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

Tournament of Books, Round Three: Moxie vs Allegedly

At this point in the Tournament of Books, the books are not necessarily related to one another. They aren’t necessarily the same genre or even the same format. That being said, I happened to get two contemporary and novels that explore timely issues which made the comparison a little more clear-cut for me.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

moxieMoxie is about Vivian Carter. She has lived in the same small Texas town her entire life. It is a place where football rules and football players are allowed to do whatever they want to whomever they want. Viv has had enough. Inspired by her mom’s Riot Grrrl teens, she creates Moxie an anonymous zine to empower her fellow female students to start fighting back. It starts slowly but it isn’t long until Moxie builds into a movement. It is a good book. It is a good introduction to feminism and starting a movement. It isn’t as good at intersectionality and it is pretty tidy. That being said, this is a great introduction to the idea of feminism and finding your voice when you feel you don’t have one.

Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson

41Pkis9KXqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Allegedly is the story of Mary B. Addison who killed a baby when she was nine. Allegedly. She is out of jail and living in a group home. Her vision of what her life could be now is not aligned with the vision of the justice system or the public that convicted her six years ago. She didn’t have much of a reason to set the story straight until she met Ted and became pregnant. Now she needs to speak up to keep her baby. This is one of those books that you think you have figured out, until you don’t. And then you don’t again. It also isn’t a perfect book. Maybe it would have been better if you knew what happened at the end and worked your way through from there? It is compelling, sad, and gritty. It is a look inside the juvenile justice system from a new angle. It is also definitely worth reading.

And the winner is…


Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson

I read Moxie first so I was pretty sure as I was reading Allegedly that I knew it was going to eke its way out in front for me. It turns out that the last chapter of Allegedly made this round a buzzerbeater (to borrow a sportsball phrase) but ultimately it was the stronger book. Allegedly goes to the next round.


Becca Boland is the Teen Librarian/Assistant Head of Popular Materials at the Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich. She has been a proud teen librarian for over a decade and was honored to receive the ILA Young Adult Librarian of the Year Award in 2016. She talks about books (teen and otherwise) on Ela’s podcast, Three Books.


Back to Round Three, Bracket Three

Tournament of Books, Round Two: Moxie vs Prince in Disguise

Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm

25844635All of her life, 16 year old Dylan Leigh has lived in the shadow of her reality TV star and beauty queen sister, Dusty, never quite measuring up to other’s expectations of her.  So when Dylan is dragged to Scotland as part of Dusty’s wedding to Ronan, a Scottish laird, there’s nothing she wants to do more than disappear. Unfortunately, the always-on and always-close cameras documenting the weeks leading up to the wedding and the hawkish producer Pamela won’t let that happen as she keeps finding ways to cast Dylan in an unflattering light. But when Dylan meets the charmingly awkward groomsmen Jaime, she starts to feel as if she’s really being seen for the first time. She just wishes it wasn’t being filmed for reality TV.

In this high school version of The Bachelor meets Princess Diaries, with a touch of Bridget Jones’ Diary, readers are drawn into a story that features witty banter, charming characters, and some genuinely laugh-out-loud funny moments. The highly romanticized fairy tale setting of a Christmas-time, winter wonderland Scotland, replete with horse drawn carriages and snowy kisses, is no less than what you would expect of a Hyperion (Disney) book. Strohm even manages to throw the reader off by including twists that aren’t twists alongside twists that are (got that?), and even more impressively, finds ways to allow secondary characters to develop beyond their one-dimensional first impressions. This is a mostly clean read that is sure to provide feel good vibes to whomever picks it up.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

moxieAfter years of keeping her head down at school, the usually “dutiful” high school junior Vivian Carter can’t stay silent anymore about the rampant sexism occurring all around her: dress code violations are enforced on the girls while boys are able to wear lewd and tasteless t-shirts, teachers turn a blind eye to boys participating in the so-called game bump’n’grab, and funding for girls’ sports and education take a backseat to funding for the football team. Vivian doesn’t feel brave enough to speak out publicly – she doesn’t want to disappoint her family – but, drawing inspiration from her mom’s 90s feminist punk history, she decides to create an anonymous zine to give voice to her anger and frustration. What starts out as a small call to arms eventually turns into a movement, and Vivian discovers she had more moxie than she ever imagined.

This book touches on important topics and does so in a manner that is believable, inclusive, and praiseworthy. Besides including an unofficial soundtrack throughout the story and back matter that will lead readers to more resources on feminism, Mathieu peppers the entire book with moments that any aspiring feminist – either girl or boy – can appreciate. Not letting Seth get away with his subdued but ingrained misogyny was a true show of character for Vivian, no pun intended. Mathieu also includes LGBTQ characters and characters of color, but does so in ways that aren’t preachy or over the top. While it’s easy to wish she went more into the discrimination these characters face – she does touch upon it – in addition to the harassment they have to deal with, the reader knows this story isn’t about those issues per se, and so the characters are merely there, having the same awful experiences and fighting the same fight as everyone else. That is, in its own way, a refreshing change of pace.

And the winner is…

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

At first glance, these books seem vastly different in the stories they will tell when in fact, they have quite a bit in common. Though one looks saccharine and bright, and the other dark and edgy, both tell the stories of fatherless, physically commanding (tall), romantically stifled Southern girls who do their best to remain unseen until an outside event forces them to own their own worth. Both are given a shot at first kisses and first boyfriends while they try to navigate the choppy waters of learning to defy expectations (both their own and others’) in order to lead the life that’s meant for them.

Both stories lived up to the expected conventions of their respective genres (romance and realistic fiction) but in this hashtag-happy era of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, #MeToo, and #TimesUp, Moxie’s unapologetic feminism and inclusiveness of racial and sexual diversity puts it on top in the battle between tall Southern belles coming out of their shell.

Alea Perez has enthusiastically led the Youth Services department at the Westmont Public Library, located in the Chicago suburbs, since 2015. For 9 years, she has aimed to help children, teens, and their caregivers discover the joy and wonder of libraries in both IL and AZ and recently ended her term as Chair of YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens.


Back to Round Two, Bracket Seven

Onto Round Three, Bracket One

Tournament of Books, Round Two: Allegedly vs Spinning

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

41Pkis9KXqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Confession time, my book friends: I? I am a flipper. Especially with mysteries and thrillers. That’s right. Somewhere about a third to halfway through these books, I flip to the back of the book and read the end. Sometimes I just have to know who survives. Or if I guessed the murderer correctly. Or who killed the cat! I tried with Allegedly not to flip. I tried so hard. But, friends? I failed. And I’m SO GLAD I DID. Knowing how this book ends? Meant that I was able to see some things about how Jackson crafted the plot and Mary’s voice which I never might have noticed otherwise. It reminded my of Code Name Verity and how I wanted to start that book all over immediately once I finished reading it.

Allegedly is a puzzle box of a psychological mystery and a grim depiction of the harsh reality that comes when the juvenile criminal justice system, mental illness, and teenagers combine. Jackson captures the everyday difficulties placed in the way of the rehabilitation of the group home girls; what Mary has to go through just to get a state ID is maddening. I sincerely hope that not every group home is this bad, but I certainly believe that some are which is really unconscionable. The need for criminal justice reform shines clearly through this book, but it never obscures the intricate plot, Mary’s desperate fight to improve her chances at life for both herself and her baby, or the very complex mother/daughter relationships on display through a variety of characters.

Spinning by Tillie Walden

spinningSpinning is a graphic memoir following Tillie Walden from 6th through 11th grades focusing on her experiences as a competitive figure skater. Walden excels at giving her memoir a distant moodiness that captures her ambivalent feelings towards this portion of her adolescence and her time in the figure skating world. Where Allegedly was gritty, Spinning is bleak. Walden faces bullying, sexual assault, homophobia, a grueling schedule, and somewhat disinterested parents. Faces may be the wrong term though – for large portions of the memoir, Walden floats through events, letting herself be carried along and swallowing her feelings. It makes the climactic moment when she tells her mother she’s quitting figure skating all the more powerful, but getting there takes a long time.

The art is sketchy and at times I had to double-check which ice skating colleague was being depicted. I wonder if that was deliberate on Walden’s part since most of the other ice skaters don’t seem to register as full people for her. In fact, other than Tillie, I didn’t feel like any of the characters in the book were fully developed, but with the focus being tightly on Tillie’s experiences, again perhaps that was deliberate. I did particularly enjoy the chapter headers depicting specific figure skating moves and Tillie’s feelings about them. I even looked up some brief YouTube videos of each move so I could get a better feel about what they were like in real life.

And the winner is……..


Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

I haven’t stopped thinking about this book since I finished it. While I enjoyed Spinning, in the end, I am a reader for plot and in depth characterization both of which Allegedly has in spades. Reading Allegedly was so intense that I had to stop for breaks a couple times. I sort of want to apologize to the next judge because it is gritty and tough, but in the end it’s worth it. Plus – I need people to help me sort something out. *SPOILER ALERT*


Alright – seriously folks – who killed the cat???? I had to check three times to make sure it really doesn’t say. Was it supposed to be Sarah (New Girl)? Or Kelly? Or Mary during a rage blackout which is why we don’t get let in on it? Opinions, please!!!

Jennifer Jazwinski is the Popular Materials Assistant Manager at the Palatine Public Library District. She blogs about starred reviews and best book lists and book awards at Jen J’s Booksheets – sometimes there’s even graphs! (Ok, there was one post with graphs, but she hopes to include more soon because she’s a math and numbers nerd and loves them.) You can also find her as Bkwrm7 on Litsy.


Back to Round Two, Bracket Six

Onto Round Two, Bracket Eight

Tournament of Books, Round Two: The Hate U Give vs Warcross


When I found out my first assigned book was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, I squealed because that was one of the best books I read in 2017, and I knew there were very few books it could be paired with that would prevent me from moving it on. Then I was assigned Warcross by Marie Lu. I’ve never been a huge fan of science fiction, especially gaming sci-fi, so I admittedly went into this competition knowing I would pick T.H.U.G. to win.

This is probably a librarian sin, but Warcross is the kind of book I’d rather see played out in a movie both because of the visual potential–Emika’s hair is rainbow-colored, and it’s not every day a book takes place in Tokyo–and also because it took at least half the book for any action to take place. I found myself wishing I was reading any of the books in my “to-read-right-now” stack instead of this one that took 150+ pages for me to get invested. Underwhelming, if you will.

With that said, one of the characters says, “Everything is science fiction before it’s science fact,” which was a satisfying reminder about why sci-fi can be such a worthwhile, imaginative genre. And I’m happy to have another book to recommend to students who are fans of Ready Player One and Ender’s Game. Ultimately, though, it was a choice between moving forward something relevant and poignant and something for the escapist.

I went with relevant and necessary. Because while reading to better understand the current state of the world and reading to escape it are both important and valid, T.H.UG. carries an immediacy. I want to get it into the hands of everyone, especially people who do not understand or choose to disparage the Black Lives Matter movement.

Due to a lengthy commute, I get most of “reading” in via audiobooks during the school year. While listening to The Hate U Give, I arrived at work in tears. Every. Day. For as many feelings I’ve had while reading over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever been moved to tears like this.

I’ll let Starr speak for herself:

That’s the problem. We let people say stuff. And they say it so much that it becomes okay to them. And normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re going to be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

And the winner is…


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Ayse Liebovich is the librarian at Bartlett High School and also on the Steering Committee of the Lincoln Book Award. She continues to be overwhelmed by her neverending to-read list.



Back to Round Two, Bracket Five

Onto Round Two, Bracket Seven

Tournament of Books, Round Two: Long Way Down vs The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee are both unique Young Adult novels that capture diverse cultures.  Set in the San Francisco area, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is full of Chinese mythology, comic dialogue, high school humor and features a strong Chinese American female protagonist. Long Way Down is a verse novel that deals with gun violence in the African American community.


In Long Way Down, the beauty of the poetry, the placement of words upon each page and the gray graphics present a work of art.  The character of Will comes alive as the elevator descends and a ghost enters on each floor. Once I started reading I could not put the novel down. It was hard for me to get through The Epic Crush of Genie Lo since I found the characters annoying.

The words in Long Way Down flow smoothly which showed a lot of effort on the part of the author. Writing poetry and causing an emotional response is not an easy task. I found the writing in The Epic Crush of Genie Lo jarring and disjointed.

The moods of both books are a study in contrasting tones. Although Genie and Quentin must battle ferocious demons the plot is spiced with humor and outrageous situations and the readers leaves with a feeling of lightness. Long Way Down slams the reader with its gritty realism and senseless violence. The ending took my breath away and left me with strong motivation to discuss the book with teen readers.

And the winner is…


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

The writing, style of presentation and impact are the factors that influence my choice of Long Way Down as the winner.  Long Way Down will stand the test of time as an outstanding work of Young Adult fiction.


Back to Round Two, Bracket Four

Onto Round Two, Bracket Six