Julie’s Book Club: The Ward

The Ward

I first heard about The Ward while the book was still being edited. Its author, Jordana Frankel, gave a talk at her alma mater about plotting a YA novel. She read from the first chapter and laid out a timeline. I knew I wanted to get my hands on the finished book.

Ward cover

The Ward is a dystopian novel, set in a waterlogged future New York City plagued by an infectious, cancer-like disease called the Blight. Its protagonist, Ren, is a 16-year-old who’s grown up fast. Orphaned like many children in the Ward, she has relied on resourcefulness and quick-thinking to stay alive and care for her younger sister, Aven, who is dying slowly from the Blight. Ren races a mobile and works secretly for the government in order to pay for medicine. While searching for fresh water, she makes a surprising discovery with effects that could change the future for everyone in the Ward.

This book is fast-paced, and the setting is full of perils. It also offers a backdrop for exciting underwater chase scenes, or claustrophobic explorations of the city beneath the water. I didn’t always love Ren, but I appreciated her intense affection for Aven and the way she spoke her mind, including the way her open sexual interest in certain male characters was narrated. There is a lot packed into this 465-page book, apparently the first in a two-part series. It delivers action, romance, and suspense (there’s even some gore, and a few scenes that feel right out of a horror story).

At times, the events of the novel were moving so quickly (or the actions in a scene), that I had difficulty picturing them as I read. I was a little disappointed that with such an evocative setting, Frankel didn’t play around more, either with the mobile racing or the creepy, abandoned sectors of the Ward. Occasionally, I felt that unimportant events got too much stage time while other scenes could have lasted longer. Nevertheless, I think Frankel’s unique setting and premise set this YA novel apart from other dystopian futures. And Ren takes control of her fate while piloting a mobile at breakneck speed, being intimidated by police and government figures, and navigating the plague-ridden wings of the hospital and the Ward. Although there are moments where her emotional immaturity shines through (she is, after all, a teenaged girl), she makes some pretty tough decisions and makes them with aplomb.

Jordana Frankel will read from her work on March 11 in Towson, MD. The event is free and open to the public. For details, go here.


Julie’s Book Club: 12 for the New Year

I’m cheating a little this time and instead of reviewing a book (the book I ordered has not found its way to me yet…) I am going to look ahead at 12 books I hope to read in the New Year:

1)      Hild: A Novel by Nicola Griffith

This historical novel is about Hild, the niece of the King of Britain who grows into a powerful figure–and eventually is sainted Hilda of Whitby. I’ve loved Griffith’s fluid prose since I happened upon her novel Slow River years ago. I can’t wait to see what she does in a historical setting–7th Century Britain.

2)      Embassytown by China Miéville

A friend suggested I read Miéville for his immersive worlds. I chose this book, about the human colonist Avice Benner Cho, who returns to Embassytown after years of adventuring in deep space. Homecoming stories interest me, and especially those that touch upon the possibilities of great shifts in space and time between one’s leaving and one’s return.

3)      The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is on my Christmas list. I started reading The Sandman comics in high school, and I’ve been hooked on Gaiman since. This novel, about a businessman who returns home and delves into childhood memories best left undisturbed, promises to be dark and dreamlike. I can’t wait to see how the three Fate-like women, who live in the house at the end of the lane, are drawn and what their roles are.

4)      The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Water horses. A girl named Puck. Horse races. Fate. Even if not for Jen’s endorsement of Stiefvater, I’d probably still pluck this book off the shelf.

5)      The Ward by Jordana Frankel

This is Frankel’s YA debut, a dystopian novel about New York after floods, plagues, high-stakes hover racing, and friendship. I got to meet Frankel and hear about the book while it was still being edited, and I want to know how it ends!

6)      Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

This novel has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. (Anyone else have that curse where they buy books and don’t read them, but borrow them and finish them in a day?) I loved and was disturbed by The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin, and The Year of the Flood, so I don’t know what I’m waiting for. 2014, perhaps?

7)      Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke

This is another of those books that has been recommended time and again. Like The Prestige, it is about two magicians, and it works in slow reveals. I’ll want to be taking notes on suspense and plot the entire time, if I can keep that up through 1,000-plus pages.

8)      Zig-Zag Wanderer by Madison Smartt Bell

Bell’s limited edition short story collection will be distributed for free (with the request that readers make a donation to a worthy cause), and I hope to catch him reading at The Ivy bookshop in Baltimore next week. The stories, set in the U.S., Haiti, and other places, are mostly named after songs (REM’s “Fall on Me” is among them) and some include musical elements themselves. Bell’s work often goes to dark and strange places–count me in.

9)      The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Because Anne said so.

10)  The Harry Potter audiobooks

This might be wishful thinking, but one of these days I’d like to listen to all of the audiobooks, as performed by Jim Dale.

11)  The Bondwoman’s Narrative: A Novel by Hannah Crafts

Written in the 1850s, this may be the first novel penned by a female African American slave. Crafts, a mulatto, writes about the autobiographical experiences of “passing” and making her way to freedom. Her unpublished manuscript was discovered in 2001 by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

12)  Looking for Alaska by John Green

After thoroughly enjoying Will Grayson, Will Grayson and tearing up at The Fault in Our Stars, I’m ready for another John Green novel. His YA protagonists are strongly voiced, and their struggles are both uniquely their own and universal. He draws the high school out crowd in a completely new way, and the lessons they learn are just as applicable to adults picking up these books.

So, that’s my list. Is there anything you would recommend? Have any thoughts about something I’ve added? Leave them in the comments!