Round one: The Young Elites vs. We Were Liars — Two Tales of Power and Falsehood

In this corner: Marie Lu’s The Young Elites, a paranormal adventure detailing the rise of Adelina Amouteru. Adelina survived a deadly illness that left her with strange markings, supernatural powers, and societal scorn. After leaving her cruel father in the dust, she joins the secret society of the Young Elites and begins to develop her ability to create illusions — an ability strengthened byyoung elites fear and fury.

And in this corner: E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, a realistic mystery in which Cadence Sinclair Easton struggles to piece together what happened during her fifteenth summer. During summers spent on her family’s private island off the coast of Massachusetts, Cadence and her cousins and their dear friend have been inseparable. Now, Cadence suffers from amnesia and migraines after a mysterious accident and struggles to understand the changes around her.

The title of each book could almost describe the other. Two different visions of privilege play out, with We Were Liars centering on old money as a source of power and The Young Elites on unnatural abilities. Both books place our protagonists in tiny and select groups. Adelina’s lies rival those of Cadence — she doesn’t just lie to everyone around her, she creates illusions that twist their very perceptions of what is real. Meanwhile, Cadence is a highly unreliable narrator who has covered over unpleasant events in the past with such skill that she literally can’t remember them. When I set out to compare these titles, I wasn’t sure I could juxtapose such vastly different genres. But once I started, I found parallels everywhere I looked.

Our protagonists have strong and complex ties to difficult relatives. Although the Sinclairs are far more affectionate than the Amouterus, a quest for powwe were liarser drives a wedge between generations and spurs destructive behavior in both families. Cadence’s mother and her two sisters vie for their father’s love and money. In sharp contrast, Cadence loves her cousins and friend with abandon. Adelina’s father abuses her and eventually drives her to lash out at him, while her feelings toward her sister swing between love, hate, jealousy, and protectiveness. Both young women feel incredibly lonely, and indeed they are alone even when they’re surrounded by people who want to include them.

Adelina and Cadence have deep literal and psychological wounds and are haunted by ghosts of the past. They make bad decisions, and bad things happen to those they love. As I read The Young Elites, which drips with descriptions of Adelina’s dark and difficult character, I wondered how she would redeem herself. When I finished We Were Liars, I wondered if redemption was possible.

In the end, the biggest difference lies in the writing style. Lyrical and lovely, We Were Liars includes lines like, “There is not even a Scrabble word for how bad I feel.” Adelina’s emotions may be complex, but their expression generally isn’t: “I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside. It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.” I predict that Lu’s book will make more money than Lockhart’s, especially if the rest of the series lives up to the intriguing characters and plot introduced in the first book. But Lockhart’s novel still haunts me months after I initially read it.

Winner: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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Round one: The Winner’s Curse vs. This One Summer

In The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkowski, readers are introduced to a world wherein the nation of Herrani had not very long ago been conquered and then enslaved by the Valorian army. Kestrel, our seventeen year old main character, is the daughter of a Valorian army general, and is on the cusp of having to make a huge life choice because at the tender age of twenty, Valorian citizens are forced to either enlist in the military – or get married.winner's curse

Kestrel, of course, wants nothing to do with either of these options, preferring to devote her life to the piano rather than follow in her father’s footsteps or raise a litter of children. Music, however, was highly esteemed in Herrani society, and while it is acceptable for Valorians to enjoy, it is not permitted for a Valorian to play an instrument, sing, or otherwise make music in any way or form.

When the book began – and, honestly, based off of its summary – it reminded me of a strange combination between Wuthering Heights and Footloose, a correlation which was only strengthened by one of the characters, Arin Smith, and his resemblance to a younger, more verbose Heathcliff. But I digress – the book picks up remarkably once it delves into Smith’s revolutionary plans, and, even better, Kestrel grows a spine (apparently political intrigue suits her).

The Winner’s Curse also falls within the romance genre, and there is of course an obligatory love-triangle, which was for once not that obnoxious – all three characters are pretty well-developed, amusing, and well-written. On top of this, the world building was excellently handled; there was no info-dump, everything (society, rules, the culture, etc.) made sense and was explained naturally through the course of the book, and the political plot is, in a word, amazing. There were portions in the story where the plot was transparent, but it is an overall enjoyable journey that even featured awesome background characters.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki is, first and foremost, a piece of breathtaking artwork. I mean, the art for this graphic novel is seriously A+, 10/10 would recommend. This One Summer is about a young girl named Rose Abigail Wallace. Rose has gone on a family vacation to the same each in the same town and played with the same friend (Windy) since she was five, but this summer – THIS summer – it’s different. This summer Rose’s parents are fighting.

There are other kids at the beach, locals and vacationers like Rose and Windy, and everybody seems to know everybody in a small-town kind of way – which would be great, but apparently RThis-One-Summer1ose’s parents’ fight has also caused Rose to feel the need to act out in cruel little vindictive ways girls do – especially when aimed at other girls.

This One Summer is, at its heart, a coming of age story. The story is tied with a meditation on divorce and its possible effects on the children caught between feuding parents, but it is mostly about that period in life where a child teeters on the edge between youth and their teenaged years – and you can literally feel the teetering here, it’s excellent. On one side, Rose is very ambivalent towards growing up; all Rose really wants to do is relax at the beach with friends she’s had for years. On the other hand, however, this summer Rose is obsessed with the lives of the older teens at the beach, and is also experimenting with the words they use (sluts! boobs!) and the things they try (bullying! sex! cigarettes!).

The characters in This One Summer are achingly familiar to anyone who has grown up. The artwork is beautiful and the characters are lovely and bittersweet in their awkward transition towards adulthood. The story was very real and did not pull punches with either content or language.

The Verdict: This was a challenging round to judge for me. Not only is judging between two mediums is always going to be difficult, but I equally adore graphic novels and the Fantasy genre, so attempting to choose between the two was a strain. As much as I love myself some High Fantasy and world building, The Winner’s Curse was at heart a Romance and did not have a strong enough female protagonist for my tastes, never mind the whole casually treated background issue of war and enslavement of the conquered society. This One Summer, however vivid and beautiful, was just so horribly negative – though essentially a bildungsroman, the entire story was filled with girls hating on other girls (spoiler: there’s slut-shaming).

I honestly thought I was going to like This One Summer best, but it turns out the winner is…

Winner: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkowski

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock vs. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock vs. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

 The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick are two very coldest girl in coldtowndark, compelling novels with extremely different plots. The former is a dystopian thriller and the latter an emotionally intense realistic fiction novel.

Holly Black creates a terrifying world in her novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown where a mother infected by the vampire infection can turn against her own daughter when thirsty for blood.  Vampires are both feared and awed, as they are in many traditional vampire stories.  Unlike many paranormal novels, this one is chilling and bloody with a unique, steadfast heroine named Tana. The story is wildly imaginative and richly detailed with memorable characters, which creates quite the page-turner.

From the other end of the YA spectrum we have a realistic fiction novel, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.  Matthew Quick writes stories with some unforgettable characters, Leonard Peacock being one of them.  He is a loner and an outcast who sees himself as worthless. The entire story takes place in one day, in the tortured mind of a self-loathing, darkly humorous boy on his eighteenth birthday.  The story moves quickly, is tense and heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful. Quick is a master at using internal dialogue to create a cold and distant character who we eventually see as a troubled, uncertain boy who just needs someone who understands what he is going through.

While The Coldest Girl in Coldtown will be a favorite amongst fans of suspenseful, paranormal thrillers, for me, I have to go with the darkly humorous Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.  Leonard’s problems are more relatable and even though he isn’t always proactive and he makes bad decisions, his story will still resonate with readers. The book will make you feel angry, and frustrated, and disturbed, and yet still hopeful.  That is the indication of a novel worth reading.  Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a story that you will keep thinking about long after you’ve finished reading.

WINNER: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

forgive me, leonard peacock