The Running Man (Book Review)

The Running Man (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re craving a high-octane and decidedly adult version of The Hunger Games

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Running Man

By Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

It’s the year 2025, and the bloodshot eyes of the U.S. are glued to screens…

If there is one book genre that I actively avoid, it’s horror. I’ve never read a Stephen King novel in my life. TOO SCARY.

But, when I stumbled across this thriller written under his pen name for Signet, I thought…okay, I can probably do it.

Stephen King is skilled and prolific. I wanted to read him, and this seemed like my best shot of not being scarred for life.

This book was published the year I was born, and it portrays the year 2025—next year, at the time of this review.

In King’s dystopia, the divide between the “haves” and “have nots” in the U.S. has grown into a chasm. Every home is required by law to contain (get this) a Free-Vee. (I have a similarly named app on my television.) Programming is dominated by reality TV—game shows in which people compete in all manner of deadly games in hopes of winning prize money. Contestants are largely comprised of the have-nots.

Our protagonist, Richard, is one such contestant, driven to apply for TV so that he can earn money to buy real medicine for his baby, who is sick with the flu.

Because he’s smart, Richard gets picked for the highest-rated show on TV, The Running Man. Here’s the game: Richard runs for his life, and Hunters try to kill him. He earns money for every hour he stays alive. Stay alive for 30 days, and you win. Nobody has lasted more than eight days.

Sound like the Hunger Games? Yep.

The ending is hauntingly reminiscent of something that ended up happening in real life nearly 20 years after this book rolled off the press.

It’s crazy how many of King’s presentiments have come to pass. The book’s government is irreparably corrupt, and the networks are out for nothing but profit. Today, don’t we feel the same way about Washington and Silicon Valley? People are doping themselves to avoid reality—with entertainment and pot, whatever you can afford. Sound familiar? Everything from the air to the food is polluted. Uncanny.

Content warnings: The entire book is a content warning. There’s foul/offensive language with no filters whatsoever. The book mentions every vice you can imagine, although there’s comparatively little that’s graphically portrayed on the page. There’s no horror, just thrills. Clean? No way. But King knows his Bible, and there are references sprinkled throughout, so there’s that.

3.9
Scythe (Book Review)

Scythe (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re a sucker for dystopias that plumb the deep questions of life

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Scythe

By Neal Shusterman

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

What does it mean to die?

Some of the best YA fiction deals with this question. Here, Shusterman asks his teen readers to grapple with death in a dystopia where almost nobody dies—unless they’re among the minute percentage of Earthlings who must be “gleaned” in order to keep the global population under control.

Who does this gleaning? Scythes. They are the only human-led organization left on the planet. (A mega-technology called the Thunderhead governs the world.)

Scythes must glean a certain number of people per year, and they must do it without malice or bias. But what if they did it with…enjoyment? There’s no law against it. What if Scythes became the celeb rock stars of the world? What if, instead of being feared, they were worshipped?

Shusterman’s dystopia asks big questions about power and mortality/immortality. There is some fantastic potential for discussion here, but many teen readers will need guidance.

The concept of immortality (or, at the very least, a life that could last a thousand-plus years) is what kept jolting me out of the story. How can we even begin to comprehend a life without an imminent end? We value life because it’s fragile and over too soon. But what if we didn’t value life that way? This part of the story was hard for me to grasp and made it feel a tad distanced.

This book does everything so well, though. The writing stands head and shoulders above. Strong, complex characters. A couple of very spicy villains. The plot is perfectly paced, and the ending is a total knockout.

I can’t say that I love this book, but the execution is flawless.

4.4
Snowglobe (Book Review)

Snowglobe (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
Squid Game + The Hunger Games sounds like a thrill-filled funtime

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Snowglobe

By Soyoung Park
Translated by Joungmin Lee Comfort

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Another YA dystopia—is it worthy?

I think that, like most YA dystopias, you’ll either love this or hate it.

Years from now, the world is frozen, and everyone works in power plants to provide the population with the electricity required to sustain life. Everyone works for the power plants, except residents of Snowglobe, a ritzy community sheltered from sub-zero temps by a dome. How can you become one of the chosen few who get to live there? By agreeing to act on TV. Your life is recorded and made into a TV show for the world to see.

If you worked day in and day out at a power plant (riding a bicycle to produce energy) and you got the chance to become a Snowglobe actor, would you take it?

That’s basically what happens to Chobahm, our teenage girl protagonist. But the catch? She’s asked to take the place of a megastar who died. She looks nearly identical to an actress named Goh Haeri, who has achieved Taylor Swift-level fame in Snowglobe. If Chobahm agrees, then her family will receive extra compensation, and she may even get a shot at attaining her lifelong dream of getting accepted to Snowglobe’s famed film school to become a director.

It’s a Faustian bargain with all the teenage trappings that make this book appealing to its target audience. It checks all the boxes for what I hoped to see—mystery, twists, and action.

I did feel like the book could’ve been tighter. I really enjoyed it, but the first and second half were a bit disjointed, with characters from the first half who faded into the background to make way for new characters who took the stage in the second half. I listened on audio, which was a lifesaver for name pronunciation, but I confess that I did have a hard time keeping the characters straight.

Overall, this was a solid YA read, and it was interesting to read this genre set in what I assume is a futuristic South Korea, but I’m not sure I’ll come back for book 2.

Content Warnings (with spoilers): Here are some things that you may want to know before handing this to your teen (or reading it yourself). There is discussion of cloning and its moral implications. There are scenes of violence, but nothing gory or over the top. One character is revealed to be in a same-sex relationship with another character, but this isn’t central to the plot and (I think) becomes more central in the sequel. There are some whiffs of romance for the protagonist, Chobahm, but nothing graphic and no sex scenes.

4
The Breeder Cycle (Book Series Review)

The Breeder Cycle (Book Series Review)

You’ll love it if
you wish you could reread The Hunger Games for the first time

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Breeder Cycle (Breeder, Criminal, Clone)

By K. B. Hoyle

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Here’s a YA dystopia that isn’t bleak

Wow. I inhaled this trilogy, and I’m very picky when it comes to my teen dystopias. This series has a lot in common with The Hunger Games, but it’s much less depressing. In fact, it is incredibly life-affirming. But it’s most definitely for teens—no younger.

So, we’ve got a strong female lead, who lives in a futuristic society that’s tried to rid the world of inequality by making people the same—as “same” as they can get them. All aspects of life are controlled by the powers that be. Our young, female protagonist works as a Breeder. Her job is to birth babies for the new world. You already recognize a slew of elements from other popular YA books, right?

Well, something happens to our main character, Pria. She begins to feel discontented with her “perfect” life. She begins to ask questions—gasp! This puts her in danger, and she must face the truth about her society and the role she plays within it.

The strength of this series is the plot and pacing. It’s tight and effortless to read. There is a satisfying character-driven B plot.

Honestly, if you’ve got a thing for YA dystopia, this series is a really great choice!

4
The Road (Book Review)

The Road (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’ve got the nerve for an intimate and lyrical dystopia

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Where do you go when the world ends?

The most astonishing thing about this reading experience is that I consumed this novel almost entirely at night, in the dark, right before bed. For someone who scares easily, I’m mighty proud of myself.

A man and his boy (never named) are trying to survive after a cataclysmic civilization-ending event (never explained), and they spend the novel dodging bad guys (cannibals) and figuring out how to not starve or sicken to death.

This book asks the question: Can we still be good even when everything around us is bad? Having just finished reading a lot of fairy tales, this question is not unfamiliar. Fairy tales ask this question over and over. Under what circumstances, under what pressure, do we compromise our integrity, stretch the bounds of morality, allow anger to rage, and succumb to despair?

The boy repeatedly asks his father, “We’re still the good guys, right?” Since they’re barely clinging to the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (basic survival) and there’s nothing higher to live for or aspire to…it’s important to the boy that they’re “good guys.” This is all the boy can hope for in life beyond simply existing. Which begs the question: Are people born with an innate sense of right and wrong? I believe so.

The Road is a journey with no destination. There’s no safe harbor for the characters to aim for. Every time they stumble upon a good place, they can’t stay long. Someone might find them. There’s always this sense of impending tragedy. Every time the man left the boy somewhere, I had to quickly skim ahead just to make sure he was okay.

The book also asks “What’s the point of continuing to live?” These characters live in a world that’s bad beyond anything that I’ve ever experienced. Why not just give up and find a peaceful place to starve or freeze to death? I’m glad that this book takes a life-affirming approach, for all its bleakness.

4.8