All of the reviews of the round 1 match-ups have been posted. Here is the bracket as it stands going into round 2. Posts revealing the winners of the second round battles will begin on February 17.
Walk on Earth a Stranger is 10% fantasy, 90% historical fiction. Leah Westfall lives with her mother and father in 1849 Georgia. The family has a secret that no one else knows: Leah can sense gold. Her talent has kept her family wealthy throughout the years. However, with the announcement of the California Gold Rush, there are people who might kill in order to take control of Leah. After all, she could make anyone rich with her ability to sense gold. Leah finds herself in danger after a tragedy strikes the family. In order to stay safe and protect her secret, she disguises herself as a boy and joins a team of wagons traveling west to California. If you’re looking for a book to take you back to the days of playing the Oregon Trail computer game, Walk on Earth a Stranger will absolutely do the trick. I was so delighted to read a teen book about a girl traveling across the country to start a new life in the 1800s, aka my favorite period in history. I loved Leah as a character; she was strong, independent, and feisty. I typically don’t finish series but I will definitely continue this trilogy and look forward to spending more time with Leah. This book was an absolute delight to read.
The Wrath and the Dawn is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights. Khalid is the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan. He marries a new bride every day, only to have her strangled to death with a silk cord the very next morning. Shahrzad, a sixteen-year-old girl living under his reign, is devastated when her best friend suffers the same fate as dozens of his other young brides. Shahrzad volunteers to be Khalid’s next bride, determined to survive long enough to murder him. She captures his attention with her storytelling, bravery, and confidence. However, the longer she stays alive, the more she finds herself falling in love with the Caliph, even though her first love, Tariq, is simultaneously attempting to rescue her. I personally do not enjoy fairy tale retellings and love triangles drive me up a wall so this was a tough read for me. However, I have lots of teen patrons who love Cinder, Splintered, Dorothy Must Die, etc. and I know they will adore this book.
This one is a no brainer for me. I loved Walk on Earth a Stranger. I loved it so much that I emailed the entire adult department urging them to read it. I brought it to my Pizza & Pages and TAB meetings and gave mini book talks to the teens. I’m eagerly awaiting the second installment (a rare occasion for me). I hope the next reviewer enjoys Walk on Earth a Stranger as much as I did!
WINNER: WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER BY RAE CARSON
Reviewed by Claire Griebler, Park Ridge Public Library
It is beyond refreshing to have a story where one of the major plot drivers is that a parent will not let their teenager go do something, so rather than having the night of their life they are stuck at home in their bedroom. Saint Anything touches on so many realistic issues for teens and builds a world full of intricate relationships that bring these issues to life. Sydney has felt like she is invisible compared to her brother for years but this feeling reaches its pinnacle after her brother paralyzes a boy in a drunk driving accident. Sydney has to deal with feelings of guilt and loneliness during the aftermath but also finds an overwhelming amount of love and acceptance in new friends who become family. At times it feels like no one will really listen to Sydney and her frustration in the story is palpable, it’s easy to put yourself in her shoes. So there is so much relief when she is finally heard.
#RashadIsAbsentAgainToday is the trending topic after Rashad Butler is unjustly beaten and arrested during a misunderstanding at a convenience store in All American Boys. This story takes on both Rashad’s viewpoint and fellow high schooler Quinn’s after the incident that leaves Rashad in the hospital with a broken nose, broken ribs, and internal bleeding. The alternating viewpoints allow the story to be relatable to a wide range of audiences and bring up points that could not be reached otherwise. The story is very topical and relevant in today’s social climate, setting the scene for important dialogues about social justice, racism, and police brutality. While the topic of the book makes it a must-read, some of the dialogue and word choice seems forced and the ending is a bit anti-climatic. While there is a lot of character development in Quinn and Rashad, a lot of minor characters don’t seem to fill out their full potential. This and never finding out what happens to the police officer that beat Rashad leaves the story feeling unfinished. It is definitely a good conversation starter but not a conclusive representation of this issue.
Saint Anything beats All American Boys because the characters were more developed and the plot line takes place over a longer period of time which allows the reader to feel more invested in the outcome of the story.
WINNER: SAINT ANYTHING BY SARAH DESSEN
Reviewed by Becky Oberhauser, Cary Area Public Library
Ok, so . . . both these books kinda made me want to hurt myself. . . In a good way? A bit. A bit.
I mean, there are fun books that aren’t very well written, and then there are works of great literary merit that just aren’t all that fun. More Happy Than Not was most definitely one of the later persuasion. Poetic. Artistic. Insightful. Honest and . . . yes even poignant. I will use that word in this case. Poignant. I hate that word, and am using it anyway. But was it diverting? Uplifting? Did it give me hope? Oh, hells to the no!
Young man’s life is hard. He just lost his somewhat abusive father to suicide, and tried to take his own life soon after. His home life is brittle, and his friends are emotionally remote. He uses his girlfriend as a kind of life raft to keep himself afloat, piling the conditions for his happiness upon their relationship as only a teenager can do (unfair generalization, yeah). But this is part of what kept me reading it. Silvera’s characters aren’t cardboard cutouts. They’re fully developed and interesting. Conversation feels real, whether it’s the stilted mini-machismo boy-talk of main character Aaron and his friends, or the bipolar teen romance. It smacks of real. It made me remember that time of my life. How you could feel so gut wrenchingly in love/lust, and so insecure. So changeable without being shallow, or flaky. It’s just that things happen so quickly; feelings develop so fast. I thought, and I heard some teen readers comment as well, that the “twist” to the story was somewhat predictable, seeing as the one sci-fi-esque element of the story – the Leteo Institute and their memory suppression procedure – stood out as only a sore-thumb plot device can do. But Aaron’s slow grapple with his sexuality was honest, and relatable, and painful to watch. His arrival at the end of the book, damaged – his realizations, his acceptance . . . are beautiful, but bleak.
The world is bathed in tears for Pete’s sake. Ultimately, More Happy Than Not is beautifully written, and I’m glad I read it, but I never want to see it again. I will avert my eyes whene’er I pass it on the shelf, and will recommend it to readers with alacrity, but will make them go pull it from the stacks for themselves.
By the time I was a quarter way through the other book, A Step Towards Falling, I knew this one was gonna get my vote. So yeah, it still made me want to hurt myself a little bit (maybe I should stop saying that), but this particular flavor of heartache wasn’t as desolate. Emily, like Aaron from MHTN, has begun to define herself by her self-loathing. Hers is born from her inability to say or do anything to stop a girl with developmental disabilities from getting raped at a high school football game. She froze, and all of the idealistic notions of social responsibility and awareness that she had been championing through her extracurricular activities were trumped by one moment of apparent cowardice. Or, so she feels. But she is eventually able to take the guilt and shame, and do something constructive with it. This is an overly simplistic description of her journey, but there’s just not enough room here, right? What really should be said is that this wasn’t just a cop-out, quick and easy, “oh, they’re real people too” kinda story. The petty meanness that people can exhibit towards the developmentally challenged is certainly a character in the book, but the focus isn’t on moralizing here. The story follows Emily, and Belinda, the victim of the attack, and their “journeys of self-discovery” – ick, I can’t believe I just used that phrase, but it’s the quickest way to summarize . . . sigh sigh. They don’t linger overlong on differences between “regular” and “other”. It’s not all that important, really. Both Emily and Belinda are teenage girls dealing with teenage girl stuff. Belinda’s life perspective is different than Emily’s, of course, but it is matter-of-fact. There are no caricatures here, and this is refreshing. There aren’t a lot of titles that give a voice to teens with developmental disabilities, much less do it in such a compelling manner.
To conclude . . . Both books were beautiful in concept and execution, but my vote will ultimately be dictated by enjoyment factor. I don’t particularly enjoy standing on the precipice of despair, screaming “NOOOO” at the cover of a YA book, while crying into my Rice Krispies. The feeeels were of a healthier variety in A Step Towards Falling.
A Step Towards Falling gets the win.
WINNER: A STEP TOWARD FALLING BY CAMMIE MCGOVERN
Reviewed by Micah Rademacher, Blue Island Public Library
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is a book I wanted to like but I ended up hating. I read a finished copy which I checked out from the library. It takes place in the dual perspective of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. They go to the same school, but have always led separate lives until they meet on top of the sixth floor of t
heir school, where they both were thinking about killing themselves. Finch talked Violet down from jumping off the roof.
Theodore who is known as Finch is the unpopular boy who causes problems in school. Finch and Violet are both going to counseling, but it seems that it is not helping them at all. Finch had lied constantly to his teachers and counselors to make them believe his father is dead. He lives with his mom and two sisters and has visitation with his much alive father once a week.
Violet was the outgoing cheerleader who loved writing until she was in a car accident where who older sister, Eleanor, died. Violet has refused to ride in a car since the accident and stopped writing her blog, which she shared with her sister.
Both characters become closer when Finch starts watching Violet and volunteers them to work on a class project together that involves going around the state and see different unique locations. They fall in love and bond over their problems.
Thoughts: This is a book that is one of the worst depictions of mental illness I have ever read. The mental illness is mostly brushed aside or romanticized. The talk of suicide throughout the whole novel was basically presented in unique facts. It seemed like the characters where supposed to be fun and quirky, but they just fell flat. The parents in this book were just in the background not doing anything. I do not believe any of the situations with Finch’s parents could have actually happened. The parents were so unrealistic it was just shocking. Everyone is ignoring the teens’ problems. There is no reasonable explanation why Finch was not kicked out of school for throwing a desk at a chalkboard and furthermore that his mother was never brought in to school. I felt like it wanted to be like The Fault in Our Stars but the book was so poorly done it was shocking. Mental Illness is not a quirky indie movie.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon was read in an advanced reader’s copy that I got a ALA Midwinter in 2015. Madeline Whitter is a teenage girl who has been stuck in her house, because she has a life threatening allergy to basically everything. She lives with her protective mother who is a doctor and is visited by her nurse, Carla, who is like second mother.
Madeline’s life changes completely when Olly moves next door. Madeline starts to explore the world outside her house. She starts to dream of doing new things and going new places. She begins to watch Olly and everything he does and feels a connection to him. He shows her his email address with a dry erase marker and begins talking.
Olly works out a way to come visit Madeline by going through decontamination with Carla’s help. Their friendship deepens into something more.
Madeline’s mother finds out about the visits and fires Carla and grounds Madeline. Madeline loses all contact with the outside world and becomes depressed. Madeline comes up with an idea to runaway with Olly and go on a trip that might kill her, but she feels it is worth the risk to live her life. She convinces Olly that she found a miracle cure.
The ending of this book is troublesome. It turns out Madeline is not even sick and her mother invented the illness and Madeline’s whole life is a lie. I felt this ending was a little too easy, but at least it does not magically solve all the problems of the book. Madeline still lives with her mother and has to deal with the past. Even with it’s flaws Everything, Everything is the clear winner.
WINNER: EVERYTHING EVERYTHING BY NICOLA YOON
Reviewed by Cindy Shutts, White Oak Public Library
Two books- one set in (mostly) modern day with a splash of sci/fi vs a dystopian fantasy novel- which one will win and move on in the tournament?!
The Alex Crow written by Andrew Smith is weird, Weird, WEIRD. Smith’s books typically revolve around teen boys and extreme situations, and this book follows suit. There are several seemingly unrelated stories that somehow end up intersecting and are relayed through different narrators. The narrators and different story arcs include a boy named Ariel from the Middle East who survives his town’s slaughter and then his journey to freedom and eventual adoption by an American family, a schizophrenic man on a mad mission, a failed naval expedition to the Arctic from the late 1800’s, maladjusted boys at summer camp and a tech company that is developing biological implants. Ariel and his adoptive brother Max’s adventures at camp are absurd but terribly honest, and you learn about one hundred different and raunchy ways to say masturbation. This is a layered story that is deeper than one might think in the beginning, with thought provoking issues. If you resist the urge the put the book down in the beginning, you will not be disappointed with the end!
Ink and Bone written by Rachel Caine was the opposite reading experience, where I was intrigued in the beginning, but let down at the end. In a steampunk dystopian alternate world, the Alexandria Library never burned, leading libraries to gain great knowledge to be kept hoarded away from the masses, with personal ownership of books outlawed. Jess Brightwell, whose family business is smuggling books to the rich, is accepted as an apprentice to be trained to enter the Great Library’s ranks. He and his fellow recruits are winnowed down to a smaller group by their teacher Scholar Wolfe, and later sent on a dangerous mission to help retrieve some original books from a war torn region. The book has several parallels to the Harry Potter series such as students trying to find their footing at a new school, a cold teacher who is not what he seems, and fighting against a powerful evil. I tire of almost all Science Fiction/Fantasy novels having to be series, often leading to long winded and confusing plot lines. As expected this book is the first in a series, so the ending is set up to continue storylines that were left open ended.
Both books deal primarily with male main characters, include a large group of motley side characters and are action driven, making them well matched. I liked both main characters, but Ariel in The Alex Crow was the more enduring of the two, with me rooting for his hard won happy ending. While Ink and Bone had many merits and I originally thought it would win, I wasn’t invested enough in the story, due to its several convoluted plot threads, to want to continue the series. Thus, the stand alone novel, The Alex Crow, is the winner!
WINNER: THE ALEX CROW BY ANDREW SMITH
Reviewed by Nancy Reimer McKay, Ella Johnson Memorial Library
When these books originally crossed my desk I skipped both of them. Emmy & Oliver had a heart on the cover and sappy sounding plot so I slapped a romance genre label and sent it out into the world. Mosquitoland piqued my interest but I just never got around to picking it up and you can only let a book sit on your desk so long before the guilt sets in. Plus, it is my natural luck that I would get assigned two books I didn’t read out of all the books I finished this year (thanks, Brandi). However, both of these novels turned out to be wonderful and now I think I may have to peel off that romance sticker off Emmy & Oliver.
Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
Like I said, heart fingerprints on the cover, the tagline “A novel of love – lost and found”, and the premise of two best friends reunited after ten years apart: I judged this book by its cover so hard. The story is so much more complex and heartfelt than first appearances to the point that I think the cover does it disservice. Emmy & Oliver is the story of reunited friends that were separated after Oliver’s father kidnapped him but it doesn’t stop with them. Benway weaves together all the characters touched by the tragedy and Oliver’s return from his mother that has begun a new family to Emmy’s parents that can’t seem to trust their daughter when it comes to him. As they hash out their friendship and complicate it with love the characters reveal themselves as complex and relatable.
While there is definitely a romantic element to the story it is far from a romance and is more concerned with exploring the relationship developments between the characters. Unfortunately, that is also where Emmy & Oliver’s faults lie. If this book was just about Oliver, or at least told from his perspective it would’ve been a homerun. I found myself uninterested in Emmy at times and wishing the story would get back to Oliver. Emmy & Oliver was a fascinating read with minimal missteps and a lot of heart (even if not always the romantic type).
Mosquitoland by David Arnold
Mim is a newly minted teen runaway. After overhearing her father and stepmother discussing her mother’s illness Mim becomes convinced that her parents are trying to keep her from her mother. So she does the only reasonable thing and steals the emergency fund and hops a bus back to Ohio to find her mother. Thus begins a classic road trip novel. Mim meets a bevy of characters ranging from weird and pervy to weird and beautiful and takes up with a couple after the bus crashes. As the road trip continues we get backstory about Mim and her family revealing her mother’s illness to be mental and the realization that Mim may suffer from the same affliction.
The issue of mental illness is handled respectfully but there are a two problematic moments in the novel: referring to the character with Downs syndrome as “their pet” and putting on lipstick “war paint” to make herself feel stronger which this incident of cultural appropriation is okay because, wait for it, she’s part Cherokee. Perhaps the greatest sin in this novel was that I could tell the author was trying to create a John Green-esqe novel complete with teens that wax philosophically like 40 year old professors.
And the winner is…
Both books were wonderful and absolutely deserve to be considered for best books in 2015. Both books had minor flaws, but Emmy & Oliver had the more egregious flaw in my eyes. Had the book been mainly about Oliver or had him as the narrator this would have been my favorite to win the tournament. Mosquitoland gets the slight edge and will move on to the next round.
WINNER: MOSQUITOLAND BY DAVID ARNOLD
Reviewed by Joe Marcantonio, Plainfield Public Library