Round one: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces Vs. The Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife of Memory is the kind of book that hauntingly sucks you into its depths. I will be
the first to admit that this is not the type of book that I pick up on my own, so I was hesitant at first
about whether I would truly enjoy it.

The book follows 17 year old Hayley as she attempts to survive life with her war-injured veteran father.  impossible knife of memoryAs is slightly predictable, Hayley’s father is irrational, impulsive, bordering on alcoholism and very clearly suffering from PTSD. Andy Kincain is so torn apart by war that lacking the ability to re-adapt to life stateside, he consistently moves from place to place, never staying for long. He fears overpasses, crowds, IEDS and snipers around every corner.

Hayley attempts to raise herself and take care of her father while trying to figure out her own place in this world. Both Hayley and her father strike out against a cast of well-meaning characters and we, as the readers, know that the book will have to hit rock bottom before getting better.

This book was, I felt, a true representation of what it must be like for many families dealing with PTSD after military service. This kind of insight is deep and raw and your heart breaks for both Hayley and her father. Anderson does a good job at getting to the core of the emotion she is trying to convey and the book achieves the emotion well.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is the story of a 17-year-old Mexican-American girl living in California. She is a very average American girl living with the constant struggle of trying to be a “good” Mexican girl. Her family, her mother in particular, put a lot of pressure on her to help the family, not have sex and to lose weight. She is dealing with the very normal teen themes of friends, family, boys, high school, and college applications among other things when her real underlying stress is her drug-addicted father. He is a classic disappointment to his children, always making and breaking promises and disappearing for weeks on end to get high. She finds some release from this struggle in poetry, at which she discovers she is very good. It even leads to a new relationship with someone who seems to truly see her for who she is.

The book is told in diary format, which only serves to make you feel like you’re getting the entire truth from the character – good and bad. The truth is, there is no bad to Gabi. She is a good person, trying to look out for those she loves while searching for a way to be herself and love herself and be okay with that.

Seeing all this through Gabi’s eyes made me feel very connected to my own teenage years. Quintero has a way of writing that really makes it believable that these are Gabi’s words and not an imagining of a teen by an adult. You truly feel that this is a teen who isn’t sure where priorities should lie, but that nothing might ever be as important as what is happening right now. If that doesn’t describe most teens, than I don’t know what does!

The Verdict: As I have seen many other judges say that they weren’t sure who the winner would be until this point, I too am at a loss. While neither book was something I would have just grabbed off the shelf (dystopian, post-apocalyptic, zombies being my drugs of choice) both of these books were touching in memorable ways. The realism of both characters rang true. Both writers seem to grasp their stories, and neither of the endings seems far-fetched or drawn together too neatly to be real. Therefore, I have to go with my winner for two reasons. Firstly, the voices in each book felt real, but one book felt more true to really being the thoughts and words of a teen.  Secondly, hope. While both books had a hopeful ending, one of them left me feeling more hopeful that everything would be okay. I know, I know that’s a weird thing for a fan of dystopian books to choose as a deciding factor, but there you have it.

Winner: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

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In the Shadow of Blackbirds VS Out of the Easy

Which one will be the winner? Both of these books were stories I had been looking forward to reading. I decided not to read the previous bracket reviews of both and just start with the basic knowledge I had of both stories. So, on with the fun!

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters is set during the influenza outbreak of 1918. Mary Shelley lives in a in the shadow of blackbirdsworld where everyone’s nerves are frayed and on edge. Between not trusting neighbors for fear they could be spies and the flu pandemic that is striking down healthy young men and women, the country is gripped by terror. Mary Shelley is on run to San Diego to live with her aunt after her father was arrested for being a traitor. One solace Mary Shelley has is thinking of her love Stephen, who is off in Europe fighting in the war. Soon word of Stephen’s death reaches her. Voices and mysterious happenings make Mary Shelley believe Stephen is reaching out from beyond the grave to tell her something. Is it real or is it fake? And if it is real—what does he want her to know?

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys is also a historical novel, this time set during 1950 in New Orleans. Josie has essentially raised herself since she was 12. She has a mom, but her mom doesn’t care at all for her. Josie works mornings at a brothel for Willie. Willie might be a madam but she’s also a savvy businesswoman, well-connected in the community, and Josie’s mom’s boss. Josie second job is as a shopgirl at a bookstore. Between these two jobs and taking care of Charlie (the owner of the shop who’s suffering from a brain injury), Josie dreams of a life away from New Orleans and away from the life she associates with her mom. She’s inspired to apply to Smith after meeting an out-of-town Smith student as well as a bookstore customer who mistakes her for a college student. When the customer dies mysteriously, Josie’s world starts to falter as her mother is suspected of murder.

The winner is Out of the Easy. I really enjoyed In the Shadows of Blackbirds’s atmosphere and the contrast between Mary Shelley’s scientific mind and what is happening to her. I felt on edge during the whole story—would anyone survive? However, Out of the Easy captured my heart from the beginning. Josie was an amazing character to spend time with. The people who made up Josie’s world were an eclectic mix and I liked the family that she had found in them. A mix of mystery, coming-of-age, romance, and historical fiction—I felt like I could feel the steamy air of New Orleans around me. The feelings of not fitting in and wanting more are so universal that I found myself hoping that Josie would win out over New Orleans.

Winner: Out of the Easy

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