And the winner is….

32 books.

1 winner.

And today, we get to announce that winner.

and the winner is….


[drumroll please]




















Dear Martin by Nic Stone


Thank you to all our participants and our final round voters! 2017 was an amazing year for YA and we look forward to all the 2018 books still to be released!



Tournament of Books Final Round

Here we are, the final showdown of the 2018 Tournament of Books. What started with 32 books has narrowed down to two–Dear Martin by Nic Stone vs. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Who will win? Well, that’s up to you. Voting begins  Tuesday, 4/24 and the winner will be announced on Tuesday, 5/1. Check back here for results, and share with your friends! 🙂

Tournament of Books, Round Four: Allegedly vs Long Way Down

41Pkis9KXqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_In Allegedly, Mary is living in a group home just out from “baby jail.”  Through excerpts from court records and other materials, we learn she was convicted at age nine of killing a baby in her mother’s care. (Mary is black, and the baby was white, which factored into how she was portrayed by the press.) Mary goes about numbed to the world, her only bright spot spending time with her boyfriend Ted at the nursing home where they do community service. Then Mary gets pregnant, and her priorities shift from surviving the group home to finding a way to keep her baby by going to college. But is that a pipe dream for someone as notorious as she is? Will telling the truth of what happened be enough to save her child?

22552026Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is a novel in verse. Even at 306 pages, it is a one-sitting read with carefully crafted narrative voices.

Shaun was shot and killed. According to the rules, Shaun’s 15-year-old brother Will can’t cry or snitch — instead, he must shoot the one responsible. He gets Shaun’s gun and presses the elevator button to leave his apartment building and go shoot the man he knows must be Shaun’s killer. But on the way down to the lobby, he is haunted by the ghosts of friends and family killed by guns. They show Will the short, violent path his life might take if he follows the rules as they did. Will he follow that path or choose a different life?

Two books about the consequences of murder enter the ring. Both books tug on the reader’s heartstrings with first person narrators who have lived through the trauma of losing a loved one and are trying to find a way forward.


And the winner is…


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

In Allegedly, Tiffany D. Jackson has created a powerful narrative voice, the group home setting is vivid, and the characters are distinct. Mary works hard toward her goals, and she’s strong enough to endure through the setbacks in a world that punishes her at every turn. I rooted for her as she struggled to find love of any kind in such a cruel world. But the ending undid much of my sympathy, and I felt manipulated by the unreliable narrator. (Trigger warning for graphic scenes of child abuse and other violence.)

Despite the spare, short-poem format of Long Way Down, Reynolds finds strong images to paint Will’s neighborhood, which has been torn apart by gun violence. “Blood soaking into a T-shirt, blue jeans, and boots/ looks a lot like chocolate syrup/when the glow from the streetlights hit it.” I worried for Will as he contemplated his choices and wondered if the cycle of violence would ever end. Despite the appearance of the ghosts, this story felt less manipulative than Allegedly.


Back to Round Four, Bracket One

Tournament of Books, Round Four: Dear Martin vs Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

I’m going to admit that I had already read Dear Martin and Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue last year. Unfortunately, I’d done so while in the middle of a really awful bit of reader’s block, and after forcing myself through each book the first time I couldn’t muster up much excitement about revisiting these titles. Thankfully, it turned out to be an easier and more enjoyable task than expected. Of course this second reading brought about different challenges: what book do I choose now that I’m digging both of them, and how do you compare such different books?

ggtvaIn the Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Henry Montague (Monty to his friends) is embarking on his last grand hurrah before settling down to learn the ins and outs of running his father’s estate. Unfortunately, Monty’s father does not see this trip as a chance for his son to sow his wild oats (really he’s already done plenty of that), but a chance to bring him to heel. Prove yourself worthy, stay out of trouble, and the inheritance is yours Monty. Accompanied by his sister Felicity and best friend (unrequited love of his life) Percy, Monty sets off on a tour that may bore him to death. After taking a tiny lock box in true Henry Montague fashion, an impulsive gesture of petty revenge, the three find themselves running for their lives across Europe where Monty will discover how far he’ll go for love.

First, the things I absolutely loved about this book. Oh my goodness do I love a good uncertain romance with brushing fingers and fumbling kisses. I read a lot of historical romance, and this is my absolute bread and butter. Luckily MacKenzi Lee does a great job of establishing this early on, and I spent a lot of time dramatically sighing in my head about Henry and Percy’s inability to just get their crap together. Just to repeat myself, this is not a complaint. I love this kind of foolishness. The other thing I loved was Percy and Felicity calling Henry out on his white male privilege. Lee gives us a good foundation for why Henry is the way he is, but he’s never given a pass, and he is challenged to be a better human being. This journey was a long one though. At over 500 pages it was a bit of a slog at times for me.

9781101939499On the other side of this bookish duel in Dear Martin is Justyce McAllister. After being forcibly handcuffed and assaulted by a police officer while Justyce attempts to help his white passing, on-again, off-again girlfriend Melo, Justyce finds himself on his own journey, a self-reflection and study of “What would Martin do?” Told in third person narrative and first person letters to Martin Luther King Jr. we see how Justyce interacts with two worlds where he doesn’t quite fit. At his mostly white, elite private school, Justyce is faced with peers who believe that equality in the U.S. is a given, and that race is only a card that makes its appearance when convenient. Thankfully Justyce’s very cute, very white, very Jewish debate partner, Sarah Jane is willing to throw down and confront the white privilege these classmates demonstrate. In his neighborhood Justyce  is made fun of for his intellectual pursuits and what his peers assume is riding on the coattails of white people. Justyce finds himself questioning whether or not his mission to live like Martin is the right way to go when he finds himself at the center of a horrible tragedy.

I am impressed with the diversity of experiences and points of view that Nic Stone wrote into this tiny book. I think anyone that reads this book can find themselves in these pages, and that’s not always going to be a comfortable experience, but it is a valuable one.

MacKenzi Lee and Nic Stone have gifted us with two wonderful books. On the surface they seem very different from each other: a bisexual historical fiction adventure romance vs. a contemporary study of race and the value of black lives. Within the pages though you will find stories about characters finding their place in a world that seems to be fighting their very existence and trying to force them into a specific mold. Both books have a lot to say, and there are readers out there who will find importance in these stories.


Unfortunately, I do have to choose one of these books, and my winner for this round is Dear Martin. Nic Stone packed a punch in such a small book. At just over 200 pages, Stone was able to write a fantastic story that deals with the complexity of race in America and the value of black lives. This is a book I feel comfortable giving to any reader and non-reader. I also like to believe in the transformative power of books, and I think the characters and stories of Dear Martin can provide a perspective that will help readers to understand an experience that isn’t there own, to question their own values, and perhaps to go out and make things better. We see our teens standing up for change, taking control of the political and social narrative, and books like this are helping them pave that way.


Back to Round Three, Bracket Four

Onto Round Four, Bracket Two

Tournament of Books, Round Three: Caraval vs. Dear Martin

Okay, I’m going to be honest here. I don’t read YA as much as I should. But I qualify as a YA librarian now, so I’m working on it. I don’t think I avoid them on purpose. Maybe the stories are a little too contrived for my taste. Maybe I’ve had my fill of angsty romances. But if I take a second to travel back in time to the early days of my adolescence, I find the appeal. When I was a teen, I fell hard for fantasy stories. I was consumed with literature that could take me into a rich new world and let me live there. Being a teenager is hard. And the more I work with teens, the more I remember how raw it all felt. Every emotion, every life event, every single person who crossed my path could fill my head and my heart until they were nearly bursting. So I’m approaching these books with those time-traveled eyes. 

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

27883214I think Caraval tries to take you to those fantastic places to be consumed by the magic and mystery and romance. What I loved the most was its colorful and flowery language when dropping the reader into the heart of the game on the Isla de los Suenos. That’s where this book really comes to life. It’s all in the hazy atmosphere and the caricatured carnival characters and the beautiful dresses described in meticulous detail. The main protagonist, Scarlett, on the other hand, fell a little flat. I didn’t find her compelling nor did I quite buy her motives. The sister bond she spoke of constantly between her and Donatella felt painfully one-sided. For sisters with shared trauma and an unconditional love, they were surprisingly out of sync. 

 Scarlett’s over-the-top rejections of Julian’s “advances” grew old after the fifth time. Yes, we get it. You’re engaged and it would be totally improper to share a room with your pretend-fiancé. Now Julian? I bought. His charm, his swagger, and his character development were totally believable. But where Scarlett’s character development fell flat, her emotional development for Julian (after the countless rejections—let’s pretend they didn’t happen) really shone bright. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Insert yourself into the story and you’re the one falling slowly in love. You’re the one feeling her hesitation and Julian’s breath. 

 This is the first in a series and I’m interested to see how the author builds the rest of the world. I didn’t find the antagonists, Governor Dragna or Master Legend, particularly threatening, but I imagine there’s something more at stake that we won’t find in the first book. But as much as I am critical of the story, I’d definitely suggest this book to my teens looking for a different kind of fantasy read. I think Caraval will appeal to fans of dystopian fiction (somehow I get this vibe) as well as fantasy-romance. 

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

9781101939499And then we do a 180 from dystopian fantasy to realistic fiction. 

I don’t think I was prepared for what Dear Martin was going to be. I mean, in my head I think I knew it, but things got real fairly quickly. 

As a Latina, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve let myself be blind to the race issues that surround me on a day to day basis. I fear I’ve lived in a bubble too long. Too long looking at the world through rose-colored (brown-tinted?) glasses and not really seeing myself for the minority I actually am. 

 I identify with Justyce. When you come from the hood, but come out too educated, where do you even belong? How can you be not White but feel like you’re also not not White? 

I recently made friends with an old acquaintance whose writings on his perspective of what being a brown person means to him have made me focus the lens of my own cultural and racial identity. I know what it’s like to hear from your own family members, “Why do you talk so white?” and to ask yourself what that even means. And I’ve been confronted by white people who, when feeling slighted by me in some inconsequential way, told me to “go back to you where you came from, you [racial slur].” I know what it’s like to be so disgusted by the color of my own skin that I wished I could just scrub it all off as if it were just dirt. 

 I’ll never know what it’s like to be Black. And I’ll understand even less what it’s like to be a Black man. But representation in literature matters. Even if it’s not entirely representative of its reader. We can identify with Jus whether it’s because we’re a teen, because we’re Black, because we’ve suddenly fallen in love with someone we never thought we would have, or because we’ve been served some kind of injustice and we’re trying to make sense of it all. 

 Dear Martin does all of those things in a short, but powerful read. Every character felt like a real person who could be sitting in my library right this second. Every letter Justyce wrote to Dr. King was a raw and gripping insight to the hurt and betrayal he, or any kid like him, felt by a society that should be serving and protecting him. We need to be calling out and shutting down not just the Blakes (guy who thinks it’s hilarious to dress up as a Klansman at a Halloween party) of the world, but also the Jareds (guy who thinks Affirmative Action gets a Black kid into Yale and not his merit). We need to protect our Mannys from trigger-happy racists. We need to embolden and empower our Sarah Janes. We need to recognize that we are every single one of them. 

 And I think it matters now more than ever. This book deserves all the attention it’s receiving because if more YA were like this, maybe we can foster an awareness of the racial injustices that still exist to this day and engender social justice in our youth. I mean, it’s already there. So let’s keep sharing these stories. 



So Dear Martin wins this round for me. No contest. 


 Priscilla Resendiz works in Adult Reference with a focus on 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. 


Back to Round Two, Bracket Eight

Onto Round Three, Bracket Two

Tournament of Books, Round Three: The Hate U Give vs. Long Way Down

When I read my email with my assigned titles for Tournament of the Books and saw that I had both The Hate U Give AND Long Way Down, I was ecstatic. These were two books that I was incredibly excited about and I felt complemented each other well. Then it hit me how hard it was going to be to pick just one of these to win. I had to forget everything I had heard about them and any preconceived notions I might have, and went to work.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9fThe Hate U Give is such an important novel and made such an impact on the world of YA literature. This tells the story of Starr, who lives in Garden Heights A.K.A. the ghetto, but goes to a private school in wealthy, white neighborhood. This separates her from the kids that she has grown up with. At her private school she transforms herself into what she dubs “Williamson Starr”, where nothing she says or does could be construed as ghetto. In Garden Heights, she feels she can be herself, but doesn’t quite fit in since everyone from her neighborhood says she acts white because of where she goes to school. This brings her to a party where she tries to prove she fits in in Garden Heights, and the events of that night leave one of her childhood friends dead and Starr’s two worlds come crashing together.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

22552026Long Way Down is another hugely important novel that has taken the YA world by storm. This is the story of Will, who is looking to avenge the death of his brother, Shawn. Shawn was murdered in their neighborhood and Will feels he must follow The Rules that have been set down by generations before him. When he gets into the elevator that morning with his gun, ready to complete rule number three, some very unexpected guests get into the elevator with him. This story is told in verse and takes place over the course of a little over a minute, but is jam packed with stories that make Will think. During his ride down, Will must listen to these stories that are all connected to him and Shawn, and decide what is the right thing for him to do.

And the winner is…


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

This book was all over stunning. The story had me thinking about it, and the ending, long after I finished. I was moved to tears. Telling the story in verse truly brings the story to life. The way the words were positioned on the page had you feeling much like Will felt. Sometimes it was jarring, sometimes it was scattered, sometimes it was quiet, but powerful. This is also a fantastic read for a reluctant reader. It has a high page count, but when they open it, it isn’t daunting. They are able to read such a powerful story and stay engaged, without being intimidated by its length. Jason Reynolds tells a story that needs to be heard and reaches out to those that aren’t seen. Please share this book!

Tegan Beese is the Young Adult Associate at Lake Villa District Library. She is currently finishing her MSLIS at University of Illinois and can’t wait to dive back into her giant to be read pile. You can find her on Instagram @therowdylibrarian or Twitter @teegsmae


Back to Round Three, Bracket Two

Onto Round Three, Bracket Four

Tournament of Books, Round Three: Strange the Dreamer vs Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Woof.  Boy, those books were BRICKS.  Since this is Round 3, I’ll spare everyone the summaries and do my best to avoid spoilers.  As one does, in order to organize myself I made some lists.


Thoughts I had while reading The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee:


  • “OMG, Monty is the worst.  I hates him. Over-privileged white boy needs a smack in the face.”

  • “Percy, you delicate baby bird.  I just want to carry you around in my pocket.”

  • “Felicity, girl, you were born a couple decades too soon.  But, yay for women in science!”

  • “Smash the literal patriarchy, Monty!”

  • “For the love of god, just tell him how you feel!”

  • “OMG, Monty is the best.”

  • “God, that cover is awful.”


Thoughts I had while reading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor:


  • “Damn, that’s some beautiful prose.”

  • “A mysterious city named Weep?!  Yes, please! 14-year-old Lauren would live there in a heartbeat.”

  • “Is anyone else legit terrified of Minya?  Forget Sarai, the muse of nightmares. The vengeful, ghost-controlling, eternal 5-year-old will forever haunt my dreams.  Probably alongside, Interview with the Vampire’s, Claudia.”

  • “Go get your dream girl!  Literally!”


In the process of reading these MASSIVE books, I discovered some interesting truths about myself.

  • Fantasy and Science Fiction have always been my jam and I’m all for complicated and intricate universes, but I did discover that I need my world building to happen at a faster pace or I end up confused and disoriented.

  • I LOVE historical fiction.  Growing up, it definitely wasn’t my favorite and now I can‘t get enough of it.  I once read an article that stated that your taste buds change every 7 years (which is probably why I now like brussel sprouts).  I think the same goes for reading habits. I’m finding it refreshing to reflect on the past, consider the progress we’ve made (or haven’t made), and think about how we can do better.

  • I am an absolute sucker for redemption stories.  The harder the fall, the greater the rise.


Both titles have niche appeal, and as a librarian I have had no problem booktalking either of them to eager readers.  But like most people have said (in this tournament and in other reviews), the slow build of Strange the Dreamer is a pitfall I can’t ignore.  I know I’m in the minority of people who did not 100% dig Strange the Dreamer.  I’ve read countless reviews saying they, “never wanted it to end” but I kept thinking, “when is it gonna start?.”  Yes, it is beautifully written. Yes, I fell in love with the language and the setting and the characters but amidst all of that purple prose, I got completely lost in the timeline of events.  Don’t get me wrong, I am super excited for the second book but I will definitely have to begrudgingly re-read the first one to refresh my memory of events.

And the winner is…


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

So I pick, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, to move on to the next round.  Lee deftly tackles a myriad of topics that are so pertinent to modern-day culture.  Not only is it exciting (pirates) and scandalous (so much kissing), it’s an important read that will teach young people compassion and inspire them to stand up for what they care about.


Lauren Hilty is a Teen Services Librarian at the Grayslake Area Public Library.  She likes to add things that she’s already completed to her To-Do lists, just so she can immediately cross them out.  Sense of accomplishment for the win! Also, she would like to dedicate this blog post to Emma Quid, her Hazel Grace, who taught her how to be unapologetic about book choices and consumption of ice cream.

Back to Round Three, Bracket One

Onto Round Three, Bracket Three