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Round 3: Battle of the Demanding Parent

There has been quite a few interesting match-ups over the course of this tournament, but I think this one might be one of the most diverse.  Here I am…trying to choose between The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski and Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isobel Quintero.  I thought for quite some time about some kind of link between both of these stories and while one is a realistic fiction book written in journal form and the other is a fantasy thriller.  I finally found a common ground.  If there’s one thing that a majority of teens can always commiserate about, it’s parents.  Gabi and Kestrel could sit down and grab some coffee and talk for hours about how Gabi’s mom is constantly telling her she’s too American and will never get a man while Kestrel could unload the whole situation involving her father’s dream that she follow in his footsteps and choose a life in the military.  It was this realization that helped me organize my thoughts a bit.Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

I’m not going to take the time to fully summarize the plot of either of these books.  If you have been following the tournament, I’m sure you have an idea what the stories are about.  In short,  Gabi,  A Girl in Pieces is the journal of a Mexican-American high school senior who is dealing with a plethora of monumental issues in the lives of her loved ones including teen pregnancy, coming out to your family, and meth addiction.  Gabi uses her journal to organize her thoughts and emotions while uncovering her own identity through poetry.  The Winner’s Curse is a thriller set in a world where the Valorians have successfully the Herrani people who are now employed as slaves.  Kestrel, daughter of a high-ranking Valorian general, makes a spontaneous purchase at a slave auction which furthers her empathy for the Herrani people. With an uprising looming, Kestrel’s new relationship with Arin may sway on which side she plants her loyalty.

This is not an easy decision for me as I did not truly love either of these books.  I enjoyed them both and will definitely recommend them to others, but neither left me wishing the book just a bit longer.  I feel most people have already decided that Gabi, A Girl is Pieces will move on to the next round, but I’m not quite ready to set The Winner’s Curse on the back burner.  Gabi started out slow for me.  At first I thought it was an average book about a teen girl dealing with the same problems in every book.  While that’s true, Quintero managed to grab me when I least expected it.  Soon I could not stop reading the book.  I read close to 3/4 of the book in one sitting.  The connection was there and tears were flowing.  The Winner’s Curse is a much different book.  Gabi depends on its readers making the emotional connection and falling into Gabi’s life story.  The Winner’s Curse depends on the drama of the story to catch the reader.  While Gabi took a while for me to latch to her story, Kestrel grabbed me immediately.  Her character was more likeable from the get go.  Unfortunately I found some problems in The Winner’s Curse as well.  The whole story depends on Kestrel purchasing Arin.  Even after finishing the book, I still don’t know why Kestrel would get sucked into the auction and bid on Arin.  It’s so out of her character.  While I enjoyed the story, I kept going back to that fact the entire time.

I waited until the last minute to decide on a winner for this battle.  I thought that maybe the answer would just appear to me in a dream sequence.  Unfortunately I was not that lucky.  I finally landed on a deciding factor.  Gabi and Kestrel both have interesting stories.  Out of the two, whose life would I want to continue experiencing?  This may make me a bit unpopular, but I think that I have to choose The Winner’s Curse.

Winner: The Winner’s Curse

winner's curse

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Posted by on March 11, 2015 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Round one: Glory O’ Brien’s History of the Future VS Grasshopper Jungle AKA Chronicles of the Apocalypse

In Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King, Glory O’Brien has no future. Despite her impending high school graduation, and her talent as a reflective and creative photographer, Glory has applied to no colleges and made no plans. Glory has become paralyzed by the fear of becoming her mother, Darla. Darla O’Brien, also a smart, funny, creative young woman and a gifted photographer, committed suicide when Glory was four years old. Glory’s father never recovered, giving up on his own career as a painter and eating himself to 400 pounds; he has stopped truly living. Glory has a “best friend,” Ellie, who is a friend only by default of proximity. Though Ellie brags about one day running away from her family’s controlling hippie commune, she too has no future plans.Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

When Glory and Ellie drink the desiccated remains of a bat, the two girls can suddenly see the past and future of each person they meet. And Glory sees horrific things. Everyone’s future culminates in a second Civil War, the history of which Glory begins to write down. She seeks out new people to piece together the story of this future she uncovers, and in doing so discovers her own past, present, and future. She gains the courage to ask questions about her mom, sets healthier boundaries with the parasitic Ellie, and reconnects with her dad. Readers watch a frightened teen become a compassionate, courageous young adult who not only turns away from numb despair toward hope, but helps others do the same. Despite the dark future Glory sees, knowledge that she will play a role in the future empowers her. She has the power to build her own future and begins to do just that.

A more visceral apocalyptic tale, Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle is quite literally a story of piss, shit, blood, and semen – the very stuff of life. The dust jacket promises catastrophic action, with 6-foot, man-eating praying mantises, yet these monsters don’t appear till almost 150 pages into the story. And while they do provide pretty provocative action, they are but a metaphorical and atmospheric backdrop for Austin Sczerba’s quest for truth. Austin is chronicling the history of the end of the world as these giant bugs take over. And much like the giant bugs, EVERYTHING in the history of the end of the world makes Austin horny – most of all his girlfriend, Shann, and his best friend Robby. They are both in love with him, and he with them.  Austin can’t decide between the two people he loves more than anything in the world and he smashes both their hearts trying not to decide between them. But this is not the real crux of the story either.

As Austin tells his Grasshopper Junglepersonal history of the end of the world, he recounts the history of his Polish immigrant ancestors (and their glamorous urinals), vagrants, cooks, neighbors (and their testicles), friends, strangers, politicians (and their testicles), teachers, Saint Casimir, a mad scientist (and his semen), cave painters, and humanity itself. In the larger narrative created, we are a bunch of messy animals, trying and failing miserably to prevent the repetition of our own mistakes. And the inevitability of it is gut wrenching, terrifying, and tragic. The bugs, Austin, his friends, and family become a metaphor for all of humanity desperately chronicling their terrible mistakes in an effort to create some tiny change in human history. It’s funny and clever, crude and uncomfortable, raw and poignant, and absolutely heartbreaking. This is a story, like all of Andrew Smith’s, that will stay with me.

These were excellent books to juxtapose – both about teens finding themselves amidst tragedy, the unraveling of civilizations, and the connectedness of past, present, and future. But the history chronicled by Glory O’Brien pales in comparison to that written by Austin Sczerba. Glory’s magical visions of the future are almost unnecessary to the novel. They are emotionally distant, lifeless, lacking detail. But her story is more accessible than Grasshopper Jungle. I will be book-talking Glory’s story to my students, not Austin’s. Yet Grasshopper Jungle wins this competition, hands down. Austin’s history of apocalypse is acerbic, poetically profane, and epic in scope. The many layered meanings of Austin’s story, while creating a rich and complex picture of the human condition, do make it impenetrable to an inexperienced teen reader. This book requires a special student – one with advanced reading skills but also liberal appreciation of scatological and sexual references. For that reader, however, this book will dig inside and crack them open like the giant bugs of MI Plague Strain 412E.

P.S. I’m glad that Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim, Shaun of the Dead) has signed on to direct the movie version of Grasshopper Jungle. If anyone can do this book justice, it’s the creator of The World’s End.

Winner: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

 

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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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.

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Posted by on February 28, 2014 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock vs. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock vs. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

 The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick are two very coldest girl in coldtowndark, compelling novels with extremely different plots. The former is a dystopian thriller and the latter an emotionally intense realistic fiction novel.

Holly Black creates a terrifying world in her novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown where a mother infected by the vampire infection can turn against her own daughter when thirsty for blood.  Vampires are both feared and awed, as they are in many traditional vampire stories.  Unlike many paranormal novels, this one is chilling and bloody with a unique, steadfast heroine named Tana. The story is wildly imaginative and richly detailed with memorable characters, which creates quite the page-turner.

From the other end of the YA spectrum we have a realistic fiction novel, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.  Matthew Quick writes stories with some unforgettable characters, Leonard Peacock being one of them.  He is a loner and an outcast who sees himself as worthless. The entire story takes place in one day, in the tortured mind of a self-loathing, darkly humorous boy on his eighteenth birthday.  The story moves quickly, is tense and heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful. Quick is a master at using internal dialogue to create a cold and distant character who we eventually see as a troubled, uncertain boy who just needs someone who understands what he is going through.

While The Coldest Girl in Coldtown will be a favorite amongst fans of suspenseful, paranormal thrillers, for me, I have to go with the darkly humorous Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.  Leonard’s problems are more relatable and even though he isn’t always proactive and he makes bad decisions, his story will still resonate with readers. The book will make you feel angry, and frustrated, and disturbed, and yet still hopeful.  That is the indication of a novel worth reading.  Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a story that you will keep thinking about long after you’ve finished reading.

WINNER: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

forgive me, leonard peacock

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2014 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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This Song Will Save Your Life vs. The 5th Wave

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales and The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey bring together my two favorite This Song Will Save Your Lifetypes of books. I love realistic fiction with believable characters and a great story and I also love a book that is both dreadful and compelling.

This Song Will Save Your Life speaks to the insecure person in most (if not all) of us and gives hope to teens struggling with self-doubt. Elise is not just insecure, not just unpopular, she is maliciously preyed upon by bullies. Shortly after a failed suicide attempt, Elise sneaks out of her mother’s house to take a long walk during the night. She stumbles upon a couple of club kids who pull her into an underground nightclub……and here is where what every unpopular girl dreams of comes true. Elise makes cool new friends (much cooler than the popular kids at school), meets a boy, and finds her place in the world. Sometimes it’s hard to get close to new people because they don’t know your past, but in Elise’s case people who don’t know her past are exactly what she needs to help her see herself more clearly.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey is an intense page-turner that opens with Cassie, a sixteen-year-old girl alone in the woods wondering if she is the last human left on earth. Cassie has survived four waves of alien attacks, and is on an improbable mission to find her young brother Sammy. The narrative is not linear and it flips between Cassie, Sammy, and Ben, a high school football star turned heartless soldier in the aftermath of the 4th wave. This jarring narrative (rather than being distracting) puts the reader right on pace with the characters, for whom everything changes from moment to moment. Enemies become allies, leaders become villains, and friends become murderers. Everyone in The 5th Wave is either already dead, dying or soon to be dead and the characters must decide how and why to go on when there is no hope for the future. The 5th Wave is an intense page turner full of deception and despair, but it peppered with just enough hope to keep me optimistic.

Now comes the hard part. I really enjoyed both of these books and they are so different it’s really hard to pit one against the other. This Song Will Save Your Life is an uplifting story about important social issues. It has a great message and characters that I could really connect with, but in the end I’m a sucker for suspense and Rick Yancey’s intense story had me engrossed from the first page to the last.

WINNER: THE 5th WAVE BY RICK YANCEY

5th wave

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2014 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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So YA Like…the Alex Rider Series

If you have teens that are crazy for the Alex Rider series and are killing time before the next one comes out in November 2009 check out these titles.  These books are character driven mysteries and adventure stories.  They geared towards boys but can appeal to any action and thriller fans.

accelerationAcceleration Graham McNamee

Stuck working in the Lost and Found in the bowels of the Toronto Transit Authority for the summer, seventeen-year-old Duncan finds the diary of a serial killer. He follows the clues in the diary that lead him to two victims.  Duncan must find a way to watch both girls while managing to keep his job.

Blade: Playing Dead Tim Bowler

A fourteen-year-old British street person with extraordinary powers of observation and self-control must face murderous thugs connected with a past he has tried to forget, when his skills with a knife earned him the nickname, Blade.

Death and the Arrow Chris Priestley

After his friend Will, a pickpocket in London in 1715, is murdered as part of a series of mysterious deaths, fifteen-year-old Tom Marlowe asks his friend Dr. Harker to help find the killer.  This is the first in the Tom Marlowe Adventure trilogy.

Down the Rabbit Hole: an Echo Falls Mystery Peter Abrahamsdowntherabbithole

Like her idol Sherlock Holmes, eighth grader Ingrid Levin-Hill uses her intellect to solve a murder case in her home town of Echo Falls.  This is the first in the Echo Falls Mystery series.

First Boy Gary Schmidt

Dragged into the political turmoil of a presidential election year, fourteen-year-old Cooper Jewett, who runs a New Hampshire dairy farm since his grandfather’s death, stands up for himself and makes it clear whose first boy he really is.

Payback Andy McNab

As teenage suicide bombers terrorize England, seventeen-year-old Danny tries to help his grandfather, an ex-SAS explosives expert falsely accused of being a traitorous spy by the government’s intelligence agencies.

rashRash Pete Hautman

In a future society that has decided it would “rather be safe than free,” sixteen-year-old Bo’s anger control problems land him in a tundra jail where he survives with the help of his running skills and an artificial intelligence program named Bork.

Raven’s Gate Anthony Horowitz

Sent to live in a foster home in a remote Yorkshire village, Matt, a troubled fourteen-year-old English boy, uncovers an evil plot involving witchcraft and the site of an ancient stone circle.  This is the first volume in the Gatekeeper’s series.

SilverFin : a James Bond Adventure Charles Higsonsilverfin

Young James Bond, while attending boarding school at Eton in the 1930s, must battle against an insane arms dealer who, by using killer eels, is attempting to create a race of indestructible soldiers on the eve of World War II.  There are four books in Young James Bond series

The Recruit Robert Muchamore

James is recruited into CHERUB, a secret division of MI5 which consists of teenage spies. He successfully completes his training and goes on his first mission.  There are seven books in the CHERUB series.

The Road of the Dead Kevin Brooks

Two brothers, sons of an incarcerated gypsy, leave London and travel to an isolated and desolate village, in search of the brutal killer of their sister.

supernaturalistThe Supernaturalist Eoin Colfer

In futuristic Satellite City, fourteen-year-old Cosmo Hill escapes from his abusive orphanage and teams up with three other people who share his unusual ability to see supernatural creatures, and together they determine the nature and purpose of the swarming blue Parasites that are invisible to most humans.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2009 in Booklists

 

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