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I did it! I finished a trilogy! Cue the confetti! Launch the balloons!

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about my distaste for series fiction. I confessed that with my equally short memory and attention span, getting into and staying into series is really hard for me.

You know how when you’re single, people sometimes say, “You’ll find someone when you stop looking”? You know how you want to punch those people? Well, they probably deserve it, because that is some stupid-ass non-advice. But when it comes to my never-ending search for the Ideal Reading Experience, the platitude may have proven true. Because as soon as I publicly admitted I wasn’t digging series fiction, I found a YA fantasy trilogy that knocked my socks off from beginning to end. “We found love in a hopeless place…”

One thing I demand right off the bat from any series is that each book justify its existence. There’s nothing worse than a Book 2 or Book 3 that is just a rehash of what happened in Book 1. Way too many genre authors have one good idea and then try to stretch that idea into multiple volumes. Not only is that lazy storytelling, it’s also a blatant money grab. It offends my sensibilities. If you’re going to ask me (or my library) to pay good money for three or more books, you best have three or more discrete stories to tell, my friend. I used to be an English teacher; I can tell when you’re just adding filler to reach your assigned word count.

I don’t know why I’m taking this tone, because Marie Lu does not need to hear this lecture. Each book in the Young Elites trilogy builds on the one before while telling a brand new, original story. And, I should add, an increasingly dark and disturbing story.

Main character Adelina is a wild, twisted mess of a person, to the point where it’s a little disorienting. I occasionally had to stop and remind myself that Adelina’s “if you hurt me, I will hurt you back twice as hard” mantra isn’t actually a morally upstanding way to live. Then I’d dive right back into the story and cheer “Get em!” as she lashed out at her betrayers. Sometimes it is so satisfying to watch bad characters do bad things! But Adelina is not one-dimensional. If there had been no glimmer of a possibility that she could change for the better, she wouldn’t have been nearly as compelling.

If this had been an adult fantasy instead of YA, I think I would have wanted more elaborate worldbuilding and exploration of the powers the Young Elites are blessed/cursed with, but since it was written for a younger audience, I think Lu hit the right level of detail. I also would have loved more development of the romance between Adelina and Enzo, and Adelina and Magiano, but I’m sure some readers would be turned off or distracted by too much smooching. The focus was definitely on the action and adventure, which again is totally audience appropriate.

It’s a sign of a good book when you’re left wanting more after it’s over. It’s an even better sign when a series-challenged reader like me wants more after three books. Super fun, highly recommended, would shop again.

Find it at your library!

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school at the suggestion of my favorite English teacher. I decided to reread it now because of all the hype surrounding the release of the Hulu adaptation, which I was dying to be a part of even as I wasn’t sure I could handle watching everything that I knew was going to happen happen to an actual woman before my eyes, even if said woman was an actress playing a part. I have to be careful what I let into this brain of mine, as she is very visual and also prone to existential crises.

Listening to the audio version proved to be the perfect compromise, as it still felt like a performance but without the visual punch I’m sure the Hulu series entails. Claire Danes’s narration is absolutely stunning, one of the best audio book performances I’ve ever heard. If you aren’t convinced of her acting ability already, you will be after listening to this book. Her interpretation of Offred is beautifully understated, almost deadpan at times, which captures the exact tone I think Atwood was going for. (She is the queen of dry wit, after all.) But then, suddenly, she brings an edge to her voice that reminds you how deeply angry she is about her situation and what her life has become. I get shivers just thinking about it.

I was a little hesitant to try this in audio because I sometimes have trouble following dense prose in that format, but I was sucked in from the first moment and had no trouble hanging with it. I would find myself wishing my work day would go faster so I could get in the car and listen some more as I drove home. Normally, my brain is too fried after work for audio books and I have to switch to music or podcasts, but with The Handmaid’s Tale I was always eager to get back into the story. I wish I knew how much credit for that is due to Atwood’s writing and how much to Danes’s interpretation.

Another perk to the just-released audio “special edition” is the extended ending, added this year by Atwood herself. I don’t know that it changes much substance-wise, but for die-hard fans it’s a neat addition, and some have even speculated that it hints at a sequel. (!) Personally, I wouldn’t put anything past ol’ Mags. She is clearly as ornery and active as ever (seriously, read some of the interviews she’s given lately).

I realize this review is focused almost exclusively on my experience, as opposed to any kind of analysis of the book. Mostly this is because I’m lazy and I’d way rather talk about myself and my feelings than analyze literature. And anyway, if you want that, there’s no shortage of it out there, the book has been out since 1985, people. Google it and ye shall find. I will say that I got a lot more out of the book this time around than I did in high school, which is no big surprise. I’m sure that’s partly due to the 15 years of life experience I’ve gained since then, but I suspect it also feels a lot more relevant because of the authoritarian tone of US politics these days. Of course, to that we say “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”