I was asked to do a review on I Am Margaret by Corinna Turner, published by our friends at Chesterton Press.Being a good and friendly blogger, I agreed, and even though I was a bit wary at the description at first, it turns out that I was wary for nothing, and ended up enjoying it. As you probably know by this point, usually my reviews are more like in-depth analyses, with details and plot spoilers; but this time, I’ll keep it like Babylon 5 and Honor at Stake and just give you enough to whet your appetite.
I Am Margaret was first described to me as “the Catholic Hunger Games,” which is not quite accurate. Now, I have two opinions on The Hunger Games; the books and I have a tolerate-hate relationship, while the movies and I are on fairly good terms so far. It’s one of the few instances where the movies are better than the books.
I have one phrase for you: first-person-present-tense narration.
Anyway, to say that I Am Margaret is the Catholic version of The Hunger Games is a gross simplification that approaches the shamelessly inaccurate. It’s like saying that The Avengers is the comic-book-superhero version of 24. Yes, I Am Margaret is a young adult novel set in a dystopian future. Yes, it follows the dire adventures of a small group of young people as they resist the evils of their society. And yes, the main protagonist is a girl.
The similarities pretty much end there.
I won’t give too much away, but at the beginning of the book, there is something a bit like “the Reaping” sequence in The Hunger Games, but not enough to really count. The kids here aren’t chosen by lot; it’s a simple pass-fail process, and you end up with a lot more than two victims. There’s no televised and mandated game show where you fight for your life. There’s nothing but a prison camp.
So, now that we have those differences out of the way, we can talk about why I Am Margaret is a superior work, and far more worthy of your time and money.
First, this is a specifically Catholic book; however, it still doesn’t whack you over the head with the Catholicism quite as hard as you might expect. While reading it, the overtly Catholic parts of the story merged fairly seamlessly with the plot as a whole. It would have been possible for the author to choose to write it about Christians in general, or make up some futuristic fake-religion to avoid naming names, and the story would have been just as good. This author does a pretty good job of wading into the ocean to fight the sharks, as I said in another post. Given the popularity of The Hunger Games and the Divergent series, I’m pretty sure that this book could capitalize on that popularity, and give those fictional giants a decent fight.
Fortunately, I Am Margaret is NOT written in the horrendously popular first-person-present-tense narration, which should be loathed and despised by all readers of sense. The author has a very tidy and compelling style, which I enjoyed. I do, however, have a few objections to that style that should be mentioned. One is the occasional use of words that try to describe a common object with a different and futuristic-sounding word. I have to admit, I fell into this same trap while writing my own science fiction story, and Matthew called me on it. Occasionally, the fourth wall is broken in I Am Margaret, jarring you out of the story to wonder what the heck is going on, but it’s a momentary thing, and it’s not hard to get right back into the story. The problem, I think, is that the author didn’t have an editor who was up to snuff, like Matthew (*cough cough* brownnosing! *cough cough*). Let’s say that the fourth wall was only cracked, not broken completely.
The second is that the Catholic characters, while hiding their religion in public, somehow have managed to learn perfect conversational Latin, and actually have conversations with each other in it. Rather than reading Margaret say, “Oh, thank God!” when something good happens, she says “Laudate Dominum!” It was rather jarring. After reading the book for a while, I think I might have come up with a good reason for the characters to do that (I would mention it, except spoilers), but it was a bit of a leap, and took a bit too much thinking on my part, as a reader. Once again, this is not an objection to the story; just a slight criticism on the style, which did not appeal to me. You might end up with the complete opposite opinion on that same point. This objection is only a matter of personal taste. You should read it and form your own opinion.
Also, on a point of style, you can tell that the author is a Brit. The story is set in the EuroBloc, not America (or the dystopic version thereof), and sometimes the phrases used and the locations mentioned really draw your attention to that, but not in a bad way. I learned after reading most of the first book that this was, in fact, the American release of a British novel already published across the pond. It makes sense, and actually makes reading it a little more interesting. Anyone else sick and tired of New York getting all the superheroes, and want to hear about some other location for a change? 🙂
Some of the plot is rather contrived, but in this case, I don’t think that is something that should make you drop the book and run for the hills. It’s a dystopian-future novel, and as such, it shouldn’t be just like the plots and characters of ordinary here-and-now novels. You might come across a few instances where you’re thinking, “come on, that wouldn’t really happen,” but that’s the point. It wouldn’t here and now, but then and there, it surely might.
The protagonist, Margaret, spends much of the book locked up in a prison camp with a group of other girls (not telling why), and you might think that that setting would make the story slow, or more along the lines of The Great Escape rather than the exciting and fight-filled Hunger Games. The author does an excellent job of pacing the story, having some down-time, and a couple of more exciting moments exactly where you need them.
On that note, the story is definitely for young adults. There is some fairly gruesome violence, but it is described in such a way that it will allow the reader to imagine just what they can take, and no more. It’s there, but it’s not done with too-detailed graphic descriptions. Most of the intensity behind the scene I’m thinking of, but won’t mention, is emotional, rather than getting grossed out over the violence. You’ll know which one I mean when you come to it.
The other young-adult portion of the story is the romance. Don’t worry, there’s nothing graphic here, either. The author very politely remains in the realm of suggestion and innuendo, and all of that is used to further the plot, not just because she doesn’t have anything else to write about. Once again, it’s written in such a way that the reader will go as far as their own imagination will take them, and no farther. It’s clean, and yet romantic at the same time. Plus, the romance is believable, unlike some young-adult stories that I will decline to mention.
Basically, I Am Margaret is a good book; a solid four out of five stars. I read it in less than a day, and immediately went on to book two of the series. I can’t say at this point whether the author ends the tale as well as she began it, but so far, so good. The reviews for the other two books will be forthcoming on the blog as soon as I finish reading them. So, pick up book one and read it, and stay tuned for the reviews on the others!
Follow the squirrel minion to get to Lori’s website, Little Squirrel Books.