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

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Raven Boys vs. Inside Out and Back Again: The Decision

OK, so our little group (all seven of us, from four different sites) was charged with making a tough decision between Raven Boys and Inside Out and Back Again. I’ll cut to the chase: Five of our seven chose Inside Out and Back Again, and even our two who championed Raven Boys seemed to have a lot of love for Inside Out and Back Again.

Barb, Mona and Shelley P have all posted and made thoughtful points about both books. I’ll keep it brief and try to bring together some of the discussions that the rest of us had.

Raven Boys

None of us were particularly enamored with Raven Boys, although it has a lot of good things going on and I have no doubt that there are lots of kids who would really enjoy it. It definitely has that Twilight vibe, but – and I don’t want to have to go into the witness protection program over this comment or wake up with a horse head in my bed – actually has more interesting characters and is better written. I’ll take Blue over Bella any day, the dialogue is actually polished in places and there are some interesting plot points, but I digress. I’m sure that this is already on its way to becoming the next big franchise (10 seconds later: Yep. New Line has the rights. Thanks, Google) and it will likely make a more engrossing film (at least for me) than it did a book.

Inside Out and Back Again

This is not exactly the kind of book that any of us expected to enjoy as much as we did. The few novels in verse that I’ve experienced have had distinct limitations, and this is no exception, but overall it works. The author’s discussion in the afterword about how her search for a cadence that would mirror the Vietnamese language led her to this form made a lot of sense to us. There are moving turns of phrase and powerful images throughout and the voice just seems authentic.

We were in agreement that it was the second part of the book that takes place in Alabama that really moved us and would really resonate with students. I think any student who has ever tried to master a second language, while feeling hopelessly inept and out of place, would read this novel with a deep sense of appreciation of how the author captures that experience.

As with most of the tough choices that we are forced into in The Mighty Smackdown, neither of these books would be for everyone. A lot of kids will read Raven Boys and have a good time with it and eagerly anticipate the rest of the trilogy. Inside Out and Back Again isn’t going to inspire fan clubs and Taylor Lautner casting speculation, but I do think that many students will see aspects of themselves in Ha’s story and find themselves more engrossed than they might have expected. As has been pointed out, the novel has a mature, meditative quality that would seem to be at odds with where a lot of our kids are at this time in their life, but I also see it as a fundamentally accessible book. I could give this book to one of our struggling grade seven readers and I’m convinced that they would be able to meet it on their own terms just as readily as our grade nine challenge students. They would experience the book in different ways, but that opportunity to connect in different ways is part of the reason why we are moving it on.


  1. I took a weekend to calm down. Died my hair black, stared at crows in the sky, wept over my autographed Ravens Boy copy...and today I say: What were you guys thinking? Here me now Maggie I loved your book, I can't wait for the sequel. I thought your timing was masterful and you dialed up the creepy in a wholy satisfying way. As for Inside Out and Back Again, I moved it forward but didn't feel it had the same depth of story telling at all. Not that that really hurts Lai as she cradles all the shiny stickers on her book. You just don't get my shiny sticker! Oh are a sneaky tournament.

  2. Ok, I just finished reading your winner here, and I have to echo Dia's sentiments..WHAT WENT WRONG HERE? How could this book possibly have beaten the action and fear of Raven Boys. Sure, Inside Out and Back Again wasn't a bad just wasn't really all that good. Then compared to Raven Boys, it definitely pales in comparison.

    Raven Boys had an intriguing storyline, a cool plot, a surprise that was surprising...I'm still wondering what Inside Out had to offer, aside from the most easily-resolved conflicts I have read in quite some time.

    A little disappointed in your choice here, fellow readers! I will give you one frowny face emoticon to show my disapproval. :(