2019 Tournament of Books Final Round

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for…32 have been narrowed down to 2 and now it’s YOUR turn to vote! Here’s what you’ll be choosing between

Cast your vote below! Voting runs through Friday, April 26th

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Round IV, Bracket II: The Cruel Prince vs. Dread Nation

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black


Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

This is one of those books where you can hand it to a teen, tell them to read the Prologue, and walk away. That’s all you need to do. If they aren’t hooked after reading that, then you are never going to convince them to read this book. But they’ll probably be hooked. While there is a fair amount of faerie fiction in YA, what makes this book distinct is that it is told from the perspective of a mortal who is forced to grow up in a faerie land alongside faerie royalty. This isn’t just a fantasy novel, but also a Bildungsroman, as well as a slow building thriller, and more. The characters are as strong as the world. This makes it fantastic for teen appeal. Because you can hand it to a wide variety of teens and sell it to each in a different way – just focus on the appeal. Obviously you can hand it to fantasy lovers (especially those with a penchant for faerie stories). You can give it to the dark brooding outsider and tell them about Jude’s isolation and otherness. This is not a one size fits all novel. I can only assume that it shifts in the hands of whatever reader holds it.

If you told me that Holly Black is a faerie with an ability to glamor her readers, I wouldn’t doubt you. I was immediately pulled into a story that is atypical to what I generally gravitate toward. Often in a book I love, there are really strong characters, a premise unlike anything I’ve ever read before, or an amazing world that I want to know more about. Black’s writing contains magic that weaves all of these together into an ethereal story.

The thing that most amazes me about Black’s writing is her ability to create new worlds within the world we know in a way where you do not realize that she is creating a new world. A lot of it feels like a twisted familiar fairytale. Some of it takes place in the world that we occupy as mortals so we know that one. Then there are portions of the story that are new but they are so interesting and enchanting, that you can’t help but want travel further inside the High Court of Faerie. It is a place that simultaneously feels familiar and brand new.

I love a book where the characters are multifaceted. Where you are sure they are one thing and they ultimately contain multitudes. While I understand the use of tropes in writing, it often results in side characters that lack dimension. You will find none of that here. All of these characters are fully developed and full of surprises. That being said, I had trouble keeping track of who was who sometimes. That’s probably more on me than on the book, though, because I don’t do well when everyone is magic and royalty and fantasy and I can’t figure out who is the most important and who is related to who. I get it, though. She doesn’t want you to know that the cruel prince is THE cruel prince from the jump.  I figured it out by the end of the book, though.

Figuring out the “if you like” business was hard for this book. I could think of other books that were similar but no movies or tv shows or fandoms or anything came directly to mind. The one thing that I did think was – If you like Once Upon A Time, then read The Cruel Prince. To me it has a similar line between the magic world and the mortal world and a fairytale darkness that you find in the book.






Dread Nation by Justina Ireland


Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

I know first-hand the appeal of this book because I have handed it to many many teens. All you have to say is “What happens if instead of the Civil War never officially ended because dead soldiers started rising up from the battlefields as zombies?” That’s usually all it takes. But if you have a teen that likes a dystopian novel or a strong female protagonist, this works for that too.

Ireland is a fantastic writer. There was no part of this book that I could not picture as I was reading. It went in a totally different direction than I thought it would when I started and I’m eager to read more. You can read deep into the metaphor and symbolism of the story if that is the kind of reader you are but you can also just enjoy an alternate history book with zombies. Or you can fall somewhere in between. That is a mark of a great book.

The brilliance of this novel takes place in its world. It is our world. Our America. Our history. But instead of the American Civil War of brothers vs. brothers ending in the North’s victory over the South, dead soldiers started rising off the battlefields and trying to eat those brothers. It makes perfect sense that in this time in America that (unlike in novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) that they would have sent BIPOC to fight the shamblers aka zombies. I love the small nuances like not having horse drawn carriages  because (of course) they would have been one of the first victims of zombie attacks as well as mentions of scientists like Edison and Pasteur and how their work shifted because of the zombie infestation.

The characters are fantastic and layered. As you read, subtle layers begin to peel away to reveal their more complex selves. Nobody is exactly who you think they are and there are constant surprises and revelations. Even the zombies can be a bit surprising as they don’t always behave in ways that typical zombies do. Well, except for the awful racist white men. They stay true to themselves but readers wouldn’t believe or accept anything else.
If you like The Walking Dead, then read Dread Nation. That feels like the thing that you are supposed to say but what I really want to say is that I just saw a preview for a new show coming out through Netflix next year called Kingdom that is a medieval Korean zombie series and I think it has a lot in common with Dread Nation. So, put that on your radar now.





The Winner: dread Nation by justina Ireland

This was such a difficult decision because despite neither of them falling into what I would normally consider “my” genre, I really enjoyed them both. Despite one being a Dark Faerie Fantasy and the other being a Zombie-based Alternate History they actually had so much in common. They are both the first book in a series. There are two heroes put in a circumstance beyond their control because of the situation of their birth where they had to face beings that were not like them and fight to survive. Not just fight but be trained in combat for the betterment of the world they live in. Both Jane and Jude have to carefully consider who to trust in a non-native land. Both novels are dark and slightly terrifying. Jeeze, even their names are similar.

How do you decide? This is one of those picking your favorite child situations. How can you compare two things that are so fantastic and simultaneously so different while being so alike? Huh? How do you do it?

For me, my decision ultimately came down to two things:

1) How likely am I to read the rest of the series?

    It takes a really special book for me to read beyond the first in a series. I can count the number of series that I have read in their entirety on one hand. And one of them is Harry Potter so that basically doesn’t count. As far as these books are concerned, I am pretty likely to continue reading both series but only because I was told that The Wicked King is better than The Cruel Prince. If I hadn’t know that, I probably wouldn’t have considered reading on. I definitely planned to continue reading Dread Nation. So, there’s that.

2) Was there anything negative about the reading experience for either book?

    Really, this is very nitpicky. But Cruel Prince lost me a couple of times as far as characters were concerned. I couldn’t remember who was who when it came to faeries and what their role in the kingdoms were. Eventually, I kind of sorted it out but that was mostly because ***spoiler alert*** a bunch of people die. It’s easier to keep track of people when there are fewer of them there.

So, because of these two factors, and because it is literally my job to pick one the winner is . . . Dread Nation.


Becca Boland is the Assistant Head of Popular Materials/Teen Librarian at the Ela Area Public Library. She loves reading, libraries, and talks about both of these things in her library’s podcast, Three Books. When she has a spare moment, she’s probably knitting something. You can find her as WoolPierogi on all of the things.

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Round IV, Bracket I: American Panda vs. The Prince and the Dressmaker

American Panda by Gloria Chao


At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?


American Panda had a lot of qualities that most teen books don’t have, namely humor and a college setting. I loved that the author, Gloria Ghao, attended MIT (just like Mei!), became a dentist, and then switched careers and is now a writer. I’m guessing there’s a lot of herself in Mei, which makes American Panda’s main character feel very relatable and real. I do wish more of the Chinese culture in the book had been explained. I found myself turning to Google for help (and learning a lot along the way!) but I’m not sure if the average teen reader would take the time to do that. Overall, I really enjoyed Mei’s exploration of her Chinese culture and her parents’ demanding expectations and how that all plays into her own personal identity.

If you like the coming-of-age / romantic comedy Netflix movies To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Dumplin’, read American Panda.





The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang


Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a graphic novel with stunning illustrations and fantastic characterization. I was immediately drawn into Frances and Prince Sebastian’s stories, rooting for both of them the entire time. Frances is a strong, creative, hard working dreamer who hopes to be a successful clothes designer. Prince Sebastian is confident and sure of himself (especially as Lady Crystallia), except when it comes to his parents and the role he must play in their kingdom. Prince Sebastian explains his gender fluidity to Frances so clearly: “Some days I look at myself in the mirror and think, ‘That’s me, Prince Sebastian!’ I wear boy clothes and look like my father. Other days it doesn’t feel right at all. Those days I feel like I’m actually…a princess.” I loved that simple explanation. The scene where Prince Sebastian is outed without his consent is intense and I do wonder if that part of the story could’ve been told in a different way. Overall, I loved this romantic story of self-discovery and acceptance. It has found a wide audience at my library.

Trigger warning: Prince Sebastian is outed without his consent.
If you like the TV shows Once Upon a Time, Project Runway, and Queer Eye, read The Prince and the Dressmaker.






The Winner: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

I found a lot of similarities between these two stories. Both Sebastian in The Prince and the Dressmaker and Mei in American Panda ask themselves a similar question when it comes to their families’ expectations: “How am I supposed to live up to that?” They’ve both been born into families that hold them to high standards, whether it be Mei’s parents’ desire for her to be a successful doctor or Sebastian’s parents’ dream that he marry a beautiful princess and become king (no pressure!). They struggle to find the balance between pleasing their parents and choosing their own dreams, but ultimately find a way to follow their own unique path. While both books are very enjoyable and easy to recommend to teen readers, I have to pick The Prince and the Dressmaker as the winner! The illustrations, characterization, and unique story set it apart from the crowd.

Claire Griebler is the Teen Services Librarian at the Park Ridge Public Library. She enjoys romantic comedies, the wisdom of Mister Rogers, and petting all the dogs.

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Round III, Bracket IV: The Cruel Prince vs. Children of Blood and Bone

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black


Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

In The Cruel Prince, Holly Black creates a faerie world that is darker and more twisted than that we’ve seen before, even from her previous fae tales which were no walk in the sunshine.   However in The Cruel Prince, the worldbuilding shines. From rich detail of court politics and lavish clothing to history, education, and food, no stone is left unturned until you find yourself completely enraptured with a world that is lush, enthralling, and utterly terrifying.   For teens in particular, this world bounces between the utterly foreign and the frighteningly familiar. It may be high school politics on steroids and with the hovering spectre of death, but contemporary teens will find shadows of their own romances, disappointments, and fears in the cunning shades of Black’s magical world.  

Meanwhile from the most minor character to Jude herself, Black draws the reader in with questions that beg to be answered and twists that you never see coming.  As you invest more and more into Jude and her struggles between humanity and fae ethics, you see that she is not the only one struggling with the right choices in a morally bankrupt world that is both so similar and so different from our own.  Readers who are called to complex politics and moral gray areas in their YA novels will find themselves sucked in, even if they’re not fantasy fans. There is a reason why Holly Black is a juggernaut of YA literature as that the writing quality both stuns and enraptures.  

The book begs to be made into a sweeping ‘Game of Thrones’esque fantasy epic with sweeping costumes, jaw-dropping sets, lush music, and the full trappings of prestige TV.  






Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi


Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy. 

Themes of fighting evil governments run rampant in YA novels, but in Children of Blood and Bone, Adeyemi is able to bring something new and creative to the table.  Zelie and her cohorts are more than just chess pieces on a board, they are enveloped in rich culture that strengthens their actions. And so it is the social justice themes of racism, resistance, and oppression that are the star here.  The novel challenges the reader to think of Zelie’s plight and quest and creates clear parallels to our own world. The history and culture of magic that bursts forth from the first few pages helps to reinforce these themes without ever becoming preachy or offering pat solutions.  And the result is something that captures the reader’s attention fully.

Overall the writing quality is strong, especially considering that this is Adeyemi’s first novel.  Nigerian mythology creates fertile ground for worldbuilding and the occasional trips into melodrama can be forgiven with the strength of the worldbuilding and themes.  The journey is a page-turner and readers who like fast-paced fantasy will be unable to put it down. Meanwhile teen fans of social justice novels and those fans of fantasy classics will find surprising overlap here as Adeyemi updates a ‘Lord of the Rings’eque adventure quest for a modern intersectional era.  

The book would also make a great graphic novel, particularly if it could bring the shadows and magics of Orisha to life with the same style that grips the reader from cover art.  The woodcut feeling mixed with intricate gold design would create a truly spectacular read in the way only comics can.  






The Winner: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

While both books deal with magic, royal power, and a female protagonist having to navigate a complex moral choices, the characters in The Cruel Prince feel more developed.  Jude’s strength, complexity, and even hypocrisy draws the reader in for a female character who is crafty, intelligent, and as cruel as the world she inhabits. But even the side characters remain well-crafted and consistent even when being manipulated by others. The masterful plot begs to be read again and the subtlety leaves the reader wanting more.

Sarah Stumpf is a Teen Services Librarian for the Rockford Public Library who buys all the YA and children’s books for a 5 branch system.  She obtained her BA from the University of Wisconsin and her MLS from Indiana University. When she’s not up to her eyeballs in diverse comics, you can find her gardening, biking, or geeking out with her two great kids.  

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Round III, Bracket III: Sadie vs. Dread Nation

Sadie by Courtney Summers


A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Sadie is a complex, tense, powerful novel that doesn’t shy away from the very real darkness in our world, and I think it could appeal to a lot of readers and a lot of tastes.

One of the most unique and striking elements of the book is the dual narrative structure. I’m not a big podcast person, but I was impressed by how well the combination of the podcast format and Sadie’s perspective worked, especially with the time gap between the two. It helped keep tension and curiosity high, while also allowing for a broader look at not only Sadie’s life and family, but the town and culture she grew up in.

Speaking of the town and culture, while it would be easy to define this as a character-driven novel, it’s almost as much about the settings as anything else. Cold Creek, Wagner, Montgomery, and even The Bluebird reflect places and towns not often seen in young adult fiction, and they feel like their own characters nearly as much as the people in them. The people are also well-drawn – every side character, however small, clearly has their own inner life that Summers shows in as little as a few lines of dialogue or descriptions.

With a fascinating central character, rich world-building, and a taut plot, the biggest drawback to Sadie is that, to me at least, it read much more like an adult thriller than a young adult novel. The podcast sections focused heavily not only on the adults in Sadie’s life, but on adult host West McCray’s character and emotional journey. And although she’s only 19, I often forgot how young Sadie was and found myself thinking of her as someone a few years older than that. There is something powerful about her too-early adulthood, but since most of the novel was set after the years that thrust her into that role, it also meant that I frequently forgot I was reading a young adult novel. The true-to-life ending, which leaves a very big question unanswered, I likely to be frustrating for a lot of readers, though there are plenty who might like its realism.

Overall, this is an exciting, deep, and thought-provoking novel, perfect for fans of true crime, suspense, and character-driven books.

The obvious answer is sometimes the right one – a Podcast would be the perfect way to adapt this book. In fact, I’ve heard the audiobook is almost exactly that, and works very well. The time between episodes would not only add tension, but give listeners plenty of time to discuss their opinions and theories about the action.






Dread Nation by Justina Ireland


Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Dread Nation is a phenomenal combination of horror, history, and very recognizable modern issues. A mash-up like that could easily fail, but author Justina Ireland delivers an action-packed, emotional journey. Ireland’s writing manages to evoke an earlier time without ever becoming archaic or unreadable, and her action sequences are breathtaking.

Although Dread Nation starts slowly, the world-building in the early part of the book is key. The reader slowly sees that while zombies have disrupted the Civil War and, in theory at least, brought a measure of freedom and opportunity to the formerly enslaved, the reality is much grimmer than that. And when the scene abruptly shifts to a much more openly racist and frightening Wild West-esque setting, the action picks up considerably.

One of the best parts of this book is the characters. Other reviewers have already commented on the refreshing depiction of asexuality and bisexuality, but in a largely romance-free book, it’s the friendships that shine. Jane and Katherine’s relationship in particular was a joy to read about from start to finish. The nuanced exploration of how their experiences in Summerland differ while still both being difficult helps cement their friendship, as well as expand the world-building in meaningful ways. Jane’s character development goes further, with the slow reveal of her backstory helping to shed light on her choices as the story goes on.

The biggest weakness of Dread Nation is the abrupt shift between the settings, a shift that almost makes this feel like two separate books. But both sides of the story are interesting, and the earlier part of the book informs the second, so it was easy to adjust and continue enjoying the book. Although the slow start might deter some readers, most will be intrigued enough by the mystery, compelling characters, and zombies to stay engaged.

I would hand this book to readers looking for strong central characters, plenty of action, a nuanced exploration of institutional racism and 19th century history. It would also, of course, be a great choice for readers looking for a new take on the popular zombie genre.
R
With its careful world-building, exciting action sequences, and varied settings, Dread Nation would serialize really well as a TV-show. I picture it as a one hour dramedy with excitingly choreographed battles, immersive historical settings and costumes, and of course, a kick-butt lead character.





The Winner: dread Nation by justina Ireland

Choosing a winner between these two books was hard. They’re both really wonderful, very different novels, although I found they had plenty in common as well. They both started slowly then built tension; they both did an excellent job combining excitement, suspense, and plot with some very solid world-building and character work; both features villains so stomach-churningly awful it makes the reader want to turn away from the fact that such real-world villains did and do exist, but never allows us to do so; and they both are ultimately about young women trying to claim the power they deserve in a world where most of that power is in the hands of white men.

While both of these novels are excellent, with only one or two drawbacks, and while both will find many avid readers, my final choice is Dread Nation, mainly because it feels more like a young adult novel while Sadie seemed to share more with adult suspense novels than other YA novels. But either would be a great choice for readers looking for an exciting, engaging book featuring strong central characters fighting against ingrained power structures, and both were great choices for a librarian looking for a good read!

Hannah Rapp is Head of Readers Advisory and Teen Services at the Berwyn Public Library. When she’s not working she’s usually listening to audiobooks, running or walking by Lake Michigan, or watching Park and Recreation while she cooks.

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Round III, Bracket II: Dry vs. The Prince and the Dressmaker

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman


When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival from New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman.

The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

Dry was a solid dystopian novel. So much in this genre are post-apocalyptic with a needle pointing toward the fantastic rather than the realistic. We forget there are very real and natural threats to our lives. And given the real-life droughts happening in California, the reality of this apocalyptic vision makes this story all the more horrific. Our five young leads are comprised of a protective older-sister, her perceptive younger brother, a doomsday prepper, a volatile but resourceful rogue, and a charming pathological liar. The drought a.k.a. tap-out really highlighted the ugliest parts of humanity, but you get the sense that everyone understands that they had to hit pause button on their humanity in order to survive.

While the tap-out happened right at the beginning, the pace of the story didn’t pick up until halfway through. I know several YA novels love the multiple first-person POV format, but I found it made the story choppy in this context. We shift from one character’s perspective to the next often in the same setting. The proper breaks in pacing happened in the Snapshots. These vignettes of other people living the drought pulled the lens of the story wider than I had expected. Each one felt a little darker the last and served to illustrate how much worse the drought would get over time.

I remember the first time I had ever been dehydrated. It was the summer after my freshman year of high school at a JROTC summer camp. We were doing our orienteering course that day but instead of ever properly learning what an azimuth was, I got a severe migraine and couldn’t hold down any water I took in. So the idea that an entire region of the United States could be suffering the same fate without a Gatorade and an IV to rescue them filled me with a sense of panic I don’t care to relive. I think far more people would have died than this story suggests. And certainly no one would rebound with energy with the smallest drink of water.

But for as many gruesome and harrowing moments Dry could depict, we’re rewarded with a happy ending and nothing to suggest we should hold on to a little bit of fear. There is cross-appeal for fans of dystopian fiction and realistic YA here. And I would give this book to anyone who wants to put humanity under a microscope and decide whether Dry really got it right. How would you behave if you were literally dying of thirst?

This would make for an awesome mini-series (I live for television mini-series). A movie couldn’t do the magnitude of this sort of crisis justice and an entire TV series would jump the shark before it hit its second season. But a mini-series would be exactly right. One episode for each day of the crisis and each of them cold opens to the “snapshots” that appear throughout the book. Bet we’ll catch it on Netflix this summer.






The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang


Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

The teens in my library’s LGBTQ+ group oscillate between discussing advocacy and a desire for the normalization of their being in their day-to-day lives. The reality for many of them is a tightrope they walk. In this story, I found a prince who was very much unashamed of his being. But the threat of the reality of the consequences of Prince Sebastian’s authentic self gave him no alternative but to keep it a secret. There is a nuance to the prince’s gender-fluidity that I don’t see in very many places. He was the prince and Lady Crystallia all at once. And the slow burn of Sebastian and Frances’s romance was a breath of fresh air. Because of course someone could love him for exactly who he is.

Frances’s character is inspiring in her own right. She has a vision and a dream and the grit to achieve it. She seizes every opportunity to bring her designs to life and develops a real friendship with her subject in the process. And when her friendship develops into something more, she has the resolve to achieve her life’s ambition when that friendship threatens to suppress credit for her work and her notoriety.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is an all-around beautifully illustrated graphic novel. Since the story is much too short to fully-flesh out the world behind it, the characters are truly where it shines. While you can’t really judge words on a page when a book is mostly illustrated, the characters still felt multidimensional and real. And the dressmaker’s designs are absolutely gorgeous.

I would suggest this book for anyone who wants a quick and lighthearted story that isn’t too heavy on the romance. And for any teen who struggles to find acceptance where they need it most. This book serves as a gentle reminder that living authentically will lead to a richer, fulfilling life and may even be wholly embraced by those you feared you may disappoint.

Adapted, this story would make for a stunning film in costuming alone. While the dresses are certainly beautiful on the page, their magic is expressed in Lady Crystallia’s confidence. It would be incredible to see them come to life. And I would definitely pay good money to see the king and his men strutting in Frances’s best designs at her fashion show in live action.






The Winner: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker gets to move on to the next round. I chose it because I know my teens would. Dystopian fiction had its day. Stories with a variety of diversity are what my teen patrons look for these days. And they especially look for stories that have themselves reflected in them. This story ended in Prince Sebastian’s complete acceptance by those who mattered most and with Frances receiving the recognition for her life’s work she so rightly deserved. Teens, like any of us, want to live authentically. We should give them stories that shows them that it’s possible.

Priscilla Resendiz works in Adult Reference and Young Adult services at the Waukegan Public Library. She’s attempting to expand her reading horizons beyond comedy and sci-fi and is open to every reading suggestion. In the spaces between odd library hours she volunteers with the local high school, goes to kendo practice (but not nearly enough), and watches way too much Star Trek.

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Round III, Bracket I: The Poet X vs. American Panda

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo


A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

Acevedo’s first page is a tough sell. The whole book is written in a beautiful narrative poetry without excessive flourish, but the first page is more flowery and offers a language barrier to an English-speaking reader. Throughout the book there are a lot of Spanish words, phrases, and sometimes whole pages. These are always explained, either with outright English translations or through context clues. The two languages flow smoothly through the story of a girl caught between cultures. But the Spanish on the first page isn’t explained and it made me dread reading the rest because I expected to stop frequently to Google the translation. My point: don’t let the first page scare you away.

Xiomara is a 15 year-old who is expected to fulfill her mother’s lost dreams. She is expected to complete Confirmation classes and fully accept the religion that is so important to her mother, but her “doubt has already been confirmed.” Xiomara’s story revolves around three relationships that are difficult in any teen’s life: her mother, her crush, and her body. Her struggles and pain are relatable no matter the reader’s background. This story is for anyone who needs to be heard.

Poetry is Xiomara’s outlet in the book, but readers could translate that aspect into anything that helps them express themselves. The book is not so focused on poetry that it is off-putting to us prose readers. I would recommend The Poet X to any teen. It would also be a good fit for the parents of teenage girls. It offers several topics that could make excellent conversation starters for teens and their parents. Xiomara isn’t given the information she needs on taboo topics such as menstruation, religion, and sex. She sees her body as a problem, her curves drawing too much attention, and her mother confirms this thought.

The poetic format makes the book go by quickly; it would definitely be a good choice for busy teens. There is an intensity to the story that makes you root for Xiomara and keep turning pages until her problems are resolved. However, the resolutions in her relationships came a little easily considering how difficult the problems felt. Questioning any aspect of her mother’s rules earns punishments that made me cringe. Xiomara ends up with a support network to help her move forward, but her physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother is not addressed. Wrapping everything up so quickly at the end disappointed me after the steady flow and heart wrenching scenes throughout the book. If The Poet X was adapted into something else, it would make a great play. There is something about seeing spoken word poetry live that makes a bigger impact than watching it on a screen. A stage adaptation would allow the heart and pain of the characters to come to life.





American Panda by Gloria Chao


At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Mei’s parents were born in Taiwan and have extremely traditional beliefs that control every aspect of their and their children’s lives. Chao makes it clear that this is an extreme interpretation of a culture, not what would be seen in most Chinese-American families. Mei, a 17 year-old student at MIT, is caught between wanting to obey her parents and wanting to be happy. While the story delves frequently into cultural superstitions and rules, it is familiar to anyone who feels different from their parents, and who doesn’t, at 17?

Mei is expected to work hard at both beauty and academics, always falling short of her family’s expectations. The contradiction is evident in her struggles with poor eyesight; she can’t see across the room but isn’t allowed to wear glasses because because they’re ugly. Her life is summed up when she says “most things you did weren’t good enough and unconditional obedience was expected.” Anyone who has struggled to meet someone else’s standards will see themselves in Mei. Because of this relatability, the character’s strength in overcoming obstacles is even more impactful. She is able to push through the pain of her parents’ disapproval and actually turn the relationship around enough to help them. One strong part of the characterization is Mei’s love for her parents; despite her difficult relationship with their traditional views, she will not allow anyone to criticize them. Teens will relate to this emotional tug of war. The setting of American Panda is developed nicely, allowing readers to wander around MIT alongside the characters. It shows a glimpse of college life that isn’t often seen in YA. The story is realistic, heartbreaking, and humorous. The book moves fast and keeps your attention, making it a good choice for reluctant readers. I would definitely watch it as a movie; Mei performs cultural dances that would be beautiful on screen.  





The Winner: American Panda by Gloria Chao

There was a huge overlap in these two books despite being focused on completely different cultures. Neither protagonist received important medical or sexual information from her parents. Both were expected to fulfill their mothers’ unmet dreams. Both found a form of expression that allowed them to survive the strict rules and steep punishments. These stories will ring true with many teens no matter their background. I found both books to be well-written, immersive reads. There are two things that pushed my choice toward American Panda as the winner: the humor and resolution. The voicemails had me laughing out loud throughout the book, and there is even a stand up comedy routine. The humor added lightness and likeability to American Panda, whereas The Poet X was primarily dark and dramatic. Not every book needs a happy ending, but for teens who could so easily relate to these characters, allowing an abusive relationship to exist without resolution or explanation in The Poet X is problematic. I would be hesitant to hand the book to a teen dealing with abuse in their own life. In American Panda the conflicts are cleared up for a healthier conclusion. The author’s note at the end also reaches out to readers to let them know they’re not alone. It is a story of a strong female protagonist navigating two cultures to find her own happiness. American Panda wins my vote.

Rylie Roubal is the director, marketer, web designer, kid and teen collection development specialist, teen and adult programmer, and occasional cleaner of mysterious messes at the Hinckley Public Library District. She enjoys playing pool, drinking tea, and reading books in which at least one main character dies at the end.

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