Review: Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown & Sherwood Smith

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown & Sherwood SmithStranger by Rachel Manija Brown, Sherwood Smith
Series: The Change #1
Published by Viking Juvenile on November 13, 2014
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book Depository

Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, "the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. "Las Anclas" now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

When the offer of Stranger came to me, I almost said no. My hopes were low. I only accepted because of my infernal, unquenchable curiosity and how interesting Stranger sounded. The blurb I saw then mentioned “squirrels that can teleport sandwiches out of picnickers’ hands,” and it was that part which made me incapable of not giving Stranger a try. Even so, I was afraid. There are a lot of dystopian and post-apocalyptic YA novels that sounded amazing but left me underwhelmed at best. After so many let downs, I hardly feel interest in these genres anymore. I am, however, very glad that I gave Stranger a shot, because it’s a truly delightful post-apocalyptic novel with fascinating world building, a diverse cast, and an intriguing plot.

If you follow my reviews, you probably know that I adore books about people with powers. Stranger is totally awesome in this regard. The short version is that radiation from the sun affected the world, sending it into a post-apocalyptic state. Some people have undergone The Change, meaning that they are no longer ordinary humans. The Change happens at some point of hormonal upheaval in the body, like adolescence, menopause, or pregnancy (which totally means women will probably develop badass powers more often). The powers range from completely useless (like a guy who can grow little horns out of his head) to totally epic (like Jennie who is telekinetic). The powers are a total luck of the draw and there’s a lot of creativity in the various things people can do. What I like here is that the results of the change are not the same superpowers in every book.

The other difference from other superhuman books is that nature has been affected as well. Now, I know that’s not totally new either, but again I thought it was done so well. There are these singing trees that throw out crystal shards that kill the victim, turning it into a new tree, which takes on the color of the victim’s clothing or hide. There are rattlesnakes the size of a person. Terrifying creatures have sometimes evolved to look cute and fluffy. The world is recognizable, but everything’s askew. It’s a terrifying world to imagine living in but cinematic and fascinating to read about.

Stranger opens with Ross, the titular stranger, running away from a bounty hunter. The hook totally caught me. The opening chapter establishes the harshness of the landscape really well and sets up how wonderful Las Anclas is. Once Los Angeles, Las Anclas is now sort of like an old western town with some steampunk flair and superpowers. Life in Las Anclas isn’t easy, but they’ve carved out fairly safe, happy lives for themselves. The community has a lot of predictable tension between norms (those unchanged) and the changed. Even so, they seem to be working through that and I found myself really rooting for this town, hoping  that the narrow-minded people would see the light and embrace changed and norms alike.

Though I enjoyed basically everything about Stranger, my favorite aspect of the book is the diversity. There’s diversity and then there’s this book. It’s pretty much like I’m used to any urban environment being. There are people from so many different racial backgrounds and not a one of them is defined by their race. Even better, there are both gay and lesbian couples in Las Anclas, and they’re accepted without any judgment. I am so thrilled to read a futuristic novel where, though a lot of stuff is still shit, equality has been gaining ground. Also, the gay couple is basically the cutest thing ever. I ship it. AND, if that wasn’t enough, I swear that there’s possibly going to be a totally canon three-person-couple; I’m not entirely sure if I ship that, but it does have potential. Oh, also, women are in all sorts of respected positions in this town; sexism is pretty much gone too. I LOVE THIS BOOK.

Stranger is told in alternating third person perspectives. Ross, Mia and Jennie get the most focus, but a couple of other characters get points of view as well. I thought the rotating POVs were easy to track and all interesting. One of the aspects I didn’t like as much initially was Felicité, who is just the worst. However, it seems like Brown and Smith are planning to develop her from more than a bigoted bully, which would be fabulous; she could end up having an amazing character arc. It’s easy to love Mia or Jennie, but if they can make me love Felicité by the end, I’ll be impressed. My personal favorite is probably Yuki, mostly because I’m really hoping that “Prince Yuki” is a reference to my favorite manga, Fruits Basket. I also love Jennie’s POV for the realistic relationship struggles with which she’s dealing.

The world building is rather minimal with regards to how the world came to be as it is. For the most part, I was fine with that, since so much time had gone by from the cataclysm and records weren’t really kept. However, I did find the blaming of the backwardness of society on technology a bit frustrating. While it does make sense to have books hard to find because of the popularity of e-readers, I’m getting really tired of that being a plot point in every post-apocalyptic. There’s also a reference to people forgetting how to write by hand because of computers. These things could definitely happen, but they’ve shown up so often that I’m personally over it.

Stranger was a wonderful surprise and has definitely restored some of my faith in the post-apocalyptic YA genre. I am so excited for the next book in the series, though I’ll have to settle in for a long wait.

Favorite Quote:

This is jealousy, she thought. She stared at her boots, on the verge of dizziness—like she was waking up from a dream. But this was no dream. nor a romantic song. There was nothing romantic here.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif wild wild west dancing

6 responses to “Review: Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown & Sherwood Smith”

  1. Dahlia Adler says:

    YAY. Just, a lot of yay.
    Dahlia Adler recently posted…Teaser Tuesday: Excerpt from LAST WILL AND TESTAMENTMy Profile

  2. Gillian says:

    Gillian recently posted…Review: Famous in Love by Rebecca SerleMy Profile

  3. Dragana says:

    Now that is an eye-catching cover. I like that girls have more chance to gain super-powers. For once all the weird shit that happens to our body is an advantage. 🙂
    I have’t heard about Stranger before. but it does sound interesting.

    P.S. What about those squirrels?!? Are the sandwiches safe in the future or not?
    Dragana recently posted…Book Review & Favorite Quotes: The Last Changeling by Chelsea PitcherMy Profile

  4. Lyn Kaye says:

    I will be back, once I have this one read! I picked it up because I saw the LJ post by the authors and the yes-to-gay approach. So far, WHOA! Trippy.
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: The Vanishing SeasonMy Profile

  5. Tish says:

    Thanks for your intriguing review, it made me try this book – and I arrived here via your fine wild wild west gif! Serendipity (Squirrels!)

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