Tag: Hunger Games


In The Beginning_CoverEight stories that span the imagination, recreating Biblical events into dark tales featuring young adult heroes. Month9Books released their charity anthology on October 25, 2016.

All the authors cite the “inspiration” for their retelling of common and obscure Bible stories. Two of the stories are more allegorical as opposed to straight retellings.

With the exception of one story, these short tales will appeal to teenagers who like fantasy, dystopian and darker themes. Does it seem odd that this anthology twists Bible stories into something foreboding, even chilling or evil?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

To read and enjoy this collection, one can’t open the cover expecting to see the truth of the Bible. Here the imagination of some storytellers has converted segments of scripture into compelling farcical stories. They just left at the whimsy.

Stories I Enjoyed

I didn’t hate any of these stories. All of them were well-written and well-edited. Some of them took a little bit more of a stretch to accept them. You know how I feel about being kicked out of my fantasy world by unrealistic and unbelievable things.

I really enjoyed “Condemned” by Elle O’Neal. This story gives a Hunger Games spin to the story of Barabbas. If Barabbas were a teenage boy in a dystopian world where people liked to be entertained by televised gladiatorial-type games.

The character of Barabbas was well-constructed. I would have liked a little more explanation about this dystopian society. I never understood why they had the game or what made Barabbas a contestant.

Still, if you’re like me and you’ve often wondered how Barabbas felt when Jesus took his place on death’s row, this is a chilling way to get that insight.

One of the truly allegorical stories, “Babylon” by Nicole Crucial, gave me plenty to think about. The author personifies The Book of Life as the main character in this story. It’s a gut-wrenching tale of a friend who knows her friend is destined for a downfall.

It makes readers ask plenty of insightful questions. And convinced me once and for all that having foreknowledge of the future would be a bad thing.

Why Some Fell Short

For example, “Daniel and the Dragon” by Stephen Clements is inspired by a text that is included in the American Standard Version of the Bible that I had never read. Of course, dragons.

Clements wrote a good story but it includes concepts, wording and practices that will be foreign to most young adult readers. Also, it was more of a fictionalization of the passage rather than a retelling.

What do I mean?

A retelling is exactly what it sounds like: the same story but using different characters in a different setting.

This is not a bad story at all (didn’t I mention there are NO bad stories in this collection?) but it just missed the mark with me.

Other stories were also fictionalizations rather than retellings. “The Deluge” by Marti Johnson is a depressing recount of someone who didn’t survive Noah’s flood. “First Wife” by Lora Palmer gives us a look at Leah and Jacob’s wedding night and the day after.

Palmer’s story had great characterization and emotion. At the end, there’s another character introduced. I would have enjoyed the story more if it was about that “friendship” rather than Laban’s double-crossing of his nephew and daughters.

Even though I couldn’t buy the premise in “Emmaculate” by Christina Raus, I do think most teenage girls will fall for it and enjoy the ride. It’s packed with real-to-our-world issues and plenty of trauma drama.

My Top Pick

When I read the ARC, my favorite story was called “The Isaiah Boy.” So color me shocked when I didn’t even see that title listed on the press release during the cover reveal.

But then I found it. It had a new title, but the same incredible “there has to be more than this” ride. I’m talking about “Last Will and Testament” by Mike Hayes.

To say I was a little outraged when I saw the scriptures from Isaiah 53 at the beginning of the story is putting it mildly. After all that chapter prophecies Christ’s death thousands of years before it happens.

“It’s just a story” I started chanting to myself.

And it really isn’t a story about Christ. It takes the “wounded for our transgressions” literally and gives that “power” to a boy, Baz.  What I really admired was that the story was told in first person by a character other than Baz.

I don’t want to give anything away because you need to read this story. When you do, we need to talk about it. And Mike Hayes needs to write a novel that takes off right where this short ends.

Oh yeah, I’m looking at you Mr. Hayes.

Be warned, most of these stories have an incredibly dark tone. Some of them are downright depressing. But all of them offer more than an hour of entertainment. They give a snapshot of humanity that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

Disclaimer: I have a story in this anthology. I don’t mention “The Demon was Me” in my review because it seems self-serving to do so. Elsewhere I have mentioned it is the best short fiction I believe I’ve ever written. I hope you’ll read it and decide for yourself.

Have you read IN THE BEGINNING? What stories spoke to you?

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Check out Poet Inspired and my other books. Already read one or more? Your honest review is a golden nugget in this writer’s world.

Dystopian Novels

The Start of the Series

After completing Michael Grant’s Gone series, I began wondering why I’m drawn to dystopian novels over vampire stories or other types of science- fictional fantasy. I happily read Divergent and Insurgent during the summer of 2012 and will most likely buy a copy of the third book, releasing in August.

Since it is sitting in the library at my middle school, there are definite things I didn’t like about Grant’s series .

Too much graphic violence

When a kid got ate by mutated worms, I thought Grant had gone too far. It wasn’t a pretty mental image. In the latest book, a little girl lights other kids on fire while laughing gleefully. If there’s a more disturbing picture anywhere, I don’t want to know about it.

Sex =Love

Caine and Diana treat each other with criticism and cynicism. Eventually, they have sex and – BAM – they’re suddenly in love with each other. It’s slightly better with Sam and Astrid because their relationship was based on friendship and mutual respect before the physical side was added. Still, it gives emotionally and sexually charged young people the impression that love is sex or vice versa.

Too many characters

True, Grant had a huge world to run and his story needed bodies to sacrifice to the evil inside the FAYZ. I have too many middle school students who can’t keep track of more than six or seven characters, so these books frustrated them.

If he would have focused less on the intricacies of how things ran, he could have spared us the enormous list of characters. However, the thing I liked about the series is that I could imagine this place and it was believable because he hadn’t overlooked any administrative details.

Of course, I read the entire series. Obviously, I must have liked a few things about it.

  • I liked that he started right at the point of the inciting event and gave us the necessary backstory of the characters gradually.
  • I loved the protagonist, Sam, but I felt like Grant made him less heroic as the series progressed. Sam lacked confidence, which is fine at the beginning of the series, but the fact that he had a similar view of himself after a year of defeating all sorts of mutated creatures annoyed me.
  • I certainly didn’t want him to become cocky. Caine took the cake in that category. Most of the kids believed in him and relied on him, but he didn’t believe in himself. Of course, the way Grant let Gaia beat up on Sam while he acted helpless reinforced that self-image.

Defeating the big boss should have been a group effort. Instead, Little Petey saves the day. It makes logical sense that since he created the FAYZ, he would need to destroy it, but it was anti-climactic. Everything Sam suffered inside that makeshift world seemed pointless at the end.

Dystopian novels entertain me because the author’s use uninhibited creativity to present scenarios that suspend disbelief. We can imagine a huge underground shelter for a select few before the end of the world comes at the hands of man (City of Ember). Or that war might cause our world to become a desert of conflict, guided by the law of “only the strong survive” (Blood Red Road).

Scientists and government officials desire to manipulate us. If they created an enormous lab test in Chicago, it might look exactly like Divergent. If the government decided to segregate the population even more, it could look like The Hunger Games.

Shouldn’t seeing all that could go wrong with society be depressing? What is the draw? If you like dystopian fiction, I’d love to hear from you.

Blood Red Road

Apparently, the sequel is out (and the teacher I work with has it), so I felt this might be the perfect time to review Moira Young’s debut young adult novel, Blood Red Road. Since it’s a dystopian novel, I volunteered to add it to my reading list – even though I didn’t really have extra time on hand for reading.

The librarian who recommended this book to our book group compared it to The Hunger Games. I see very few similarities. In fact, except for the use of dialect writing, Young’s book surpasses Collins’ best-seller in every way.

First of all, Saba, the 18-year-old protagonist, trumps Katniss. Saba might not have the ability to shoot arrows like Katniss, but she has something Katniss lacks – a determined purpose. Saba’s strong character compelled me to connect with her and read on to learn how she would solve her problems.

Wouldn’t you agree that Katniss seemed driven by her circumstances? Even at the end of the series, she was unsure what would truly make her content. She’d decided to willingly settle for whatever came her way.

Not so, Saba. When her twin brother is kidnapped, she sets out to rescue him. Her only plan is to rid herself of the burden of her 9-year-old sister and follow the tracks of the horsemen who stole him away.

Unfortunately, Saba has no experience with the “real world.” Her father kept them in an isolated area far from the remnants of so-called “civilization.” If this isn’t enough to hamper her quest, the fact that her little sister is just as stubborn as Saba adds conflict and complications.

Even though this is the first book in a series, it satisfies. The main problem in this story is solved at the end. Sure, there are enough loose ends to keep people reading the next book, but it offered its own catharsis. This is something I’ve learned more about during my play writing workshop (perhaps more on this later).

I wouldn’t recommend this book to any of my students who struggle with reading. The fact that Young uses phonetic spellings to add distinctiveness to her prose would hinder their ability to read and enjoy the story. I was able to adapt to the style (though I’m still debating if it served a purpose) and read the book quickly.

I highly recommend it to fans of dystopian novels. Young’s world resembles what “could be” enough that it doesn’t need tons of extra description. When she introduces new places, though, she does so with verve and keeps the action going at the same time. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel almost as much as I’m looking forward to the conclusive novel in Michael Grant’s Gone series.