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: 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!


Reviewed by Nancy Reimer McKay, Ella Johnson Memorial Library