Bird Box

I don’t know if I will ever be able to truly ascertain how good Josh Malerman’s Bird Box actually is. I read it this summer at probably the darkest point of the year. I lost someone very close to me, someone very dear to me. Actually, as I was reading this book (in a period of 12 hours), I lost this person I’m talking about. Sorry to be vague, but that’s the unfortunate nature of some things.

I read the synopsis of this novel and I thought it would give me a distraction that I really needed at the time. This novel came to me at the right time, and while it’s content and concepts didn’t help me get through my hard time, it did indeed offer a distraction. I wanted it stir some emotion in me other than sadness. I knew that it was in the horror genre, and honestly, I thought being scared would be better than being sad. I didn’t quite get the lack of sadness though.

In Bird Box, something is out there. Suddenly these “creatures” show up, and one glimpse drives a person into a violent mania. This sudden appearance essentially creates an apocalypse and drives people into blindness. If one ventures into the outside world, his eyes must be covered in fear of potentially seeing these creatures. Malorie is an expectant mother who joins a group of “survivors” as they try to figure out how to create a life in this new world of danger.

I didn’t get my lack of sadness from this book because it is about nothing but death. A glimpse of these creatures is “like infinity … something too complex for us to comprehend” (47) ultimately pushing that person to madness and death. Typically a person is moved to violence against those around him, and ultimately himself. There are characters, though, who just kill themselves after seeing the creatures.

It’s a strange novel. Life is illustrated through human ingenue as being so adaptable. The creatures cause mayhem and yet humanity finds a way to continue existing while they inhabit the planet. In a cliche, life goes on.

Yet in other ways there’s a questions as to whether there are really any creatures at all. It’s almost a religious debate because you can’t see them, but you see their effect. And the simple belief of their existence changes the world.

Malerman is a strong writer. So much of the novel is cloaked in uncertainty — really in unknowable blindness. It had me nervous at times. My heart was pounding at moments. I could feel the novel creeping towards the necessary fate. Again, it was mimicking my own life at the time. The days leading up to my loved one’s loss were so uncertain yet very sure.

I thought Bird Box was good. I made it through really fast because there are moments you can’t put it down. I did get a few chills, but I would call this novel more of a thriller rather than a horror book. I never felt scared, though I did feel tense for the characters. Definitely worth a read, and I’ll be watching Malerman for future work.

Favorite Passages in Bird Box

How horrible. After all this struggling, all this survival. To die because of an accident. (3)

They were safe there. Why did they leave? Is the place they are heading going to be any safer? How could it be? In a world where you can’t open your eyes, isn’t a blindfold all you could ever hope for? (98)

“We need to make progress. Otherwise we’re waiting for news in a world where there is no longer any news.” (105)

Man is the creature he fears (231)

You can smell it, too. Death. Dying. Decay. The sky is falling, the sky is dying, the sky is dead. (244)

The feeling of something inside her that must get out is the horrifying and incredible feeling she’s ever known. (248)

Divergent

I love an engrossing story. Who doesn’t, right? I really loved the first of Veronica Roth’s trilogy, Divergent. I have an affinity for dystopian novels, and it seems more and more that teenagers were created to be the pawns of our dystopian obstacle courses. As of late the teenage girl is serving more as this model. No complaints from me.

Whether it’s Katniss or as in this case, Tris, the coming of age story rises from the ashes of a broken world. In Divergent, Tris (short for Beatrice) must choose to devote the rest of her life to one of five factions in a very different Chicago. She has always been raised in abnegation (which values selflessness overall); however, her heart favors dauntless (valuing strength and bravery). But after a type of aptitude test serving to help one choose a faction, Tris discovers she does not fully align with any one faction. This makes her divergent — a dangerous trait.

The bulk of the novel focuses on Tris choosing her faction and then going through the initiation training. Throughout, Roth builds a political tension. The erudite faction (valuing knowledge) seeks to overthrow the power of abnegation, which acts as the political power for the city. This uprising quickly comes to fruition at the end of the novel and thus sets us up for the next two installments.

Divergent has elements of many great young adult novels, but it holds its own as being unique and authentic. Obviously it reminds me a good deal of The Hunger Games Trilogy, but it also has elements of Lowis Lowry’s The Giver, especially the sorting into different groups based on certain attributes an individual possesses (would Jonas have been considered divergent? hmm …)

I appreciate the complexity of what it means to be divergent, as well. What can be misunderstood as misfit/incomplete actually is more complete and belonging. Tris doesn’t fit solely into one category, but that’s something that should be celebrated. The fallacy of the factions resides in the assumption that these groups of people are the same. Tris’s mother explains the “danger” of divergents … and subsequently she pulls one of the greatest themes of the novel into her statement: “We can’t be confined to one way of thinking, and that terrifies our leaders. It means we can’t be controlled” (442). Control is very much what this novel is concerned with: control of destiny, control of fear, control of government, control of people, etc.

But going back to my earlier point, being divergent is exemplary of what it means to be complete. Divergents have attributes spread out across the values of each faction. One attribute cannot rule the others. They work together; they compliment one another.

Finally, I was very intrigued with the simulations that every initiate was put through. A constant phrase Tris repeats to herself as she goes through each simulation is It’s all in your mind. But she still feels fear and terror. She still feels immense pain and agony. This is such a good example of what we face in our own lives each day. Our own minds create these scenarios that torture us, whether they are our fears being relieved or a figment of our imagination. If we could only recognize that these fears our just in our mind, which ultimately gives us control and power over them — what could we possibly overcome?

I love that the divergents have the ability to manipulate the simulations. They recognize that they have power over the simulation versus it being the other way around. The simulations do not control them (they do at first, but the Ds eventually overcome them). Again, I really think that is a powerful lesson to hang on to from this novel.

I definitely recommend this novel. Roth has worked out an interesting dystopian world full of intriguing ideas and important lessons. Tris is an interesting character that grows steadily throughout the novel — an excellent choice for the narrator/protagonist.

Favorite Passages in Divergent

“I wish I could speak to him like I want to instead of like I’m supposed to.” (37)

“there might come a day when there is no flashlight, there is no gun, there is no guiding hand. And I want to be ready for it.” (138)

“My father used to say that sometimes the best way to help someone is just to be near them.” (191)

“We are not the same. but we are, somehow, one.” (223)

“Why do people want to pretend that death is sleep? It isn’t. It isn’t.” (303)

“That is death — shifting from ‘is’ to ‘was.'”(303)

“Human beings as a whole cannot be good for long before the bad creeps back in and poisons us again.” (441)