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Tournament of Books Round 4: An Ember in the Ashes vs. The Alex Crow

I Will Survive: The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith vs An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

At this point in the Battle, these two titles have been reviewed multiple times, so please bear with me if I repeat anything others said before me; I tried to avoid reading the reviews to avoid spoiling or biasing myself.

At first glance, these two titles don’t have much in common. On the one hand, with The Alex Crow you have a story that takes place in a mostly contemporary setting with no magic but plenty of science to back up claims of the supernatural and on the other, you have a magical, ancient Roman-esque setting in An Ember in the Ashes. A mostly male lineup of characters in the former versus a relatively balanced lineup in the latter. The completely unexpected versus the more formulaic. No romance versus a double love triangle. Etcetera, etcetera, these two titles seem to be about as different from each other as it is possible for two books to be. But what these two titles do have in common are the underlying themes of fear, survival, uncertainty, and a loss of family that the main characters have to experience and endure. In those ways, thalex crowese books aren’t so different after all.

The Alex Crow

Finding himself the lone survivor of a terrorist attack on his small Middle Eastern village, 15-year-old Ariel is swept away by the U.S. military to join a new family and lead a new life in the United States. By all accounts, he should be grateful that he’s escaping a brutal, lonely, war-torn existence in favor of a comparatively quieter life with a wholesome West Virginian family. But when Ariel is sent off to the Merrie-Seymour Camp with his adoptive brother for the summer, multiple events occur which allow Ariel to see his adoptive family and his new life are anything but wholesome.

The Alex Crow is a highly clever, creative, and wholly unique book – something that I’ve heard is the case for Andrew Smith books in general (though I don’t have firsthand knowledge of this given it is my first time partaking in his writing). It blends contemporary with a touch of humor, sci-fi, and faux historical fiction, and Smith masterfully works multiple subplots into one larger, seamless yet surprising and compelling story. Besides the nonlinear storyline depicting Ariel’s time both in the Middle East and in the U.S., Smith also adroitly weaves together threads that tell the stories of animals long extinct and the mostly-failed boat expeditions of a time before the world was largely conquered by man.

In his portrayal of modern warfare and the collateral damages and spoils thereof, Smith doesn’t shy away from depicting horrifying acts, which are more than hinted at but that somehow manage to avoid crossing into the obscene or gratuitous. They are scenes chockful of discomfort but they feel unrelenting in their realness.

To that point, Ariel is not a character with whom many people can sympathize but he is a character who is becoming more and more conceptually familiar in our society due to current international events. Throughout the story, Smith manages to believably convey Ariel as haunted by his past and unsure of his future. His companions throughout the story help to provide comic relief and assist in pushing the plot along but in doing so, they never quite manage to gain any depth.

An Ember in the Ashes

500 years of Martial rule have wrought oppression and persecution for the Scholars of the Empire but in all that time, it hasn’t managed to dampen their passion for learning or their desire for freedom. Laia, a member of a prominent Scholar family, helps her grandparents to earn a meager living until her brother Darin is caught and arrested as a traitor of the Empire. Not content to let Darin meet his fate in the Empire’s hands, Laia goes undercover as a spy for the Resistance and in the process, many of her preconceived notions about who she is and what she is capable of are challenged.

Although this fantasy book is riddled with familiar tropes that almost make it sound like a dystopian novel – quashed intellect, a great foretelling, fights to the death, a despotic regime – they are presented in ways that make them feel new and exciting. It helps quite a bit that Tahir presents a world in which many of the characters are not strictly good or evil, but realistically complex beings who make both good and bad choices.

Although the Commandant, the rather frightening face of the ember in the ashesEmpire, is decidedly less nuanced than that, Laia, Elias, Cook, and Helene are all great counter-examples to the Commandant and brilliant examples of the complexity Tahir was able to inject into the story. Laia and Elias, especially, are equally deep characters who have faced great losses in their lives and must overcome their fears and weaknesses to prevail against the Empire.

Tahir also excelled in her ability to flawlessly provide a great deal of backstory – via flashbacks, dreams, and dialogue – for the characters, the magic, and for what led up to the events that take place in the story, all without slowing down the story’s quick-paced tempo. More than Alex, the pages of this book kept themselves turning without cause for much hesitation or fear of the kind of discomfort that might be found in the upcoming pages. Unpleasant things may be (and certainly were) headed the reader’s way in Ember but they surely couldn’t be (and weren’t) as strange and unexpected as something Smith would write.

The most disappointing aspect of Ember is the fact that it contains a double love triangle: Laia-Elias-Keenan and Elias-Laia-Helene. In both cases, there is at least one instance of characters being pulled towards another simply due to the way they look. In particular, Tahir did a less than stellar job fleshing out the Keenan character and making him believably compelling as a romantic interest for anyone other than those who like the silent, emotionally detached yet moody types. I know there is an appeal for some in those types of romantic partners but encouraging it in a novel meant for teens is a pet peeve of mine.

What It All Comes Down To

The Alex Crow has so many things working in its favor but this title is not for everyone. Besides its well-crafted absurdity, The Alex Crow falls very short in how it treats females. It’s not that female characters are simply underdeveloped (though they are) or even lacking in greater representation (while it would have been nice to see more females in the story, the minimal inclusion makes sense due to the setting), it’s that those who do exist in the story are insulting and disagreeable depictions of what a girl or woman can be.

Female readers deserve a clever, creative, wholly unique book that does not paint the only representatives of their sex as overly and dangerously accommodating (Natalie Burgess), too good and sexually available to be true (Crystal Lutz), or radically calling for the end of men, only to disappear themselves (Mrs. Nussbaum). Perhaps there is a deeper meaning or a social criticism from Smith that I am missing but if there isn’t, it’s unfortunate that this is the case because Smith hit every other note exactly right, slowly pulling the reader into a reality that no one would want to claim as their own but would delight in reading about.

Where The Alex Crow fails spectacularly, An Ember in the Ashes shines. Although Ember similarly suffers from a surprising lack of female characters (again, the setting provides some annoying but believable limitations), it does have more than Alex and the way Tahir handles the few who are present is a breath of fresh air after Smith’s male-centric storytelling. Tahir herself pays the characters more respect, making them capable and giving them ambition, intelligence, and a full array of emotions. Tahir also acknowledges that in the society in which these female characters exist, things are stacked against them. Fewer are accepted into prestigious positions than men and those who are have to continually prove themselves to the men around them. However, the fact that the females make an effort to fight against those injustices makes all the difference in the world.

In the end, it was Tahir who wrote a book that is accessible and non-polarizing, not to mention completely captivating.

WINNER: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES BY SABAA TAHIR

Reviewed by Alea Perez, Westmont Public Library

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Posted by on April 1, 2016 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Tournament of Books Round 3: Zeroes vs. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

In the matchup between Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli and Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld et al, I immediately “zeroed” in on the theme of difference that flows through both books. Both feature characters struggling to appearzeroes “normal,” and differences are something to hide or at least keep to yourself until you’re ready to reveal them on your own terms. When the characters in both books fully embrace their own differences, they triumph.

While sexual identity and superpowers set the protagonists in each story apart from their peers, race does not. Both books feature diverse characters with back stories that show ways that cultures are part of identities. The variety of characters in Zeroes (including an ultra-rich Latino boy, a second generation Nigerian-American girl, and a blind white girl) comes across as very intentional. However, it’s hard to imagine that the teens would ever hang out if their powers hadn’t brought them together – they live very different lives from each other.

Meanwhile, the friendships in Simon’s high school feel natural, being formed around classes and shared interests like drama and soccer. Whiteness is not assumed but rather described, in the same vein that being straight is rejected as the “default” way to be. I particularly appreciate this exchange:

“Okay, and it’s so weird, right, because we have all these ancestors from all over the world, and here we are in Garrett’s living room, and Martin’s ancestors are from Scotland, and I’m sorry, but Leah’s are totally from Ireland.”
“If you say so.”
“And Nick’s are from Israel.”
“Israel?” says Nick, fingers still sliding all over the frets of the guitar. “They’re from Russia.”
So I guess you learn something new every day, because I really thought Jewish people came from Israel.
“Okay, well, I’m English and German, and Abby’s, you know . . .” Oh God, I don’t know anything about Africa, and I don’t know if that makes me racist.
“West African. I think.”
“Exactly. I mean, it’s just the randomness of it. How did we all end up here?”
“Slavery, in my case,” Abby says.
And fucking fuck. I need to shut up. I needed to shut up about five minutes ago.

SimonVS_quote_NEWSimon and the people in his world are well developed and complex; even the ostensible villain is never just a jerk. Simon’s family is warm and solid, and his teachers have inner lives. The voices in the book’s email correspondence sound distinct from each other, and the dialog is generally a joy to read.

Oddly, the voices in Zeroes all sound alike to me, despite that fact that each character was penned by one of the three authors. The teens each have a power and an agenda, but their stories could be richer in emotional detail. And most of the adults in the book are flat caricatures.

Although I’ve loved almost all of Westerfeld’s previous books, and I’ll keep reading the sequels to Zeroes, I’m super excited to read whatever Becky Albertalli writes next. Simon wins the day!

WINNER: SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA BY BECKY ALBERTALLI

Reviewed by Rachael Bild, Oak Park Public Library

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2016 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Tournament of Books Round 3: Red Queen vs. The Alex Crow

This was an interesting match-up for two reasons. 1) I have issues with Andrew Smith. 2) I really liked The Scorpion Rules, and was disappointed that it didn’t move to the second round. Despite my personal feelings, I tried really hard to judge both of these books on their own merits.alex crow

The Alex Crow is made up of four intertwined male-centric stories. Two of the storylines follow Ariel, an orphaned refugee from a never-explicitly-named country, who has been adopted by an American family and sent to a Kafkaesque summer camp for boys to bond with his new brother, Max. A third storyline follows the schizophrenic melting man on an epic road trip. The fourth is a diary from a horrific sea voyage undertaken by a ship named The Alex Crow, which provides backstory to the rest of the novel.

Although I was captivated by the Ariel’s camp story and background story, Smith made it hard to judge The Alex Crow on its merits when he had Ariel think things like, “I hadn’t known [my adoptive mother] very long, but who could ever get to know that woman, anyway?” This thought repeats sentiments Smith has expressed in an interview. So, I wasn’t able to set aside my biggest issue with Smith. As much as I enjoyed Ariel’s two storylines, I was disappointed that the female characters are so underdeveloped. Besides the unknowable mother, there are Mrs. Nussbaum (a Battleaxe Nurse trope) and Crystal Lutz, an accordion-playing figment of the melting man’s imagination.

Still, the good stuff is really good. The boys’ experiences at camp are funny. I even chuckled at Max’s constant stream of masturbation jokes. Ariel’s refugee experience is gripping and heartbreakingly believable. I would have liked The Alex Crow better if Smith had stuck to Ariel’s two narrative strands, and devoted more creative energy to developing his female characters. The melting man turns out to be a red herring, anyway; and the voyage of The Alex Crow could have been condensed within a short passage from Mrs. Nussbaum’s book, which Ariel reads at camp.

red queenI began reading Red Queen a few days ago with high hopes. I generally enjoy fantasy, scifi, superhero, and dystopia stories – all elements contained within this attractively-bound book. In a nutshell, Mare Barrow is a member of the oppressed Reds who discovers that she has a special power that simultaneously makes her useful to and a threat to the wealthy, powerful Silvers. Complicating matters are three guys with three different agendas, all pulling her head and heart in three different directions. Can she use her newfound ability and position to help her people? And which guy will she choose? It had me at hello.

Then Silver blood was spilled, and my brain had trouble suspending disbelief. Humans with silver blood? I found myself wondering what could make blood that color, and went so far as to google it. Did you know there is a species of Antarctic fish that has translucent white blood? It’s because it has no hemoglobin! That doesn’t explain how a race of humans could evolve to survive without hemoglobin in their blood (the fish don’t need it because they live in very oxygen-rich water). Never mind, let’s just assume that aliens were involved. If the Silvers are a new race of alien/human/mutant/superheroes, though, did they really need to be white? Silvers turn white when they blush – they are literally the whitest people ever.

Still, when I was able to shut off my brain and not think too much, I enjoyed Red Queen. It features a plucky heroine, some good action, a few pleasing twists, and plenty of teen angst. Though the big twist suffers from too much foreshadowing, I did get swept up in the climactic battle at the end. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late to elevate Red Queen from the middle of the dystopia pack.

Granted, it really just needed to rise above The Alex Crow. The truth is, when I think about Red Queen, it wasn’t just the silver blood that bothered me. Aveyard’s world-building in general wasn’t very thorough; and while she created a Strong Female Character in Mare, her other characters seemed a bit flat. I actually wanted to learn more about Evangeline, Mare’s main rival. She was depicted as a heartless bitch, and I felt like she got short shrift. Descriptions of places were vague, and the kingdom of Norta never came to life for me. I wish I could have seen the map that Mare studied at Summerton.

That’s why The Alex Crow is the victor in this battle. As flawed as it is, Ariel and Max lived and breathed from beginning to end. Maybe I’m a sucker for orphans and masturbation jokes?

WINNER: THE ALEX CROW BY ANDREW SMITH

Reviewed by Donna Block, Niles Public Library District

 

 

 
 

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Tournament of Books Round 1: The Alex Crow vs. Ink and Bone

Two books- one set in (mostly) modern day with a splash of sci/fi vs a dystopian fantasy novel- which one will win and move on in the tournament?! alex crow

The Alex Crow written by Andrew Smith is weird, Weird, WEIRD. Smith’s books typically revolve around teen boys and extreme situations, and this book follows suit. There are several seemingly unrelated stories that somehow end up intersecting and are relayed through different narrators. The narrators and different story arcs include a boy named Ariel from the Middle East who survives his town’s slaughter and then his journey to freedom and eventual adoption by an American family, a schizophrenic man on a mad mission, a failed naval expedition to the Arctic from the late 1800’s, maladjusted boys at summer camp and a tech company that is developing biological implants. Ariel and his adoptive brother Max’s adventures at camp are absurd but terribly honest, and you learn about one hundred different and raunchy ways to say masturbation. This is a layered story that is deeper than one might think in the beginning, with thought provoking issues. If you resist the urge the put the book down in the beginning, you will not be disappointed with the end!

ink-and-boneInk and Bone written by Rachel Caine was the opposite reading experience, where I was intrigued in the beginning, but let down at the end. In a steampunk dystopian alternate world, the Alexandria Library never burned, leading libraries to gain great knowledge to be kept hoarded away from the masses, with personal ownership of books outlawed. Jess Brightwell, whose family business is smuggling books to the rich, is accepted as an apprentice to be trained to enter the Great Library’s ranks. He and his fellow recruits are winnowed down to a smaller group by their teacher Scholar Wolfe, and later sent on a dangerous mission to help retrieve some original books from a war torn region. The book has several parallels to the Harry Potter series such as students trying to find their footing at a new school, a cold teacher who is not what he seems, and fighting against a powerful evil. I tire of almost all Science Fiction/Fantasy novels having to be series, often leading to long winded and confusing plot lines. As expected this book is the first in a series, so the ending is set up to continue storylines that were left open ended.

Both books deal primarily with male main characters, include a large group of motley side characters and are action driven, making them well matched. I liked both main characters, but Ariel in The Alex Crow was the more enduring of the two, with me rooting for his hard won happy ending. While Ink and Bone had many merits and I originally thought it would win, I wasn’t invested enough in the story, due to its several convoluted plot threads, to want to continue the series. Thus, the stand alone novel, The Alex Crow, is the winner!

WINNER: THE ALEX CROW BY ANDREW SMITH

Reviewed by Nancy Reimer McKay, Ella Johnson Memorial Library

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2016 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Tournament of Books Round 1: Nimona vs. Zeroes

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is based upon her web comic, a winner of the Slate Cartoonist Studio Prize for best Web Comic. Quickly we meet a lively, tough, “henimonaroine” named Nimona who appears on the scene ready to kick some butt and become the sidekick to Lord Blackheart, an outcast who is no longer affiliated with the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. (What exactly is that anyway?) However, Lord Blackheart doesn’t want a sidekick or companion despite Nimona’s insistence otherwise and she must prove she can be a valuable ally. In this action-driven narrative, the reader discovers Nimona is a shapeshifter (imagine evolving identities such as wolf, shark, cat, and dragon) determined to join evil Lord Blackheart to bring destruction upon the Institute. The comics are dynamic, bright, colorful and energetic, moving the story along at a rapid pace. At a Science Expo, a mad scientist presents his Anomalous Energy Enhancer that he thinks will change the world. Add this to the mix and you find fantasy and science fiction elements intertwined in this rare battle of evil vs evil. Uncontrolled emotions of anger and despair move the plot along. My big question is “Where is Nimona at the end of the tale?” Will the Institute recover from her destruction and will Lord Blackheart and his foe Goldenloin fight another day? I was entertained, but I wanted more resolution and more back story about these characters.

The second title of this match up is Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld.  Immediately, one is caught up in this suspenseful drama when Ethan, alias Scam, gets mixed up in a drug deal. All he wanted was a ride home! But now he has stolen a car filled with money and he can’t go home. The reader soon discovers that Scam has a super power-a voice inside him says whatever yzeroesou (the listener) want to hear. He is certainly in grave danger. He will need to be rescued by his former friends. (The “voice” tore them apart.) And he isn’t the only one with unusual powers as we soon follow Crash, Flicker, Anonymous, and Bellwether! In alternating chapters, we see the action unfold and follow their struggles.  We meet a sixth teen also blessed or cursed with a super power. As the novel is written from different points of view, it quickly becomes a page turner. Themes include belonging, family issues, self-esteem, and community. There are plenty of contemporary issues that will appeal to teens. “Zeroes” might want to be heroes, but there is a lot at stake and is it worth risking their lives for someone in danger who they don’t even know? I couldn’t put this one down. I was totally hooked from the start.

I vote for Zeroes because I believe it will be a stronger contender in the tournament. I was interested in the interpersonal relations between the characters as much as the exciting adventures. I think teens would be fascinated about the super powers these characters possess. I recognize that Nimona, featuring a comic character portrayed as a shapeshifter, brings a unique story to readers, however I don’t think this story would have as wide an appeal to all readers.

WINNER: ZEROES BY SCOTT WESTERFELD

Reviewed by Ruth Anne Mielke, Bartlett Public Library

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2016 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Round Two: Noggin vs. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

For Round 2 of the Book Tournament, I had to evaluate two very different books. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces and Noggin come from almost the opposite ends of the genre spectrum: the first was a realistic tale of teenage life while the second was more in the vein of Science Fiction.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero is a look into the microcosm of one girl’s senior year in high school. Told in diary format, Gabi Gabi, a Girl in Piecesgoes through a rollicking year, and Quintero does an amazing job highlighting the difficulties of teen life: from attempting to create meaningful relationships with friends and potential romantic partners to the difficult realities of teenage pregnancy, addicted parents, and coming out as gay to your parents, all together with the poetry that she is beginning both to study and to write. Gabi is also an interesting look into the culture of Mexican Americans, and interweaves Spanish and English into the text with great success to create an intercultural bilingual experience.

Gabi the character is also someone whom I came to admire and root for very early on in the book. She is thoughtful and bold (she takes initiative when it comes to her romantic relationships, which is something I would like to see more of in literature!) and she will do anything to protect her friends from harm. Her discovery and subsequent love of poetry was a perfect complement to her character. Through her, Quintero created a believable teenage world that was easy to get lost in.

in Noggin by John Corey Whaley, Travis Coates has been reanimated, Frankenstein-style. Five years ago, he had been dying of cancer and had elected to have his head chopped off and put into cryogenic storage in the hopes that one day science would progress far enough to reanimate him. Science moved a bit faster than anticipated, and after five years his head was attached to another dead boy’s body. While he’s sixteen and feels like it’s been only a few days since he went to his cold sleep, everyone else has had five years of experiences happen to them. The readjustment both of Travis and everyone around him to his reanimation and second chance at life form the basis of the plot.

Travis is very funny and sarcastic, which is a state of being I greatly appreciate. I appreciated his relationship with his parents as well as his attempts to make new friends in high school – despite the circumstances being wildly different than any other teen’s experience, everyone can relate to trying to make new friends in a strange environment. In fact, the added wrinkle of him knowing the teachers and being recognized by some of the older kids was a nice touch, and is something that younger siblings experience all the time. It was almost as though Travis’s past self was the older brother and this new Travis finds that nogginhe has to somehow live up to the ghost of his own past.

However, there were some points in time when I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at him, especially when it came to his old girlfriend, Cate. While I understand the dichotomy of his experience versus the world’s experience (he feels like it’s only been a few weeks; the rest of the world knows it’s been five years), at some point in time I just wanted him to get over it and move on. That made it slightly more difficult for me to connect to him as a main character.

The Verdict: Both books were interesting looks into teenage experience. Gabi dealt with the difficulties of an average teenage life while Noggin framed pretty typical teenage experiences (making new friends, getting good grades, dealing with the end of a relationship) in an interesting and unique setting (it’s not like anyone else has ever been reanimated). Both are books that I would recommend to teens and that I think they would enjoy and get a lot out of.

That being said, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces quickly earned a place in my heart that Noggin failed to. While Noggin’s premise was very intriguing to me, the actual execution left something to be desired. It was still a fun book, but for me it fell short of the spectacularness that was Gabi, A Girl in Pieces. Gabi gripped me from the very beginning in a way that Noggin failed to, and I found it much easier to read and root for Gabi in all her endeavors. So while Noggin is still an amazing read, it’s just not quite on the same level as Gabi, A Girl in Pieces.

The Winner: Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2015 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Round Two: I’ll Give You the Sun vs. Grasshopper Jungle

So here’s the thing: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith got kind of a bum deal this round. I’m glad I read this book. There are a lot of things I liked about it – the gross-out humor, the crazy science, Robby and Ingrid and the underground compound with all its weird pieces sprinkled throughout Ealing, this dying Iowa town that felt so real in its insular detail. I loved the Unstoppable Corn and the Unstoppable Soldiers and the surreal quality of the science fiction laid over this absolutely normal town in the middle of nowhere.Grasshopper Jungle

Little things like how Smith uses food metaphors to describe the skin tones of all the white Iowans in the book – subtly pointing out how ridiculous a thing this is to do when describing a person of any color. Big things like how authentic Austin’s confusion regarding sexuality feels. Austin knows he’s in love with both his girlfriend Shann and his best friend Robby, but what does that mean? What should he do? And why does everything on Earth make him horny all the time?

Austin’s voice – and the question of how much of this history he’s sharing is actually, reliably true – and the question that rises from that – how much of any history is actually, reliably true? This is the heart of the book.

But (and you knew that but was coming from about a mile away – or the beginning of this post, anyway) – I am not the reader for this book. I know there are people out there who love this book. I know there are teens out there to whom I will recommend Grasshopper Jungle and who will adore it. It’s not you Grasshopper Jungle, it’s me. Austin kept going around and around in circles with his history and the voice kept me at arm’s distance, and honestly, I don’t like to have to think so hard about what the author is trying to do while I read (see, bum deal, right?).  I knew going in that there were going to be giant, unstoppable bugs who would only want two things – to paraphrase a bit: to eat and to copulate, but it felt like it took forever to get to the, er, copulating bugs!!

And then I read Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun. And I fell in love. This book – oh man this book. It kept me up ‘til 2 in the morning when I finally had to put it down and go to sleep only to wake up and immediately start reading it again. The twin voices of Noah and Jude separated by time and all the secrets and lies between them captured me in a way Austin’s voice just didn’t. Just like in Grasshopper Jungle there are complex explorations of identity and sexuality going on here both for Jude and for Noah, who are both attracted to boys.

The way Nelson structures the two narratives is masterful – revealing clues to what happened in the years between through both sides of the timeline without the plot or the timing ever seeming forced. Because it’s broken up like this, it’s almost a puzzle structure (literary i'll give you the suncatnip to me – more of GJ’s bum deal) where you can see the pieces falling into place faster and faster towards the end.

Grief is a theme of intense interest to me – my brother died in a car accident over 8 years ago and a close friend followed several years after from the flu – and this book is chock full of grief. Grief not only for those who have left us through death, but grief for how we hide ourselves from the world and grief for how often we seem to harm the ones we love.

But Nelson also shows how humor is still there – even when our worlds are falling apart. I kept stopping to read funny parts out loud to my husband. “I’m so glad I’m not a horse.” “Did you just say you’re glad you’re not a horse?” The way Nelson captures these things makes me wonder what kind of loss and grief she has lived through that she can depict them so well. I can only hope that any teens I know who are dealing with grief in their lives find their way to books like this one.

And to top it all off – I’ll Give You the Sun is also about the power of art to change lives, to remake the world, to break your heart open wide so it can be whole again. (I was a music major in college and my best friend was an art major – seriously the deck just could not BE more stacked against GJ.)

With all these themes (I didn’t even talk about forgiveness or ghosts or magic), I never felt bogged down in my reading. There were so many avenues of thought to explore, but I didn’t feel like I was admiring Nelson’s technique from afar – I was right there in the middle of it.. And on a slightly shallower note, the make-out scenes in I’ll Give You the Sun were really, really hot. Plus, I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

So, Grasshopper Jungle I like you a lot, I hope we can be friends. But my heart belongs to I’ll Give You the Sun. I just hope the next judge treats you kindly.

Winner: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2015 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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