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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More Than This offers more than Wonder

Wonder – This is one of those cutesy school-problem novels where you know exactly what’s going to happen: charming-but-occasionally-self-doubting-outsider must come to terms with his differences, triumph over mean-spirited bully, and win the love and admiration of friends at school, leaving the audience feeling uplifted and optimistic. Admittedly, Auggie is an endearing character. Born with an unlucky combination of genetic mutations that has left his face severely deformed, he is nevertheless generally positive. Students might identify with some of his concerns about new classes and fitting in, but given the fact that Auggie is only beginning grade 5, the novel feels a bit juvenile for a Jr. High reader. Many of our students actually read the book as a novel study in grade 6, which would be a good fit. The book is told from the perspective of 6 or 7 different characters whose unique voices made for a more interesting read. Kevin also enjoyed the many Star Wars references (however, the author could do with some fact checking regarding Mon Mothma…) and the allusion to Natalie Merchant’s song “Wonder” (because no one is cooler to the Jr. High reader than Natalie Merchant!) Overall, Wonder is a fine, quick read but it lacks the substance to advance to the next round.

More Than This – We’re still not entirely sure what to think of this book. We both read and LOVED previous Smackdown winner, Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls so we were hoping for more of the same. This was pretty different and hard to classify. Part dystopian in the style of The Matrix and part philosophical exploration of the meaning of life, More than This isn’t easily categorized by genre, nor is it really like many other books.  It’s lengthy (by teen fiction standards at almost 500 pages), dense, and complicated, and definitely suited more for a mature reader.  The story begins with the (disturbingly graphic) drowning death of Seth. He then wakes up in an “afterlife” (though this is not a tale of what lies beyond this world) where he meets two other people like him, including the humorous Thomasz. The post-apocalyptic world they explore together is ruled by The Driver, an ambiguous grim-reaper like figure whose true function remains a mystery for much of the novel. Indeed, the novel is largely driven by mystery, as the teens try to figure out how they got to where they are, how they can leave, and even if they want to. At the same time, we slowly learn through a series of flashbacks about Seth’s backstory – a terrible episode with his younger brother, a complicated relationship with his parents, and a fraught romance with his friend, Gudmund. We both found these dramatic bits more interesting reading than the action-packed main plot. Essentially, in our final discussion it seems we both enjoyed some elements of the book but still had many questions about it.  Also, we were hesitant about for whom we would recommend it. 
While Wonder was sweet, we are moving More Than This on to other readers because we need to hear more opinions on this book!

-Laura and Kevin


  1. Laura, you killed my best friend!!!! I loved Auggie and the cast of characters in Wonder. I hope More Than This is more....sigh.

    1. Yes, Auggie was sweet, but you should have put him up against something less intriguing. I NEED to hear what more people think of More Than This!