I confess that there were other books on each side of the tournament bracket that I enjoyed more than both of these. If I’ve learned anything from participating in this tournament, then it’s that the goal is to really to pick the one book that everyone can live with.
I don’t love I’ll Give You the Sun for a couple of reasons, but I do like it a lot. The story of twins Jude and Noah, told through their alternating POVs, grabbed me right away. I found both characters and the transformations they experience over the course of the book to be very compelling. I also think that their passion for art – their need to create – is written in a believable way. That’s why I was willing to chalk up the many, many instances of miraculously good or bad timing within the plot to magical realism. The last 50 pages – which wrapped almost everything up in an improbably, overwhelmingly happy way – nearly ruined it for me, though. Judgmental dad has turned into “everything’s cool” dad. He’s even cool with his 16-year old daughter dating a legal adult who’s also a recovering alcoholic. I’d love it if Nelson were to check in with Jude and Noah in another three years to reveal that some of the happiness they experienced was temporary, that they’ve transformed further, and that their lives go on in unexpected directions.
The Winner’s Curse took its sweet time in hooking me, as I never really connected with the main characters. I also had issues with Rutkowski’s fictional Valorian society. It’s supposedly inspired by the Roman Empire, which had a habit of enslaving the peoples it conquered; but with the picnics, balls and emphasis on manners, this society reminded me more of Jane Austen’s 19th century England. Many little plot holes bothered me, such as: if women are trained in combat and expected to join the military, why can’t they leave the house without an escort? The romance between Valorian aristocrat Kestral and Heranni slave Arin also made little sense to me. Could these two people possibly like each other if the plot did not demand it? Despite my issues, I did find it quick-paced and quite readable. I started to like it more once the Heranni revolution began. What I enjoyed most is the continuous game of bluffing and manipulation that Kestral engages in with everyone she meets. Forget her piano, forget Arin; what Kestral loves more than anything is gambling.
This contest was not a hard decision for me. With characters that attached themselves to me almost instantly and believable depictions of love and passion, I’ll Give You the Sun is the winner that I can live with.
Winner: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson