Tournament of Books, Round Four: Dear Martin vs Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

I’m going to admit that I had already read Dear Martin and Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue last year. Unfortunately, I’d done so while in the middle of a really awful bit of reader’s block, and after forcing myself through each book the first time I couldn’t muster up much excitement about revisiting these titles. Thankfully, it turned out to be an easier and more enjoyable task than expected. Of course this second reading brought about different challenges: what book do I choose now that I’m digging both of them, and how do you compare such different books?

ggtvaIn the Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Henry Montague (Monty to his friends) is embarking on his last grand hurrah before settling down to learn the ins and outs of running his father’s estate. Unfortunately, Monty’s father does not see this trip as a chance for his son to sow his wild oats (really he’s already done plenty of that), but a chance to bring him to heel. Prove yourself worthy, stay out of trouble, and the inheritance is yours Monty. Accompanied by his sister Felicity and best friend (unrequited love of his life) Percy, Monty sets off on a tour that may bore him to death. After taking a tiny lock box in true Henry Montague fashion, an impulsive gesture of petty revenge, the three find themselves running for their lives across Europe where Monty will discover how far he’ll go for love.

First, the things I absolutely loved about this book. Oh my goodness do I love a good uncertain romance with brushing fingers and fumbling kisses. I read a lot of historical romance, and this is my absolute bread and butter. Luckily MacKenzi Lee does a great job of establishing this early on, and I spent a lot of time dramatically sighing in my head about Henry and Percy’s inability to just get their crap together. Just to repeat myself, this is not a complaint. I love this kind of foolishness. The other thing I loved was Percy and Felicity calling Henry out on his white male privilege. Lee gives us a good foundation for why Henry is the way he is, but he’s never given a pass, and he is challenged to be a better human being. This journey was a long one though. At over 500 pages it was a bit of a slog at times for me.

9781101939499On the other side of this bookish duel in Dear Martin is Justyce McAllister. After being forcibly handcuffed and assaulted by a police officer while Justyce attempts to help his white passing, on-again, off-again girlfriend Melo, Justyce finds himself on his own journey, a self-reflection and study of “What would Martin do?” Told in third person narrative and first person letters to Martin Luther King Jr. we see how Justyce interacts with two worlds where he doesn’t quite fit. At his mostly white, elite private school, Justyce is faced with peers who believe that equality in the U.S. is a given, and that race is only a card that makes its appearance when convenient. Thankfully Justyce’s very cute, very white, very Jewish debate partner, Sarah Jane is willing to throw down and confront the white privilege these classmates demonstrate. In his neighborhood Justyce  is made fun of for his intellectual pursuits and what his peers assume is riding on the coattails of white people. Justyce finds himself questioning whether or not his mission to live like Martin is the right way to go when he finds himself at the center of a horrible tragedy.

I am impressed with the diversity of experiences and points of view that Nic Stone wrote into this tiny book. I think anyone that reads this book can find themselves in these pages, and that’s not always going to be a comfortable experience, but it is a valuable one.

MacKenzi Lee and Nic Stone have gifted us with two wonderful books. On the surface they seem very different from each other: a bisexual historical fiction adventure romance vs. a contemporary study of race and the value of black lives. Within the pages though you will find stories about characters finding their place in a world that seems to be fighting their very existence and trying to force them into a specific mold. Both books have a lot to say, and there are readers out there who will find importance in these stories.


Unfortunately, I do have to choose one of these books, and my winner for this round is Dear Martin. Nic Stone packed a punch in such a small book. At just over 200 pages, Stone was able to write a fantastic story that deals with the complexity of race in America and the value of black lives. This is a book I feel comfortable giving to any reader and non-reader. I also like to believe in the transformative power of books, and I think the characters and stories of Dear Martin can provide a perspective that will help readers to understand an experience that isn’t there own, to question their own values, and perhaps to go out and make things better. We see our teens standing up for change, taking control of the political and social narrative, and books like this are helping them pave that way.


Back to Round Three, Bracket Four

Onto Round Four, Bracket Two


Tournament of Books, Round Three: Strange the Dreamer vs Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Woof.  Boy, those books were BRICKS.  Since this is Round 3, I’ll spare everyone the summaries and do my best to avoid spoilers.  As one does, in order to organize myself I made some lists.


Thoughts I had while reading The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee:


  • “OMG, Monty is the worst.  I hates him. Over-privileged white boy needs a smack in the face.”

  • “Percy, you delicate baby bird.  I just want to carry you around in my pocket.”

  • “Felicity, girl, you were born a couple decades too soon.  But, yay for women in science!”

  • “Smash the literal patriarchy, Monty!”

  • “For the love of god, just tell him how you feel!”

  • “OMG, Monty is the best.”

  • “God, that cover is awful.”


Thoughts I had while reading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor:


  • “Damn, that’s some beautiful prose.”

  • “A mysterious city named Weep?!  Yes, please! 14-year-old Lauren would live there in a heartbeat.”

  • “Is anyone else legit terrified of Minya?  Forget Sarai, the muse of nightmares. The vengeful, ghost-controlling, eternal 5-year-old will forever haunt my dreams.  Probably alongside, Interview with the Vampire’s, Claudia.”

  • “Go get your dream girl!  Literally!”


In the process of reading these MASSIVE books, I discovered some interesting truths about myself.

  • Fantasy and Science Fiction have always been my jam and I’m all for complicated and intricate universes, but I did discover that I need my world building to happen at a faster pace or I end up confused and disoriented.

  • I LOVE historical fiction.  Growing up, it definitely wasn’t my favorite and now I can‘t get enough of it.  I once read an article that stated that your taste buds change every 7 years (which is probably why I now like brussel sprouts).  I think the same goes for reading habits. I’m finding it refreshing to reflect on the past, consider the progress we’ve made (or haven’t made), and think about how we can do better.

  • I am an absolute sucker for redemption stories.  The harder the fall, the greater the rise.


Both titles have niche appeal, and as a librarian I have had no problem booktalking either of them to eager readers.  But like most people have said (in this tournament and in other reviews), the slow build of Strange the Dreamer is a pitfall I can’t ignore.  I know I’m in the minority of people who did not 100% dig Strange the Dreamer.  I’ve read countless reviews saying they, “never wanted it to end” but I kept thinking, “when is it gonna start?.”  Yes, it is beautifully written. Yes, I fell in love with the language and the setting and the characters but amidst all of that purple prose, I got completely lost in the timeline of events.  Don’t get me wrong, I am super excited for the second book but I will definitely have to begrudgingly re-read the first one to refresh my memory of events.

And the winner is…


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

So I pick, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, to move on to the next round.  Lee deftly tackles a myriad of topics that are so pertinent to modern-day culture.  Not only is it exciting (pirates) and scandalous (so much kissing), it’s an important read that will teach young people compassion and inspire them to stand up for what they care about.


Lauren Hilty is a Teen Services Librarian at the Grayslake Area Public Library.  She likes to add things that she’s already completed to her To-Do lists, just so she can immediately cross them out.  Sense of accomplishment for the win! Also, she would like to dedicate this blog post to Emma Quid, her Hazel Grace, who taught her how to be unapologetic about book choices and consumption of ice cream.

Back to Round Three, Bracket One

Onto Round Three, Bracket Three

Tournament of Books, Round Two: They Both Die at the End vs Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

ggtvaHenry “Monty” Montague is the ultimate spoiled, rich playboy. His father’s anger hasn’t been able to keep him from indulging every impulse: parties, gambling, alcohol, meaningless trysts with the nearest available woman or man. There’s only one impulse he won’t pursue: his feelings for his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Monty has begun his last hurrah, a tour of Europe with Percy before his father makes him face his adult responsibilities and take on the family estate. However, when Monty’s impulsive behavior lands him, Percy, and Monty’s sister Felicity in hot water with the wrong people, the freedom tour becomes a run for their lives.

Monty is an irrepressible, lovable idiot whose hilarious but maddening antics kept me alternately laughing, groaning, and SMDH. The book is engaging, funny, and thoroughly readable. Author Mackenzi Lee skillfully incorporates issues of privilege, race, gender, and ableism, giving real depth to a story that nevertheless maintains the lightness, fun, and accessibility of a comedic, romantic adventure.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

tbdateConfession time: If I hadn’t needed to review this book, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. I’d recently read another book (Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin) based on the exact same concept: it’s a world just like ours, except that everyone knows ahead of time that today is the day they will die. How different could these books be? (Very, as it turns out.) What’s more, the book didn’t immediately pull me in. I slogged through the first third of the book, and it felt like nothing at all had happened.

Nevertheless, I persisted. They Both Die at the End won me over, eventually. I closed the book with that dreamy reluctance one gets at the end of a really good book. But it was a very (VERY) slow burn. Silvera spends a long time on the setup of the characters and their circumstances before the narrative really gets started.

Silvera’s book makes a great addition to the #OwnVoices canon, featuring a gay Puerto Rican main character (Mateo) and a bisexual Cuban main character (Rufus). Secondary characters are represented in less detail, but are diverse and unstereotyped.

Mateo and Rufus both start the day with a call from Death-Cast, the service that notifies the imminently-mortal of their upcoming demise. Mateo, who can perhaps best be described as reticent, isn’t sure how to make the best use of his last day. He wants to see his loved ones, but is afraid to go out. What danger lies in wait for him outside the safety of his apartment? But he’s spent his whole life avoiding the scary stuff, and he knows it’s his last chance to experience what the world has to offer him.

Rufus is in the middle of beating someone up when he gets the call. In fact, he briefly thinks the call is coming in for his victim. When the consequences of this fight catch up to him, he ends up on the run, unable to spend his last hours with the people most important to him.

It’s the Last Friend app, a social media app for Deckers (the soon-to-be dearly departed), that brings these two strangers together on their last day. They meet and set out across the city, to see their loved ones and seek meaningful experiences.

As the two get to know one another, trust begins to blossom, and each brings out something greater from the other. Rufus draws Mateo out of himself, helping him build the confidence to make something meaningful out of the time he has left. Mateo brings out a selfless, generous side of Rufus that has been overshadowed by his recent darker impulses. It’s this becoming that is the beautiful part of the book, and it’s special enough to cast its glow over the reader up to the last page and beyond.

They Both Die at the End left me thinking of a line by my favorite poet, e.e. cummings:

unbeingdead isn’t beingalive

Life, in other words, is for living. Seize the day. Make this day count, and all the other clichés. They’re clichés for a reason: they’re true.

And the winner is…


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

This was a very difficult decision. Despite the very (VERY) slow burn of Silvera’s book, I finished it feeling certain that I’d just read something amazing. And it was! I’ll definitely be recommending They Both Die at the End enthusiastically, to the right reader.

However, it was the very (VERY) slow burn that ultimately lost this round of the Tournament of Books. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is ultimately more accessible and more engaging for the average teen reader than They Both Die at the End.

Andrea Johnson is a Teen Services Librarian at the Mount Prospect Public Library. When she’s not at the library, she’s probably hanging out with her one husband, two kids, and two cats, reading science fiction, or binge-watching Supernatural.


Back to Round Two, Bracket Three

Onto Round Two, Bracket Five

Tournament of Books, Round One: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue vs You Bring the Distant Near

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee  

ggtvaThe inside flap of Mackenzi’s wonderful book explains it best, “Henry ‘Monty’ Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed.'” Kicked-out of a prestigious boarding school, fond of his spirits, and gallivanting with both men and women, Henry is anything but a gentleman. His hopes of a hedonistic Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend, and crush, Percy ends abruptly when a failed tryst with a courtesan of the palace of Versailles concludes with streaking. And outrunning a gang of murderous highwayman across Europe.    

Lee’s historical fiction set in 1700’s Europe offers a wonderful look at privilege, gender, and race. Chaperoned at his father’s request, Henry can no longer enjoy his romp through Europe and must attend culturally enriching events, something that his sister Felicity wants so desperately. Unfortunately, she is to attend finishing school in Marseille. Felicity isn’t the only one that wants the same opportunities, or the very least respect, that Henry commands. Percy’s race comes into question numerous times at the Palace of Versailles from Henry’s father’s friends and Henry’s chaperone, exasperated by Henry’s fondness for a boy who has “skin the color of sandalwood.”  

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a wonderful novel from the perspective of Henry that is filled with drama, adventure, and characters that are well-developed and engaging.   


You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins  

33155334You Bring the Distant Near follows a Bengali family by way of London who arrives in 1970’s New York. Tara, affectionately going by the name Starry by her father, is ready to jump into the American school system armed with what she knows about fashion and teens from watching the Brady Bunch. Sonia, a girl who journals her mother’s frequent outbursts towards her father and a ferocious reader, wants nothing but books to keep her company. At the center of these two girls is their mother, Ranee, who laments her current living situation in a majority black neighborhood and wants desperately to move somewhere else so that their daughters can flourish.  

 Perkin’s novel examines gender and social roles within a Bengali family as well as race relations of new immigrants. Ranee has no doubt that Sonia will be an engineer, just like her father, but fears Tara would not amount to anything, except being married off in an arranged marriage. Both girls navigate school and ultimately find their niche: Sonia as a founding member of the Equal Rights Club and Tara as an amazingly talented drama student. While one daughter slowly embraces Bengali tradition, another shuns it. So much so that one of the daughter’s relationship, and eventual marriage, to a black man from a prestigious background, drives silence between the daughter and mother for years.   

 You Bring the Distant Near jumps from the family’s arrival in the 1970’s to their grandchildren’s’ future in the 2000’s. Switching from daughter to mother to daughter, this is a movingcharacter-driven novel about family and cultural identity.   


And the winner is…


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee  

 While both books have reached tremendous acclaim, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue wins by a narrow margin for its fun, tender, and scandalous moments. An entertaining tome that looks at gender, privilege, and race, as the group tries to outrun a cadre of highwaymen who wish to seek the wrongdoer in the group. And we can only guess who that is.    

Xavier is a librarian in the Chicagoland area. He is a failed: breadmaker, beermaker, ceramics artist, photographer – but he has made peace with all of that.

Back to Round One, Bracket Six

Onto Round One, Bracket Eight