Tournament of Books, Round Four: Allegedly vs Long Way Down

41Pkis9KXqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_In Allegedly, Mary is living in a group home just out from “baby jail.”  Through excerpts from court records and other materials, we learn she was convicted at age nine of killing a baby in her mother’s care. (Mary is black, and the baby was white, which factored into how she was portrayed by the press.) Mary goes about numbed to the world, her only bright spot spending time with her boyfriend Ted at the nursing home where they do community service. Then Mary gets pregnant, and her priorities shift from surviving the group home to finding a way to keep her baby by going to college. But is that a pipe dream for someone as notorious as she is? Will telling the truth of what happened be enough to save her child?

22552026Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is a novel in verse. Even at 306 pages, it is a one-sitting read with carefully crafted narrative voices.

Shaun was shot and killed. According to the rules, Shaun’s 15-year-old brother Will can’t cry or snitch — instead, he must shoot the one responsible. He gets Shaun’s gun and presses the elevator button to leave his apartment building and go shoot the man he knows must be Shaun’s killer. But on the way down to the lobby, he is haunted by the ghosts of friends and family killed by guns. They show Will the short, violent path his life might take if he follows the rules as they did. Will he follow that path or choose a different life?

Two books about the consequences of murder enter the ring. Both books tug on the reader’s heartstrings with first person narrators who have lived through the trauma of losing a loved one and are trying to find a way forward.


And the winner is…


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

In Allegedly, Tiffany D. Jackson has created a powerful narrative voice, the group home setting is vivid, and the characters are distinct. Mary works hard toward her goals, and she’s strong enough to endure through the setbacks in a world that punishes her at every turn. I rooted for her as she struggled to find love of any kind in such a cruel world. But the ending undid much of my sympathy, and I felt manipulated by the unreliable narrator. (Trigger warning for graphic scenes of child abuse and other violence.)

Despite the spare, short-poem format of Long Way Down, Reynolds finds strong images to paint Will’s neighborhood, which has been torn apart by gun violence. “Blood soaking into a T-shirt, blue jeans, and boots/ looks a lot like chocolate syrup/when the glow from the streetlights hit it.” I worried for Will as he contemplated his choices and wondered if the cycle of violence would ever end. Despite the appearance of the ghosts, this story felt less manipulative than Allegedly.


Back to Round Four, Bracket One


Tournament of Books, Round Three: Moxie vs Allegedly

At this point in the Tournament of Books, the books are not necessarily related to one another. They aren’t necessarily the same genre or even the same format. That being said, I happened to get two contemporary and novels that explore timely issues which made the comparison a little more clear-cut for me.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

moxieMoxie is about Vivian Carter. She has lived in the same small Texas town her entire life. It is a place where football rules and football players are allowed to do whatever they want to whomever they want. Viv has had enough. Inspired by her mom’s Riot Grrrl teens, she creates Moxie an anonymous zine to empower her fellow female students to start fighting back. It starts slowly but it isn’t long until Moxie builds into a movement. It is a good book. It is a good introduction to feminism and starting a movement. It isn’t as good at intersectionality and it is pretty tidy. That being said, this is a great introduction to the idea of feminism and finding your voice when you feel you don’t have one.

Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson

41Pkis9KXqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Allegedly is the story of Mary B. Addison who killed a baby when she was nine. Allegedly. She is out of jail and living in a group home. Her vision of what her life could be now is not aligned with the vision of the justice system or the public that convicted her six years ago. She didn’t have much of a reason to set the story straight until she met Ted and became pregnant. Now she needs to speak up to keep her baby. This is one of those books that you think you have figured out, until you don’t. And then you don’t again. It also isn’t a perfect book. Maybe it would have been better if you knew what happened at the end and worked your way through from there? It is compelling, sad, and gritty. It is a look inside the juvenile justice system from a new angle. It is also definitely worth reading.

And the winner is…


Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson

I read Moxie first so I was pretty sure as I was reading Allegedly that I knew it was going to eke its way out in front for me. It turns out that the last chapter of Allegedly made this round a buzzerbeater (to borrow a sportsball phrase) but ultimately it was the stronger book. Allegedly goes to the next round.


Becca Boland is the Teen Librarian/Assistant Head of Popular Materials at the Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich. She has been a proud teen librarian for over a decade and was honored to receive the ILA Young Adult Librarian of the Year Award in 2016. She talks about books (teen and otherwise) on Ela’s podcast, Three Books.


Back to Round Three, Bracket Three

Tournament of Books, Round Two: Allegedly vs Spinning

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

41Pkis9KXqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Confession time, my book friends: I? I am a flipper. Especially with mysteries and thrillers. That’s right. Somewhere about a third to halfway through these books, I flip to the back of the book and read the end. Sometimes I just have to know who survives. Or if I guessed the murderer correctly. Or who killed the cat! I tried with Allegedly not to flip. I tried so hard. But, friends? I failed. And I’m SO GLAD I DID. Knowing how this book ends? Meant that I was able to see some things about how Jackson crafted the plot and Mary’s voice which I never might have noticed otherwise. It reminded my of Code Name Verity and how I wanted to start that book all over immediately once I finished reading it.

Allegedly is a puzzle box of a psychological mystery and a grim depiction of the harsh reality that comes when the juvenile criminal justice system, mental illness, and teenagers combine. Jackson captures the everyday difficulties placed in the way of the rehabilitation of the group home girls; what Mary has to go through just to get a state ID is maddening. I sincerely hope that not every group home is this bad, but I certainly believe that some are which is really unconscionable. The need for criminal justice reform shines clearly through this book, but it never obscures the intricate plot, Mary’s desperate fight to improve her chances at life for both herself and her baby, or the very complex mother/daughter relationships on display through a variety of characters.

Spinning by Tillie Walden

spinningSpinning is a graphic memoir following Tillie Walden from 6th through 11th grades focusing on her experiences as a competitive figure skater. Walden excels at giving her memoir a distant moodiness that captures her ambivalent feelings towards this portion of her adolescence and her time in the figure skating world. Where Allegedly was gritty, Spinning is bleak. Walden faces bullying, sexual assault, homophobia, a grueling schedule, and somewhat disinterested parents. Faces may be the wrong term though – for large portions of the memoir, Walden floats through events, letting herself be carried along and swallowing her feelings. It makes the climactic moment when she tells her mother she’s quitting figure skating all the more powerful, but getting there takes a long time.

The art is sketchy and at times I had to double-check which ice skating colleague was being depicted. I wonder if that was deliberate on Walden’s part since most of the other ice skaters don’t seem to register as full people for her. In fact, other than Tillie, I didn’t feel like any of the characters in the book were fully developed, but with the focus being tightly on Tillie’s experiences, again perhaps that was deliberate. I did particularly enjoy the chapter headers depicting specific figure skating moves and Tillie’s feelings about them. I even looked up some brief YouTube videos of each move so I could get a better feel about what they were like in real life.

And the winner is……..


Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

I haven’t stopped thinking about this book since I finished it. While I enjoyed Spinning, in the end, I am a reader for plot and in depth characterization both of which Allegedly has in spades. Reading Allegedly was so intense that I had to stop for breaks a couple times. I sort of want to apologize to the next judge because it is gritty and tough, but in the end it’s worth it. Plus – I need people to help me sort something out. *SPOILER ALERT*


Alright – seriously folks – who killed the cat???? I had to check three times to make sure it really doesn’t say. Was it supposed to be Sarah (New Girl)? Or Kelly? Or Mary during a rage blackout which is why we don’t get let in on it? Opinions, please!!!

Jennifer Jazwinski is the Popular Materials Assistant Manager at the Palatine Public Library District. She blogs about starred reviews and best book lists and book awards at Jen J’s Booksheets – sometimes there’s even graphs! (Ok, there was one post with graphs, but she hopes to include more soon because she’s a math and numbers nerd and loves them.) You can also find her as Bkwrm7 on Litsy.


Back to Round Two, Bracket Six

Onto Round Two, Bracket Eight

Tournament of Books, Round One: Allegedly vs. Wires and Nerve

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

41Pkis9KXqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Mary is a 16-year-old living in a group home who has been incarcerated since she was 9 years old for – allegedly – killing an infant. When she finds out that she is pregnant, she begins to revisit the details of her case in the hopes of being allowed to keep her baby. The picture you get of Mary develops through her own first-person narrative, her memories of the events of her childhood, and excerpts from books and newspaper articles. The more we hear from and about Mary, the more we wonder how reliable a narrator she really is. Likewise, through her interactions with her mother, the girls in the group home, and her boyfriend, we see how complex and tragic all their stories are. In the case of her boyfriend Ted, I think this is the first time I’ve ever felt angry at a character and for them at the same time. Aside from her mother, the adults in this book (social workers, group home staff, and therapists) are less complex — they’re just awful.

Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer

7I read Cinder a few years ago, but haven’t yet gotten to the other Lunar Chronicles novels. Wires and Nerve starts off with a recap and an introduction to the characters, which was extremely helpful, though I still felt a bit adrift at times. Iko is an android who has gone from a boxy white robot-looking body to a sleek escort body. Her status as an android puts her in a unique position to hunt down and capture wolf-hybrid soldiers on Earth while Cinder manages politics on the Luna. An android surpassing her programming and exploring her humanity is not an entirely new concept, but I love Iko’s development and how confident and badass she is.

And the winner is:


Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

I read Allegedly first, and though it was a hard act to follow, I really did endeavor to be as objective as possible and give Wires and Nerve a chance. Wires and Nerve is a nice story, but it just doesn’t have the depth or the urgency. I’d recommend it to teens who read and enjoyed the Lunar Chronicles and are looking for something quick to read, but I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone who hasn’t — I felt adrift enough having read just the first one. I’d recommend Allegedly to any teen who is looking for a good story, and to fans of realistic fiction (I know several). I also this this would be a strong recommendation for adult readers of crime and suspense. Ultimately, Allegedly is the winner because I am still thinking about this book, and I want as many people as possible to read it so I can talk about it with them.

Jacquie Christen is the Public Services Assistant Manager at the Glenside Public Library District. She is a mom to two girls, loves running, and her newest side project is

Back to Round One, Bracket Twelve

Onto Round One, Bracket Fourteen