in fiction?

Once I started seeing (a) the extreme imbalances in both the real world and inOtherbound cover fiction and (b) the results in society, I found it impossible not to care strongly about this topic. After all, these imbalances didn’t appear out of nothing. They’re a result of an unjust system, which doesn’t go away by simply waiting, hoping, or asking. I don’t want to support that system.

My thinking is: If I’m a writer, I have to make a choice—whether conscious or unconscious—about who it is I write about, and how I do so. Will I perpetuate the problems and imbalances, or will I try to do my part in combating them?

That doesn’t mean I should arrogantly try to “fix” everything myself and tell stories that aren’t mine. It means is that I try to be aware of my choices, and make those choices conscious ones. Sometimes, the best choice is to step away from a certain character and story, as I’m not the right person to write it.

Instead, I should listen to those who are the right person to write these stories, and do what I can to help their voices be heard.

What has surprised you most since getting published?

I think the ups and downs and backs and forths. It’s not like you’re just taking a step forward. Instead, one part of your life shifts, and the rest doesn’t necessarily shift with it.

So on one hand, your life is completely different: you’re put into different situations, you worry about different issues, and you have different concerns to keep in mind. Being published is such an entirely new set of experiences.

At the same time, nothing much has really changed. You’re still thinking up stories, you still have to do groceries and scoop out the litterbox, you still geek out with friends and eagerly anticipate the next book in someone else’s series.

Sometimes, you’ll pause during the cool parts of being published and realize, wow, when did this start feeling so normal? Or you pause during the regular everyday things and think, wow, I’m actually balancing this average life with signings and book deals and interviews?

It’s a constant seesaw. After several years, I’m still figuring out how to incorporate and balance it all.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started writing books?

As corny as it sounds: just keep going.

I must’ve written over ten books by now, and I still find myself constantly procrastinating, constantly doubting myself, constantly comparing myself, constantly getting distracted. Life throws so much your way that can distract you from writing, whether it’s obligations or brain chemistry or rejections from literary agents or more.

But if you just keep going, you can’t go wrong. You’re always learning and developing as an author, and the more you write, the more material you have to work with. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t use preparation as a means of procrastinating. Don’t linger on the rejections. Don’t spend years on the same project if you aren’t making actual progress on that project.

Just keep going.

If you want to find out more about Corinne Duyvis and her books, check out her website at http://www.corinneduyvis.net or you can connect with her on Twitter or Tumblr. You can find her books on Amazon and I have reviewed On the Edge of Gone here.

Review: On the Edge of Gone

On the Edge of Gone coverOn the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis is a brilliant book. The only downside to this book is that you will need to bring your tissues because it’s emotional and heart-breaking and poignantly written.

The story is set during a global catastrophe. A comet is about to crash into the Earth, devastating the world and doing massive damage that will last for years to come. Society has been preparing for the comet, with permanent shelters for some people, and generation ships to take others off-planet, but there aren’t nearly enough resources for everyone. Most of the population will just have to survive as best they can with temporary shelters and then hope they have homes to go back to after the impact. Thanks to a chance meeting, Denise and her mother end up on board a generation ship that hasn’t launched yet, but they won’t be allowed to stay. Denise is determined to find a way to earn a place on the ship, but those in charge look down on her drug-addict mother, and in the meantime her sister is missing. Outside the ship, people are fighting for survival and Denise doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead.

The emotional impact comes again and again, as Denise deals faces the difficult decisions and challenges of trying to save a few people she cares about when so many others are suffering. Survival for some is going to be at the cost of others, and the author makes you feel every minute of it.

This book also does amazingly well from a diversity standpoint. Denise is a mixed-race, autistic girl and, as the book is written by an autistic author, her portrayal feels genuine and not remotely stereotyped. The book also contains: characters of a range of races and religions; a trans character; other LGBT characters; disabled characters; a character with Downs syndrome; and so on. Some of these are major characters, others are in the background, a few are just mentioned in passing, but it all adds up to a world in the story that feels like it represents the true diversity of the world around us. This adds to the emotional impact of the story because it feels like this disaster really is affecting everyone.

Five stars. Highly recommended.