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

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Easiest Decision This Smackdown

This is for the Booktator who I know is missing the Haiku edition of the Smackdown posts:

Rotters - slow, painful,
I agree with those screaming
Please die Baby die!

Raven Boys, I still
stand by my vote for Inside
Out and Back Again

The Fault in Our Stars
engaging, enjoyable
gets my vote hands down

John Green Smashes Towards Gravediggers While Raven Boys Look On

The finals are here baby! Smack Three heads to the final with Fault in Our Stars vs Rotters vs the zombie pick of Raven Boys.  It is interesting to note that both books that have fought their way to the finals have been Odyssey winners! Long live the audiobook! Huzzah!

 (I am exclaiming  a lot in this post and I blame the following book: Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Go out and read this picture book while waiting for our final's awesome!)

All final posts should be up by May 27th and then it's all over but the smacking, reading and planning for next year.  Enjoy the reads with your eyes or ears dear Smackers!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Inside Out and Back Again vs The Fault in Our Stars

It almost seems a bit sad that when I read through the postings for the two texts, poor little Inside Out was definitely left out in the cold.  However, this adventure in reading is about great stories, and Inside Out cannot compare to The Fault in Our Stars.  I echo what my co-readers mentioned - lack of depth in narrative and character development.  I wanted more from Lai, but it never delivered.  I am glad I was able to read the book; it was a lovely way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon of Spring Break.  But John Greene outwrites Lai through his humour and pathos; any book that makes me both laugh out loud and cry I have to send forward.

Onwards and upwards to the Stars.


The Fault in Our Stars vs Inside Out and Back Again

The Fault in Our Stars vs Inside Out and Back Again

As much as I appreciated “Inside Out and Back Again” (and am not surprised by the recognition it has received), the story and the manner in which it was shared, there is no question though that the novel I wish to see advance is “The Fault in Our Stars”. It is a novel that engaged me from the start, made me laugh out loud, shed some tears and reflect a bit about life. I began reading the book one morning before the start of the school day and ended up finishing it later that night at home. I have since book talked the novel to the language arts classes I teach and a few of the students have already completed reading it was well. The students have loved the book, have gone on to recommend it to their family and friends and are now interested in reading other novels by John Green. Our conversations about the book – the characters and the story – have been rich and animated.
My vote: The Fault in Our Stars
Zombie Pick: Raven Boys

Okay kids, cutting to the proverbial chase: I vote for The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green to move on to the next round the Smackdown. I'm pretty sure Dia is in love with this book, and I can understand that -- its a touching story; not necessarily a weeping-in-my-chair-touching, as suggested, but a sensitively crafted vignette just the same.  But in truth, 'The Fault' could have won by acclamation because I disqualified Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, due to suspicion of literary larceny.

Is it fair to dismiss a perfectly adequate novel simply because it so closely resembles another?  John Fogerty might think otherwise, but I think so.  Take Ru, by Kim Thuy (first published in French in 2009), the story of a Viet family who settles in Canada upon fleeing strife in their homeland.  Written in an unorthodox format, the novel follows their acclimation to North American mores for which it won a Governor Generals award.  Given that 'Inside Out' was published in 2011, and follows much the same course, in much the same way, can we really accept that Ms. Lai was simply ignorant of the existence of another successful work written about a subject in which, ostensibly, she must be vested?  I think not.

I will freely admit that 'The Fault' is not my favourite Smackdown contender (more of which anon), but it it acquits itself admirably in the company of Ms. Lai's knock-off.

As for a zombie pick, notwithstanding the fact that I haven't even finished reading it, I pick The Raven Boys.

It have excuses, none very good, for being the last blogger of the group.  In the time I’ve had to read I have been struggling with Rotters—wanted to skim to get the book finished but find that every time I did, I needed to go back and reread.  It’s too thick.  It’s too much.  The images are too horrific.  And yet—after a time, I found that they no longer had the power to knock me out.  There were too many of them—the images that seemed to pile on each other obscuring the one before.  And the point? What was he saying about art and music?  That ultimately nothing creates meaning.  I don't actually know.  Not too sure that I care.  But what a book.

Every Day hooked me at the beginning.  I could hardly wait to get back to it.  Then I got bored.  Seemed like a treatise on stereotypes but of course dealt with in a humane and enlightened manner.    

So my vote goes for Rotters.  Though I often felt overwhelmed, I was never bored.

Zombie pick—Endangered   A good story.

Inside Out and Back Again vs The Fault in Our Stars

I feel we may have some discontent on this one so I am posting my opinion and mine alone.

I really didn't think Inside Out and Back Again was all that memorable. (Bring on the Smack).  I'm not a particular fan of this type of writing so I downloaded the audiobook so I could hear the verse as the author intended it.  I was ..underwhelmed.  She has it tough in Vietnam but just as she could have pushed the story to make me really feel like the what it was like, she moved on.  She got to America, it wasn't so great but then a sponsor came along.  He was OK but the family wasn't so great.  She was made fun of in school but she persevered.  Is this a story I have heard before, yes.  Did it take me to a place where I really felt bad for her? No.  I spent the summer in Vietnam, what happened there was atrocious and I never really got this from Inside Out and Back Again.  Did it have potential, I think so.  I am honestly surprised it made it this far.

I read the Fault in Our Stars almost a year ago.  I like John Green, he speaks to me not only as an author but as a fellow nerd.  When the book began I thought,"Oh jeez - a kid-with-cancer book"...."What are you up to John Green?"  But the story was not so much about the cancer.  It was accepting who you are and sometimes,  your inevitable fate and doing what you can, with what you got.  The story summary has been told many times in previous blogs so I'll spare you the details (And the need to say, "Spoiler alert"). Unlike Inside Out and Back Again, I felt everything for these characters and when alone, where no one could see me, I cried like a baby.

The Fault in Our Stars is the only choice for me.  Zombie Pick: Raven Boys, please!

Rotters or Rotten??

Neither of us (Barb and Mona) enjoyed this book at all. It is the most depressing YA book either of us have ever read.  We kept waiting for something good to happen but nothing did.  It just got worse and worse until mercifully the book finally ended.  It was a struggle to finish.  Rotters went on way too long.  Joey should have taken care of Baby at the campfire and been done with it.  Rotters has garnered some good reviews so it obviously appeals to some but definitely not to its JP reviewers.  

On the other hand - we both thoroughly enjoyed Every Day. The premise was an interesting one, the main character in his many manifestations was likable and we couldn't put it down. Despite a few issues that may have frustrated some readers, we found that we really enjoyed it.  

Barb and I more often than not don't agree on books, and even though Barb is usually wrong, (lucky I'm the one typing today :) I think she's 100% right this time.  We loved Every Day and hated Rotters (and only finished it because of our fear of Dia).

We definitely post 2 votes for Every Day!!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Fault in our Stars vs. Inside Out and Back Again

Prior to joining the illustrious group that is The Mighty Smackdown, I spent a year reading numerous YA titles (imagine if you like a Rocky-style montage for YA novel reading) and like many Smackdownians before me, I believed that The Fault in our Stars was the novel to beat.

Both novels are excellent reads and I look forward to seeing the advancing novel in the finals; However, I cannot in good faith just let it out which of the two is advancing. Since Dia and Arlene have given me this soapbox to speak from, here are my thoughts:

Inside Out and Back Again

I first read this novel on a whim after it appeared in my recommendations on I thoroughly enjoyed the text and thought it to be a valuable. I was excited to read it again and this time in comparison to TFioS.

My experience with novels written in verse is rather limited but if they are all this well written, I will be reading a lot more. As a collection of poetry, Ha's story was beautifully told. There were poems in with I felt great emotion and others were I felt as though I was new to America.

The Fault in our Stars

When thinking about how I would present my analysis of this bracket, my idea was to hold out the big reveal as long as possible and try to mislead the audience into thinking that I might chose the underdog. Well as much as I'd like to try and deceive, I cannot. Reading TFioS for a second time only deepened my appreciation of John Green's work. I loved Hazel and Gus. I was surprised to read - for a second time - that Hazel carried around an oxygen tank and that Augustus had only one leg. In remembering the novel and reading it for a second time, the characters were always the focal point and never their ailments, despite the events of the novel. At the end of the day and all else considered, I loved reading about two characters that were absolute nerds. In TFioS John Green writes a great story about two teenagers and their infinity together. It is a great piece of literature and it moves on to the finals for me.

There were moments in Inside Out and Back Again but I still feel as though too often there were moments that Thanhha Lai missed a great opportunity to extend the audience's experience. Verse writing, in my opinion, lacks strong character development that I found myself to be constantly wishing for. The Fault in our Stars is the text moving on to the finals


It would appear as though the Zombie Pick is all over the place. I thought after eliminating Between Shades of Grey that The Year of Beasts might become a dark horse and take a run at this thing but that died pretty quickly. My Zombie Pick of this year is Raven Boys. It seemed pretty shocking when it was eliminated and despite really liking The Year of Beasts, I'd like to read Raven Boys. 

Fault in Our Stars vs Inside Out and Back Again
I had read Fault in Our Stars prior to this duel.  Considering I cried for the last few chapters of Fault in our Stars, I was biased towards it for evoking such feelings in my emotionally stagnant self.  Inside Out and Back Again had an uphill battle for me, because I've never been a fan of books that were written in verse.  For me, the depth just isn't there for the reader to truly connect with the characters.  As Arlene once taught me, people read books for different reasons and they go through different doors to enter a story.  I go through the doorway of character development and if verse doesn't develop a realistic character for me then all is lost.  That’s why I was surprised when Lai’s novel made me care about Ha.  Ha is an authentic character that took me through her journey of immigration without making me feel like an outsider.  I've read many books about immigration, and with each I felt like I was the odd woman out.  It seemed as if there was a wall between the character and I, like unless I wore the badge of having gone through immigration I couldn't truly understand the character’s plight.  I felt like Lai didn't care whether or not I could relate to her character’s story, but that I could find something about myself in Ha, which was her deep connection to family.  In the end, the book was a quick poignant read, but it couldn't overtake Fault in Our Stars.
               John Green has a talent that many YA novelists have to force, which is that he can submerge himself in whatever character he is writing from the perspective of and he’s believable.  Hazel reminds me of a couple students I've had the great experience of teaching, they did not have terminal cancer, but they had her wit and charm.  The voice of Hazel is straight up; she doesn't hide behind pretense and says it like it is.  I guess when you could die at any time, there is no point sugar coating life.  Her wit, displayed prominently when she describes her support group, is intoxicating.  It was difficult to put the book down.  She talks about death like I talk about what I did this past weekend.  Death and cancer aren't topics I’m well versed in, I shy away from them and separate myself from the feelings they involve.  In Green’s novel there is no hiding, just like Hazel, he doesn't try to make you feel better about the topic.  When Augustus enters the support group, I thought the story was just going to be another teen angst love story with a different spin.  Instead, it was the painful journey of two teenagers who knew their mortality and wanted to minimize the damage of their deaths on the people they loved.  The love story was raw and bittersweet.  It was beautiful to watch them give into their feelings for each other, but we all knew the inevitable was going to happen.  I just didn't think it would be a snot fest that required Kleenex and my sleeve to get through.  It’ll be one of those novels that will stay with me for a very long time.  Thus, Fault in Our Stars is my vote to continue.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Rotters" might rot on my bookshelf versus "Every Day" which might be read someday.

I clearly am missing the point of Rotters based on reading the other blogs about this book.  I found the book tremendously difficult to finish.  I found that it was too long and rambled at times. I am completely at a loss as to what the point of the book was - I am sure the author intended on the reader,me, getting some message but I clearly missed it (maybe it was that you can count on the nastiness of human nature to rear its ugly head often).  I feel like this book would get picked off the shelf because of the enticement of a possible "gross" story but I also predict it will not often get finished because you can only persist into this book so far without wondering "why am reading this?". 

I appreciate there are some missteps with this book.  The premise is interesting and I think the possibility of having a discussion around "can we really separate our physical appearance from our inner character" could happen after reading this book.  I agree that the author comes at this idea in a disjointed way but the main character is moving into a different body every day and so maybe disjointed is what the author hoped to achieve.  I am unsure why some of the characters (i.e. Reverend Poole) existed in the book but at least I felt that even if the reader didn't love the book they likely would be willing to finish it to the end.

I didn't love either of these books but my vote goes to Every Day.

My Zombie pick is Between Shades of Gray (I won't belabour why I think this but will suggest people pick up the book and read it and make their own opinion).


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rotters vs. Every Day

Every Day was a quick read and I can see a lot of junior high girls especially liking this one if nothing else for the sappy love story. I may recommend it to a student as something entertaining to read but I would not use it in a class novel study or literature circle. It seems that Levithan set out to try and show that a person's identity can transcend their physical form or gender, but I don't think he goes far enough with it and A's obsession with Rhiannon completely takes over the story. I started to dislike the characters at some point. I found A annoying (maybe that's what the "A" stands for) and I didn't get why Rhiannon was so great in the first place that he had to devote his entire existence to chasing after her. I hated that there was no explanation for why he has to hop from one body to the next, and I was really hoping that Reverend Poole's character would've shed some light on this. What was the point of spending all that time creating such a threatening character only to brush him off in two sentences? Didn't A even want answers from the one person who may have been able to provide them? I sure did.

Rotters was like nothing I've ever read before. I felt like I was covered in dirt the entire time I was reading it and probably had a perpetual grimace on my face just from having to read the disgusting descriptions of the characters, both dead and alive. I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next and at the same time I wanted it to be over just so I could get the images out of my head. I agree with other bloggers that this book should've been shorter. Certain parts dragged on (specifically the crazy downward spiral of Harnett after discovering Boggs' book of polaroids, and Joey's stint with Boggs in California) and the ending was a whirlwind of action. However, the Diggers were all so vividly crafted that I could practically smell them, and the parts about Joey's experiences with his biology teacher and the bullies at school were shocking. I agree that I was glad when Woody, Celeste and Gottschalk got what was coming to them. I can see a lot of male readers getting into this book just for the "ick" factor.

Rotters wins for me, although I will never read it again due to its grossness. My zombie pick has to be Year of the Beasts. I don't think it will win (especially against The Fault in Our Stars) but out of all the other books I've read it was the one I was most disappointed to see voted out.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Inside Out and Back Again or The Fault in Our Stars?

No question, really.  As much as I respect Inside Out and Back Again, and think that it could really find a place in our classrooms, The Fault in Our Stars is something special.

How special?  Check out this tumblr, where kids wrote in and asked questions of John Green upon completing the book:
Anything that inspires this level of critical thinking and literary analysis while making you laugh out loud and sob simultaneously is OK by me.  I think most of the tumblr questions have been re-organized into a more manageable format here:

My Zombie Pick?  Again, not even a question.  If you haven't read Everybody Sees the Ants, I urge you to do so.  Perfect book for grade 9 or 10.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Sweet Spot

Once upon a time a slightly demented teacher wandered onto School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books and the idea for The Mighty Smackdown was born. I tell you this story as a warning for surfing the net when you should be marking and to set the stage for another lesson I have recently learned. A small circle of you know a nickname I sometimes go by…the Booktator. I confess when I really love a book I want everybody to love it and watching The Raven Boys go down on the last round was tough for me. I also watched (yes I’m that geeky) the Printz book honors announced and watched in horror as The Fault in our Stars was left holding no prize. When the Battle of the Books got started many a comment was lobbed at TFIOS. It seems the Nerdfighters were getting backlash from a crowd of uber-librarians who instead shouted their bridled (they are librarians after all) passion for Code Name Verity and Serafina. Still TFIOS walked on championed by one author reader after another until it lost in the finals to another Smackdown contender No Crystal Stair. While this went on I found myself thinking about what I want to read vs. what I think students will like. I also read thoughtful comments on all the books nominated (You really see little smack in this contest) and realized that all this thinking, reading and arguing about books is what I want to see my own kids doing. If you participate in or read this blog and you think….what? Are you kidding? Or now there is an opinion I can get behind then you are getting passionate about books and for that I am thrilled even (gasp!) when you are not sharing my opinion…really I mean it.  

That said folks here is my pure Booktator moment:   Inside Out and Back Again  is a book I would use in my classroom to jump start reading and writing from the background knowledge of immigration. Many of our families have come directly from other countries and English as a second language is common. It is a good book not a great book. The Fault in Our Stars is clearly the book that needs to move on in this bracket. It is the best book I’ve read in the year. It made me laugh and cry sometimes in the same page. Uber librarians get over yourselves – this book is great. It falls in the Venn diagram middle of I like it and kids will like it – that’s the sweet spot.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Inside Out and Back Again vs. The Fault in Our Stars

First off, I am still shocked that Inside Out and Back Again beat out Raven Boys to make it this far. Not saying that Inside Out isn't a good book, but just isn't nearly as good as the other one.

Going into this round, I pretty much knew who my winner was going to be, so I kind of had it in for the other book from the beginning. Then upon opening it, seeing that it was all poetry, it kind of made me hate it right from the hop.

But then something weird happened...I read it. And I kind of liked it. Kind of.

 Inside Out is a pretty decent read. An extremely fast one, to be sure. There are some strong poems in there, ones that I could actually see myself using in a class to analyze and interpret. But as a complete narrative, this story is definitely lacking. I found that there was minimal character development, and to summarize a discussion I had with Vanessa on the book, the conflicts are way too easily resolved. Things are bad in Saigon. We move to the US. Done. No problems. We move to Alabama. That's weird. But we get over it. I can't speak English. Then I learn. So that's fine. People seem to be mean to me. But then I make friends so it's all good. Everything in this book is too simple. There could have been so much pain about the seclusion of being lost without language, of being alone in a new, scary place. But I got no sense of that. I think the author truly missed the boat by writing this as a collection of poetry, because the story severely lacks depth, in my opinion. Like I said, there were some good poems, as individual works. As a complete story, there isn't much here. Which I am still surprised it beat out Raven Boys. I liked this book because it was quick and painless, but I feel the novelty of it being poems did the story a great disservice.

Now, on to The Fault in Our Stars. I feel I need to defend this book to all comers. I have taught this book already as a novel study in a grade 9 Language Arts class, and I will be doing it again this semester. I feel like I have built this book up a lot at school, and now I am willing to fight for it.

There are a few reasons why this book is my unquestioned winner and should advance into the finals: 1. Hazel is a loveable character. Her sarcasm is infectious, and her perceptions of the world are something that teenagers can easily get on board with. 2. It is sad. Like, truly sad. Not just because of things that happen in the novel, but there are certain passages or lines that can truly tug at the heart strings in an honest way. 3. Hazel's "Oblivion" speech in the first chapter and the "Infinity" speech near the end. 4. I have seen first hand that this novel has the power to get students talking about a book, in an environment where they typically are not talking about novels. This book was a huge hit in my class, more so than I would have hoped or expected. People laughed out loud while reading it, and there were more than a couple of students that admitted to tears. I am excited to read it again with another class this term. 5. Despite people who accuse John Green of taking advantage of the "sick lit" sub-genre, he does it to perfection. This is not a cancer book, it is a book where great characters happen to have cancer. It is far more than that a Nicholas Sparks-esque love story where inevitably someone is sick and dies.

TFiOS is not perfect. The section in Amsterdam is not my favorite part of the book, and it kind of drags on. But it has purpose. I would argue that this is only John Green's third best novel (that he wrote on his own, so I'm not counting Will Grayson, Will Grayson). However, despite the few flaws it may have, this book is funny, it is sad, and it is popular. Kids like to read it. And I would argue that is more than half the battle.

With no doubt in my mind, The Fault in Our Stars must move on. I will lose my mind if Inside Out and Back Again manages to sneak through on this one.

If this is the round where we get to select our zombie picks, I'm going for Raven Boys, because it should have been in this round against TFiOS to begin with.