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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

SYLO (The SYLO Chronicles #1) 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.

Released: July 2nd 2013    Pages: 407
Publisher: Razorbill          Source: Library

First Look: ***** I wanted to read this because D.J. MacHale wrote it.  He wrote the Pendragon series, which is one of my all-time favorites, and Morpheus Road, which I really enjoyed, so I'll read whatever he puts out, at this point.  Because of that, I had high expectations--probably unreasonably high.  If D.J. MacHale wasn't the author, I would have bypassed this one.  The premise is all too familiar, and a dystopian/sci-fi novel like this has to have a very unique premise before I'll pick it up.

Setting: ****
If Pemberwick, Maine was a real place (I checked, and it's not), I would be willing to move in.  It's small, quaint, somewhat isolated, and by the ocean.  What more could you want?  MacHale does an excellent job of getting you to care about it through Tucker's love of the place.  It maybe have been a bit heavy-handed, but it then leads you to care when the quaintness of it is threatened.  This is one book where the setting truly shaped the story, and I appreciate that.  It was more than just a backdrop.  

Characters: ****
For the most part, Tucker is a three-dimensional and dynamic character.  At times, he could be a bit frustrating.  For example, why did he keep going after Olivia when it was clear she only went for whatever guy happened to be the best at football at any particular moment?  Yes, she's pretty, but she's obviously shallow, so why bother?  Apart from that, I liked him.  He's resourceful, determined, and genuine.  I just wish his personality had been even more distinct, especially since I know MacHale is capable of incredibly real-seeming characters.

His best friend, Quinn, made little impression on me.  His personality is much less defined, which makes him a mostly flat character.  Tori, another side character, was far more interesting.  She may have had even more personality than Tucker, and I'm eager to see how she develops in future books.  

Plot: ***** I have mixed feelings about the plot.  It took a long time to get moving--before that, it was slow and filled with too much football.  Here's the thing with extended descriptions of football games: as soon as you start talking about yard lines and fumbles and whatever else, you've lost me.  You've lost me even faster than you would if you started talking about cars.  To some extent, the games were important to the plot, but it didn't need to take up so much of the book.  Less football, more sci-fi weirdness and actual action, please.

After things started happening, though, the plot got interesting.  It moved along at a quick pace, and left me with so many questions that I didn't want to stop reading.  It may lack some originality, but I was still interested and invested.   And, of course, the ending leaves you with more questions that it answers.

Uniqueness: ***** This area left the most to be desired.    We have an "average" teenage guy who sees something suspicious, a quarantine, a secret government plot.  It's not a dystopian novel, but it used many similar tropes.  It does have some unique elements that reveal themselves towards the end, but I wish it stood out more from other books overall.

Writing: ***** I forgot how much MacHale loves choppy sentences and awkward phrasing.  Occasionally, I would stumble over an oddly worded passage, and sometimes it didn't flow like it should.  Still, the narration does a decent job telling the story.  For the most part, it stays out of the way, and gets you into Tucker's head.  It allows the story to take center stage, rather than the writing itself.  Tucker's voice could have been more prominent, but it didn't feel flat, either.

Likes: Nothing not already mentioned above.

Not-so-great: I kind of wanted a Pendragon reference like in Morpheus Road, but I didn't get one.  Then again, Morpheus Road lends itself better to that sort of thing.

Overall: For the most part, I enjoyed this.  It has its flaws, including a lack of originality, some awkward phrasing, and a slow beginning.  Still, it has a setting that I want to live in.  Tucker is an interesting and likable character, and I think we'll see him grow even more in the next book.  As side characters go, Quinn is too flat for my liking, but Tori had a distinct personality.  It moves along quickly, with plot twists that keep you guessing.  It's a 3.5 star book, but I'll round it up, and I'll most likely check out the sequel to see where the story goes from here.

Similar Books: It's a science fiction novel with dystopian overtones like The Lost Code and Variant.  It also reminds me of Virals.

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