Roar by Emma Clayton, 496 pp, Reading Level 5

THE WHISPER (BOOK II) is due out FEBRUARY 2, 2012!!

The Roar by British author Emma Clayton is so many amazing things at once and has stirred up such visceral feelings in me that I hope I can do it justice here. For a very concise review by that hits all the right spots, check out Pink Me, which is a book review site written by a children's librarian with great taste and insight when it comes to YA books. For my longer, slightly more rambling and emotional review, read on!

I think one of the reasons I am a good bookseller is because it's all about similarities and connections when I am helping a customer find a book. As a reviewer, I am occasionally reluctant to compare or link books. I sometimes view books in the same way I think of my three (very different) children - miraculously unique individuals who just happen to share DNA and thus are similar (and, I realize, therefore not exactly unique...) The Roar is an inimitable, miraculous book that deserves every minute of attention it receives, but it does share some noble DNA that bears mentioning. When it comes to dystopian children's literature, the Newbery Award winning book The Giver by Lois Lowry, first in a trilogy, is both jarring and uplifting, ending with a somewhat ambiguous future for the main character. The Roar shares similar plot threads and the dystopian societies created by Lowry and Clayton are equally disturbing, but in very different ways. The Roar also shares similarities with Philip Pullman's superb trilogy, His Dark Materials, that begins with The Golden Compass. Clayton's Ellie and Mika are definitely cut from the same cloth as Pullman's main characters (and equally manipulated and abused by power hungry adults), Lyra and Will, two of the strongest, most endearing and fully realized child characters I have read in a children's book. For those of you who have never read either of these trilogies, you will run to them when you finish The Roar. For those of you who have read them, you will marvel that this incredible book is by a fist time author.

The difference between me and a professional book reviewer is that I still read for fun and for the joy of sharing a good book with another reader. I am always looking for the thrill that comes when a book hooks you and you can't put if down, then the connection that is made when you can discuss it with another reader. I also crave the thrill that comes when you fall in love a little with the characters in a book, whether it is maternal, paternal, romantic or platonic. I love the connections all around. But, reading for the thrill also means that, when hooked, I read mostly for plot and sometimes miss the poetry of the writing, the beauty of the words, phrases and images. However, when a book is extremely well written, the poetry of the text can grab you and compel you slow down and drink in the imagery. Emma Clayton's writing does just this. There were so many moments in The Roar, which I read and listened to (the audio is narrated by Jane Collingwood and is SUPERB! She is heir to the throne of Jim Dale, without a doubt) that caused me to slow down and really listen, the images lingering long after. One character "held her breath and her heart began to beat in sore punches." Another could "smell danger as if it were rotting around the back of the hut." And, a passage that had me re-reading it comes almost at the end of the book.

He paced and watched the sea and for a while he felt like a firecracker with its fuse lit,a bit dangerous - as if when she walked through the door he would erupt and fly around the room breaking the lights, setting fire to things, and taking lumps out of the ceiling. Then he felt all soft and gooey, as if when she walked in he would melt and she would find nothing more than a puddle of love in the middle of the floor. Then he felt both of these things, that he was a firecracker about to explode, but instead of sparks, he was full of love and going to be a bit messy. (pp 471)

As you race through this chilling, suspenseful story, Clayton's ability to describe emotions will make you stop to catch your breath. So, let's get to the plot already!

The Roar begins with a quote from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, which all adults and even some young readers should be familiar with, if only partially. "All that glitters is not gold;/ Often you have heard that told./ Many a man his life hath sold/ But my outside to behold./ Gilded tombs do worms enfold." This quote is so perfectly suited to the plot of The Roar but you won't realize why until almost the end of the book. In fact, I found the plot The Roar impossible to predict or second guess from beginning to end. Chapter One is titled, "The Girl Who Knew the Secret," and starts with a wild ride in a highjacked Pod Fighter that is being piloted by Ellie and her companion, Puck, a capuchin monkey. However, the secret that Ellie knows is not revealed until almost the end of The Roar. The reader learns and discovers along with the main character, who turns out not to be Ellie, the girl who knew the secret, but her twin brother, Mika. Ellie has been gone for over a year and is presumed dead. Mika refuses to believe that Ellie is not alive, much to the distress of their parents. Mika wouldn't "let them wash her bedding because it smelled of her. She hung in the air like a ghost between them and they felt as if when Ellie died so had a part of Mika, and so they grieved for both of them." When the twins' mother, Asha, looks into Mika's face and feels the "heat of his anger and pain, she felt herself wither like a tree receiving the first kiss of a forest fire." This grief is such a palpable part of the life of this family that it is almost a relief when things change for Mika. Whether good or bad, that remains to be seen. The fact that Mika and Ellie are twins makes their intense connection believable. As the plot of The Roar unfolds, a deepening connection, and the reasons for it, are also explained.

The world that Mika lives in is one that we would not recognize. A plague has swept across continents and changes the face of the earth. The Animal Plague, which swept the earth forty-three years before The Roar begins, was caused by a viral ridden escapee from a laboratory and resulted in "insane animals on a murderous rampage." For the safety of humankind, all the animals were killed and all their habitats obliterated. The surviving humans moved to safety behind The Wall, the largest man-made structure on the planet. It was "fifty feet above sea level and lopped all around the top of the world, enclosing Northern Europe, Northern Russia and Canada." The devastation of nature lead to incessant flooding and life behind The Wall is one endless stream of cold, damp, moldy, grayness. At leas that's the way it is for the lower classes. The wealthy have managed to build themselves a new city on top of the old. Immense pillars erected in the slums hold up the platform upon which new, gleaming buildings are built, relegating those below to permanent darkness. The poor live in "fold-down" apartments that are fabricated entirely of plastic and fifty feet square. They have to ""fold the bed away to use the kitchen, then fold a bit of the kitchen away to use the shower." The only green they saw from their windows was the "mold on their neighbors' curtains." Clayton's descriptions are so vivid and rich with detail that it is easy to picture this dreary world.

In order to keep the population under control in this new post-Plague world, a ban on childbearing has been imposed, raised only 30 years after the devastation. At the age of twelve, Mika is one of the first generation of children, 270,000 in all, to be born behind The Wall. The rest of the population is at least forty-three years old, but many, many are much older, having survived past the age of one hundred due to the Everlife pills that keep them alive. The action in The Roar begins when Fit Mix is introduced to Mika's class and he refuses to partake of it. Suspicious of everyone since his sister disappeared and the police tried to cover it up, Mika is sure that there is something evil about the Fit Mix, a nutritional drink created by the Youth Development Foundation, a new arm of the Northern Government. The lower classes have been relegated to eating the inexspensive "Fab" food, which made from mold that is grown in factories and then reconfigured into anything from a "milkshake" to a "pizza." The new arcade game and the fitness program implemented by the YDF also make Mika suspicious, but a session with his counselor, the elderly, hippie-ish Helen Green, leads Mika to believe that he does have a reason to be suspicious. Helen, his dreams and the new invisible canine companion, Awen, who appears at his side, much like the dæmons in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, convince him that, if he plays along with the YDF he just might see Ellie again.

How/if Mika does this, the hoops, sometimes horrific, that he has to jump through, and the friends he makes along the way are too compelling and exciting to reveal here. The pleasure of surprise belongs to you, the reader. As I said at the start of this review, I had no idea how this story would unfold, what the YDF was really up to and what the secret that Ellie knew, the secret that is dangled before the reader in the first chapter of the book, really was, until the lat thirty or so pages of the book. What Clayton does with the story in the last thirty pages may seem rushed to some, ambiguous to others, but, ultimately, no matter how you read it, it is redeeming and hopeful.

I was utterly refreshed by the lack of advertisements for the sequel to The Roar at the back of the book. As I read, I flipped to the end papers more than once fully expecting a "coming in 2010" to be printed there - especially since this book came out in the UK in 2008. It is so rare that an author has the courage to write a stand alone book anymore that the seeming lack of a sequel made me love The Roar all the more. However, I did a little bit of poking here and there and learned that Emma Clayton is indeed working on a sequel to be titled, The Whisper. She notes that The Roar took her four years to write, so the sequel will be a while coming. At first I felt a bit let down when I read this. Then I reminded myself that The Giver, which seemed so perfect on it's own, is part of a trilogy. Gathering Blue, published seven years after The Giver, is every bit as good as its predecessor. In fact, Gathering Blue itself could be a stand alone title if you had no idea what the link between the two books was. And, really, I love all of Clayton's characters so much that there is no way I could not want to visit their world again, whatever state of devastation it may be in.

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