The 5th Wave vs. Just One Day (AKA Macarons vs. Sardines)

Trying to compare Gayle Foreman’s Just One Day and Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave is more difficult than comparing apples and oranges. It’s like comparing…the perfect macaron in a Parisian café to tinned sardines when you’re starving amidst an alien apocalypse. They are both something you would not want to miss—but they are very, very different things. While Just One Day can certainly be categorized as romance, I would more precisely term it a coming-of-age novel. The 5th Wave is falls squarely in the post-apocalyptic province. Both books are excellent examples of the genre they represent. Since we’re on the second round of the tournament now, plot summaries of Just One Day and The 5th Wave have already been done splendidly by my colleagues. Here I will direct my focus to the merits and weaknesses of each book.

The 5th Wave blends the action-oriented quest to survive with the exploration of philosophical theme, “Whom 5th wavecan I trust?” The shifting points of view in this novel highlight the isolation of each character as he or she is faced with the conundrum of distinguishing the good guys from the bad. As humanity faces possible extinction by aliens, the age-old question, “What does it mean to be human?” arises amidst the characters’ attempts to maintain hope, dignity, camaraderie, and love. The fast-paced plot works both for and against this book. The pages turn as secrets reveal themselves and the reader seeks to know who will live and how. However, the abrupt changes in point of view and time frame occasionally disorient the reader, and keeping track of the first four waves of the alien invasion is in itself a challenge!  Also, because the extremity of the situation has distilled the protagonists’ lives to the bare essentials, the characterization sometimes feels sparse, lacking the endearing quirks that often enhance the sympathy one feels for the characters.

Just One Day, on the other hand, luxuriates in the rich details of setting, and the reader relishes the description of each character–even the obnoxious ones! Readers cheer for protagonist Allyson as she tentatively asserts her own identity against the one her parents have chosen for her and as she gains the confidence to pursue the mystery of what happened to Willem. Forman further explores the theme of self-definition through parallel and foil characters like Melanie, Allyson’s BFF from high school who reinvents herself monthly in college, and Dee, Allyson’s code-switching, out-and-proud, gay African-American study partner. At the close of this novel, the reader feels absolutely compelled to read the companion piece, Just One Year, which tells the same story from the elusive Willem’s perspective. Shall I count it a weakness of Just One Day that the story is not complete in the first book? Or is it Forman’s strength that she manages to show the other side of the coin with equal depth, detail, and pathos in the second book? (I know, I know, that’s cheating…I’m only supposed to review the first book for this comparison!) Still, if I have to pick “Just One Book” to move to the next round of the tournament purely on its own merits, I will pick Just One Day because of the richness of the life into which it draws the reader and the empathy it evokes for the characters, especially Allyson, in her voyage to find her own identity.

Winner: Just One Day by Gayle Forman.





Realisitic and Historical YA Fiction

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
Jeff beat cancer but discovers that happily ever after isn’t quite what he expected. To get into high school, he has to pass a statewide standardized test in math, his worst subject. His best friend Tad, also a cancer survivor, is back in treatment. The only bright spot is that a cute new girl Lindsey is showing an interest in him. Now if he could just figure out how to talk to her!

Ashes by Kathryn Lasky (Historical)

In 1932 Berlin, thirteen-year-old Gaby Schramm and others living in Germany witness the beginning of Hitler’s rise to power.  Some people in town support this new power while others fear it.  Where do Gaby, her family, and their friends fit in?

Bystander by James Preller

Seventh grader Eric discovers there are consequences to not standing by and watching as the bully at his new school hurts people, but although school officials are aware of the problem, Eric may be the one with a solution.

The Great Death by John Smelcer (Historical)

In the early twentieth century, an Alaskan village’s only survivors of a sickness brought by white men, sisters Millie, aged thirteen, and Maura, ten, make their way south in hopes of finding someone else alive.

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (Fantasy/Realistic)

Nora had always been so careful when it came to falling in love.  She didn’t let herself.  Until she met Patch. She is mysteriously attracted to him although she senses that he has a dark side.  Is he just a bad boy or something more?

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President by Josh Lieb

7th grader Oliver Watson has everyone convinced that he is extremely stupid and lazy, but he is actually a very wealthy, evil genius, and when he decides to run for class president, nothing will stand in his way.

A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell
Ever since her brother died, Cora has felt suffocated by her small town. All summer long, she’s stayed inside drawing maps and pictures of imaginary places and travels. Now she must face reality and start high school.

The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson
Destiny’s number one rule is don’t get attached. But one day, she breaks that rule, and a lot of others, when she “borrows” a car and goes on a roadtrip with three of her classmates. This day has a destiny of its own and their trip turns into a journey that none of them could have imagined.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Sam used to believe in miracles. She used to believe in a lot of things. When you’re a pastor’s kid, it’s hard not to buy into the idea of the perfect family, a loving God, and good in the world. But lately, Sam has a lot of reason to doubt. Her mom is in rehab after a DUI and her dad is more interested in his congregation than his family. When a member of her congregation is kidnapped, the tragedy reflects Sam’s personal one, and it makes her question her faith even more.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier (Graphic Novel)

Raina just wants to be a normal middle school kid. But one night while racing her friends, she trips and falls, seriously damaging her front teeth.  And what comes next is really tough – having braces put on and taken off, surgery, headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. PLUS there is her non-dental life to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who are less than friendly. Can’t wait to start reading?  The entire comic is available online:

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

At school, she’s Jamie – blonde haired, blue contacts, fashionably dressed and one of the crowd.  At home, she’s Jamilah – Lebanese, attending madrassa and dealing with a father who lives in the Stone Age. When her friends start to wonder about Jamie’s life outside of school, she is worried that her secrets might be revealed. Can Jamie figure out a way to be both Jamie and Jamilah?

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen (Historical Fiction)

From his 1776 homestead, Thirteen-year-old Samuel, who is a highly-skilled woodsman, sets out toward New York City to rescue his parents from the band of British soldiers and Indians who kidnapped them after slaughtering most of their community.