Book Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World

In the future, everyone is happy. With the aid of brain washing, genetic engineering, relentless condition, recreation sex and drugs, of course. Bernard Marx seems to be the only one who questions the system, so much so that he decides to take Lenina¬†to the reservations in North America to see the tribal savages– people who live in families and and give live births. Bernard took one of the “savages” back to civilization and he began to question the validity of free will and the usefulness of the control the World Controllers have over the people.

The majority of this book was pretty dull. I found that I disliked Bernard and most of the other characters, but I’m pretty sure that was the point. Lenina and the rest of the filler characters all completely bought the conditioning and the happiness that the World Controllers fed them, and while the reader may root for a moment of clarity for them, it never happens. This ignorance is important to the entire book because it shows how fool-proof the brain washing is. If the children were raised in these castes, raised with sleep-hypnosis and electric conditioning and drilled routines in their brains, than it would be ridiculous to assume that they could simply stop.

Bernard proved to be a little different, but the thing about this protagonist is that he wasn’t a hero. He wasn’t anything, really. Sure, he had more speculations than most about the blind obedience and use of drugs the society submersed themselves in, but he still fed into their social ways. He despised the casual sex until he was a desired candidate. He had doubts about the lab-based children and absence of families until he became famous and gave up thinking about the problems and instead allowed their easy happiness to wash over him.

The “savage”– John– became the real figure to watch. He experienced both a fairly normal tribal life with families and towns, similar to Native American life, and he went to Europe to experience the real civilization. Huxley juxtaposes these two societies together to show that they have similar problems– the manufactured and widely used drug soma in Europe equates to alcohol in John’s tribe– and also to demonstrate the extent the Europeans have drifted from humane behavior and into a technology-controlled stupor.

**MINOR SPOILER**

When John talked with the World Controller and Bernard’s partially self-aware friend at the end of the book, the truly philosophical topics came into play. The whole book raised questions of happiness and free will and wondering if intense emotions like love are worth it if there’s a risk of emotions such as misery. Is it better to be ignorant and blissfully unaware and happy or is it better to have free will be feel deeply and have unhappiness?

They discuss this at the end of the book, and it really ties together the entire themes of the novel. He talks about how conditioning plays the main factor in a person’s life and human instinct is an allusion. Human instinct only relies on one factor: how a person was raised. If they were told from a young age there is a God, they will believe it. If there is no speak of a higher presence, than they are none the wiser.

**END MINOR SPOILER**

The book exaggerates the flaws of modern society in that it shows how conditioning– even something as simple as training your children to believe in God– affects a person more than natural instincts. The novel satirically shows the ease that a person could fall into ignorance, and it brings up the question: is it easier? Sure with the knowledge we have now we think that a life of unawareness would be terrible, but it would be blissful if we didn’t know of anything more. Huxley shows the danger of an all-powerful state and the use of technology to control its people, referencing an over-the-top version of modern society. He degrades sex to an extreme in which it becomes as casual as conversation– even in children– to show that sex has been taken out of context in modern society and is not synonymous with love.

There are so many moral points that Huxley brings up in this book, which is the real reason why it’s a modern classic. The entirety of the plot is not fast-paced or riveting, but the questions that he instills in the readers and his satirical critique of society cause the book to captivate its audience.

4 Stars

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Book Review: Summer of the Oak Moon by Laura Templeton

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It’s the summer after senior year and the only future Tess sees for herself is one where she can spend her time on the waters near her northern Florida town, despite her mother’s wish that she’d go away to college and follow in her footsteps. She knows the summer only holds procrastinating on collegiate decisions, but when she encounters a snake on the bay and college student Jacob helps her, all her plans change. While their relationship unfolds, Tess finds out that her uncle is trying to steal Jacob’s land, and her upstanding family may have had something to do with his father’s disappearance twenty years ago.

I always do my own little book summary at the beginning of my reviews, and I feel like this one is definitely needed because I dislike the summary on the back of this book. It’s a good summary– too good. I feel like it has almost too much information in it and hints of spoilers.

And there you go. That’s one of my only qualms about the entire novel– the book blurb is too revealing. Otherwise, I loved it.

I read Something Yellow by Laura Templeton as well, and it had a similar vibe. They’re both set in small towns with family secrets and a focus on the dynamic female protagonist. They’re pretty domestic books, not that that’s a bad thing. It just has more of a focal point on family and community and the internal struggles that come along with that rather than action major internal conflicts.

This novel is young adult while her previous one was for adult audiences, but I feel like this almost falls in adult as well. I guess young adult literature is technically classified by the age of the protagonist, but the atmosphere of the book felt more adult, like the emphasis on community and heritage, which is something that most teens do not have in their foreground.

But I still enjoyed reading it. They’re star-crossed lovers (they became this a little too quickly, if you ask me), and the problems they face are from prejudices and community conditioning that led to a differing view of race.

Quick note, the book is set in the 1980s, which I had to keep reminding myself as I read and thought, why is she using a phone book? 

Anyway, Jacob is black and Tess is white and there are major issues with mixed racial couples and racism against Jacob and his family in the southern town. It’s definitely a contemporary novel that deals with real problems about breaking out of tradition– for the better– and realizing that your family may not be as perfect as you suspected.

The writing style screams adult literature, and Templeton uses beautiful descriptions, especially of nature, to add imagery to her novel. The characters can be a little two-dimensional at times, but I think these archetypes are needed because of the type of story it is. It shows the typical white, southern male and his inclination to discriminate based on his past family, and surrounding Tess with these characters allowed a backdrop that highlighted the changes in her much more prominently.

It has deep, meaningful themes that are applicable to today’s society and can be related to by everyone because it focuses on family and people’s interactions. I read this book quickly, not because it’s necessarily light, but because I didn’t want to put it down. I wouldn’t say it’s entirely unpredictable, but it’s fascinating to watch Tess grow and solve the mystery and develop a relationship.

4 Stars

Book Review: The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

Max is spending his summer at a camp for boys obsessed with technology… again. Last year it was a fat camp for boys. It alternates even though he is neither addicted to computer or food. The only difference is that this year Ariel, his new 15-year-old adopted brother and the sole survivor of his small Middle Eastern village, is accompanying him. Their time at the camp is woven between the travels of a schizophrenic bomber and the late diaries of a nineteenth century Arctic expedition.

I think I’m in the same boat as everyone else for this book. What the heck did I just read.

It’s confusing. It’s weird. It’s hard to readily see any real themes or find messages hidden behind sly masturbation references or the ridiculousness of a suicidal genetically engineered crow. Named Alex. The perspectives mix up the reader and don’t seem to have many threads that connect them all. The characters border on gruesome, the events are disgusting, the boys are not the same masculine eye candy that speckles the rest of young adult literature.

And yes, it doesn’t have really any female characters. Well, there’s one. She’s a scientist who works with Max and Ariel’s dad and runs the boys’ camp. Oh, and she also is researching a way to eradicate all males to formulate a world dominated by females. So there’s that.

 

But if you let the weirdness wash over you and looked past the seemingly jumbled plot and strange characters then the message becomes clear. All men are stupid.

No, seriously. And this seems ironic considering the upheaval that was going on with Andrew Smith being sexist because of his lack of female characters. But maybe that’s one of the reasons he writes about mostly males. This book definitely focused on the failures of men. From the failed expedition to the camp for half-deranged and completely technology-obsessed boys, it doesn’t leave any of the bad or ugly stuff out. It’s about the control that they crave and their drive toward success that usually makes things worse– hence our poor friend Alex.

And then you look at the plot on the surface and once you accept the weird and learn to love all the perspectives, even if the characters aren’t the most lovable, you find the little Easter eggs. You find how the Arctic voyage ties to the father’s job and how the melting man bomber crosses paths with the boys at camp.

I heard Andrew Smith talk about this book and Grasshopper Jungle. He explained how Grasshopper Jungle begins with one point, one point that holds everything important, and explodes. The Alex Crow begins with everything and everyone and boils down into one point that has everything.

Smith always makes you think. No matter the book, despite all its ridiculousness, its full of wit and excitement and characters that are pushing through issues and growing in themselves and in the world, and this book is no exception.

4 Stars