CSFF Blog Tour – The First Principle, Day 3

Marissa Shrock with First Principle.image The CSFF Blog Tour wraps up the September jaunt from one participating site to another, all focused on the debut novel by author Marissa Shrock entitled The First Principle. The story is a dystopian fantasy aimed at young adult (twelve to eighteen) readers.

It takes place in a future world after the Great Collapse and the Second Civil War. Because of the unrest in North America, the Council of World Peacekeepers stepped in and created the United Regions of North America, consisting of seven regions which incorporated what had been Canada, the US, and Mexico.

The protagonist is sixteen-year-old Vivica Wilkins, daughter of the governor of the Great Lakes Region.

And now, a closer look at this novel.

A Review

The Story. Vivica is part of the elite class, the ruling class, and as such enjoys privilege. In addition she’s bright, has mad hacking skills which she uses to create a little side business changing student grades, and just recently broke up with her boyfriend, Ben. Not her choice.

She wants to be over him, thinks she is, but can’t help noticing that he’s been hanging with Meredith Alderton—the very girl Officer Martina Ward from Population Management wants to talk to. Meredith refuses to go with her, so Officer Ward publicly accuses her of being pregnant, a crime which mandates termination under the Posterity Protection and Self-Determination Act.

When Meredith tries to run from the room, Officer Ward shoots her with a tranquilizer gun. The incident creates a stir among the students, and they press their history teacher to discuss the termination law, why it came into being, and why it still exists.

Days later, one of the students who protested the law the loudest has disappeared and the teacher has been fired.

Vivica’s mother is in line to be named the next President because the current President is about to retire. Shortly before the Governor’s Ball, Vivica discovers she’s pregnant. She doesn’t immediately tell her mother, and in fact covers up the fact by using her hacker skills when she’s called in for the mandatory pregnancy test.

Vivica, her mother, and their entourage travel to the Capitol where the announcement will be made that Governor Wilkins has been selected to succeed President Hernandez, but as she’s introduced to the crowd, an assassin opens fire. The President is killed and Vivica’s mother, wounded. Vivica herself is not hurt.

The Vice President assumes control of the government and declares the assassination to be the work of rebels—those throughout the United Regions who chafe against laws such as the one which mandates pregnancy vaccines, enforced pregnancy termination, and others which oppress people and keep the poor in their place.

Vivica is convinced that her old boyfriend, Ben, who gave her a copy of the illegal Bible, is a member of the rebels. She wants to warn him, but ends up telling him she is pregnant—and he is the father. He wants her to keep the baby. Vivica struggles to decide what to do. If she leaves and goes into hiding so she can have the baby, she will most likely destroy her mother’s chances of becoming President. And does she want to give up her life just when she might have a chance to influence more young people?

The decision seems to be made for her, however, when her mother calls her into her study and asks her if she’s pregnant. She tries to cover up the truth, but her mother knows somehow. And now Vivica is certain she wants to protect her unborn child.

Can she? That and many other intriguing twists and turns make up the bulk of the story. Telling you any more would certainly be to spoil it.

What Did I Think. The First Principle has much more action and intrigue than I expected. I wasn’t expecting people to die. It is a dystopian story, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Certainly the level of violence increased the stakes.

The world was believably futuristic, though I thought there were some places that could have used a bit more inventiveness. I thought in light of the retina scans, self-propelled vehicles and such, there would be further advances in things like music and make-up and air travel. There was appropriate slang terminology, and nothing distracting. In short, for the most part the world felt as if it was the kind of place our world could become, given the current trends.

Vivica and her friends acted remarkably like sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds. The author, Marissa Shrock, is a language arts middle school teacher, and her familiarity with teens shows. At times I would have liked to see the protagonist act out her emotions more. Generally we’re told how she feels. For example, her body guard is killed protecting her mother, but Viv shows very little grief despite the fact that this man was someone she clearly liked and was with every day.

The story was unpredictable and action packed. I didn’t know from one moment to the other what would happen. There was intrigue, romance, danger, betrayal, kindness, faith, courage—all on display through the twists and turns the plot took.

The themes about liberty and protecting new life and faith in Jesus Christ were naturally woven into the fabric of the story. These are powerful and thought-provoking especially in light of the SCOTUS ruling on same sex-marriage and the undercover Planned Parenthood videos.

All in all, The First Principle is a quality book. I’m so glad CSFF featured it this month. It was through their partnership with Kregel Publications that I received a review copy. I’m happy to say, unreservedly and without any agreement to write a review promoting it, I highly recommend this novel to teens and to parents of teens and to any readers who love dystopian stories.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out what the other participants in the tour have said.

A Review – Eyes Like Stars

The Children’s Book Blog Tour, hosted by Kidz Book Buzz, is featuring Lisa Mantchev‘s first novel, the young adult fantasy Eyes Like Stars. I have to say, some reviews are harder than others, and this one falls into that category.

I supposed the difficulty is compounded by the fact that this book received some wonderful pre-release hype. Reviews were positive, even glowing. And it’s a fantasy! What’s not to like? 😉

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. A young foundling girl—mischievous, vivacious, and head-strong Beatrice Shakespeare Smith—grows up in a magical theater with four fairies and a pirate as her best friends. The pirate is actually one of the Players, none of which can leave the theater.

After one particularly destructive prank, Bertie is summoned to the Theater Director’s office. The plan is for him to ask her to leave the theater. But this is the only home she’s known, so she begs for an opportunity to prove she can contribute something essential to the theater.

Bertie comes up with the idea to be the Director (not Theater Director or Stage Director … apparently, the play director) and to re-stage Hamlet in such a way that will pack out the theater. The Theater Director gives her four days and stipulates that she must not only pack out the theater but receive a standing ovation as well.

But as Bertie commences her career as Director, more than she could imagine begins to go wrong.

Strengths. Ms. Mantchev is a talented writer. There are some beautiful lines of prose. The story is inventive. The magical theater can do amazing and unexpected things. The protagonist is a strong character. I don’t think I’ve ever met one like Bertie before. The fairies are fun and funny (though I do get the three guys mixed up with each other). The story is unpredictable. About the time I thought I knew where Ms. Mantchev was taking us, she shifted lanes and headed in a different direction.

Weaknesses. While I love the unpredictable, this story kept me so off balance it was hard to enjoy. I felt like readers who love Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking-Glass might also enjoy Eyes Like Stars, but that’s not me.

Since I hadn’t read anything about the book, I was left to figure out the set up on my own. Where are we? Who are these people? Why can’t the Players leave the theater? By the end, I knew the answers to these questions, but I feel like I lost time. I could not live in this fictive world because I could not imagine what was not suggested.

In addition, I wasn’t sympathetic to the characters. I thought Bertie’s idea to re-constitute Hamlet was a weak idea at best, so it was hard to cheer her on to success. I thought she treated one character in particular in a shabby way, and in fact I didn’t agree with a lot of her decisions. She was a difficult character to like.

Recommendation. So here is a unique, unpredictable story, written with commendable prose … and I didn’t like it very much. In case you’re wondering, there is no attempt at presenting anything comparable to a Christian worldview. Pretty much the protagonist has her own moralistic outlook. She definitely changes and grows, but in the end, I didn’t particularly care.

But here’s the big deal as far as I’m concerned. I wonder how many young adults who are the targeted readers will connect with this story. This is no Harry Potter, with a rich, textured setting and well-defined characters. Bertie is smart and sassy, so maybe, if readers can get beyond the early confusion (e. g. she’s in her dressing room but on stage, with real fairies but they are flying suspended on wires) they’ll like the book well enough. For me, it didn’t live up to the pre-release hype.

Remember, mine is just one opinion. See what others touring Eyes Like Stars have to say:

The 160 Acre Woods, A Patchwork of Books, Abby the Librarian, All About Children’s Books, And Another Book Read, Becky’s Book Reviews, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, The Friendly Book Nook, Homeschool Book Buzz, Homespun Light, Hyperbole, KidzBookBuzz.com, Never Jam Today, Reading is My Superpower, Through a Child’s Eyes

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