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