Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Review: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Release Date: September 13, 2011
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 307
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

What if you were bound for a new world, about to pledge your life to someone you'd been promised to since birth, and one unexpected violent attack made survival—not love—the issue?

Out in the murky nebula lurks an unseen enemy: the New Horizon. On its way to populate a distant planet in the wake of Earth's collapse, the ship's crew has been unable to conceive a generation to continue its mission. They need young girls desperately, or their zealous leader's efforts will fail. On board their sister ship, the Empyrean, the unsuspecting families don't know an attack is being mounted that could claim the most important among them...

Fifteen-year-old Waverly is part of the first generation to be successfully conceived in deep space; she was born on the Empyrean, and the large farming vessel is all she knows. Her concerns are those of any teenager—until Kieran Alden proposes to her. The handsome captain-to-be has everything Waverly could ever want in a husband, and with the pressure to start having children, everyone is sure he's the best choice. Except for Waverly, who wants more from life than marriage—and is secretly intrigued by the shy, darkly brilliant Seth.

But when the Empyrean faces sudden attack by their assumed allies, they quickly find out that the enemies aren't all from the outside.


I'm still a mix of emotions and confusion about Glow, but I don't think that's a bad thing. Glow is a multi-layered book that makes you think about what you just read and begs the question, "What would you do?" With thoughtful world-building, near-constant action, dire situations, and a dystopian presentation that forces the reader to examine all sides, Glow is exactly the type of dystopian I like to read.

But the blurb is a little misleading, I think. It makes the story seem like a love triangle and Waverly's indecision over marrying Kieran will play a prominent role. It doesn't even hint at religion, which takes up far more page time than romance (don't go running yet).

Why I almost DNF-ed

I'm a character-girl, so I was seriously considering DNF-ing Glow when almost every character responded to the Big Crisis like a complete moron. Kieran, the promising future captain, quickly displayed that he was only a hot-shot when the pressure wasn't on. Turn up the heat, and Kieran melted into a puddle of useless stupidity. Waverly needed to be beaten with the obvious stick because, honey, a blind man could see that those guys with guns rounding up the children are so NOT there to help you.

But then I realized something. I'm NOT supposed to like these people. I'm not supposed to think they're heroes who are doing everything right. No, these characters are just regular people, and they're actually responding exactly the way many real people would in a sudden crisis and its fallout. I had to shrug off my usual insistence on hero-worshipping my characters and instead just sit back and watch the true-to-life insanity unfold.

And it. was. horrifying.

Life in the fast lane

It's embarrassing how easily bored I can get with books, but Glow kept the action set pretty high so I always felt engaged. There's a chapter or two in the beginning that I found pretty boring (Oh Waverly, look at your dreamy eyes. Wait Kieran, I don't know if I want to make babies with you yet! Blah, blah), but it sets the stage.

Then, BAM! They are boarded by the other ship and BAD stuff goes down. Kieran and Waverly are separated, with Waverly being taken to the other ship. There isn't much time for either of the characters to spend on gooey thoughts about each other. Instead, they're both occupied with their separate crises.

Kieran needs to fix and pilot a severely damaged ship in a situation that rapidly descends into Lord of the Flies: In Space (and Less Dull). Waverly's situation is not as action-intense, but the tension levels are still sky high. Whereas Kieran's dystopian world is more the development of questionable situations among chaos, Waverly's dystopian focuses more on the established bad world with Waverly desperately trying to out-maneuver a pretty twisted system.

Ok, I can see where you're coming from. 

Amy Kathleen Ryan does a great job showing all sides of the situation. The established dystopian world Waverly gets kidnapped into has developed in a way that is logically sound and can almost seem reasonable. The dystopian system is made up of normal, everyday people, and it is easy to look around at the people in our world now and see them acting just like this if presented with a similar situation. The situation Kieran experiences is equally nuanced and realistic.

The characters in the dystopian society are sympathetic and kind, at first glance. They believe they have exhausted all possible alternatives for survival. It is clear the woman in charge is acting in ways she believes are in the best interests of her people. All of them recognize that the situation is dire, but they all believe they are doing the best they can with a bad situation.

And, you know what? I can almost buy into it. That is, until my moral What the heck is wrong with you?! alarms start going off. LOUDLY. The more I read, the more I realized that NONE of the situations, both past and present, are situations I'm cool with and those people are in-freaking-sane if they think their actions can be justified (but that's fine because this is a dystopian).

The fact that these people can leech under my defenses and make me consider their perspective even for a moment is a testament to Amy Kathleen Ryan's genius presentation of the opposing sides. This is how you make a dystopian!

Preach it!

Yes, religion plays a large role in Glow, though general faith is focused on more than any particular set of beliefs. Just like the characters, religion is not presented as all good or all bad. Religion is shown as a saving grace, uniting and motivating people when all hope seems lost. It is shown as a beacon, but it is also shown as a means toward social control and domination.

There is no ultimate judgement passed on religion. The various effects of religion used by different people and for different reasons are simply presented. It is up to the reader to decide if religion is good, bad, both, or neither.

Writing style (yeah, I noticed)

The writing style is very bare bones. It isn't flowery or beautiful or standout. It's very simplistic and straight forward, and doesn't allow for much character depth or individual voice.

What it does do is focus on the plot and character motivations. The writing sets a driving pace with an unwavering focus on events. This is less a book about the characters as real individuals and more about showing the reader a situation.

At first I thought this was a little grating (character girl!), but I quickly found myself wrapped up in the story. The writing isn't pretty, but it is, at least for me, undeniably effective.

The narration switches from third-person-Waverly and third-person-Kieran, but the POV does not alternate the way you might expect. Instead, the book is broken up into five sections. Part 1 alternates chapters between Waverly and Kieran so we can see the crisis unfold through both perspectives. Part 2 follows Waverly, part 3 Kieran, part 4 Waverly, part 5 Kieran, and the epilogue mirrors part 1 with alternating chapter POV switches.

I really liked this narration style because it allowed both sides to be shown (which is necessary for the story to unfold properly), but it switched slowly enough that I was able to become fully immersed in each section and didn't have to deal with a cliffhanger after every chapter.

Bottom line

I'm not sure if I can say I  like Glow because I was appalled by so many of the characters and so much of what was happening. But isn't that what a dystopian should do? Aren't I supposed to recoil and feel uncomfortable and disgusted? I'm thinking points for that, even if it wasn't always pleasant. I would have liked to have been able to love the characters, but I appreciate the level of realism.

Glow is only the first part in a series, and it does end very much in the middle of the story. I will most definitely be picking up the sequel. Not only do I want to find out what will happen next, but I also want to find out more information about what really happened to set all of these events in motion.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Glow that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Want to win a copy of the audiobook version?
Click here to enter! (US only/Ends 10/26)

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like  The Last Knight for a similar "all sides" look at the characters' choices

Click on the covers to go to my reviews.


  1. Sounds good. I like bare bones writing. I'm a character girl also and I know it's hard to get into a book if the characters do stupid things. Glad you stuck with it.

  2. Sounds like you got many complex emotions about this one!
    I've heard it was good, I kind of like the bare bones writing thing you mention but I'm a bit of a character girl too, and people who melt under pressure drive me nuts. LOL

    I think I'm going to put it in the maybe pile since it got a high rating anyway.

  3. Sweet! I have an ARC of this sitting on my shelf, but the mixed reviews made me hesitant to pick it up. Your review is so detailed, though, that I'm definitely going to push it up on my list. I'm especially glad that the POV changes work smoothly -- I find that a lot of authors can't grasp how to work these switches and, more often than not, I'm left feeling annoyed. :P

    Great review!

  4. Oooh I'm not sure if this one is for me. Not really into books with characters I can't relate to, or with religion as a major theme. Though maybe I should give it a try.

  5. I'm still on the fence with this one, Small. Just by reading your review, I can't help but get irritated by the characters. I think I might wait and read other reviews before venturing into this one. I may just request this one for the review comparison. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. I have this one to read, but your review is the first one that has ever mentioned religion in it. But then your reviews are usually more in depth than most. So thank you for such an in depth review. I might put this one a little further down on the review list.


  7. Hmmmmm.... I'm...interested. A bit unsure, but I think I'll give it a try. It seems quite a bit different than something I'd normally like. But I've been wrong before...
    Great review!

  8. I don't know, Small. It sounds like a book that I'd have to work to finish. It does definitely sound like a dystopian where the plot and characters are totally insane, because lets face it, so many of the thoughts in dystopians are insane. I have this book on my shelf and I have plans to read it. I will, however, go into it very skeptical. Loved your review, Small. You always hit on all the points and let me know exactly what I'm getting without spoiling anything.

  9. I was quite pleasantly surprised by this one - it kept me interested throughout and I really wasn't sure that it would - I'm not one for Sci-Fi and I do not like religious themes in books. This was interesting, though.

    I actually thought the characters reactions to the situation was quite believable (for those characters). Remember - they've never seen a stranger - they've never experienced any wrongdoings or evil, so it worked for me in that way.

  10. Yay, I'm glad you liked this one! I can't wait to get a chance to read Glow! I'm glad that this one makes you feel repulsed and disgusted by the dystopian world/society. That's exactly what I love about dystopians and how I want them to make me feel. I'll be looking forward to feeling that in Glow :) Awesome review Smalls!

  11. Alison, This is very "functional" writing, if that makes sense. It really was hard to get over not liking the characters, but I really was into the story. I'm still thinking about it even now.

    Alex, A ton of emotions! Or, thoughts. Glow really made me think about all sorts of things. Kieran will totally drive you nuts then!

    Stephanie, Thank you! I'm really curious to see what you think of it. I tend to like POV changes (if done well), but I think it worked well here. It really helped show a ton of different sides, which made me think even more.

    Belle, You might not like this one then. It's not a light and happy book and the characters are all awful. But it's very action-intense and everything moves very quickly.

    Rummanah, Haha, ooh if just my review makes the characters seem annoying, just wait until you meet them! SO annoying! This would make a really good book for a review comparison. I hope you do suggest it :)

    Heather, The religion plays a HUGE part. I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned more often. Don't read this one when you're down though. It's NOT a happy book.

    Sierra, It's a little like watching a car accident that's horrible to see but you can't drag your eyes away from it either. I'm curious to see what you think of it. It is very different from what you tend to read.

    Jen, I'm so glad you liked my review :) Ha, you are so right about dystopians. This one is another "We need babies!!!" dystopians, but I think the explanation as to why they need them is a lot more believable here than in some other recent books. The characters were awful, but even with that reading was a breeze for me. I think because of the super fast pacing.

    Leanna, Me too! I agree, I think the characters responses were all very believable. That's one of the things I liked the most about Glow. So many dystopians lately have characters that just don't act the way I think people would act, but Glow seemed very realistic to me. Even if they lived in our world, I think most people would have responded to the initial crisis in the way the characters did. So while I'm being all Ms Judgypants about their poor responses, I'm also not in the middle of a high-stress crisis like they were. :P

    T.B. Yes! I love it when dystopian worlds are suitably BAD. Glow definitely is, but it isn't bad in the overblown caricature way either. Can't wait to see what you think of it!

  12. Oddly enough, your review has me leaning towards the give it a try. While the overall story seems like it wouldn't necessarily appeal to me, plenty of action, characters behaving realistically and you starting to buy into the characters' way of thinking sounds pretty attractive.

  13. Ah, I had to realize the same thing about the characters in Fury (that you're not supposed to like them) before I started to like the book. It's hard to take, I know, but I can appreciate a regular everyday character sometimes too.

    I know I would like the action, the dystopian world, and how the author treats religion but I also know that I would not respond well to that writing style. So much so that I'm ambivalent on whether I want to give this one a go. Ultimately, it depends on finding time for it among all the other books that I need to read, and I just don't see that happening. Thanks for the helpful review though!

  14. A Canadian Girl, I would be so interested in seeing what you think of it. The actions and motivations of the characters seem to be really contentious among reviewers.

    Aylee, Yes, exactly like with the characters in Fury. You should totally give this one a try! The writing style isn't usually something I like either, but the action and everything sucked me right in. I'd say...give it until after the first section. You should know by then if the writing will be a problem or if you're sucked into the story enough to ignore it.

  15. Small, I gotta say I disagree with you on the religious aspect. I felt that the book was passing judgment on religion. I'm not a religious person, but it bothered me that religion seemed to send Kieran off the deep end.

  16. Ruby, Haha, well, I was a Kieran hater from the start, so I may be biased there. I don't think religion made him go off the deep end because I think he was already there! Religion just gave him a new outlet for his crazy. :P

    Religion was also a positive thing for all of the boys who were losing hope. And all of the people on board the other ship (excepting Mathers. Mather? I don't remember now). It gave them all hope and a direction when they were lost and depressed. Their leaders might have misused it, but the "regular people" found comfort in it in a way that I don't think was negative. (The messed up actions of some were more driven by survival than religion, I thought).

  17. I'm not sure about space dystopians, but I'm fascinated with character behaviors now! Awesome review.

  18. OH MY GOD. It's like you read my mind. I totally agree that it's like Lord of the Flies in space!!!

    And also, I never thought of the fact that I shouldn't necessarily like any of the characters. That makes me feel better that I couldn't really connect with any of them. :)

  19. "Ok, I can see where you're coming from.
    Wait, no, YOU ARE TOTALLY INSANE!!!"

    HAHAA. I love reading your reviews so much!

    "The fact that these people can leech under my defenses and make me consider their perspective even for a moment is a testament to Amy Kathleen Ryan's genius presentation of the opposing sides. This is how you make a dystopian!"

    Sounds good 'cause dystopian's definitely not going away for a while.

    Also, re: "I'm not sure if I can say I like Glow because I was appalled by so many of the characters and so much of what was happening," I think this just makes me want to read the book more. Realism is often lacking in dystopias, and that can get really annoying.

    Thanks for the review!! This one has been on my TBR pile for a while :).

  20. Dazzling Mage, The character behaviors were fascinating. Horrifying, but fascinating :)

    Cialina, Haha, right? Totally LotF: Space Edition :P Well, I HOPE we weren't supposed to necessarily like any of the characters, because I sure didn't!

    Christina, Aw, thank you :) Yeah, dystopians seem like they're here to stay, at least for a little while longer. Realism is lacking in a lot of them, but I was really surprised at how realistic the character actions were.

  21. This one sounds like it does the dystopian side of things really well. Love it when the author writes it so subtly that it gets under your skin and you're agreeing with things you wouldn't normally for a moment O_O

    Also, "Lord of the Flies: In Space (and Less Dull)" >> LOLLLLLLLLLLL! I hope it beats out Lord of the Flies, because I disliked that book :D


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