ARC Review: “From a Distant Star” by Karen McQuestion

ARC Review: “From a Distant Star” by Karen McQuestionFrom a Distant Star by Karen McQuestion
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Skyscape on 05/19/15
Format: eARC
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Seventeen-year-old Emma was the only one who hadn’t given up on her boyfriend, Lucas. Everyone else—his family, his friends, his doctors—believed that any moment could be his last. So when Lucas miraculously returns from the brink of death, Emma thinks her prayers have been answered.

As the surprised town rejoices, Emma begins to question whether Lucas is the same boy she’s always known. When she finds an unidentifiable object on his family’s farm—and government agents come to claim it—she begins to suspect that nothing is what it seems. Emma’s out-of-this-world discovery may be the key to setting things right, but only if she and Lucas can evade the agents who are after what they have. With all her hopes and dreams on the line, Emma sets out to save the boy she loves. And with a little help from a distant star, she might just have a chance at making those dreams come true.

I received access to this galley for free from Amazon Skyscape publishing through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I had never heard of From a Distant Star or its author, Karen McQuestion, before I requested it from Netgalley — and it was certainly refreshing to start a book with a blank slate, something that’s been almost impossible to do since I started blogging. Reviewing a relatively unknown ARC made me feel like something of a pioneer: brave, excited, and trail-blazing, but also alone and dubious. My appreciation for the book blogging community multiplied exponentially while I was reading this ARC, as I realized just how much advance readers (either before publication or before I read a book) shape everything! But more on that later.

Check out my Instagram! @everybookaworld

Check out my Instagram! @everybookaworld

It was the sci-fi aspect of the book that I was most excited for, and I was imagining out-of-this-world scenes in space between humans and aliens while reading the synopsis and getting myself so excited. After reading though, I’d have to say that From a Distant Star felt like pretty “light” Sci-fi. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but between the (bland) narration style, the main character, and what actually happened in the plot, most of the book read kind of like a contemporary.

My main beef was with the MC, Emma. Oh, how she tested me! Tested my tolerance to DNF the book, that is. It didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t really know much about Sarah herself — for the most part she seemed like an almost invisible, every-girl kind of character. It felt like she had no substance whatsoever! It was really a struggle for me to feel any sort of connection to her or to feel invested in her problems.

Her defining characteristic, it seems, is her deep and “forever” bond with her dying boyfriend, Lucas. ( blaring alarm Yikes! My feminist radar lit up quite a few times during the book…) I don’t mean to put down long-term relationships/love found at a young age — as I’m terribly unqualified to judge relationships — but from what the book presented, I just wasn’t quite buying it. We get to hear almost nothing from Lucas himself (a coma will do that to you…), and I never really felt like I got the chance to know or understand him. All the reader gets to hear are Emma’s saccharine-ly sweet thoughts and a few memories that didn’t really draw me in.

And honestly, a lot of what she said about Lucas and their relationship came off to me as immature and unbelievable. Either that or her thoughts made me worry about her individuality.

“I loved Lucas more than I’d ever loved anyone in my life. I couldn’t live without him.” (A declaration of undying love in the 2nd chapter…)

“The truth was that I just wanted to be a part of his world. What we did wasn’t important to me as long as we were together.”

“‘If she loves you like I love Lucas, she’s waiting for you. Even if everyone tells her it’s over and that you’re dead, she won’t believe them. Your bond is too strong.'”

“His silence made me wish for Lucas, who would’ve known what to do. Honestly, this accident wouldn’t have happened if Lucas were around, because with him driving, we wouldn’t have ended up in a ditch.”

It didn’t help that Emma just seemed to have a knack for saying foolish things.

Countless times throughout the first half I wanted to DNF the book. Emma was just getting to be a bit much for me to tolerate, the writing was bland, the beginning was pretty rough, and so much of it felt predictable and boring. But it was the few advance reviews on Goodreads that kept me going, promising that it got better.

…and it did get better, more so than I could’ve imagined. I finally reached a point when I was reading that the action took off and managed to surprise me. Secret agencies, guns, and illegal operations, oh my! Emma and the writing didn’t really get much better, but I was finally interested enough that I could look beyond them.

Ultimately, the book’s saving grace is Scout’s character. Without going too much into detail, he is the alien presence in the book (and why it’s Sci-fi!). Though he was a relatively simple character, he was always noticeably different — innocent, kind, and good. I loved all his parts and the few chapters he narrated!

His planet’s way of life gave him a unique perspective on Earthen customs and morality. Though his observations were again, pretty simple, they were still quite valid. They really made me think about how much cruelty and atrocity really goes unquestioned in our lives because we’ve accepted it on some level and think that this is the way our society has to be.

“‘This is a very confusing planet. People believe things that aren’t true about other people just because of how they look and what kind of vehicle they drive. Why not wait and see who they are inside before you make a decision?'”

“‘That is a sad thing,’ he said. ‘Always thinking the worst of other people.'”

“‘Why don’t people just make the world a better place and then they would’t need to get drunk?'”

“‘There is not a good reason. They had just decided that those from other planets are the enemy.’ I heard the shrug in his voice. ‘Like you said, some people here are mentally ill, or just evil.'”

“‘This is a very odd planet,’ he said. [reply] ‘Yeah, I know.'”

This was the most “Sci-fi” element to me in the whole book, and without it the book might’ve been forgettable.

Overall, it’s hard for me to recommend From a Distant Star because of how hard it was to get through most of it, but I think it might appeal to readers who are new to the Sci-fi genre and want to read something a little more grounded and relatable.

Though not a solid read throughout, readers who can tolerate the MC might be pleasantly surprised if they stick it out.


Review: “The Walled City” by Ryan Graudin

Review: “The Walled City” by Ryan GraudinThe Walled City by Ryan Graudin
Genres: Action & Adventure, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 4th 2014
Format: Hardcover
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730. That's how many days I've been trapped.
18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible....

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister....

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She's about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window.....

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

I was so excited when I dived into reading The Walled City, and when I started reading I thought it had true 5-star potential. I was practically giddy because I thought I had discovered a new favorite that I hoped could pull me out of my  reading slump (which I haven’t really acknowledged until now, but between not reading because of school and a few lackluster books, I think it’s true). The setting, the writing, the action… it all instantly captured my attention.

Buuuuut… somewhere along the way I lost that excitement and focus. Admittedly, I started this book in January and only just finished it now because of schoolwork, but there were other factors that kept me from reading it in every spare moment. But before I go into them, I want to start with what I did like.

really, really enjoyed the writing. I’ve never read anything by Ryan Graudin before, but I was impressed as soon as I started reading. Nothing about her writing feels forced, and instead felt really natural to me. Instead of dragging, wordy sentences, Graudin uses short but strong sentences that really made an impact on me and kept my attention. She perhaps uses a few too many similes, but for the most part I loved them — they really add depth to the description without being overly verbose, and often made a connection back to the book’s Asian influences. Her language is just beautiful.

“Without her, I had no reason to stay on the farm, taking my father’s blows. Watching my mother wither like our rice crops.”

“Sing’s cries are in my head, and the yes is on my tongue, filling my body with sparks and spit, like the firework our neighbors bought one New Year’s.”

“He’s staring out, out. The way he was that morning. At the skyscrapers, thick and tall as a bamboo forest. Their windows twinkling madly through the falling rain.”

“An aerial view revealing the unmistakeable density and shape of the Kowloon Walled City.” (from book)

The unique setting truly made the book special. The book is actually based off the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, though The Walled City is not historical fiction. I was sucked in by the setting, and Graudin’s description made the hopelessness, cruel poverty, and desperate life of the streets feel so real. The few times the setting strayed to the nice city surrounding Hak Nam (the Walled City’s real name in the novel), I was immediately jarred by the change and the striking contrast between the two cities — the world building was just that good.

Though the Asian influence wasn’t overwhelming, I appreciated the added diversity in the book. Realistically, and with minor changes, the novel could have been set in any  large, metropolitan city across the globe (besides the fact that it was based off a real city in Asia). The book’s Asian setting didn’t influence any major part of the plot; the same poverty, crime, and lawlessness can be found anywhere.

But the small details — about the sisters’ old home in the rice paddies, the way the neighborhood noodle shops, etc. would prepare the ingredients in the morning, the traditional and “reversed” (in Western view) style of the characters’ names — were subtle and captivating peeks into another culture. The Asian influences hinted at in the synopsis was part of the reason I bought the book, and I wasn’t disappointed.

And I couldn’t finish up what I liked without mentioning Jin and Dai’s relationship. Though they start out as strangers and reluctant-to-trust allies, their relationship very believably deepened until they were something like siblings — watching over and protecting each other, and relieving and comforting the void in each others’ lives. Their sibling-like relationship made me feel all the feels, especially when View Spoiler » Let’s just say it was my favorite relationship in the book.

But the book’s biggest flaw that forced me to reconsider my opinion was its pacing. Considering the way The Walled City was marketed as an “adrenaline-fueled novel” featuring a “desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out,” I was frustrated by the way the plot seemed to lag for most of the book. While I did read it very slowly over a long period of time, it wasn’t just me.

Check out my new #bookstagram, @everybookaworld!

Check out my new #bookstagram, @everybookaworld!

Though it started out with a bang and the last third or forth of the book was non-stop action, the first half or so of the book seemed to drag for me. It wasn’t until exactly the 50% mark that a few big secrets were revealed, finally setting more parts of the plot into motion. Before this point, I was growing quite tired of information being handed out like breadcrumbs, and not being able to even guess what general direction the plot might be headed towards. I can imagine that many people might have DNF’ed before reaching halfway because of this.

The romance wasn’t without flaws, either; I had very mixed opinions about its place in the book. When Mei Yee and Dai first met and were obviously enchanted by each other, inwardly I was begging that their relationship wouldn’t go anywhere. I felt that such a relationship seemed unbelievable in the cruel world of the Walled City, and that their personalities didn’t really mesh.

But while I never was deeply invested in their romance, their relationship did prove to be a vital part of the book. It was perhaps because their relationship seemed so unbelievable that it was in fact so striking. Desperate people living day by day have no time for romance, but yet it reality it happens anyway. It was their disparate lives and souls that drew them together in twin fascination, and eventually changed each for the better. I found Mei Yee’s character arc especially brilliant in light of how I had little sympathy and liking for her in the beginning of the book.

Overall I did enjoy the book, though at parts I wasn’t engrossed and entirely absorbed while reading, like I am when reading books I love. I still can’t help but think I should’ve read it in less sittings as well.

The Walled City is a standout in its writing and setting, but the pacing dragged in parts, and the romance left a little to be desired. Best for those looking for a beautiful and memorable read, but not an action-packed book.


Review: ‘Exquisite Captive’ by Heather Demetrios

Review: ‘Exquisite Captive’ by Heather DemetriosExquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios
Series: Dark Caravan Cycle #1
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Published by Harper Collins on October 7th 2014
Format: Hardcover
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Nalia is a jinni of tremendous ancient power, the only survivor of a coup that killed nearly everyone she loved. Stuffed into a bottle and sold by a slave trader, she’s now in hiding on the dark caravan, the lucrative jinni slave trade between Arjinna and Earth, where jinn are forced to grant wishes and obey their human masters’ every command. She’d give almost anything to be free of the golden shackles that bind her to Malek, her handsome, cruel master, and his lavish Hollywood lifestyle.

Enter Raif, the enigmatic leader of Arjinna’s revolution and Nalia’s sworn enemy. He promises to free Nalia from her master so that she can return to her ravaged homeland and free her imprisoned brother—all for an unbearably high price. Nalia’s not sure she can trust him, but Raif’s her only hope of escape. With her enemies on the hunt, Earth has become more perilous than ever for Nalia. There’s just one catch: for Raif’s unbinding magic to work, Nalia must gain possession of her bottle…and convince the dangerously persuasive Malek that she truly loves him. Battling a dark past and harboring a terrible secret, Nalia soon realizes her freedom may come at a price too terrible to pay: but how far is she willing to go for it?

For me, Exquisite Captive was one of those books that everyone seems to like, but just didn’t do it for me. After letting my sister read it and being assured that she really enjoyed it, I jumped in, hoping for a captivating 460-some pages. But now that I’ve finished it (and even had a day to let the story settle), I can say that nothing about the book really impressed me, and I know it’ll fade from my memory quickly.

So what did I like about it? After all, I did finish the hefty book, rather than just DNF-ing it.

One word: Raif. Okay, that’s a name, not a word per say, but still. Is it insta-love? Probably. They exchange “I love you’s” within a few days of meeting each other. But he’s the main reason I kept reading. If you want to indulge in a purely fictional book-boyfriend, look no further than Raif. Between his emerald green eyes, his deeply caring interior hidden by his tough-leader exterior, his sense of duty and his sun-on-the-earth-just-after-a-rainstorm scent (don’t judge until you read it, haha), Raif certainly held my interest. Was it the love of the century? Far from it. But it was enjoyable.


What else? Well, the reason I finally decided upon reading the book was the gorgeous MAP in the front. I adore maps in books, and will usually flip back to it several times while reading; getting my bearings within the story really helps me immerse myself in it.

But while this map is lovely, I had little use for it in this book. Why? Well, maybe because it’s a map of Arjinna and NOTHING IN THE BOOK WAS SET IN ARJINNA. Only flashbacks short flashbacks in the book are set in Nalia’s home, while the rest of it takes place on Earth. So while I did enjoy these fleeting descriptions of Arjinna, I was constantly left wanting more, wanting to actually visit Arjinna, only to be frustrated.

Well it seems I’ve already started on what I didn’t like, so let me continue. I was bothered by the other love interest, who was Nalia’s master, Malek. He is controlling, manipulative, inflicts pain upon Nalia, and misguidedly thinks he loves her. Before I would’ve just brushed this off more, but recently I’ve come to realize how unacceptable and inexcusable this behavior is (I’m slow, I know). I was always uncomfortable reading Malek’s parts, because even the justifications given for his behavior in the story do not make his actions forgivable.

The plot also disappointed me — it managed to be both intricate and spread thin at the same time. There were parts when so many different things were happening, but also a lot of wait-for-the-plan-to-work scenes that bored me. At times I could practically feel when the plot was being stretched thin just to cover a trilogy of long books. That’s not something a reader should feel about a good book, really. Also, the first third or so of the book felt a lot like info-dumping when it came to describing the finer points of jinni and Arjinna.

I would talk about the MC, Nalia, but I feel like there’s not too much to say. Just when I though I would finally like her because she did something pretty fierce, she would always let me down by doing something not-so-smart (to put it nicely) or thinking something pretty silly, leaving her unlikeable.

One of the books only saving graces? After most of the story being fairly predictable, my interest was revived from the dead (if only a little) by an ending that I didn’t see coming. Before the end I had resolved not to read any sequels, but afterwards I was a little unsure. Plus, wouldn’t it be nice to possibly see Arjinna after all this time reading about it?!

Though I had high hopes, nothing about Exquisite Captive impressed me. The plot was frustrating, and one of the characters displayed abusive qualities.


ARC Review: ‘Kalahari’ by Jessica Khoury

ARC Review: ‘Kalahari’ by Jessica KhouryKalahari by Jessica Khoury
Series: Corpus #3
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated on February 24th 2015
Format: Hardcover
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Deep in the Kalahari Desert, a Corpus lab protects a dangerous secret…

But what happens when that secret takes on a life of its own?

When an educational safari goes wrong, five teens find themselves stranded in the Kalahari Desert without a guide. It’s up to Sarah, the daughter of zoologists, to keep them alive and lead them to safety, calling on survival know-how from years of growing up in remote and exotic locales. Battling dehydration, starvation and the pangs of first love, she does her best to hold it together, even as their circumstances grow increasingly desperate.

But soon a terrifying encounter makes Sarah question everything she’s ever known about the natural world. A silver lion, as though made of mercury, makes a vicious, unprovoked attack on the group. After a narrow escape, they uncover the chilling truth behind the lion’s silver sheen: a highly contagious and deadly virus that threatens to ravage the entire area—and eliminate life as they know it.

In this breathtaking new novel by the acclaimed author of Origin and Vitro, Sarah and the others must not only outrun the virus, but its creators, who will stop at nothing to wipe every trace of it.

I received access to this galley for free from the Penguin First to Read program in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Eeeep, guys, my first ARC! So excited. But anyway…

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 4.40.41 PM

I definitely have a soft spot for Khoury’s Corpus series. They’re more like companion books, really, but each time a new one comes out, I just know that I’ll have to read it and that I’ll really enjoy it.

Why is this? Well, because I know her books will always have a dash of romance, a couple of interesting characters, an awesome setting, some aspect of morality/depth, and most importantly, a whole heap of what I like to call…

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 4.49.50 PM… Scientist Sneakery! Yep, certainly sounds like a term I coined. What links the three books in Khoury’s series is that each stumbles upon the work of a super-secret lab funded by the Corpus company, whose experiments, well, are quite ambitious and not always for the benefit of all of humanity. 

I actually participated in a blogger panel once about the portrayal of science as ‘evil’ in Sci-Fi, and I mostly ended up writing about this series! (I also called the Corpus scientists “my favorite evil scientists,” haha!) I think I find Corpus so fascinating to read about because of how frighteningly real such a company could be. I mean really, how many Corpus-like companies could be out there??

Now, on to Corpus’ latest endeavor, in the Kalahari Desert of central Botswana…


Khoury on a trip to the Kalahari.

While at first I was a little dubious about the setting, as I gradually gained more knowledge of it I was fascinated by the Kalahari, and how much life was to be found in the (semi)desert. Since I don’t come from an arid or dessert-like climate, this is something that I’ve only recently been learning, like during a recent trip to Joshua Tree National Park. From the Bushman’s traditional survival skills to run-ins with some of the Kalahari’s most dangerous residents (like a young, sexually frustrated bull [male] elephant!), the setting really came to life in the most vibrant of ways, and included deeper messages abut the environment.


Is this Sarah, or Bindi? (

Our MC, Sarah, basically lives the life many of us imagined as kids watching the Discovery channel. She’s basically an older Bindi Irwin, if you know what I mean. She is the child of two zoologists, and has grown up riding elephants, stealing baby kangaroos, and learning to track in the Kalahari. Her cool factor is basically through the roof, even if she has a little trouble socializing with her peers (who aren’t that abundant in the Kalahari).

Besides having such a plain name, (Sarah? Really?) I think I was a little annoyed by how flat a character she seemed to be. In such a packed action story, there just doesn’t seem to be too much time for characterization. She does stand out in 2 major ways, however: in her kick-ass survival skills, and in her struggles over dealing with the recent death of her mother. Her struggles really made me sympathize with her, and her desert skills were what made me believe in her and root for her. Seriously, shoutout to anyone who can survive in the desert with practically no supplies, all while being hunted by mercenaries!

As for the other teens trying to survive the desert — characters don’t really seem to be Khoury’s strong point. But while I was pretty lukewarm about the characters in the beginning, I managed to warm up to them some, just like they did to each other throughout their crazy adventures through the Kalahari. Some of them were pretty good for providing a much-needed laugh in the face of danger.

“‘Uh . . . Guys? Is this what I think it is?’ Sam took a look, then gave a low whistle. ‘Bees?’ ‘Sickos,’ Joey muttered. ‘What do they do—sprinkle them on their cereal?'” [speaking of the Corpus scientists]

The romance, while cute enough, didn’t steal too much of my attention — it almost feels like the book didn’t really need it. In some parts, it even feels a little like insta-love, but the reason for this is revealed later. But what Sarah did definitely need was the emotional support that Sam provided, as they connected over their mutual loss of a family member. This was what I found most touching, romantic or otherwise.

“‘The pain does fade, Sarah.’ I looked up at him. His eyes were gentle and unwavering. ‘Does it?’ ‘It doesn’t go away, but one day you wake up and find it’s a part of you.'”

But of course, it is Corpus once again that steals the show. The book never really feels slow, per say, but after the group encounters a silver lion (scientist sneakery!!), everything kicks into high gear, and I couldn’t tear myself away from the rest of the book.

Though the characters are a bit weak, Kalahari‘s kick-ass setting and evil-scientist sneakery make for an entertaining read.


Review: ‘The Islands at the End of the World’ by Austin Aslan

Review: ‘The Islands at the End of the World’ by Austin AslanThe Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan
Series: The Islands at the End of the World #1
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Science Fiction, Survival Stories, Young Adult
Published by Random House Children's Books on August 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
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Right before my eyes, my beautiful islands are changing forever. And so am I ...

Sixteen-year-old Leilani loves surfing and her home in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. But she's an outsider - half white, half Hawaiian, and an epileptic.

While Lei and her father are on a visit to Oahu, a global disaster strikes. Technology and power fail, Hawaii is cut off from the world, and the islands revert to traditional ways of survival. As Lei and her dad embark on a nightmarish journey across islands to reach home and family, she learns that her epilepsy and her deep connection to Hawaii could be keys to ending the crisis before it becomes worse than anyone can imagine.

A powerful story enriched by fascinating elements of Hawaiian ecology, culture, and warfare, this captivating and dramatic debut from Austin Aslan is the first of two novels. The author has a master’s degree in tropical conservation biology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

You know when you can spot a book that you know you’ll love from a mile away? A book that just screams you?

That was definitely this book for me.

Let’s just take a moment to see what Tags I gave this post: Dystopian, Hawaii, Mythology, Sci-Fi, Survival Stories. 

Now, this might sound like a rather strange mix. (Now that I think about it, a similar mix of genres can be found in Jessica Khoury’s Origin.) But I just couldn’t love it more. Squee!

If I haven’t been obvious enough about it before, I am a huge fan of Sci-Fi and Dystopian. Survival Stories naturally fall into the mix, and I would rarely pass up an opportunity to read a book based in Mythology. Which leaves…


The sibs and I feelin’ pretty happy at the top of the Kuilau Trail!

HAWAII!! (Caution: I get pretty worked up over Hawaii, haha.) My family and I had the privilege of visiting Kauai, Hawaii’s oldest island, a few years ago, and I have never been to a more beautiful or relaxed place. Hawaii is truly such a special place, from the landscape to its culture.

And honestly, why aren’t more books set in these beautiful islands?! As Aslan has so ingeniously and terrifyingly shown with his debut book, there may be no greater place to set an Apocalyptic story than the isolated islands of Hawaii. From the author on the book’s Goodreads page:

“Everybody knows what happens at the end of the world in New York and LA, but what would a global disaster mean for Islanders? 95% of Hawaii’s food is imported every day. The islands are home to 1.5 million people. If things got tough there, where would all those people go? There are no mountain ranges or Great Plains to escape to. Everyone is stuck. Hungry. No way to escape.” 

Between my visit and all the reading I did in preparation for the trip, I know a bit more about the islands than the next person — which is still not too much compared with the vast wealth of knowledge there is to know about Hawaii — and I can say that this definitely helped deepen my connection with the story. The tales of the islands’ rich mythology, their geography, and their current struggles were already somewhat familiar and dear to me, which helps to explain why I drooled over this book until I had it in my hands, and simply devoured it as fast as I could when I finally had it.


My favorite mountain on all of Kauai.

The setting is absolutely crucial to this book, and is what really makes The Islands at the End of the World stand out in more ways than one. The idea of paradise quickly devolving into a nightmare highlights how the world could really turn upside-down so fast in the event of some sort of apocalypse.

The setting also played into a major theme in the book, which in my opinion helped make it so much more than just a survival story: Belonging. As half Hawaiian, half white (with an appearance that makes it a struggle to fit in with the locals), MC Leilani has only lived in Hawaii with her family for 3 years. Though she feels a deep connection to the island as she discovers more about her own culture and heritage, she can’t seem to fit in. Her fits of epilepsy further alienate her from others.

“Long black hair. Oval face with high cheeks. My eyes are hazel, my complexion is… too light. I’m almost as white as Dad.”

I could personally understand Leilani so well, being of mixed heritage myself. I’m half white and half Hispanic, but my appearance and Germanic last name disconnect me from any casual association with my Hispanic heritage. Though I’m not a native Spanish speaker, I’ve been learning about the language and culture for 7 years now. While I love what parts of my culture I know, I often find it hard to believe that I’ll ever truly feel like a part of the Hispanic community — which is why I felt and rooted for Leilani every step of the way.

Ridiculously beautiful Taro fields in Hanalei.

Ridiculously beautiful Taro fields in Hanalei.

Aslan’s book also grapples with the serious land dispute issues occurring in Hawaii, which I’ve been fortunate enough to have been exposed to during my 1st semester in college. Since the beginning of Hawaii’s statehood — or, it’s illegal and unwanted annexation and overthrow of local government — there has been a movement to restore land and governing rights back to Native Hawaiians, essentially recognizing it as an independent nation. So, to whom do these islands belong — the United States, or native Hawaiians? Who belongs to this category labeled as ‘Hawaiian’ when Hawaiians themselves are so mixed in heritage, and how might this split up families? Do the natural treasures of Hawaii belong only to natives, or should they be shared? It’s no simple issue, but Aslan incorporates it into his book admirably. 

I don’t want to give too much away, but this Belonging theme isn’t the only thing that makes The Islands at the End of the World more than just a survival story. As the book progresses, the mythology and Sci-fi elements begin to intertwine more closely with the plot, until they steal center stage. I really enjoyed these elements and thought that they were well-developed, even if at around the midway point I thought my head would explode (in a good way) from all the extra intensity these elements added to the already dramatic storyline.

Not only were these elements fascinating, but thanks to author-scientist Austin Aslan, they also seemed plausible. I’m going to out and admit it here that I’ve got a bit of idol-worship for the guy — one look at his biography and you might, too. The book closely mirrors his life in some aspects, and his master’s degree in tropical conservation biology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo really adds credibility to the story.

All-in-all, The Islands at the End of the World was a fast-paced, desperate story of survival that made my head spin — but also hit close to home with its setting and theme. I may or may not have shed a tear or two somewhere along the way, and I adored the father-daughter relationship in the book. That this series is set to be just a two-booker seems perfect to me, as the sequel will be able to be just as fast-paced while also expanding and wrapping up the story.

Everything you’d ever want in a Survival Story and more, thanks to its unique setting.