Showing posts with label Control. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Control. Show all posts

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Final Thoughts on Kang's "Control"

I’ve finally managed to dip my toe into YA fiction again--after I failed to get past page 7 of The Hunger Games two years ago.  I know!  Crazy, right!?  Nevertheless, as I stated in one of my videos, my generational sense of YA revolves around writers like R. L. Stine [Fear Street] and Christopher Pike.  Basically, teen-slashers ala my love of Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street movies.  Sure there were a collection of YA books I grew up with that leveled more with establishing and dissociating social and teen issues.  But Stine and Pike were my go-to boys!  Then there is my favorite YA fantasy writer, T. A. Barron, who wrote my all time favorite fantasy novel, The Ancient One.  Sprinkle in my love of middle-school readers like Animorphs and even The Babysitter’s Club (yes, I loved that series), and I just know what I know and stick to that concerning YA fiction.

But I’ll be frank in saying that I don’t really get YA post the Twilight series.  That’s mainly because that book wrecked me with its vehemence surrounding teen angst and romance, told through a subservient female lead dressed as an extraordinarily Mary Sueish character.  Matter-of-fact, I recommend Patrice Kindl's Owl in Love for some teen romance.  I’m probably pissing off many fans.  But I can’t help it.  I’m a guy.  I’m a guy who likes reading books about women who know how to keep their romantic emotions vibrate but in check as they go about kicking ass.  I grew up on Buffy and Sailor Moon.  Is that any indication of why I feel so strongly about the way I feel?
My absolute favorite YA--fantasy as well--novel!

Nevertheless, that is probably my main issue with YA novels: romance and the angsty teen girl who traverse its waters.  I found a touch of that in Lydia Kang's Control.  Thankfully, not so bitterly that I’m not interested in reading the second book to the series.  The key matter is that I finished the book despite the trepidation I walked into, concerning the romance element.

So here we go, my take on Control by Lydia Kang.


The year is 2150.  After a nasty car (or magpod in this case) accident kills her forever-zipcode-switching father, Zelia Benton (age 17) is quickly orphaned alongside her thirteen-year-old sister, Dylia.  Considering the two girls are minors, social services greet them at the local hospital with the intent of placing the girls in foster care via potential families serviced by a placed called New Horizons Center.  Hammering on the mantel of the big, responsible sister, Zelia makes her determination clear on keeping Dylia close.  See, it should be noted that despite being sisters they are both different in health and appearance.  Dylia is seen as rosy, faultless and attractive to the many boys she associates with as her wavy hair frames her pretty face (!).  However,  Zelia appears empty of having received a healthy dose of luteinizing and follicle-stimulating hormones.  Plainly put, she looks as if she skipped the major part of purity.  In turn, this makes her less attractive than her younger sister, an issue she readily points out in the beginning of the book.  Add on a condition known as Ondine’s Curse (a respiratory disorder), and it’s here that we see Zelia emphasized as the runt between the two.  Nevertheless, that doesn’t displace her resolve to protect her younger sister.  They’re all they go after all.

New Horizons Center seems unworried.  Cute boys run as staff members and a prospective adopter named Marka believes that she's the girls' best choice.  She also informs the two that she knew their father.  Marka wants to take the girls to her home/safe house named Carus.  However, problems arise--through what turns out to be a not-so-clever scheme--when the girls find themselves transported to two different foster homes.  Told through the first person narrative, it’s here that we follow Zelia’s gene-manipulating story toward finding Dylia who has landed in the clutches of Marka’s rival house, Aureus.  The main clash between the two houses resides in their determination to gather genetically manipulated children for different purposes.  Where Marka chooses to nurture such children and their conditions, her rival house, Aureus, provides a little twisted psychology used to exploit and even kill this brand of children for their abilities.

But why did Aureus take Dylia?  What is Dylia’s genetic modification centered around?  Is it that valuable to the House of Aureus?  Will Dylia become a victim to Aureus's tragic genetic extractions?

Those questions are answered within the dress of the book as we follow Zelia through labs, test tubes, beakers, centrifuge tubes, and a host of genetic engineering terms sprinkled around romance, light action, and a not-so-complex plot.  In addition, the cast of genetically altered cast members who use their various abilities to help--and hurt--Delia along the way.

Syntax & Sentence Structure

The syntax structure is delivered in short, quick, staccato beats/sentences that is probably purposefully natural in a YA book.  So I can’t really say much on that.  However, I like a cool balance between lean and fat in my reading.  Control read like a lot of lean to me.  That’s not to say description, dialogue, and interior monologues aren't there to guide the reading experience, they just didn't absorb me because of the book's almost click-like pace.  This points to my other issue: the world building.

World Building/Setting  

The setting of the book is 2150 yet it is about as blandly described as a piece of drywall.  You would think the future would look much more flourishing here, but it doesn’t.  Now Kang does take some creative--if not borrowed--steps to paint a futuristic semi-dystopian setting.  One deal she introduces is a club where private rooms fill with bizarre drug fogs for users to snort up.  Also, there is this construction called the agriplane that’s basically an agricultural field built high above the actual earth.  And while those things sound great, they’re mostly described in a swiftly imaginative way, kind of like an impulse idea tacked on paper.  They're cool, but they hardly get past being just ideas. This leaves behind much of the technical aspects, considering this is a book based on the future, technology, and science.  So while those scenes that showcase these areas are great, I was left wondering how did we get from planting on earth to up in the sky.  A quick this-is-the-way-it‘s-done-now did not sufficed for my curiosity.  I needed a why and how?  I could picture much of what was present, but it wasn’t all that explicated.  Nevertheless, what Kang did with her characters' respective rooms inside of their futuristic foster home reflected their individualism.  A small example of this is how we come to understand why the foster kid (or Zelia’s adopted brother) with two brains owns the room littered with computers and technological equipment.  Whereas the chloroplast girl prefers vegetation in her quarters.  It's not the most ingenious tool, but it kind of works here.

I should point out that while I felt Kang kind of lacked in her setting and world building, she made up for it in the science her protagonist plays with during the course of the book.  I wished for more discussions and scenes about genetics and biochemistry, though.  After all, these topics are the backbone of the book, as opposed to its paranormal-based counterparts.  Nonetheless, talks about genetics and biochemistry encouraged real science behind Kang's fantasy.  I just didn't find that to be consistent all around.

Scene Choreography

Speaking of scenes, there were plenty that I felt like Kang could have choreographed better.  At one point her main protagonist decided to escape out of her bedroom window, located within the tower-like structure of the Carus home.  Instead of going down to earth, as you would kind of anticipate, it somehow appears that she climbed up to the agriplane, ending up at her rival’s doorstep.  The writing used to navigate this scene came off as weightless and confusing, halting the reading flow.  I witnessed the struggle of her climb, but not so much the path of her destination.  I experienced this several times in the book, including during fight scenes that seemed vacant of smooth choreography and a clear resolution.  One minute a character is against a wall.  The next second the same character flies to the wall after a punch in the stomach.  But wasn't she just at the wall?  I was never sure exactly where characters were placed during the set up and execution of a fight, or sometimes a general scene.  However, Kang did pile on some pretty tense action toward the end of the book that is worth noting.  She didn't always keep me in line with her direction, but I was always interested enough to keep going.  Even if I had to backtrack to figure out how a character suddenly ended up inside a room where it wasn't indicated that he walked through a door to trigger a scene.


Despite all of that, let’s talk about what I probably never grasp without the book.  That would be the overarching tone.  You would think that a book about a girl devastated by tragedies in her family would pull you through the reading a little more emotionally.  Her father was killed in a wreck, and it was dealt with swiftly.  Little to no vigor in the dealings.  So while her sister was taken away from her in the aftermath of her father’s death, charging the crux of the book, I never got the feeling that anything was truly at stake.  Least not until the end when I finally got a clear view as to the antagonist group’s motives.  However, even then I wasn't certain of their impetus, or the drive behind it.  In a lot of ways, the motivation behind Zelia read like a drama that didn't quite stick that something high was at stake.  Which left me with the feeling that the author believed and saw into her world/characters more than she managed to translate to the reader.


How befitting for a Sailor Mercury plush

Now I mentioned that I was scared to read into the romance element of the book, and I mentioned how that didn’t really phase me after all.  However, I will speak a little about it in terms of how I believe the romance element should have remained only hinted in this book.  Kang should’ve drove the romance in the next book.  I hate to "should" on her, but considering the pacing, it just seemed best.  Here’s why: Like many emotional-building scenes in this book, it happened like a switch being flipped.  I knew the romance would be present but with the cast of characters Zelia was attaching herself to, I wasn’t sure who exactly it would be.  And like many adult and YA novels, Zelia's romance seemed inevitable in the hands of the troubled, dark, bad boy within the group.  The problem I had was that once the romance element switch was hit, this seemingly cool character dropped his coolness a good 70%.  It’s usually the other way around, but here I was left bemused by this once troubled character suddenly reaching for kisses and hand-holding while putting aside most of the initial firmness he displayed earlier to the protagonist.  This is not to say that they wouldn’t make a good couple, I just wish Kang waited and gave it the proper legs to develop and stand.  The two haven’t been through enough to solidify their relationship.  It’s the same with my view of the “nothing is at stake” tone of the book.  Except here, nothing is reasonable enough for a romance just yet.  The sacrifice Zelia’s interest made at the end should have been the catalyst to their desires for one another.

3/5 Stars

At the end of the day I liked Control.  It didn’t knock me out of the park or anything, but it was interesting.  I’d much rather read a YA book providing science elements as opposed to those driven by paranormal romances.  While they’ve been given a bad rep as a fourth-hand group of X-men, the various characters and their special genetically-motivated abilities were a nice touch.  Some I would like to see again, given proper girth on their development and motivation.  Nevertheless, it was fun.  Certainly not my speed, but light and fun nonetheless.  Kang sold me enough to anticipate the next book.  So time will tell.

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