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……..

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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*

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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

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Tournament of Books, Round One: Far From the Tree vs Spinning

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

farfromthetreeI was really excited when I found out what books I’d been assigned. I’ve wanted to read Far from the Tree by Robin Benway because I was a fan of her previous book, Emmy & Oliver, as well as because of all the buzz surrounding her National Book Award win. 16-year-old Grace, after recently giving her baby up for adoption, decides that she now wants to meet her own adoptive mother. While her information isn’t available, she does find out that she has two other half-siblings from the same mother – snarky Maya, who was adopted by wealthy parents now dealing with marital issues and alcoholism, and quiet, sensitive Joaquin, her older brother who’s been bouncing around the foster system his whole life. They all agree to meet, and become a support network for one another as they deal with break ups and parental issues and new crushes. Benway is always great at creating conflicts without clear villains, and she has a vast reservoir of empathy for all of her characters, even when they make less-than-ideal decisions. This book is going to be a go-to recommendation for readers of realistic fiction.


Spinning by Tillie Walden

spinningSpinning is a graphic memoir by Tillie Walden about her youth spent in competitive figure skating and coming out as queer. She changes cities, falls in and out of friendships, has wonderful and terrible adult role models, and a lot of  other incidents that don’t quite make a clear and concise narrative, but perfectly encapsulate how disparate moments are strung together in our memory to record our lives. Even when it’s not about Tillie dealing with her emerging identity, it’s still about the performative nature of her sport and all the gendered expectations that come with it. It’s easily my among my favorite comics of 2017.

The art is spare, doing much of the emotional heavy lifting, with purple coloring and spare but stark bursts of yellow. The style really evokes This One Summer for me, with the coloring shifted slightly. Where Summer’s detailing is lush and vibrant, though, Spinning is often as vast and cold as an empty ice rink.


And the winner is…

spinning

Spinning by Tillie Walden

Author/actor John Hodgman often says “Specificity is the soul of narrative,” and that best explains how I chose a winner between the two books. Spinning feels so authentic. I’m not a queer teen who figure skates, but Walden gives so many specifics that she created a beautiful window into that world, while also accurately mirroring my own experiences with parental difficulties, never feeling fully part of a friend group, or feeling the drive to excel at something I’m not even really enjoying anymore. Conversely, Far from the Tree has about three books worth of drama, but very little forward momentum in plot. (The middle third feels like a lot of wheel spinning.) The characters are also fairly generic, without the room to breathe and be authentic. There are some specific quirks – dipping their fries in mayo, for instance – but so much of these kids and their lives feel like rough sketches. Combine that with the fairly manipulative and cliched nature of all various drama the teens go through in Far From the Tree, and we have a clear winner.



Evan Mather is a Teen Services Librarian at Mount Prospect Public Library. He loves cooking, movies, and DMing. When he’s not working, you can usually find him trying to make his two cats to get along.




Back to Round One, Bracket Thirteen

Onto Round One, Bracket Fifteen