The Chosen Ones #1: Chosen Ones – Veronica Roth

Some things split your life in half.

It’s been a really long ten days. I’ve finally finished reading this book and I’m so conflicted. As one of my most anticipated reads of the year, there were so many elements I was ready to love. How to do daily life after surviving the battle to end all battles against the big bad. The physical and emotional repercussions years after the event. The various ways different people cope with the memories of trauma. Then there was the unexpected inclusion of some things I absolutely adore reading about but can’t speak about here, because spoilers.

So, why didn’t I devour this book and how did my intended ‘I’m going to shout about it from the rooftops’ become ‘I don’t even know what to say’?

“I’m tired of being celebrated for the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

For a good portion of this book I felt like the story was merely an introduction to the sequel, where stuff will happen. Sure, plenty of stuff happens here too, but there was so much time spent on world-building and catching everyone up on the events of the past ten to fifteen years that I was itching for more. I became frustrated by the descriptions of the buildings the characters were walking past or through; I wanted more action and by the time I got it I was pretty tired.

Sometimes Sloane wondered if the world had been worth saving.

I wanted to get to know our Chosen Ones. I did get to know Sloane, although if the book had been written in first person it probably would have helped me get inside her head more. From the blurb I learned that one Chosen One would not survive this book, and wouldn’t you know it? They’re the one I was most interested in getting to know.

Overall, the remaining Chosen Ones felt mostly two dimensional. I managed some low level frustration for the golden child. The social media star made me want to unfollow their entire character. Then there was the Chosen One that I honestly can’t tell you anything about; I’d need to reread the passages I highlighted to remind me.

The first part of the book really got my hopes up. I love reading about people so damaged by life that they’re trying their best to simply survive, and I’m always enthralled when people who have experienced trauma find ways to overcome it enough to thrive (not that all of our Chosen Ones are thriving). When the second part unexpectedly wandered into territory that I usually actively seek out, my response was more ‘um, they’re doing what now?’ than ‘woohoo!’

But was my experience of this book one big ‘are we there yet?’ No, and that’s part of the conflict I’m left with. I loved Mox. I loved Ziva. I even loved Sloane, despite how many porcupine spines dug into my skin as I tried to get closer to her. I loved the exploration of trauma impacts. I loved the self awareness of this book (yes, the Dark One is a terrible name). I loved the entire concept.

I’ve read so many five star reviews of this book and I envy them because that’s the book I hoped I’d be reading. I expect I will turn up for the sequel, although I will be careful to manage my expectations.

Content warnings include death by suicide, drug addiction, mental health, squishy murders where your insides become your outsides and torture.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and John Joseph Adams, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens – Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther – had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesised to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift – no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended.

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones – Micah Dean Hicks

He was different, so people thought anything they did to him was okay.

This was one of the strangest books I’ve ever loved.

Swine Hill is a haunted town, where the dead outnumber the living. Downtown is overrun by ghosts and the main employer is the Pig City meat packing plant.

Most of the people Jane went to school with escaped as soon as they could to start over, but she’s stuck in a dead end job in this dying town. She can’t imagine leaving her parents, younger brother or the ghost girl who’s been attached to her since she was a child.

Nothing will ever be the same for the living or the dead of Swine Hill when newcomers start working at Pig City.

This was a dark book, with so much loss, grief and violence experienced by the living and the dead, yet there’s also a thread of light that runs through it (quite literally at times), of hope and love. The best and worst of what it means to be human are represented here.

While I found each haunting interesting and consistently wanted to know more, I connected intellectually, not emotionally, with the majority of the characters. The person I really connected with was a pig boy called Dennis, who was more human than most of the characters who were born that way. His innocence, enthusiasm and ability to see beauty wherever he looked made me adore him. The world would be a much better place if we could all see it through Dennis’ eyes.

Besides the awesomeness that is Dennis, there’s also a girl who cannot lose, a mad scientist who makes the impossible out of junk, a woman who burns and a boy who freezes, a robot in love, an alien, alternate realities, and let’s not forget the rest of the pig people. There’s so much going on in this layered story that it shouldn’t work but somehow it did. I have no doubt that people a lot smarter than I am will write very eloquently about things I didn’t dig deep enough to even realise were there but this book made me think. A lot.

I thought about what it means to be human and how you don’t need to have a ghost to be haunted. I considered the impacts unfulfilled dreams have, not only on our own lives but also on our relationships with others and the wider community who are missing out on what we could be bringing into the world.

I was frustrated by my inability to come up with a genius plan to eradicate the fear of the other. I thought about how ghosts linger in our present and wondered whether it’s possible to ever truly escape the past. I reevaluated my ideas of responsibility and how it intersects with blame.

I thought about love, forgiveness and what I have to be thankful for. I wanted to dance. I wondered if I’ll ever be able to look at bacon the same way again.

I’m struggling to work out who I’d recommend this book to. I expect a lot of people are going to read this book and think, ‘What the hell am I reading?!’ but that’s not necessarily going to be a bad thing. I thought it (several times) but couldn’t put it down, even when I wanted to after a couple of scenes of fairly graphic violence.

Content warnings include racism, xenophobia, accidental death of a child, death of animals, violence, poverty, slavery, police brutality and murder.

I was left with a few unanswered questions but I don’t feel the frustration I usually would; instead I’m enjoying pondering the possibilities for myself. I spent most of the book wondering how this story could wind up in a way that I’d be okay with and, while I would never have guessed the ending, I’m satisfied.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and John Joseph Adams Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for the opportunity to read this book. I’m intrigued to see what this author comes up with next.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Swine Hill was full of the dead. Their ghosts were thickest near the abandoned downtown, where so many of the town’s hopes had died generation by generation. They lingered in the places that mattered to them, and people avoided those streets, locked those doors, stopped going into those rooms … They could hurt you. Worse, they could change you.

Jane is haunted. Since she was a child, she has carried a ghost girl that feeds on the secrets and fears of everyone around her, whispering to Jane what they are thinking and feeling, even when she doesn’t want to know. Henry, Jane’s brother, is ridden by a genius ghost that forces him to build strange and dangerous machines. Their mother is possessed by a lonely spirit that burns anyone she touches. In Swine Hill, a place of defeat and depletion, there are more dead than living.

When new arrivals begin scoring precious jobs at the last factory in town, both the living and the dead are furious. This insult on the end of a long economic decline sparks a conflagration. Buffeted by rage on all sides, Jane must find a way to save her haunted family and escape the town before it kills them.