Estelle: Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky

Middle Ground by Katie KacvinskyMiddle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky ( website | twitter )
Sequel to Awaken.
Publication Date: November 20, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 336
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: dystopian, technology, parent/child relationships
Format read: ARC from Publisher (Thanks!)

Summary: The fight against a digital school takeover is intensified when Maddie is unexpectedly sent to a detention center. Can she break out? Can she make things better?

In my review of Awaken from a few weeks ago, I talked about how much I loved the premise of this series. What happens when technology completely takes over our lives? Sure it seems like things would get easier, but at what price?

I’m just going to come out and say it. I was hoping for more in Middle Ground. The battle here is the same. Letting people choose between technology and really living. Letting them have the choice. Maddie has already escaped her home, where her mom has fond memories of how life used to be and her dad is in charge of the digital schools. And now she is stuck in a detention center because of an act of rebellion gone awry. (She is a very feisty character.)

The plot of Middle Ground comes down to getting Maddie to survive her time in the detention center, while her friends find ways to free the other children who are locked up as well. And that’s all well and good, but I felt the bigger picture was lost. There are so many untapped storylines that would have made for a more effective novel. The conflict between Maddie and her parents doesn’t even come into play much, and I believe this should have been the key element of the story: how do you choose between technology and the right to make your own decisions when they are inexplicably tied to your family?

Kacvinsky didn’t find her rhythm with the plot; instead, it felt like a lot of romance and a lot of Maddie’s inner thoughts. I liked Justin and Maddie’s interactions, and the way they cared for one another, but I would liked to have seen something more at stake. Even just a few secret exchanges with her mother? A meeting with her father earlier in the story? Structurally, the story could have been stronger. And as for the writing, there was almost too much of it. Cliche phrases punctuated too many paragraphs and could have  easily been cut for a better reading experience.

Awaken also suffered from too much telling, and I wanted this story to be better pared down. Unfortunately, it was difficult to take the dangers these characters were facing seriously when they were drowning in unnatural and unnecessary wordplay.

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young adult books that come out in november 2012

November 2012 Young Adult Book Releases

young adult books that come out in november 2012

Photograph courtesy of Favim



I bet you guys thought I was going to choose a photograph of a turkey or some delicious Thanksgiving treat for my November 2012 Young Adult Book Releases post. I just couldn’t do it. I thought that might be too cruel. I don’t know about you, but my stomach is growling just thinking about the upcoming feast.

Until then, let’s take a look at all the amazing books that will captivate us and drain our wallets this month…





november 06

book review and book cover Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2) by Laini Taylor
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Magan’s Review


Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Ar student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is–and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.
In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

november 08

november 2012 young adult book releases

Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Amy McNamara
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A resonant debut novel about retreating from the world after losing everything—and the connections that force you to rejoin it.

Since the night of the crash, Wren Wells has been running away. Though she lived through the accident that killed her boyfriend Patrick, the girl she used to be didn’t survive. Instead of heading off to college as planned, Wren retreats to her father’s studio in the far-north woods of Maine. Somewhere she can be alone.

Then she meets Cal Owen. Dealing with his own troubles, Cal’s hiding out too. When the chemistry between them threatens to pull Wren from her hard-won isolation, Wren has to choose: risk opening her broken heart to the world again, or join the ghosts who haunt her.


november 13

young adult book releases november 13 2012

Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill
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Magan’s Review


Meant to be or not meant to be . . . that is the question.

It’s one thing to fall head over heels into a puddle of hazelnut coffee, and quite another to fall for the—gasp—wrong guy. Straight-A junior Julia may be accident prone, but she’s queen of following rules and being prepared. That’s why she keeps a pencil sharpener in her purse and a pocket Shakespeare in her, well, pocket. And that’s also why she’s chosen Mark Bixford, her childhood crush, as her MTB (“meant to be”).

But this spring break, Julia’s rules are about to get defenestrated (SAT word: to be thrown from a window) when she’s partnered with her personal nemesis, class-clown Jason, on a school trip to London. After one wild party, Julia starts receiving romantic texts . . . from an unknown number! Jason promises to help discover the identity of her mysterious new suitor if she agrees to break a few rules along the way. And thus begins a wild goose chase through London, leading Julia closer and closer to the biggest surprise of all: true love.

Because sometimes the things you least expect are the most meant to be.

My Beautiful Failure by Janet Ruth Young
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A haunting account of a teen boy who volunteers at a suicide hotline and falls for a troubled caller.Billy is a sophomore in high school, and twice a week, he volunteers at Listeners, a suicide hotline.

Jenney is an “incoming,” a caller, a girl on the brink.

As her life spirals out of control, Jenney’s calls become more desperate, more frequent. Billy, struggling with the deteriorating relationship with his depressed father, is the only one who understands. Through her pain, he sees hope. Through her tears, he feels her heart. And through her despair, he finds love. But is that enough?

Acclaimed author Janet Ruth Young has written a stunning and powerful story with no easy answers; it is about pain and heartbreak, reality and illusion, and finding redemption and the strength to forgive in the darkest of times.

Reached (Matched #3) by Ally Condie
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After leaving Society and desperately searching for the Rising—and each other—Cassia and Ky have found what they were looking for, but at the cost of losing each other yet again: Cassia has been assigned to work for the Rising from within Society, while Ky has been stationed outside its borders. But nothing is as predicted, and all too soon the veil lifts and things shift once again.

In this gripping conclusion to the #1 New York Times-bestselling Matched Trilogy, Cassia will reconcile the difficulties of challenging a life too confining, seeking a freedom she never dreamed possible, and honoring a love she cannot live without.

The Future We Left Behind (Point 4 #2) by Mike A. Lancaster
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Thousands of years in the future the divide between humanity and technology has become nearly unrecognizable. Each thought, each action is logged, coded, backed up. Data is as easily exchanged through the fiber-optic-like cables that extend from fingertips as it might be through ordinary conversation. It’s a brave new world: A world that the Straker Tapes say is a result of many human “upgrades.” But no one is sure whether the Straker Tapes are a work of fiction or an eerie peek into an unimaginable past.

Nearly sixteen-year-old Peter Vincent has been raised to believe that everything that the backward Strakerites cling to is insane–an utter waste of time and potential. Since his father is David Vincent, genius inventor of the artificial bees that saved the world’s crops and prevented massive famine, how could Peter believe anything else?

But when Peter meets Alpha, a Strakerite his own age, suddenly the theories about society-upgrades don’t sound quite so crazy, especially when she shows him evidence that another upgrade is imminent. And worse, there may be a conspiracy by the leaders of the establishment to cover it up. A conspiracy spearheaded by Peter’s own father.

Gripping and full of unexpected twists, The Future We Left Behind takes the unsettling questions raised in Human.4, and flips them entirely. What if we knew that the very way we live was about to be changed in an instant, and we could stop it? And what if everything we are sure we know is entirely wrong?

Sacred by Elana K. Arnold
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Growing up on Catalina Island, off the California coast, Scarlett Wenderoth has led a fairly isolated life. After her brother dies, her isolation deepens as she withdraws into herself, shutting out her friends and boyfriend. Her parents, shattered by their own sorrow, fail to notice Scarlett’s pain and sudden alarming thinness. Scarlett finds pleasure only on her horse, escaping to the heart of the island on long, solitary rides. One day, as she races around a bend, Scarlett is startled by a boy who raises his hand in warning and says one word: “Stop.”

The boy—intense, beautiful—is Will Cohen, a newcomer to the island. For reasons he can’t or won’t explain, he’s drawn to Scarlett and feels compelled to keep her safe. To keep her from wasting away. His meddling irritates Scarlett, though she can’t deny her attraction to him. As their relationship blossoms into love, Scarlett’s body slowly awakens at Will’s touch. But just when her grief begins to ebb, she makes a startling discovery about Will, a discovery he’s been grappling with himself. A discovery that threatens to force them apart. And if it does, Scarlett fears she will unravel all over again.

Miss Fortune Cookie by Lauren Bjorkman
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Meet Erin. Smart student, great daughter, better friend. Secretly the mastermind behind the popular advice blog Miss Fortune Cookie. Totally unaware that her carefully constructed life is about to get crazy.

It all begins when her ex-best friend sends a letter to her blog—and then acts on her advice. Erin’s efforts to undo the mess will plunge her into adventure, minor felonies, and possibly her very first romance.

What’s a likely fortune for someone no longer completely in control of her fate? Hopefully nothing like: You will become a crispy noodle in the salad of life.

 november 20

Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky
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In this provocative cautionary tale for teens, the sequel to Awaken, seventeen-year-old Maddie’s rebellion against the digital-only life grows dangerous. Maddie is in Los Angeles, trying to stay out of trouble. But one night, a seemingly small act of defiance lands her in the place she fears the most: a detention center. Here, patients are reprogrammed to accept a digital existence. Maddie is now fighting for her mind, her soul, and her very life. Once again, Katie Kacvinsky paints a disturbing picture of our increasingly technology-based society.

And that, my friends, wraps up November’s 2012 Young Adult Book Releases post. I hope you found lots of great books to oogle over the next month.

Estelle: Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky

Awaken by Katie Kacvinksy: Review from RatherBeReadingBlog.comAwaken by Katie Kacvinsky
Publication Date: May 30, 2011
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Pages: 309
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: technology, digital age, dystopian
Format read: Borrowed from the library.

Summary: The year is 2060 and the world and everyone’s life is basically run by a computer. Maddie lives her life on a computer screen, getting to formulate just how people perceive her. It’s not until she meets Justin that she begins to get curious about the outside world and decides to meet him at a study group. Instantly, she wants more than just communicating with him through a computer screen.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am constantly checking my phone for Twitter updates and emails, and turning on my laptop in the evening after staring at a desktop for eight hours straight during work. But what if that was all we had? What if no one went out for walks on the beach? Or hung out in a coffee shop? Or went shopping at the mall and just laid on their front lawn reading a book?

Life like that seems pretty dark and dismal, doesn’t it?

Kacvinsky has built a startling world, one that is only 48 years from now. That’s not that far away. In fact, if this book was real life, my generation would be Maddie’s mother, a woman who has her favorite novels from the past tucked away, a woman who gifts her daughter a blank journal and hands off these books like golden treasures when the time is right. Maddie’s mother doesn’t forget the simplicity of the past and hopes to pass that on to Maddie, even if her husband and Maddie’s father has had a huge hand in this push toward the digital life as leader of the digital schools.

While Kacvinsky doesn’t build a world quite as concrete as Megan McCafferty’s Bumped series and goes a tad overboard with the ‘evils of technology’ theme (We get it, we get it, I kept muttering to myself), she does a deft job of creating this character who is a victim of her time and the world’s dependency on digital. But sometimes these feelings pop up and she wonders why she can’t just go outside for a date instead of pretend she’s outside on a date and she’s stuck in this conundrum. Does she even know who she is because she’s so busy creating this image for herself? Has making things so easy actually made life incredibly hard?

Meeting Justin in person changes all of that. He’s part of a group that wants to revive the old way of living. Taking time to enjoy and not rushing through life just because. Connecting with people. Talking to people face-to-face. Spending time near people, looking straight in their eyes and not at a pixelated screen. But there is that problem of who her dad is and how she’s on probation and watched even more than the normal kid. They are both off-limits to each other in ways and it makes their chemistry that much more tangible and fiery.

I’m not normally one for dystopians but Kacvinsky’s premise hit close to home. While I love to learn the latest gadgets and have made some of my closest friends through social media, I still know how much I treasure watching someone’s face when they talk, hearing their laugh, and watching their hands move in excitement or frustration. While I know personally just how well you can get to know someone with all the advancements we have today, I want nothing more to be able to show up in my car and go bowling and out for a glass of wine with them.

Sometimes I fear all of this is just a distraction, one that will cause me to miss the real moments in life and make me lazy when it comes to the important things. Kacvinsky’s novel is also about control and how we have to work hard to believe in our own abilities to connect and not rely on machines to do everything for us. Or we’ll just become robots, or worse, rolling around on a cruise ship in the sky like the humans in Pixar’s Wall-E.

Everyone has something to fight for in Awaken, even if they don’t know it yet. Though at times long-winded, Kacvinsky has introduced a thought-provoking premise with brave characters standing up to powerful forces while managing to smoothly interject a budding romance. I, for one, can’t wait to see how it all ends in part 2 (which comes out November 20).

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