Book Review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

Bam back to back entries! (Mostly because I’m incredibly slow at posting and I’ve got book club tonight)

I received an ARC of The Jewel by Amy Ewing from the Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA (best bookstore ever!!). The Jewel tells the story of Violet, a poor girl with a genetic mutation which forces her to become a surrogate for the royalty in the capital city, The Jewel. She is one of 200 girls sold to the royal and wealthy to be used as the vessel for their children. The women that purchase the girls parade them around like pets, lavishing them with clothes/jewelry/gifts and harshly punishing them in equal measure. As Violet transitions from her holding facility, similar to a nunnery, she loses her identity and is labeled as Lot #197, she is no longer Violet, no longer an individual, she is a surrogate, in essence, a dolled up slave.

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The Jewel seems to be an amalgam of a few different novels: Hunger Games, Wither, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Selection apparently – I haven’t read that one. The best comparison is the Jewel is a YA version of the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It has been a few years since I read Atwood’s groundbreaking novel but it was my first Atwood novel and I’ve been hooked on her ever since. But aside from all the comparisons, The Jewel stood strong on its own story, characters, and plot twists. I really enjoyed this book, reading it over the course of two days. Violet is an extremely likeable protagonist; she has complex emotions and reactions as her situation is constantly in flux and always out of her control. She thankfully does without much teenage whining but has an age appropriate amount of angst. The society which Ewing created isn’t bogged down in pseudoscience, yeah the royalty can no longer have children and the surrogates have this genetic mutation but we accept it at fact because let’s face it, inbreeding is always a bad idea.

About half way through novel, Violet meets Ash, a companion (think Inara of Firefly and Finnick of Hunger Games) hired to teach the niece of the woman who bought Violet (The Duchess) the finer points of romance. Instantly the two bond over their lack of freedom and of course, they fall in love. Both could be executed for carrying on the illicit affair and Violet must decide what is worth fighting and dying for. There are so many facets to this book – Violet’s best friend Raven, a surrogate in the mansion next door who is almost certainly being tortured, Violet’s handmaiden Annabelle, a mute with a crush on the Duchess’ unruly, drunk son, and Lucien, a monk-like man who knows how to navigate the seedy underbelly of the Jewel (aka Lord Varys of A Song of Fire and Ice).

About a third of the way through the book, I knew there was no way there would be a complete conclusion and predictably there was a giant cliffhanger which I actually didn’t see coming – I mean I expected the cliffhanger but I didn’t expect the actual nature of the twist – so that was pretty exciting. I wish Ewing’s sequel was already out (pretty impossible since #1 isn’t even out yet, details details details).

Time for book club!!

Near future reads: Just One Year by Gayle Forman, Noggin by John Corey Whaley, and Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

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Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why has been sitting on my to-read shelf since Christmas and after reading an ARC of Random by Tom Leveen (see previous posting x2), I decided it was time to push it up the list. 13RW follows Clay Jensen after he receives a mysterious package with no return address; the package contains a series of tapes recorded by his classmate Hannah Baker, nothing shady about that right? Wrong – Hannah is dead, she committed suicide a few weeks previously. There are seven cassette tapes inside the envelope, each side dedicated to a particular person who had an impact on Hannah’s decision to take her own life, including Clay – 13 reasons why.

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Overall, I really like the novel despite its dark themes. Hannah’s reasons for choosing to commit suicide are deep, dark and intense; her problems go beyond silly squabbles of a typical 16 year old. The novel touches upon bullying, stalking, sexual assault, rape, and unendurable loneliness. I really felt for Hannah, there wasn’t a moment during the story which I thought she was being flippant about her decision. Suicide is an incredibly delicate subject that Asher explores flawlessly. The novel is structured as a back and forth – Clay’s thoughts/reactions interspersed with Hannah’s voice reaching out out beyond the grave. The device can be a little confusing at times but overall was well executed. Asher really brings Clay’s pain to life as he battles anger, sadness, and heartache over Hannah’s death.

So not unexpectedly, there were a few moments of sniffles throughout the story. The most heart wrenching moment for me was a random act of kindness by a stranger in a diner as Clay listens to tapes on an old walkman. For some reason in the midst of all the high school bullshit, this one adult without a clue extended some kindness to a struggling kid.

I’m serious. It was only a milkshake. And like I said, I don’t know what’s going on, and I don’t know how I can help, but something’s clearly gone wrong in your life, so I want you to keep your money.

Just something about it, the moment just punched my heart.

Hannah records the tapes in the days leading up to her suicide, as she approaches the final tape her tone changes from angry to lonely, sad, defeated.

And you’ll treat me how you’ve always treated me. Do you remember the last thing you said to me? The last thing you did to me?

Even flipping again through the book to her final recording gives me chills.

There is online companion material at 13RWProject.com which I haven’t fully explored but seems to be a great community for fans of the book to connect with each other and talk about its impact and the impact of suicide.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255