FantasticLand by Mike Bockoven

Since it opened in the 1970’s, FantasticLand was the theme park where “Fun was guaranteed!”. Like Disney and Universal, it was a major draw for numerous visitors to the Sunshine State. But when a hurricane ravages the Florida coast and isolates the park, the employees left behind find the park anything but fun.

Five weeks later, when authorities finally find a way to rescue the survivors, they come upon something out of a horror show. Photos soon appear online of heads on spikes outside of the rides along with viscera and bones littering the gift shops. Those who see the pictures are left wondering, how could a group of mostly teenagers commit such horrible acts?

FantasticLand is an interesting read as it is presented as a kind of investigation. Each chapter is told from one person’s point of view, transcribed from the interview in to a short story in first person narrative. There is only one actual interview and that is with an individual that numerous others reference throughout the rest of the book.

Numerous reviewers have compared FantasticLand to Lord of the Flies and I find that to be a very apt comparison. In both books a disaster of some kind leaves groups of individuals stranded and hoping for eventual rescue. The differences being in the former those stranded are both male and females of various ages from teen-aged to older adults, while in the latter the stranded are all young boys. This makes a difference in how the tragedies are dealt with and perceived, but at times there is little to be seen.

In both books those who are left behind form social groups or tribes. In FantasticLand, the tribes are based on where the employees worked in the park itself. As they worked together day in and day out, they were comfortable together and as such gravitated together when times were difficult. This formation of tribes also created a kind of rivalry with the tribes battling one another over necessities like food and water – even when no such fights were necessary as there was plenty to go around.

In a way FantasticLand can be seen as a kind of think piece. So many of the characters in the book are young adults; little more than kids in the high school/college age range. Their entire lives they have had information fed to them via social media, be it on the TV or computer or cell phone. Their every move has been documented and shared and either that or their job had given them a direction to go. When they are deprived of that direction and that audience, where are they to turn?

Like the aforementioned Lord of the Flies, FantasticLand can be a difficult read at times. Not because it is badly written – quite the opposite, I found it to be quite well written and researched. It is difficult because it is very violent and a bit depressing. In reading about what these young adults do, the reader is forced to consider what they them self might do. They must consider if they would volunteer to stay behind like these characters did and how far they would be willing to go to survive.

 

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Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3) by Seanan McGuire

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children may resemble a boring boarding school but there is more to the school that meets the eye. It is a special kind of school, a magical school, where students who have experienced fantastic adventures are slowly reintroduced in to the “real” world.

One of the students was a girl named Suni. Suni was supposed to be the savior of the sugary magical land Confection; she was to defeat the Queen of Cakes, marry, and have a daughter named Rini. Unfortunately, Suni was killed before any of these things could happen.

And yet Rini was born anyway.

With Suni gone and not having returned to Confection, the timeline is trying to correct itself. This means that Rini is slowly disappearing and Confection is slowly crumbling. It will be a race against time for Suni’s friends, both old and new, to try and make things right.

Beneath the Sugar Sky is the third and most recent installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series. It picks up about a little over a year after the ending of the first book. Some students have left the school while some have remained and new ones have joined them, one of them being Cora.

Previously, McGuire touched on different ethnicities, skin colors, gender identities, and sexualities. Now the subject of body image and it’s accompanying anxiety is added to the mix through the character of Cora. In our world, Cora is seen as obese. Her weight seen as an affliction and something to be ashamed of, whereas in the underwater world she traveled to her weight was seen as a boon. The layers of fat that were a point of shame for her here were a point of pride among the merpeople she met. In returning to our world, Cora must once again face the negativity.

Unlike the first two books (Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones, respectively) Beneath the Sugar Sky has a lighter feel to it. While there are some darker elements – the cemetery scene immediately comes to mind – it does not continue throughout the entire story. Much like the world of Confection, there is a lighter feel to the prose in this latest installment.

That is not to say the book is all light and frivolity. It is actually a meshing of darkness and light. It is a tale of friendship and love, even when we do not know the person we are trying to help.

Yes, there are a few confusing elements but they are minor compared to the overall tale. Alas, I cannot go into them too much as to do so would ruin the story itself as they are a key part to the plot. I myself had to reread a handful of passages a few times just to make sure I had everything straight in my head.

I do recommend readers read the previous books before delving in to Beneath the Sugar Sky. At the very least they should read the first book, Every Heart a Doorway as characters in that book return here. Other than that, I absolutely recommend this one to my readers. I tore through it in a single evening and am sure you will do the same. I cannot wait for the next installment.

Fox by Dubravka Ugrešic

With the shape-shifting and wily fox of Eastern folklore as an underlying motif, Fox is a novel that reinvents itself over and over again. It is a blending of literary trivia and the timeless story of a young woman trying to find love.

Through it’s narrative force the reader is taken from Russia to Japan, through Balkan minefields and on American road trips. We are taken from the 1920s to present day, as the novel explores the power of storytelling and literary invention. Of the notions of betrayal, and the randomness of human lives.

It is incredibly rare, dear reader, for me to not finish a book – much less write a review on it. Yet that is what I find myself doing with Ugresic’s Fox.

When I picked the book up off the shelf at my library, the blurb on the back seemed very interesting. It was only when I began reading, or at least trying to read, that I found myself sadly disappointed.

Perhaps it is because I do not find Ugresic’s writing style appealing. She has a kind of rambling style of writing, her words seeming to jumble together in an almost stream of consciousness style. Each chapter is its own unique story, centering on one particular event or another, but also interspersed with random bits of information that seem to pertain to what is happening.

Unfortunately, due to the style of writing, I found myself going cross eyed halfway through the first story. I could not even finish the second one before I was forced to put the book down.

Readers who are familiar with Ugresic’s previous works claim Fox is typical of her work. Perhaps it is because I myself am not familiar with her previous novels, or perhaps it is because there is something lost in the translation of this book in to English. Suffice it to say, I did not enjoy reading Fox. So much so that I did not even finish it.

Whether it is good or bad, I cannot really say. Nor can I honestly recommend it.