Tournament of Books, Round Two: Caraval vs Landscape with Invisible Hand

This was a hard decision for me.  For one, these are two works of YA fiction which would be hard to make more different from each other. For another, I love the world-building in both, as well as the language which reflects the style of each world.  To boot, I have my own inclinations that might happen to be skewed less toward that of mass-appeal, and feel like I waffle between both for different reasons, even now. See, I have a penchant for science fiction and stories with dry humor and irony (Landscape), as well as shorter works.  I also tend not to like cliched or cheesy romance that has not had time to develop, yet has to take itself ultra-seriously as a plot-point (Caraval).

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M T Anderson

landscapeI love M.T. Anderson’s works, his directness, natural commentary on modern life without being heavy-handed, and that he requires a little more abstraction and working the imagination-muscle. Like his Feed, the sci-fi aspects (the aliens, setting, etc.) don’t take center stage but are a framework for the characters, relationship and dialogue.  Contrasted to Caraval’s omniscient, candid tell-all narrative, more is left unsaid but still understood – the author gives context and atmosphere that allow the feelings and tension he wants to convey, to sink in.  He has so many phrases which are gems, at the same time keeping much of the writing grounded in a doggedly mundane, real unreality (as opposed to Caraval’s beautiful, unreal-unreality).  This might leave the story feeling sparse or tedious for some, but I think it’s great for older teens who appreciate irony and stories that are not action-packed or visually “pretty.” Similar to how the Alex award features adult books that will find teen readership; I would put this in a category of YA books that could have special appeal for adults.

In Landscape, Adam and Chloe have grown to dislike each other but continue to act as fake-boyfriend/girlfriend in something analogous to a pay-per-view youtube channel providing entertainment for the vuvv, aliens who have taken over Earth.  The vuvv are in a position of power, taking advantage of the broken human economy. For instance, while the vuvv have the cure to every disease, very few humans can get good jobs or afford to pay for things like medical treatment.  Adam, a painter, decides to enter a vuvv art contest with a hefty prize, choosing to risk painting the landscapes he loves, rather than what the vuvv are known to like. With such a cool premise, I feel like it could’ve been expanded and developed more.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

27883214If Anderson’s use of language and descriptions in Landscape is sometimes spartan, Garber’s is baroque.  Highly readable, Garber creates a delicious visual escapade, painted so vividly it goes down smooth as a milkshake (with psychedelic sprinkles).  The setting of Caraval plays as important a role as any character.  Sisters Scarlet and Tella end up separated at Caraval – something of a carnival in a city, or a city in a carnival.  Intending to only stay one day, they’re stranded for five in a game where magic and fantasy blend with reality. It’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins.  Readers will enjoy large doses of action, romance, family issues (complex sisterly love and their struggle against an abusive father who also plays cruel games). They will rub elbows with characters who manipulate, question who to trust, question their senses and the price of their sanity.  You won’t just remember what happened – you’ll remember colors vibrant with emotion, smells, sounds, tastes, the feel of temperature, different fabrics and pressure of touch. This is a place you want to spend time in, and while you’re there, uncover history and clues to a high-stakes competition.  Granted, this is only the first in the series, I felt there was a lot of intrigue and repetition about how fantastical Caraval was, but I wanted the book to show me more of this rather than talk around it, in the places it did. Perhaps the author was just saving some surprises for the sequel(s). Just like the five days they spend at Caraval, it seems to go by too fast.

And the winner is…


Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Despite my personal tastes, I had to go with Caraval as the winner for this round, because I think it offers more to more readers (and more types of readers) than Landscape With Invisible Hand.

Annie Budzinski is a Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw YA librarian at the West Chicago Public Library, local explorer, and kid at heart.

Back to Round One, Bracket Sixteen

Onto Round Two, Bracket Two


Tournament of Books, Round One: Landscape with Invisible Hand vs Motor Crush

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M T Anderson

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson is an entertaining book that slyly pokes fun at material culture with a sci-fi framing.

landscapeEarth has recently been colonized by Vuvv aliens, and at first their medical and technological advances seem like a boon, but soon it puts people out of work and society starts to collapse. Teen Adam’s parents are out of work and struggling to hold on to their home and dignity. When another family moves in to share with the bills, Adam falls in love with their daughter Chloe. Adam and Chloe broadcast their choreographed dates to the Vuvv (who enjoy retro 50’s era Earth courtship) for money, but when their romance fades in real life, Adam hopes his artwork will win an award to bring in money for his family and save them from financial ruin.

Each chapter title relates to a piece of artwork that Adam is working on, and once readers figure that out, it’s fun to imagine how it ties into a narrative about alien colonization. What Adam does at the end of the story seems counterintuitive to what people think today, but that’s what might make readers stop and think about their own choices and motivations.  

The story was refreshingly short, as I believe too many YA novels are overblown, and the satire was spot on. The narrative can be enjoyed on several levels- as a fun sci-fi romp or as a witty reminder of how much social media and how we wish to be identified can define us.

Motor Crush by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr

Motor Crush by Brenden FletcherCameron Stewart  and Babs Tarr is an action adventure/sci-fi graphic novel.

motor crushMain character, Domino Swift is a beautiful young woman who races motorcycles for a living as did her famous father years ago. In a world similar to ours, but set in the indeterminate future, the World Grand Prix dominates social media and the economy. Domino is one of the top racers on the circuit, but at night she participates secretly in bike races with gang members to illegally obtain a machine stimulant called Crush. There is an undercurrent of crime and addiction that run through the narrative, with an out of left field twist about Domino’s origins. Many unanswered questions start to build at the end, with story lines set up for future volumes.

An appealing romance is established between Domino and pink haired Lola, who is a star mechanic. While currently not dating, the two are still connected and their relationship is accepted by everyone around them. That their relationship is natural and easy is a plus, its part of the narrative, no more or no less than any other characters. Kudos for the representation!

The art is top notch with bold anime-inspired illustrations in Babs Tarr’s distinctive style. The team give Domino and Lola a fresh look, and the panels and splash pages have some nice variety. I was definitely crushing on Motor Crush and that the volume ends on an intriguing cliff hanger will bring me back for more!

And the winner is…


Landscape with Invisible Hand by M T Anderson

Both books were exceptionally strong and both had sci-fi underpinnings in the narrative. As a graphic novels fan, I certainly liked Motor Crush but am pushing Landscape with Invisible Hand through to the next bracket. I feel that the graphic novel might be too much of a niche book with the motorcross racing, while M.T. Anderson’s astute book would have more appeal to a larger audience. If put in teens’ hands, the political and social satire found in the book could inspire some thought provoking conversations.

Nancy McKay is the Teen Services Coordinator at Ella Johnson Library in Hampshire. A married mom of three, she also co-writes for the blog Graphic Novelty² (please add link:

Back to Round One, Bracket One

Onto Round One, Bracket Three