Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: SYLO by D.J. MacHale

Does Tucker Pierce have what it takes to be a hero when the U.S. military quarantines his island?

Fourteen-year-old Tucker Pierce prefers to fly under the radar. He’s used to navigating around summer tourists in his hometown on idyllic Pemberwick Island, Maine. He’s content to sit on the sidelines as a backup player on the high school football team. And though his best friend Quinn tells him to “go for it,” he’s too chicken to ask Tori Sleeper on a date. There’s always tomorrow, he figures. Then Pemberwick Island is invaded by a mysterious branch of the U.S. military called SYLO. And sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option for Tucker, because tomorrow may never come. 

It’s up to Tucker, Quinn, and Tori to uncover the truth about the singing aircraft that appears only at night—and the stranger named Feit who’s pushing a red crystal he calls the Ruby that brings unique powers to all who take it. Tucker and his friends must rescue not just Pemberwick Island, but the fate of the world—and all before tomorrow is too late.  

#1 New York Times bestselling author D.J. MacHale brings his brilliant plotting and breathless pacing to SYLO, the first in this ultimate end-of-the-world adventure trilogy.

There are many words I could use to describe SYLO. I could say it was thrilling, tense, and explosive, but those would merely be good words. The best words I thought SYLO demonstrated were: "as refreshing as an ocean breeze." I am not joking. Those words were taken right out of the notes I took while I was reading the book. It is a bit of an odd description, if you were to compare it to the previous three words. Sure, the book had me holding my breaths and clenching my fist, but I'm going to tell you why it was also my perfect "Beach Read."

Firstly, in my honest opinion, I think MacHale nailed the setting for this story. This is sometimes not done very well in YA or MG because people are more focused on the plot or the characters. But the atmosphere established by the author is so important in helping readers experience the story and I am so pleased that D.J. delivered.
The setting of this book, if you don't already know is fictional Pemberwick Island in Maine. I don't know much about Maine, but I am fortunate enough to know about tiny islands. In my grade 12 year, my school's science department once again ran their one-week-trip to the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. During our stay, we worked hard and we played hard. One of the places we visited really helped me establish what Pemberwick Island really looked and felt like. I will link this review to an album from out trip right here. A special thanks to all of the people who contributed to this album; not all of these pictures are my own.

This reminded me of the Patricia 

What's for dinner?

This could be the Sleeper's house

The whales welcome you to New Brunswick!

In case anyone is interested to learn how lobsters are caught, here is Rick Mercer's attempt:

Now that we've discussed atmosphere, let's move on to the second thing you need to have in a good novel: plot. This story can be best compared to Virals by Kathy Reichs meets the TV show Haven. It's part-mystery and part-sci-fi, which I think rivals the good ol' PB & J. The plot had enough twist and turns that I was beginning to feel seasick (in a good way). Just when you think the story was headed on way, a wave comes to knock you in the opposite direction. But usually, stories start off well, but the tricky part to write when you're writing a series is the ending. Authors love to taunt you with gut-wrenching cliffhangers, so you feel compelled to read on. And most of the times, you hate them for it. MacHale was able to end it at a place that had enough resolution to the story, that almost gives the reader a sense of an ending, but left enough unanswered questions for readers to stay around. It's the desire to read on, without the urge to murder the author. Thank you for that, Mr. MacHale. My heart needed a break.

Lastly, on our tour of How to Write a Good Novel, the pawns characters. These are the things I enjoy about them:

- Tucker, our protagonist, is not a "I-Can-Do-Everything" type of main character.
- His shyness is believable, unlike many YA books where the main character is the quite, awkward girl (or boy) that no one should fall for, but somehow always does.
- Or, is he the full-of-attitude, "strong" character that we encourage female characters to be. (Please see my review of The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey for reasons why I despise characters like these.)
- It's refreshing to read about a male perspective where his main objective is to act silly and boyish. Many time, in YA, the boys are either super mysterious and sexy or is the funny, goofy, comic-relief. I like how Tucker was truly the "student you would forget you ever taught" because he appeared ordinary.

- For once the main character's best friend was the "Entrée." Quinn is smart, funny, brave and should have gotten the girl. I really liked the change in dynamic.

- Tori Sleeper was precisely the female character I want to read more in YA. She has physical strength and mental power. Her brain runs fast, wickedly fast. In fact, she has the perfect blend of Quinn and Tucker: smart, cunning, humourous, focused, and independent. You might read that list and say: "Hey Stella, what the heck? How can she be humourous and serious (focused) at the same time?" Well, Confused Reader, I can tell you from experience, people are more than just a list of synonyms. Someone fun and bubbly can be also determined, focused and committed, while the serious person can be funny, laid back and lazy. People have different sides to them which D.J. really illustrated with his characters, whether it was the "ordinary" Tucker, the "quiet" Tori or the "snobby" secondary characters. ;)

- Additionally, it was really nice to see the parents aren't forgotten in the story. Most of the time, the parents are no where to be found in YA. They are a hassle to write, and usually is an obstacle, halting the hero's adventures. They are the rational voices that keeps the adventure from happening, but in SYLO, not only did they exist, they were well-written. I really felt I got to know they them. Again, keeping the word refreshingly true.

So far, SYLO has been the best book I've read in 2013, with Saga Vol.1. being my favourite graphic novel. This book gets five sparkly stars from me!

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