Tournament of Books Round 2: Bone Gap vs. The Rest of Us Just Live Here

I was given the task of reviewing two critically acclaimed books for the Tournament this year. Critics, as well as our previous reviewers, have raved over them. Bone Gap was the winner of the distinguished Printz Award. Imagine my distress, when I found, unfortunately, I didn’t exactly love either book.

Bone Gap, is the haunting tale of two brothers, the foreign girl who simultaneously connects them and pulls them further apart, and her mysterious disappbone gapearance. It is a tale of appearances, family, friendship and love – in many forms. Laura Ruby slowly sets up the story of Roza’s disappearance, and takes the time to build the characters. We come to know the quirky characters in this small town. Finn, Sean, Petey and the rest, are fully developed people that almost jump off the page. Roza, the visitor, is a bit more complex. The magical realism devices the author uses, and the interweaving of past and present, make it a bit more difficult to relate to her as a character. The book is beautifully written and explores relationships in a way that feels fresh. While I appreciate the author’s writing style, and I can understand the acclaim that the book received, it left me feeling a bit flat. The slow build-up made it difficult to get into, and the story didn’t stay with me after the last page was turned.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a book that I was hugely excited to read, as I have been a fan of Patrick Ness for years. The concept of this story, which focuses on the blurry secondary characters, is a fantastic one. We can’t all be superheroes, but we can all live heroically. It became clear upon reading this story that much of the set-up is a nod to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Being the superfan that I am, I thought this was ingenious.

Jared from The Rest of Us Just Live Here:

Not everyone has to be the Chosen One. Not everyone has to be the guy who saves the world. Most people just have to live their lives the best they can, doing the things that are great for them, having great friends, trying to make their lives better, loving people properly. All the while knowing that the world makes no sense but   trying to find a way to be happy anyway.”

rest of us just live hereXander from Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

They’ll never know how tough it is, Dawnie. To be the one who isn’t chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more than anybody realizes because nobody’s watching me. I saw you last night. I see you working here today. You’re not special. You’re extraordinary.”

I think most readers can relate to these quotes, and to a further extent, to these characters. We know the kid with anxiety issues. We know the kid who is afraid to admit his crush to a friend. We know the kid with body issues. However, that being said, focusing on the secondary characters can sometimes be a bit, well…boring. That was a bit of a let-down.

While both books were technically flawless, neither book honestly excited me. At the end of the day, The Rest of Us Still Live Here slightly edged out Bone Gap because of the relatability of the characters.

Not an easy choice, but The Rest of Us Still Live Here wins this round.


Reviewed by Rebekah Raleigh, McHenry Public Library District


Tournament of Books Round 2: Walk on Earth a Stranger vs. The Alex Crow

Comparing The Alex Crow and Walk on walk on earth a strangerEarth a Stranger is tricky. One might think comparing two books is like deciding between Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples. In this case, it’s more like comparing apples to celery. Or comparing a goldfish to a shoe. These books are so completely different, a comparison is very, very tricky.

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson is the story of Lee, a 16-year-old girl living in Virginia in 1849. Lee has a gift that comes in very useful in this time and place – she can sense gold. Nuggets buried in dirt, dust in a stream, or even jewelry around someone’s neck, gold takes her breath away and calls to her. Lee and her parents have used this talent wisely. They are no richer nor poorer than anyone else in their small town, and they are a close, happy trio. One day, this all goes wrong. Lee returns home to find her parents murdered and their hidden stash of gold stolen. Disguising herself as a boy, Lee flees to California with her best friend Jefferson, drawn by the recent discovery of gold in the area.

I really enjoyed Walk on Earth a Stranger. Historical fiction is my cup of tea, and this was a well-done story about a time period that doesn’t get much play in YA fiction. The bit of fantasy thrown into the otherwise realistic story is also a fun touch. The only downfall of the story, if there was one, is that it was slightly predictable. It follows the format that so many other novels follow – young orphan gets by with plucky attitude and talents, has a number of minor adventures, and *SPOILER* confronts the bad guy at the end. However, this doesn’t detract from the story in any way. I finished this and felt for sure it was going to be the winner of my two books.

alex crowThe Alex Crow by Andrew Smith doesn’t summarize well. I read the LOC summary and thought “This book sounds like four unrelated stories crammed into one.” Primarily, it is the story of a boy named Ariel, who is the sole survivor of a massacre in his Middle Eastern Village. Ariel is taken from his refugee village and “adopted” by an American army major. He is placed in a small West Virginian town with a family that includes Max, a boy only 16 days older than Ariel. Max’s father works for a research group who is creating all sorts of top-secret devices and incredible projects, including bringing animals like the Polynesian Crow back from extinction. (So what if this de-extinction process has the small side effect of making the animals suicidal?) Mixed in with Ariel’s stories of his present and past are diary entries of an arctic expedition gone wrong and sections about the “melting man,” who is listening to Joseph Stalin talk in his head and is building a giant bomb in his U-haul.

The different stories, as crazy as it sounds, tie together in the end. Smith drops hints as the novel progresses and the reader begins to see how these are all related. Each different story has a clear voice and style so there is no doubt which narrative one is reading and no confusion, which really surprised and pleased me. Even though there are unusual elements to the story, it’s definitely not a fantasy and would fall under the emerging genre of Realistic Fantasy.

I was so sure Walk on Earth a Stranger was my winner, I didn’t start The Alex Crow for a few days. But when I finally did start it, I couldn’t put it down. The Alex Crow is more intricate, more intriguing, and written with more depth and complexity than Walk on Earth a Stranger. These two books have different audiences and will each appeal to teens in a different way. While it’s not really fair to compare these two books (again, like comparing tacos to gingko trees), The Alex Crow is the clear winner for its unique format, clever storyline, and interesting characters. I can’t adequately sell it to you. Just read it.


Reviewed by Gail Guzman, Librarian at Thornton Fractional South High School

Tournament of Books Round 1: Walk on Earth a Stranger vs. The Wrath and the Dawn

Walk on Earth a Stranger is 10% fantasy, 90% walk on earth a strangerhistorical fiction. Leah Westfall lives with her mother and father in 1849 Georgia. The family has a secret that no one else knows: Leah can sense gold. Her talent has kept her family wealthy throughout the years. However, with the announcement of the California Gold Rush, there are people who might kill in order to take control of Leah. After all, she could make anyone rich with her ability to sense gold. Leah finds herself in danger after a tragedy strikes the family. In order to stay safe and protect her secret, she disguises herself as a boy and joins a team of wagons traveling west to California. If you’re looking for a book to take you back to the days of playing the Oregon Trail computer game, Walk on Earth a Stranger will absolutely do the trick.  I was so delighted to read a teen book about a girl traveling across the country to start a new life in the 1800s, aka my favorite period in history. I loved Leah as a character; she was strong, independent, and feisty. I typically don’t finish series but I will definitely continue this trilogy and look forward to spending more time with Leah. This book was an absolute delight to read.

wrath and the dawnThe Wrath and the Dawn is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights. Khalid is the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan. He marries a new bride every day, only to have her strangled to death with a silk cord the very next morning. Shahrzad, a sixteen-year-old girl living under his reign, is devastated when her best friend suffers the same fate as dozens of his other young brides. Shahrzad volunteers to be Khalid’s next bride, determined to survive long enough to murder him. She captures his attention with her storytelling, bravery, and confidence. However, the longer she stays alive, the more she finds herself falling in love with the Caliph, even though her first love, Tariq, is simultaneously attempting to rescue her. I personally do not enjoy fairy tale retellings and love triangles drive me up a wall so this was a tough read for me. However, I have lots of teen patrons who love Cinder, Splintered, Dorothy Must Die, etc. and I know they will adore this book.

This one is a no brainer for me. I loved Walk on Earth a Stranger. I loved it so much that I emailed the entire adult department urging them to read it. I brought it to my Pizza & Pages and TAB meetings and gave mini book talks to the teens. I’m eagerly awaiting the second installment (a rare occasion for me). I hope the next reviewer enjoys Walk on Earth a Stranger as much as I did!


Reviewed by Claire Griebler, Park Ridge Public Library

Tournament of Books Round 1: I Am Princess X vs. Bone Gap

Within the first few pages of I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest I was giddy. It is the story of a i am princess xgirl looking for her best friend who has supposedly died in a car accident 3 years ago. The storyline becomes increasingly interesting as we watch May, our detective, sift through the pieces of a web comic that she believes is being written by her dead best friend, and is the key to possibly finding her… alive. The coolest part about this book is really the graphic novel pages that are sandwiched between different parts of text. This element of the novel really made me feel like I was solving the pieces of the web comic with May, giving me an almost video game-esque feeling.

The one major downfall with I Am Princess X is the lack of character development. I kept thinking I would get to a point where the characters might have a meaningful conversation, or let a smile or frown linger just a little too long. I wanted something beneath the surface of the mystery driven plot. I wanted some kind of depth! Instead of that, I got to solve the puzzle with the characters. While that was fun, it was not enough to make this book a winner over Bone Gap.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby was just WOW. Within the first few pages, before we are even introduced to the plot, Laura Ruby’s vivid imagery had my full attention. At first glance,bone gap this is a book about a missing woman, and a young man’s journey to find her. However, you simply couldn’t take just one glance at this book if you wanted to. With alternating points of view between Roza and Finn, our missing girl and the young man on the “journey,” but we also read from some of the supporting characters from time to time. These alternating points of view not only leave us begging for more at the end of each chapter, but they also let us peek into each character’s beautiful, crazy mind.

At its core, this book is about finding yourself, the difference between looking and seeing, how we treat women, and where we find hope. Oh, and did I mention the magical realism aspects that make this novel feel like the most exhilarating dream you’ve ever had? Well, there’s that, too.

For me, Bone Gap was an obvious winner.


Reviewed by Jordan Bumber, Westmont Public Library