Sunday, March 2, 2014
More Than This and The One and Only Ivan
One of the frustrations and delights of The Mighty Smackdown is having two very different books matched up against each other. It makes the process of making that eliminating decision a challenge, but it also provokes a broader discussion about the depth and breadth of YA literature. I enjoyed both of these books on different levels and I could be them both being perfect for very different students. There has been a lot of thoughtful commentary on both books already, so I’ll keep this fairly short and to the point (Cut to wild cheering by the Smackdown masses).
The One and Only Ivan is perhaps the most accessible book that I’ve come across in my time participating in the Smackdown. It’s not typical of a book I’d choose for myself, but I enjoyed it on a few different levels. I could imagine many of my upper elementary and junior high students enjoying the novel, and I also think my seven year old would enjoy it and therein lies its greatest strength and limitation. I think this is a really great book for a K-9 school library where students from a wide range of grades could enjoy this straightforward and generally thought-provoking tale. The novel’s greatest strength is that it opens the door to some very complex emotions, but in a way that would allow readers of varying ages and ability levels to enter into that discussion. A natural limitation of a book like this, however, is that its accessibility limits the depth and complexity of the narrative for more advanced and older readers.
This will not be an issue for those who choose to pick up More Than This, where the trope of “More Than” runs through both the narrative and the reading experience. As previous bloggers have mentioned, this is a difficult novel to write about with any specificity for risk of denying future readers any of the pleasures and terrors that Ness’ narrative provokes by putting us continually in discovery mode. Ness has crafted a complex – and sometimes flat-out perplexing –novel in which he shows an impressive capacity for dealing with the most intimate aspects of human relationships , while also – often simultaneously –delving into those big universal questions that have always united us through space and time. This is dangerous ground for an author to tread – particularly if your target audience is young adults – where that line between being trite, pretentious and insightful can sometimes come down to a few words. Ness, our previous Smackdown victor for A Monster Calls, walks this tightrope with skill and confidence, primarily by providing his characters with the self-awareness to voice many of the doubts and reservations we raise as readers.
These are both excellent novels that would be the perfect fit for some kids, but More Than This is a truly ambitious novel and really, a fully-realized experience that kept me thinking about it long after I put it down. My vote is for More Than This.