Staff Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I think we’re all a little obsessed with the end of the world. How will it happen? Will Earth cease to exist? Will humans become extinct? Will some of us roam a ruined earth, struggling to survive in a never-ending wasteland? Will we rebuild and return to a world of technology, medicine and space travel? Which species will become the next intelligent beings to take over the role humans once played? Will aliens bring about the end of the world, or will humankind simply destroy itself? Hypothetical situations are endless.

Emily St. John Mandel takes one of these scenarios and makes it entirely believable in her fourth novel, Station Eleven. Days before the world ends, a ridiculously famous actor, a young girl and a paparazzo-turned-EMT tragically meet onstage at a production of King Lear. Even as their lives end or change in ways they never could have imagined, a trajectory is being set; one that will send ripples far into the future.Over the next few days, 99.9% of the world’s population is wiped out by a flu pandemic. Power structures crumble, civilization collapses and those who are unlucky enough to survive are hurtled back to the dark ages.

This is the kind of book that you have to think about when you’re done with it. It’s haunting; it’s beautiful and it’s hard to put down. I felt a keen sense of loss when I closed the book after reading the final page. The story is told through many voices, and it covers events that happened decades before the world collapsed all the way through Year Twenty in the present, post-apocalyptic world.

The story follows Kirsten, a Shakespearean actress with the Traveling Symphony who barely remembers anything about the world before the flu but does recall a famous actor dying onstage as a man from the front row rushes to help. Javeen is a paparazzo turned journalist turned aspiring-EMT when he jumps onstage in Toronto to try to save a dying man before holing up in his brother’s apartment to wait out the end of the world. Arthur Leander is a famous actor who never meant to fall in love and marry multiple times, dying as he lived: alone. The prophet leads a dangerous cult, insisting that his followers were chosen by God to usher in a new era. No matter that he kills anyone who disagrees with him or that he takes multiple young girls as his wives. At first, I thought St. John Mandel might be setting up these characters and plot for a big twist. She wasn’t, and I’m glad. The story is enough; there doesn’t need to be a huge twist or unexpected reveal. Rather, the subtle mysteries that surface early on are solved naturally throughout the novel.

Even if this book wasn’t so wonderfully written, it’d be a winner. It features traveling musicians as they trek through the territories that once were Michigan. TV, movies and radio entertainment may all be gone, but Star Trek quotes survive. “Survival is insufficient,” is the motto of the Traveling Symphony. Some of the first institutions to pop up in the post-apocalyptic world are museums and libraries. Even if they will never get to experience traveling by car, listening to music on an iPhone or typing a letter on a computer, the people in this new world collect their memories physically in homemade museums and verbally in libraries.

Station Eleven was a 2014 National Book Award Finalist, and it made a number of 2014 “Best of” lists. Among so many post-apocalyptic novels, Station Eleven definitely stands out.  Pick up a copy from CPL today and be sure to leave us a comment with your opinion of it.

 

Prisoner of Night and Fog

Prisoner of Night and Fog

Gretchen Muller’s father gave his life to save Adolf Hitler and ever since she has grown up under the wing of her “Uncle Dolf” in the National Socialist Party. That is until one fateful evening when she meets Daniel Cohen, a Jewish reporter, and she can’t seem to stay away from him. She should hate Daniel but she finds herself attracted to him. She shouldn’t believe a word he says, yet she is drawn to his stories and finds herself questioning everything she has been brought up to believe.

Investigating the new found mystery of her father’s death and escaping a cruel brother, Gretchen finds her world turned upside down by the people she trusted most and the only person who can help her is the one she has been told to despise.

The Prisoner of Night and Fog is an exciting read that envelopes the reader in the turmoil of examining your beliefs and struggling with changing your whole way of life. Daniel develops a fragile friendship with Gretchen on faith and it grows to an unexpected outcome for the both of them. Pick it up for a day at the beach or read it in the comfort of your bed on a rainy day. Whichever you choose, make sure you put it on the “to be read pile” this summer!

Teen Book Battles: A Plane Crash on a Deserted Island

Which book does “survival” better LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding

Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies

or BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens
Beauty Queens

Lord of the Flies is a tale written by William Golding, who fought in World War II and witnessed the horrors of that time.  How could he believe anything other than “People are Evil” when he lived to see the Nazis kill six million Jews  in Europe and the United States drop a nuclear bomb on Japan?  His story of British school boys who are stranded when their airplane crashes on a tropical island and how they savagely survive is depressing…and believeable.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray is the story of what happens when a plane full of Beauty Pagent Contestants crashes.  Very different outcome and very funny.  Miss Texas tries to keep everyone focused on practising interview questions while they try to build shelters, kill big snakes and fight corporate espionage.

There is no question here which is the better written, more thoughtful book.  Lord of the Flies is classic literature that will always be studied in school and discussed in book clubs because of the deep questions it asks us about ourselves.  However, I ENJOYED Libba Bray’s book much much more.  I know if I had to be stranded on a deserted island, I’d rather be stuck with a bunch of girls who can creatively use a can of hair spray as a survival tool – than a bunch of blood-thirsty British school boys with sharp sticks.

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Books by Genre: SciFi Advisory/Compound by S.A. Bodeen

compound

Though this is another one of those teen books written about a future apocalypse which seem to be so popular, I had great hopes when I read the first line and realized that it was a quotation from a poem “The Hollow Men” by T. S. Eliot [See link below]

The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot

The poem is about people who have experienced war and it’s terrible aftermath. It is about how the images of blood and death leave survivors with no way to purge the memories that haunt them, no voice to explain their experiences to others, and a dread of what will happen to them after they die.

The book did not live up to the poem.

This book tells the story of how a man built a survival shelter for his family in the event of a nuclear war and what happened to them during the six years they were all inside it.  Did the war actually happen? What will people do to survive?  What boundaries will they cross?

It seemed to me that the author rushed the first part of the book in order to get the people inside the compound. Since I didn’t know the characters, it was difficult to care about the things that happened while they were inside.  Several incidents were disturbing, however, and should have had the characters reacting a lot stronger than they did in order to be believable. The ending was handled in the same speedy manner as the beginning to quickly tie up loose ends and to (very obviously) leave a trail behind for a sequel to build upon.

Overall, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but it certainly could have been better.

Hunger Games

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Okay, when you saw the title above you probably assumed that I was going to talk about the latest hit movie “The Hunger Games”.  Sorry, I’m not. Not really. Actually, I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I HAVE read the YA series by Suzanne Collins that the movie is made from.  (I work at the library, which means you are “required” to read the novel before you see the movie if you don’t want to be subjected to all kinds of ridicule.)

Continue reading “Hunger Games”