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

Monday, January 27, 2014

Peacock Over Wolves?

Smackdown in its fourth year has shown some patterns. Book pairings that make no sense, having to move on a book in a bracket where you're not keen on either and the granddaddy of them all...books that take on subjects so desperate and horrifying that you can't picture giving it to anyone who you consider a Young Adult. Here we are back in Granddaddy territory. Below please find our email conundrum:

Dia: For all the times people have bemoaned comparing apples to elephants in the Smackdown I really feel this comparison is a fair one. Children left by parents to face the horrors of the world is predominant in both books. I cheered for Leonard and the whole writing to your future self hooked the LA teacher in me. I also loathed his mother and loved how he wrapped his hair and left it in the fridge for his mother.

After the earlier post about Rapp's book, I found myself reluctant to plunge in. I am still horrified by the first year Smackdown entry Nothing and wasn't sure  Brad's reference to a Silkwood shower would help. Let's start with the easy part: this book can never be a part of a K to 9 library. It can never be part of a junior high library. After that, for me, it gets a lot more complicated. This book is beautifully written. The characters are brutal, their lives are brutal because of circumstance and brain make up. In the end the only two spots of light are a poet's house and the fires of people who have given up on society. That is horrifying commentary but this is a window/mirror book for me. I've learned to look more carefully at our society ala David Lynch and I can't unsee what I've seen - that's brutal. This book is living in my head now...I can't dismiss it and I don't want to. 

Christina: Oh my.  My my my.  I am so glad I have this opportunity to "talk" about these books (well, mostly The Children and the Wolves...)  I had already read Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock this past summer, and at the time, I thought that book was pushing the boundaries of YA.  Who knew that I would reread it in the depths of January to cleanse my palate from a novel that did not push the boundaries- it absolutely decimated them.  
I agree with Dia- I was actually scared to read The Children and the Wolves and cannot now stop thinking about it.  But I don't want to.  But I have to.  Yikes.  
As much as I want to bury myself under my covers and pretend that the Bogeyman, or Bounce, isn't waiting right there, this is not a book that can be ignored.  Would I ever recommend this to my students?  Never ever.  I don't even think my colleagues would want to have the option of handling this one.  What killed me about both of these books is the lack of responsible parenting or even any hint of parenting at all.  I think it's a fairly strong statement that I didn't even really feel relief over the Frog's release and Wiggin's escape into the woods.  All I could think of was what Bounce would orchestrate next, and who that helpless victim would be.
But back to Leonard.  There is hope there.  We know that Leonard is not magically cured, but that he will rise above the insanity that has been his life.  If he does not find a literal lighthouse in the future, he will create one for himself and the ones he finds to love.  For these reasons, this is the book that should move forward.

Trisitin: What to say...these books were both similar in their ability to ruin my appetite.  The characters in Children and the Wolves, except the poet, were revolting.  I realize Rapp was making a social commentary, but they characters were so extreme that they were almost unbelievable.  I literally had to put the book down when a certain scene would become too grotesque then circle the book because I was obsessed with knowing what happened with Frog.  I also had an unrealistic thought that Wiggins would turn “normal”, but life isn’t full of Hollywood endings.   

Having read Children and the Wolves first made Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock seem like a kids book.  Both stories explored various types of bad parenting and the rare results of such relationships. I found it interesting that Wiggins and Leonard had similar mothers where neither mother wanted to acknowledge the darkness in their son.  The signs were there that their sons needed serious help, but neither or them would give up their social/work schedules to do anything about it.  Bounce’s parents are commonly found in schools these days, where they just aren't around.  The kid is smart enough to care for themselves, but there are no checks or balances to keep them on the right path. Although she was a parenting wouldn't have mattered anyways.

With that said, I didn't find that I had much empathy for any of the characters   I don't agree that bad parenting  results in delinquent behavior like these characters.   I realize that the characters in each book have many obstacles to overcome due to their upbringing, but that doesn't mean that taking a gun to school to shoot someone, kidnapping a three year old or attacking a social worker are appropriate reactions.  At least Leonard Peacock is willing to do the work to "fix" himself, which makes Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock my pick. The author leaves us with a sense of hope that Leonard will be alright, whereas Children of the Wolves left me looking into my students eyes wondering where Bounce is... 

Brent: I agree with Dia that these books are at least in the same realm of the broad YA universe. Although on that note, other than the fact that there are young people in Rapp's book I'm not sure I'd classify it as a YA novel had it not been included in our smackdown. You've all raised several excellent points. These are both novels that, while I can't truthfully say I enjoyed reading, I nevertheless enjoyed thinking about, at times. 

I had some high hopes for Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock as I worked through the first part of the novel. There were certainly moments where I saw a little bit of Holden Caulfield (I know, sacrilege) in Mr. Peacock, but ultimately, I couldn't buy what Quick was selling. I enjoyed some of Peacock's musings as he gave a shot at touching on a the full teen range of existential angst, but ultimately I had difficulty reconciling how someone so thoughtful, articulate and willing to engage with so many big questions and ideas, is simultaneously so shallow and lacking in self-awareness. I found him tedious. I don't need to like or empathize, or even sympathize, with a character in order to enjoy a novel, but I do expect a novel that has aspirations of, you know, saying something, to invite me into a dialogue rather than a rant or a ramble. You know those moments when you are watching an Aaron Sorkin show and you realize that he has decided in a characteristic moment of hubris to cast aside his fine cast and obvious skills as a writer and pull up a chair and lecture you about stuff he thinks is common sense? That's kind of how I felt at times in this novel.

And this, I think is the reason why I'm going to go with The Children and the Wolves on this one. I don't think disturbing really covers it in describing the book, but suffice to say I would think long and hard about recommending this book to a child and it may, as Dia suggested, not even find a place in most middle school libraries. It's brutal. Raw. And , I think there are times when, although it is a slim book, Rapp could have toned things down - particularly in regard to Bounce's sociopathic mastermind- like qualities - and still achieved the same ends. Ultimately, though, the big difference between these two books for me is this: Peacock (and Quick , his creator) tells us exactly what is on his mind at every turn. Rapp's book, as awful and brutal as it is, forced us to enter into the space between certainties and try to make some sense of some truly horrifying, but nonetheless important things.

Dia: To play Jeff Probst, thats one vote Children and the Wolves and two votes Leonard Peacock with Donna and myself still thinking.

Donna: I started out with FMLP....On the first page I laughed out loud so knew it would be funny throughout and those that know me understand I like to laugh. Leonard is a character that we have heard about but usually only after a school shooting and psycho-analysis by the media and every 'expert' around the world. Unfortunately we don't hear about teen boy struggles and challenges near enough to understand or help them deal before it is too late. For me the entire book was humorous, happy and sad to the point I felt bad for laughing at other things. My questions would Leonard believable? Was his character too adult like? He wanted to die but be saved at the same time.... A few previous reviews online stated they didn't feel sorry for Leonard and the author was reaching for his sensitive side which ended up being nothing more than a "string of adjectives." Not sure I agree, but, makes you think. My favorite parts were the letters from the future and, of course, Mr. Silverman. If only more existed! 

I decided to listen to the Children and the Wolves....WT#%^&? I found it difficult to listen and process everything at the same time. I restarted twice just to make sure I had remembered correctly. A grade 8 girl with that much power? I've seen evidence of the powerful "Queen Bees" but not to this level (that I know about!). Racist and economically poor grade 7 boys with family issues, grief and abuse unfortunately are more predominant than we would like to admit. Sadly I've come across a few who I believe will turn into sociopaths one day....makes me wonder about the 2 boys next door!! The drawback for me by the end is there were no answers. Why did they do it really? I need some rationalization! They need consequences!! I know there is no happy ending but...Which moves on? I would give both to the correct HS student that is mature enough to handle the topics and not on the edge of anything emotional or psychological. But, would they understand either at a deeper level? Which would they choose as more enjoyable to read (even though enjoyment may not be the correct descriptive word). Which is better written? Which disturbed me less in the end? In the name of youth fiction...

Forgive Me Leonard Peacock. Final Answer.

Dia: No tie vote for me....but I'll throw in Children and the Wolves for a split 3 to 2 win for Forgive Me Leonard Peacock.

1 comment:

  1. Well, it may not be advancing, but this battle and the one before it has made me VERY interested in reading The Children and the Wolves.