Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Title: Glow
Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (September 13, 2011)
Source: Macmillan Audio
Format: Audiobook

From GoodReads:

What if you were bound for a new world, about to pledge your life to someone you'd been promised to since birth, and one unexpected violent attack made survival—not love—the issue? 

Out in the murky nebula lurks an unseen enemy: the New Horizon. On its way to populate a distant planet in the wake of Earth's collapse, the ship's crew has been unable to conceive a generation to continue its mission. They need young girls desperately, or their zealous leader's efforts will fail. Onboard their sister ship, the Empyrean, the unsuspecting families don't know an attack is being mounted that could claim the most important among them... 

Fifteen-year-old Waverly is part of the first generation to be successfully conceived in deep space; she was born on the Empyrean, and the large farming vessel is all she knows. Her concerns are those of any teenager—until Kieran Alden proposes to her. The handsome captain-to-be has everything Waverly could ever want in a husband, and with the pressure to start having children, everyone is sure he's the best choice. Except for Waverly, who wants more from life than marriage—and is secretly intrigued by the shy, darkly brilliant Seth. 

But when the Empyrean faces sudden attack by their assumed allies, they quickly find out that the enemies aren't all from the outside.

I don't see many true in-space type sci-fi novels in YA. Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan is exactly that. We start aboard the spaceship Empyrean where our young narrators have spent their entire lives. They are traveling to New Earth, where they hope to have a fresh start for the human race. Life and death level chaos ensues. 

First off, I have to comment on the fact that I listened to this as an audiobook. I've listened to a few audiobooks before with varied responses. Let me tell you, listening to Glow has made me want to go out and get more audiobooks. It was fantastically done. There are two narrators that take over the POV's of Kieran and Waverly. The narrators bring each character to life through the dialogue. I loved it. Glow is an audiobook done right. 

Now, onto the story! My most common sci-fi read is a dystopian novel about how we humans have basically destroyed ourselves. It's not the out-in-space type of adventure. Glow is kind of a mix. Though not explicitly stated (the adults don't like to talk about it), readers get the sense that humans have destroyed Earth, but that's not the focal point of the story. The focal point is life on the spacecraft and what happens when fellow spacecraft, the New Horizon, disrupts the lives of the passengers on the Empyrean. There is lots and lots of adventure in this story and I absolutely loved it!

Here are some things that set Glow apart from other books:

1.) The characters make mistakes. Big ones. You know those moments in life where you think, "Oh God, please don't let this get any worse?" Glow has those moments...then it gets worse. The characters make errors in judgment as well as other errors that endanger the lives of others. I was still very able to connect with these characters because the errors weren't necessarily foolish or careless (you can be the judge of that), but there were real errors that had real consequences. Difficult stuff to write and it was pulled off well. 

2.) The role of God and religion was explored in a complex way. Often, I find religion very absent from stories. Now, I'm not saying it should be present in every story, but I often wonder if religion is avoided because it is a hot button issue. Not only was religion present in Glow, but it played an integral role in the story and was treated as complex a topic as it is. There were ideas on both sides about the belief in God and how people who serve God act. Just like anyone else, some people with strong religious convictions aren't very good people (while some are). Likewise, some people without strong religious convictions aren't very good people (while some are). The role of religion and how it played out for both Kieran and Waverly was fascinating and added a lot to the story. This is a plot line we are not done with, I'm sure of it. 

Besides the character mistakes and presence of religion, Glow has a lot going for it. It has an intricate storyline told through alternating viewpoints. Since Waverly and Kieran are separated for much of the book, we are able to keep track of their separate journey through the alternating POV, while also keeping the bigger picture in mind. Each character in the story felt distinct and well-rounded. In my mind, I had a clear picture of what each character looked like, how they acted, why they developed the characteristics that defined them...such wonderful writing (helped along by great voice acting). The world building in sci-fi and fantasy is a complex task and Ryan handles it well. I never felt lost of confused, but frequently was surprised and delighted by little tidbits we'd get along the way. For example, I'd never even considered that young passengers on the spacecraft would have no concept of wind or how it feels until Ryan pointed it out. 

Overall, I highly recommend Glow to any current sci-fi fans. To those who haven't read much sci-fi, give it a chance. I'd say it's a very friendly read for someone who hasn't read much sci-fi. If you're giving it a shot, I'd also highly recommend the audiobook format.

Can't wait till Spark!

Final thoughts: Definitely borrow, but worth the buy. 

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