Smackdown Books 2018

Wolf Hollow
Salt to the Sea
The Serpent King
Optimists Die First
The Hate U Give
Orphan Island
Dan vs. Nature
The Female of the Species
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere
Paper Girls, Vol. 1
The Passion of Dolssa
The Distance Between Us
When We Collided
Louis parmi les spectres
Girl in the Blue Coat
Defy the Stars

Friday, February 3, 2012

Wither withers away...we recommend that The Freak Observer go on to the next level of Smackdown.

Freak Observer

Tracy: For those looking for a good read - an interesting character, move-along plot, quirky structure - then pick up The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston. While you may ask yourself how much more can go wrong in this girl's life - as my Smackdown partner wrote, "even the dog died!" - as a reader, I never forgot that at the heart of this story of multiple tragedies is Loa, a character I was willing to invest in right to the end. Her resilience, combined with her wit and smarts, makes her a young woman teen readers will respect.  

The employment of interesting physics facts and problems preceding each chapter has a metaphorical connection that will provoke stronger readers into going beyond the book to look up anti-matter, Dolly the sheep, and the freak observer.  For those not into the wonderful world of physics, these tidbits can be skipped over with no loss to the enjoyment of the story.

Robin: I enjoyed the wry humour of the narrator’s voice (I always wonder if these aren’t exactly the thoughts going through a kid’s head as I meet with them or teach them), but I did wonder how many problems one kid can have, which almost turned me off at the beginning, but once I finished -   Wow! First, I needed to look up a whole bunch of stuff and spent about 30 minutes on the net (incl. the author’s blog and FB page) happily searching and finding images, artists, artwork, and items mentioned in the novel. I loved the way Woolston marries science and plot. I also appreciated the way that she can seemingly just pick a line out of thin air and it just so works, you know?

As I was reading, I remember thinking, “Does this poor girl have no one in her corner?” but then it turns out that she did - a teacher - which made me think about how sometimes we teachers can make a difference when we don’t even know we’re making a difference. I’m sure Mr. B didn’t know. I wonder if Mr. B was based on a real teacher in Woolston’s adolescence? Looking at her blog and FB, she looks like a seriously unique individual - not unlike our “neurotypical” (166) narrator.


Tracy: I really wanted to like this book.  As a person who loves speculative fiction, this seemed right up my alley. However, having read other young adult books in the same vein,such as The Hunger Games trilogy, The Uglies, and The House of the Scorpion, Wither was a letdown.

While Katniss and Tally were strong, commanding characters with flaws and virtues that compelled me to turn the pages, as I write this, I have already forgotten the protagonist's name. (Sneaking over to my couch, I have grabbed the book to discover her name is Rhine.)

I even admit to skimming through the last third of the book, so I could read the end where she makes her "big escape".  Trust me, this is no spoiler alert, as you are told on the book cover this is part of a trilogy.  It's as if Lauren DeStefano took the physical transformation through pretty clothes and make-up from The Uglies, the genetic testing and manipulations from The House of the Scorpion, and a post-apocalyptic landscape filled with haves and have nots from The Hunger Games, and watered down the best elements of these novels to write Wither.

Robin: My thoughts on Wither by Lauren Desterfano. Okay, so I’m not in love with this one. I found it way too depressing and it had that Chick Lit obsession with the description of everyone’s clothes and makeup which I’ll admit was necessary sometimes to plot/character, but I just don’t get into it. This dystopian society is just too much for me and seems much too bleak. I wouldn’t be comfortable recommending it to jr hi students because of the very casual way sex is mentioned in some parts and the creepily sinister sexual predation of the males in other parts. Apparently it is the first of a planned trilogy, and the ending certainly leaves one flat. Don’t get me wrong, I read it with interest and mostly enjoyed it, but I certainly didn’t find enough to recommend it over our other choice, which caused me to think and wonder and research. As escape fiction, Wither is good if you like that sort of thing, but not good enough.


  1. Ha! Freak Observer wins again! Take that, Vanessa.

  2. Just finished Freak Observer. Thank you for moving it on. I quite enjoyed it.