Smackdown Books 2019

Piecing Me Together
We Are Okay
Hello, Universe
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
The Marrow Thieves
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives
The Poet X
Children of Blood and Bone
Far from the Tree
Long Way Down
The Goat
Amina's Voice
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess
The First Rule of Punk
24 Hours in Nowhere
The Astonishing Color of After
Obsessed: : A Memoir of My Life with OCD
Train I Ride

Monday, February 28, 2011

Where to start? I had an obvious choice after reading these two books, and then I checked in with my two partner readers on this book. After reading their two blogs, I had to think a little further about my choice, but alas, I can not change my mind!

Flash Burnout was a tougher read for me mostly because I found myself not really liking Blake, the narrator of the book. The book is well-written, which is always a bonus, and the characters are well-developed, but I found myself rolling my eyes at the amount of teenage angst that was often displayed in the book. I also found myself cringing at certain points as to how Blake viewed his girlfriend. I sensed that Blake was going to end up cheating on his girlfriend, and I wasn't too fond of the "I just couldn't stop myself in the heat of the moment" line. I did like the fact that Blake suffered the consequences of his actions, and that the author didn't wrap it all up neatly by having his girlfriend forgive him at the end of the book. I also enjoyed the relationships Blake had with his family; they obviously cared for each other and he appreciated the wisdom they had to offer. I am going to keep my copy of this book (have I spent my $100 yet?!) as I teach high school, and I think many boys could relate to Blake and the feelings he had throughout the book. I think really, though, that the reason I can't pick this book is because I loved Amy and Roger's Epic Detour .

I do agree with my fellow readers that at times, this book was prediticable, but I found Amy to be such an authentic character that I could over-look the predictablity of some of the outcomes. Amy is struggling in life, and she is all alone - feelings that so many teens experience. She needs to sort her life out on her own, and she does so by breaking free of her mother's rules and regulations and rebelling in her own quiet way. She has always been the perfect daughter (a stong contrast to her drug addicted brother), but she is terribly isolated in dealing with her grief over the loss of her father. Her family has fallen apart, and she is left to try and pick up the pieces on a drive across the country with a perfect stranger. With this stranger (a thoughtful, young man a few years older than her), she takes a detour from her mother's chosen route across the country... she also takes a detour from her bottled up feelings. She comes to understand herself, and her family, through her journey.

My choice, as I am sure you have all guessed, is Roger and Amy's Epic Detour. I have already passed the book off to a student who I know would love it. I am in a bit of an unusual spot as I teach both high school and junior high. I know I may be a bit too cautious as to which books I recommend to my junior high students, but I'm not sure I could recommend Flash Burnout to my younger students. As a mom, I don't think I would want my own 12 year old son coming home with a book that has the protagonist sleeping with a girl and taking pictures, even "tasteful" ones, of her in his bed afterwards. I guess ultimately, that is why my pick is Amy and Rodger's Epic Detour. All of this being said, the vote is two to one!! Rats.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ghost and the Goth Vs Demon's Lexicon

The Riverbenders had a few discussions about our selections but were pretty agreed on where we stood. Let the SMACKDOWN BEGIN!!!

Firstly, you can read the book summary from the first round of competition so we aren't going to go into those details - just what we liked and what we didn't.

We all read Ghost and the Goth first and we were , like totally, surprised this book about a self-centered cheerleader (although she was dead so that was kind of a bonus) and a guy who could "see dead people" was the better of the two last books. For us, it was like cotton thought you wanted it but you had a couple bites and then you felt kinda sick and not at all satisfied. Would it appeal to some teenagers...likely. But not boys and not readers looking for a little meat. It would be a great book to read at the beach or by the pool. Is it a book, given other choices, we would recommend..not so much. Speaking only for myself, I was not at all engaged by this book and kept hoping Alona would go into the light so the book would end. We will not be reading the sequel.

And then there was Demon's Lexicon. I had read a number of books with jinny's and demons and I was, admittedly, growing weary of this genre (Jaylene found it hard to get into, Ange was thumbs up from the start). But, the story was well-written and really drew me in. A guy with swords, people getting marked by demons and the potential for chaos and confusion. A strong male and female lead means we can recommend it to lots of kids but the best part of Demon's Lexicon was the end. As we are moving this one on, we won't spoil it for you but to quote Angela "I never saw it coming and I always see it coming" I never saw it coming either but it was something I had not even considered. In the end, I am not sure Jaylene loved it like Ange and I did but she did agree it was the winner for this round. (ordered the sequel)

Are there any books left that are just a story about a girl and boy, neither of whom is a demon, werewolf, vampire or faerie?
Winner Round 2: Demon's Lexicon

Friday, February 25, 2011

Smackdown Overview

Many have been asking how the whole Smackdown looks. We've been working on a more high tech version but in the mean time you can examine a pdf

Once all the votes have come in for the second round, we will update it with the picks for this round. This will happen some time next week!

Scrawl vs. The Replacement

What are the chances that three other people would actually agree with me? It is unanimous here at ABM as we all call for Scrawl to move on to the next level. I liked The Replacement and agree with posts that it is nice to see a friend who is willing to do what you ask because of your friendship. I liked some of the creepy characters but wondered if I’m suffering a little from supernatural overdose? You can argue, that stripped down, this is a book about identity and finding out who you really are and you wouldn’t be wrong. Will we get a copy for our library? Absolutely, though Andrew has issues with its worthiness. The cover alone will ensure that it goes out on a frequent basis.

Why Scrawl? I’m not ready to say this takes it all…I’m always reading but I am a sucker for an unreliable narrator which Scrawl has in spades. Though it seems like a book about what a bully really thinks it isn’t. Though Tod thinks he’s a tough guy the continued plot of the book shows you how he really doesn’t see himself clearly and neither do a number of staff members at his school. (Okay, I really hate the crappy teacher stories –but the guidance counselor is redeeming – yeah). The book unravels Tod bit by bit until even he begins to see what his guidance counselor has known from the beginning. I think we have a good work ethic but when I look at our post next to others I realize I haven’t really boiled down the plot…will you hear more then? No, look back at earlier posts for the gritty, nitty details.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bamboo People vs April, May and June

Bamboo People vs The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June

I am quite thrilled to say that, even as early as round two, I enjoyed both books. They’re quite different, so the comparisons are a bit of apples and oranges, but here goes:
Bamboo People is a story of boys in Burma, told from the perspectives of two young men on opposing sides of conflict. The first half of the story is told by Chiko, a book-smart fifteen-year-old who gets kidnapped and trained to be a child soldier for the Burmese army. The second half of the story is told by Tu Reh, a young Karenni refugee wanting to join the resistance. The two boys meet in the jungle. The story explores the nature of violence, prejudice and growing up. I enjoyed the voices of these two characters telling their stories, but my favourite character was a street boy named Tai who really teaches Chiko about friendship and the need to look past stereotypes.

As I was reading the book I was thinking of many students to whom I would recommend it. My students in grade nine who read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier would go for this. I am considering reading portions to my grade eights during our examination of modern day conflict in our Peace unit. I will also include it in my book talks during my grade nine Justice unit. There are some supporting texts and videos about child soldiers in Burma on the book’s website, that are worth taking a look at, as well. Students are always engaged when looking at social justice issues and they can be quite empathetic to issues involving child soldiers. In my previous discussions with them, I had focused on places like Sierra Leone. Forgive my ignorance, but it wasn’t until reading this book that I realized that Burma has the highest number of child soldiers in the world, according to Human Rights Watch. It’s always good when you learn something new while you’re connecting to characters in a book! This seems like another vehicle to inspire students to become involved as global citizens.

My second book was The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June, which I enjoyed in a totally different way. This is an “escape” book for me. I think a lot of my junior high girls would enjoy it and perhaps relate to some of the characters’ observations about life as a teenager. April, May and June are three sisters whose parents are in the middle of a divorce. In addition, they have been uprooted and moved, so they are figuring things out in their new school. Amidst this turmoil, they rediscover their special powers: April can see the future, May can disappear, and June can read minds. While they struggle with their new abilities and how to use them ethically, April has a vision that seems to indicate an upcoming tragedy. The girls have to figure out if they can somehow save the day! Each chapter is told by a different sister, rotating perspective among the three of them. The plot is pretty engaging but I was sometimes mildly annoyed at the teenage girl banter (which, I guess, just makes it realistic). I skimmed some bits of conversation. But, overall, I think many girls would enjoy the sisters’ relationships and the plot. I will recommend it to several girls looking for something to read.

So, because of its broader audience appeal and bigger world view, I choose Bamboo People to move on to the next round.
Looking forward to reading something else one of you picked! Good reads so far.

Flash Burnout vs. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

Flash Burnout is at times humorous and at times heartbreaking. The story is told from the perspective of Blake, a 15 year old boy who enjoys making people laugh, as he is caught sorting out relationships between his first girl friend who he believes he is falling in love with and his friend who is a girl. Blake is in photography class with Marissa, and finds out he has inadvertently taken a picture of Marissa's homeless, drug addicted mother. He gets caught up in Marissa's struggles, but discovers there are some very strict girlfriend/boyfriend rules that he must observe so as not to anger his girlfriend Shannon. The book shifts often between pathos and laughs unexpectedly hitting the reader with clever remarks or quips that will leave them laughing out loud. This book is an entertaining and captivating read that would be appropriate for both boys and girls.

I knew pretty much from the beginning how this story would end - and that was a good thing. The journey was what made this book worthwhile. The story wans't just about the journey that Amy and Roger took through America, which made me want to hop in the car and take a trip, but was also about the personal journey that each of them took. Though the ending may have been predictable, the narrative never was. It was at once poignant and humorous. I would recommend this book to junior and senior high girls looking for equal parts adventure and romance.

If I had to choose, (which apparently I do!!)...
I think Flash Burnout would have a greater appeal for boys, but could be enjoyed by girls as well, while the Epic Detour is more of a girl's book. I enjoyed both books and would happily recommend either depending on the student, but I feel I have to agree with Barb and go with Flash Burnout to move on to the next round.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Unwritten vs. When You Reach Me

I've been struggling all day with what I would be putting into this post, because it is really a difficult choice to decide on which of these fantastic books should advance to Round 3 of the Smackdown. I've been waffling back and forth, changing my mind several times on which book I will choose. Just when I think I've got it, the merits of the other come back into play.

Even as I begin to write this blog, I'm not sure which book will be my decided winner.

When You Reach Me (by Rebecca Stead)

There are a lot of things to really like about this Newberry Medal-winning novel. It is a simply written, well-told and layered story set
in New York, where a young Miranda begins receiving mysterious notes regarding a possible upcoming tragedy in her life. Plot points include her mother practicing to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid, her struggles with a fading friendship, new friends, perceived enemies and the (perhaps underplayed) story of Miranda accepting her mother's boyfriend fully into her life.

Although some elements of this story were fairly predictable, I was engrossed from the beginning, wanting to know if the predictability I felt from the midway point would indeed come to fruition. Although I am not a fan of science fiction or fantasy, I am a sucker for time travel, which plays an important role in this novel. I enjoy the complexity of it and the paradox of how it can or couldn't work. Ever since 1985, I
thought it would be cool to have a Flux Capacitor in my car. The author uses many references to one of my favorite childhood novels, A Wrinkle in Time, to help explain and parallel the time travel portions of her novel.

In the end, I suppose this novel could be called a coming-of-age novel, as Miranda matures and makes important realizations in her life moving forward. The ending leaves nothing to the imagination, explaining everything, which is typically something I would assume a teenaged reader might prefer.

A few things I didn't care for with this novel: the cover and inside-the-flap blurb are bad. I don't think either one does justice to the novel or the story inside it's pages. I know there is some kind of saying about judging a book by it's cover, but it makes it look too much like a children's book. Also, the novel is almost needlessly set in 1979. Nothing is mentioned that would link the reader to the era, except for the game show her mother will be on. I thought this could be more detailed, so the reader could learn a little more about life in that era.

Overall, this book was excellent. An engrossing read that would appeal to the junior high and high school age. I didn't expect this at first based on the main character being in Grade 6, but the story works on enough levels to keep readers of a broad range content.

The Unwritten (by Mike Carey and Peter Gross)- Graphic Novel

I have always been resistant to the graphic novel when placed next to a novel. I guess there is still a part of me that believes that comics are for kids, or that they aren't able to create stories as complex as a novel could. I guess I was wrong about that.

I share some similarities as the previous Smackdown reader who advanced this book to the second round. I don't care for fantasy as a genre. I just have trouble buying into it. And I don't care for the Harry Potter series. I haven't read a single word of it, and I struggled through the first few films before completely losing interest in the series. I just don't get its appeal. Despite these prejudgments, I did my best to buy into the story being told in The Unwritten. And I did.

The main storyline of The Unwritten is the blurring of the lines between reality and fiction, something that affects the main character as well as draws comparisons to our celebrity and gossip-obsessed society. Tommy Taylor is the fictional character created by an author in a 13-part series (very similar to the Potter series), and Tom Taylor is not only the son of the author, but the inspiration for the character and the embodiment of fiction in reality. Until the fiction begins invading his reality. Characters from the stories begin to appear in his everyday life, he becomes at times a pariah of the press and at times a possible messiah for the fickle public.

This graphic novel is excellent. It is clever, tells an interesting story, makes teachable commentaries on our world, and creates a clever list of classic literary references throughout the story. This was the one skill that was taught to Tom Taylor by his novelist father: where important novels were written.

I truly wish this would have been explored further, because they indicate that there is some kind of multi-dimensional map where the worlds of fiction and reality collide. As a reader, I'm interested, I'm paying attention. But this was not detailed too much during the story, because it is being set up as a series. Which leaves the ending of this story as nothing more than average. As a first installment, The Unwritten is excellent, but left me wanting too much more at the end. There was no satisfaction for me in completing the story. And despite loving this graphic novel, I wonder if I will take the time to continue on with the series. I can foresee some of its teen audience feeling the same way.

Some negatives about this book: The Unwritten does not belong on the bookshelves of a junior high school. The language is too adult, and the authors did not shy away from freely using F-bombs in a gratuitous manner. It is debatable if this should be in high schools for that reason alone. I think this is a book better suited to being recommended to specific students, instead of generalizing a grade that it is suitable for. The minimized audience for this story is one of its few flaws. The second major flaw of this book is that it is only Part 1 of a series. I would have preferred to take the time to read the whole thing as one installment, to be better able to judge the story as a whole.

Moving on to Round 3...

A tough decision. Two excellent books that I really enjoyed. They are from different genres, which makes the direct comparison even more difficult. Ugh.

My winner for this round is When You Reach Me. It has a broader appeal and could be recommended to all students. It is a great novel that I think readers of a variety of ages would enjoy. It also see this as a book that could possibly be taught in the classroom.

I still highly recommend The Unwritten, but feel that its more specific audience, graphic images, language and the fact that it is a series will end its Smackdown run.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour vs Flash Burnout

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour is a predictable yet satsifying story about two teens who are dealing with loss. Amy is trying to come to terms with the death of her father while Roger is trying to make sense of his breakup with his girlfriend. As the two of them travel across the United States from California to the east coast they learn about healing and about each other.

I liked the little extras - copies of receipts from sightseeing excursions, restaurants, mini-marts, and hotels as well as music lists (which I stopped reading about halfway through). Even though I knew exactly where Amy and Roger's Epic Detour was headed I enjoyed the journey. This would be an excellent recommendation to girls who enjoyed "13 Little Blue Envelopes" or "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants".

Flash Burnout tells a story that is at times hilarious and at others poignant. Blake takes a picture of a homeless woman for his photography class and she ends up being the meth addicted mother of someone he knows. Being a good friend wreaks havoc with his relationships with his girlfriend and family.
I loved Blake's voice. His description of his father's work as a medical examiner who deals with the "metabolically challenged" had me laughing out loud. I also chuckled at the fact that the name of the dog his family adopted is "The Dog Formerly Known as Prince" (they didn't like the name the dog originally came with). This is a book that can be enjoyed by both boys and girls.

Both books were very good but I cast my vote for Flash Burnout because I believe it has mass appeal. We'll have to see what Mona and Lisa have to say before we know which book moves on.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Whisper Vs. Stork

Whisper, by Phoebe Kitanidis is a book probably enjoyed by majority of the female middle teens that fill the halls in our junior high schools. The protagonist, Joy is a “normal” teenage girl; the only difference is she can hear whispers – often referred to as wishes. Her main goal in life is to help people; however, her older sister Jessica, do not share the same perspective. Icka claims to hear more than just the innocent small worries that Joy can hear, and this worries Joy. She knows that her hearing has fully matured - but has it really? Her doubts continue to rise until the point that her hearing does develop into something more complex, foreign and perhaps dangerous. She starts to hear things that she had never heard before - the more spiteful nature of thoughts. Joy starts to understand the reason behind Icka withdrawing from society so much. Slowly everything starts to become much more clearer - the headaches, the warnings . . .
Then Joy hears Jessica’s whisper something that blows her mind - “I want to kill my Hearing dead, and kill me too if that's what it takes.”

Joy knows she has to stop Icka from doing whatever she has in mind. So she does something totally out of character for her. She runs away with a boy she barely knows, “steals” a car; all the while, not telling her parents what has been going on in her life. Rescuing Icka is now a goal that no one can stop Joy from completing - not even Icka herself.

The idea for this book was really refreshing since it was fantasy, but it had real life problems. The problems were realistic and well thought out. The negative aspect of this book was that it started out too slow for me. You really didn't get into the essence of the plot until about the middle of the book.

Stork, written by Wendy Delsol

Moving from L.A. to a small town, Katla, the protagonist, struggles to adjust to the way of life in her new setting. The first thing she finds out is that she is part of an ancient society- The Icelandic Stork Society. This entails the power to give expecting mothers the souls of unborn children. The unexpected conflict she experiences is when she receives one of the most respected seats, which doesn’t settle so well with the rest of the society. On top of everything, Katla has some serious ‘parents that just got divorced’ drama going on.

However, after some not so wonderful experiences with Wade, the scary but popular one at school, Katla decides to make real friends, not just a whole bunch of old ladies entrusted with such an important job. Soon she is writing for the fashion column in the school newspaper and is quickly getting familiar with the school body. Life is as normal as it could get considering she can deliver baby souls to moms, except for one big mystery - Katla’s chief editor Jack Snjosson. Regardless of the arguments that they have, for some reason Katla is drawn to him. A feeling of familiarity. . .but why?

Follow Katla as she learns how to handle all these new responsibilities but still find time to figure out the mystery of Jack.

A typical teenager would have difficulty relating to this character simply because of the origin of the conflict. The climax happens at the end of the book, so the rising actions sometimes seems to be too much. There are many sub-plots to this story, that perhaps may confuse the reader. I would give the book two stars.